Ireland’s Biggest Telescope Gearing up to Catch the Perseid Meteor Shower

This week the team at I-LOFAR has been excitedly undergoing preparations for the upcoming Perseid Meteor Shower. Saturday night, 12th August 2018, is due to have the highest level of meteor activity with an expected 10 meteors per minute!

What is a Meteor Shower?

Meteors, more commonly known as “shooting stars”, are in fact small pieces of rock that have broken away from asteroids or comets due to collisions or extreme heating caused by their tremendous velocities. The small rocks enter Earth’s atmosphere and the resulting drag or air resistance of the air particles leads to further heating. This heating produces a huge glow which we can observed from the ground. A “shower” of meteors is caused when a comet passes especially close to the Sun & Earth inducing a large amount of heating and break up. In the case of the Perseids, Earth is passing through the dust and debris left behind the comet Swift–Tuttle.

How does LOFAR Detect Meteors?

I-LOFAR is hoping to observe the Perseid Shower using two different methods.

1. The first is called “passive radar”. This uses radio antennae to detect reflections of military/aeronautical radar off the plasma trail of the meteor. I-LOFAR will be trying to observe the reflection from a French radar used to monitor satellite orbits, called GRAVES, at 145 MHz.

2. The second method of meteor detection is by measuring direct emission from plasma in tail below 60 MHz as was done here by the Long Wavelength Array.

I-LOFAR has also teamed up with scientists at Dunsink Observatory, in collaboration with the Nematode network, who are planning on observing the event using two optical cameras with 30×30 degree FOV looking south and southwest, as well as a Yagi all-sky antenna tuned to GRAVE at 145 MHz.

What will we Learn?

From these observations I-LOFAR hopes to to determine the number of meteors per minutes, how fast they were traveling, from where the originated and where they were going in the plane of the sky.

How can I Observe the Perseids?

The Perseids will be most active on the nights of the 11th-12th & 12th-13th August 2018 and can be see with the naked eye. Get as far away from light pollution as you can and simply look up! Count and see if you can get 10 in a minute. And don’t forget to tune back in the coming days to see how the I-LOFAR team got on!

For more information and live updates on progress, keep an eye on the @I_LOFAR, @DunsinkObs and @nemetodemeteor Twitter feeds.