Out in Western Australia, in the Nullabor desert, there is an array of sky cameras designed to observe meteors as they flame their way through our atmosphere. It’s been observing the sky since 2006, and it paid off handsomely: a bright meteor observed by the skycam has led to the resulting meteorite being found.
Cooool. By triangulating the meteor, astronomers were able to track the rock all the way to the ground, where the meteorite was found only 100 meters from the predicted location. Not only that, the track of the meteor on the sky allowed astronomers to backtrack its trajectory, and calculate the orbit of the meteoroid. They found it came from a family of asteroids in the inner asteroid belt, just outside the orbit of Mars. over millions of years the orbit migrated inward toward the Sun, and eventually intersected ours, resulting in, well, the collision.
This is really nice because not too many meteorites are recovered from known falls, and fewer still where the orbit of the incoming rock can be determined. When this happens, we get for free what otherwise would take a fairly expensive rocket trip to accomplish.
I’ve been saying for some time that with the advent of digital cameras everywhere, we’ll be seeing this more often. In this case the cameras were designed and implemented specifically to do this, but just you wait. Some ATM or junkyard or home security camera will do the same thing. The age of public involvement in astronomy is just beginning.
Tip o’ the Whipple Shield to MeteoriteMen on Twitter.