June 10, 2023

How satellites, radar and drones are tracking meteorites and aiding Earth’s asteroid defence

My associates and I who work on the Desert Fireball Network (DFN), which tracks incoming asteroids and the resulting meteorites, had a number of concepts: weather condition radar and drones.

The impact developed an explosion equivalent to about 220 tonnes of TNT. More than 1,500 km away, in Tasmania, the bang was heard by detectors typically utilized to listen for very low-frequency sounds from illegal tests of nuclear weapons.

These were 2 exceptional signs that there ought to be a spot of ground covered in meteorites somewhere north of Port Augusta. But how could we track them down?

On July 31 2013 a constellation of US defence satellites saw a streak of light over South Australia as a rock from deep space burned through Earths environment on its way to crash into the ground below.

Credit: NASA.

Eyes in space

This post is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Check out the initial article.

So when the next big one is about to strike, it might work to anticipate how it will transfer its energy in our atmosphere.

Next, I had to utilize the weather data to determine how the wind would have pressed the meteorites around on their method down to Earth.

To have any possibility to discover a meteorite from these information, you need a little outdoors help.

This very first search verified there were lots of meteorites on the ground. How were we going to discover them all?

There is no lack of fireballs to track down. Today, were on the hunt for a meteorite that was identified in space last weekend prior to blazing through the sky over Ontario, Canada.

This discover was only enabled by the free accessibility of essential information– and individuals who made it offered.

The Woomera weather condition radar station captured reflections from the falling meteorites. Curtin University, Author offered

The method of finding meteorites with weather condition radars was originated by my associate Marc Fries in the US. However, this is the very first time it has actually been done outside the United States NEXRAD radar network. (When it pertains to keeping track of airspace, the United States has more effective and more densely jam-packed tech than anybody else.).

With new telescopes and better technology, we are starting to see some asteroids before they strike Earth. When projects such as the Vera Rubin Observatory and the Asteroid Terrestrial-impact Last Alert System (ATLAS) are up and running, we will see even more.

I would have a treasure map showing the area of a rich haul of meteorites if I got the computations right. I would end up sending my team to wander around in the desert for 2 weeks for absolutely nothing if I got them wrong.

The US satellite information published by NASA covers a much bigger area than ground-based detectors, however it only gets the most significant fireballs. Whats more, they do not constantly offer a precise concept of the meteors trajectory.

The search

Thats where the drones can be found in. We used a technique established by my coworker Seamus Anderson to immediately find meteorites from drone images.

In the end we gathered 44 meteorites, weighing a bit over 4kg in total. Together they form what we call a “strewn field”.

Hadrien Devillepoix, Researcher in Planetary Astronomy, Curtin University.

A field team from Monash University looked for meteorites in the scattered field. Monash University, Author supplied

I combed through the record of events from the Desert Fireball Network and NASA, and cross-matched them with nearby weather condition radars. I looked for uncommon radar signatures that could indicate the presence of falling meteorites.

The value of open data.

And bingo, the 2013 occasion was not too far from the Woomera radar station. The weather was clear, and the radar record showed some small reflections at about the best place and time.

I offered what I hoped was an accurate treasure map to my coworker Andy Tomkins from Monash University. In September this year, he took place to be driving past the site on his way back from an exploration in the Nullarbor.

Also, the discover would not have actually occurred without the work of Joshua Soderholm at Australias Bureau of Meteorology, who worked to make low-level weather condition radar information openly accessible for other uses. Soderholm went to the trouble to make the radar data easily offered and simple to use, which works out beyond the vague formulas you can check out at the bottom of clinical documents like “information available upon sensible request”.

In 2019, Australias Bureau of Meteorology began making its weather radar data freely available to researchers and the public. I saw this as an opportunity to finish the puzzle.

A machine-learning algorithm determined meteorites from drone pictures. Curtin Uni, Author offered.

Strewn fields tell us a lot about how an asteroid pieces in our environment.

Finding meteorites is not a simple task. There is a network of high-quality ground-based sensing units called the Global Fireball Observatory, however it just covers about 1% of the planet.

Thats quite crucial to know, due to the fact that the energy of these things is comparable to that of nuclear weapons. The 17-metre asteroid that blew up over Chelyabinsk in Russia in 2013 produced an explosion 30 times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

These systems may offer us as much as a few days notification that an asteroid is heading for Earth. This would be too late to make any effort to deflect it– but plenty of time for preparation and troubleshooting on the ground.

Weather radars

Luckily, Andy found the first meteorite within 10 minutes of looking. In the following 2 hours, his group discovered nine more.

The United States satellites that identified the fireball are presumably there to identify rocket and rocket launches. Someone (I dont know who) need to have figured out how to publish some of the satellite data without providing away too much about their capabilities, and then lobbied tough to get the data released.