Thanks to a complicated celestial choreography, Earth sees a dozen different meteor showers every year. But what if there could be more of them? What if they could be more predictable? What if they could be more colorful? What if they never wasted their beauty by falling over the ocean or on a cloudy night? What if, in short, humans could take over meteor showers and make them absolutely perfect Instagram fodder?
A Japanese company called ALE (based on the phrase Astro Live Experiences) announced earlier this month that they’re on track to create the very first artificial meteor shower in 2019. They’ve also announced that the display will be visible over a 125-mile swath of the Setouchi region of Japan, which includes the city of Hiroshima, among others.
That date is based on the projected launch in late 2018 or early 2019 of the satellites that will produce the meteor showers. ALE is hoping to be ready for a full-out display at the opening ceremony for the 2020 Olympics, which are being held in Tokyo. They had originally planned to get the first test satellite in orbit at the end of this year.
But once satellites, which are less than two feet across, are in orbit, how do they create the artificial showers? They will be programmed to release hundreds of metal spheres the size of blueberries from more than 300 miles above Earth’s surface. Each individual “meteor” sphere is reported to cost about $8,000.
Like fireworks, different types of metals produce different colors: copper for green, sodium for yellow, potassium for purple, and much more. They’ve tested those metal-color pairs in ground-based simulations to hone their palette.
The company’s website touts the idea as “a whole new level of entertainment,” but some scientists have raised concerns it will lead to an excess of frivolous satellite launches that will exacerbate the problem of space debris floating around our planet and threatening the International Space Station.
Natural meteor showers occur when Earth’s orbit swings through an unusually messy area of space, typically junk left behind by a comet orbiting the sun. As those hunks of metal, ice and rock enter Earth’s atmosphere, they burn up in a blaze we know as a shooting star. And if you don't want to wait until 2019, you just missed the peak of the Leonid meteor shower but have plenty of time to prepare for next month’s Geminids and Ursids showers.
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