By Donna Vanzetti

Wouldn’t it be great to be a Citizen Scientist and help in important space science research!  Well our very own Galaxy Girl, Carol Redford is doing just that!  She has sixteen video cameras positioned on the rainwater tank on her farm, and they take video every night.  It is part of the Cameras for Allsky Meteor Survey (CAMS) project, sponsored by NASA.

Dr Peter Jenniskens from the Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence or SETI Institute, visited Carol’s farm to install the cameras which are linked to another set in Bindoon and another at Curtin University.  All up the network has 263 cameras positioned across the globe including in the United States, Belgium, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand and now Australia.

The aim is to authenticate some of the 300+ meteor showers in the International Astronomical Union’s Working List that need confirmation plus search for previously unknown meteor showers and track the originating comets in near-Earth orbits.

I asked Carol about being a part of this exciting space science project.

How did you happen to have 16 cameras up on your rainwater tank?

I’ve been a long time Citizen Scientist with the Fireballs in the Sky team who are based at Curtin University. You could say I play a larger role. Over the years I’ve had lots of different meteor-related experiments on the farm. From the first test cameras for the Desert Fireball Network to a trial that was helping to protect satellites in Earth’s geosynchronous orbit. Of course, I was so excited when the Fireballs team got in touch about our farm hosting the CAMS project.

Installing the CAMs
Installing the CAMS at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

How do you feel being part of a global science project?

It’s amazing to be part of space science research and to play a small part in helping humanity understand more about our world and our Universe. WA has such an amazing history and future in space science, right through to the huge Square Kilometre Array telescope being built here. We’re the astronomy capital of the world and I am part of that. It might be only in a small way, but you never know what those video cameras on the rainwater tank will discover!

Carol Redford in front of CAMS
Carol Redford in front of the CAMS cameras

Do you have to do anything to the cameras at all?

Not really! They sit on top of the rainwater tank and work away, night after night. Even the clear covering that protects the cameras from the weather doesn’t seem to need cleaning! So, they are very low maintenance. That’s testament to the CAMS network who thought up the design and built it. Very clever!

Cameras for Allsky Meteor Survey (CAMS)
Dr Peter Jenniskens checking the CAMS cameras before installation at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

The CAMS Project

Not really! They sit on top of the rainwater tank and work away, night after night. Even the clear covering that protects the cameras from the weather doesn’t seem to need cleaning! So, they are very low maintenance. That’s testament to the CAMS network who thought up the design and built it. Very clever!

Carol received confirmation from Dr Jenniskens that CAMS Australia is all online and operating well. The network triangulated 119 meteors from the WA cameras on 3 July 2020! This data can be seen on the NASA Meteor Shower Portal. (Hint: When you visit the NASA Meteor Shower Portal to see data, first choose a date, e.g. 3 July 2020, in the top right-hand corner of the webpage to show the data for that night.)

At the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, the CAMS New Zealand network also discovered some interesting data on 31 March 2019. This network detected an outburst of delta Pavonids of comet C/1907 Grigg-Mellish. The outburst confirmed that this comet is on a relatively short orbit and a potential Earth impact hazard. See New Zealand data here. (Hint: Remember to choose the date in the top right-hand corner of the webpage.)

Dr Jenniskens is an expert on meteor showers and was part of a science field study following the 2013 Chelyabinsk meteor in Russia that caused damage to buildings and injuries to over a thousand people.  People reported that they were literally knocked off their feet and glass didn’t just shatter, it turned into spray, as they were hit by the meteors shock wave.

The Russian meteor was only 20 metres in diameter and still caused significant damage, even as it fractured into smaller pieces.  This incident put astronomers on notice and makes the CAMS and DFN all the more important.

The CAMS project also protects humans up in space.  Being able to forecast meteor showers and their trajectory, allows the International Space Station to be notified so they can go into lockdown and shield the station and astronauts inside from micro meteoroid debris. If larger debris is expected, NASA performs a ‘Collision Avoidance Manoeuvre’ by using its thrusters to move it out of danger.

In a PNAS article written about camera networks tracking meteorites that features the CAMS project, Dr Jenniskens says “It’s basically video surveillance of the night sky. You film the meteors that appear and you do that from two or more sites, triangulate the track, and determine from where the meteors are coming and at what speed.”

To keep to date with breaking news from the CAMS project, visit the official Ames Research Centre website.

The CAMS project is just one way of learning more about the origin and evolution of the solar system but importantly, is also one of many defence mechanisms for protecting the Earth from potential impact threats. 

The Desert Fireball Network (DFN) led by Professor Phil Bland from Curtin University also works with a remote network of cameras scattered across Australia’s deserts.  They track meteors as they streak across the sky allowing the team to triangulate the rocks fiery trajectory and then the search is on! In a recent article by Scitech’s Particle online magazine, Prof Bland said “By recovering these rocks, they have the potential to show how our Solar System was formed, through their mineral composition – a snapshot of the creation process over the past 4.5 billion years.”

Carol also has a DFN camera up on her farm, helping to capture these alien rocks as they race through our atmosphere.

CAMS at Curtin University
CAMS Curtin University

Ready to count fireballs?

The Desert Fireball Network team at Curtin University needs your help to track fireballs so they can go out and retrieve meteorites! Become a Citizen Scientist with the Desert Fireball Network!

We look forward to welcoming you to our friendly community of Stargazers & Astronomy Lovers where we thrive on making learning about the galaxy easy & fun!

Carol Redford - Founder Stargazers Club WA

Carol

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