The Global Meteor Network: A planet-sized scientific instrument
16 September 2022 @ 7:30 pm - 9:00 pm BST
Talk by Denis Vida
With the increased space presence and the prospect of asteroid mining, understanding the near-Earth meteoroid environment is becoming essential to mitigating meteoroid impact hazard to spacecraft. Meteor science is hindered by the simple physical fact that an average meteor lasts only half a second. In that time, the orbit, the composition, and the mass need to be characterized. Considering that the brightness of most meteors is at the edge of human perception, one quickly runs out of photons to feed to instruments. Recently, major breakthroughs in the field were done by authors with access to unique manually reduced observations collected by specialized instruments. The cost effectiveness of these instruments is low as only about tens of fainter meteors can be observed and manually reduced per night to ensure quality (meteorite dropping fireballs occur even rarely, once every few years), and the data collection may be impeded by local weather conditions. The Global Meteor Network project aims to build a world-wide decentralized scientific instrument – a collection of highly sensitive low-cost meteor cameras. Currently, more than 500 automated meteor systems in over 30 countries produce hundreds of high-quality meteor orbits a day which are publicly available in near real time. The data quality is ensured through automated calibration and by using advanced methods of meteor trajectory estimation.
Denis first got interested in astronomy in high school after joining a local astronomy club. It was a motley crew of people interested in socializing, stargazing and gastronomy [sic]. At this time, Denis was more interested in computers than pure science, and enrolled in a Computer Science program. During his studies, he got involved with the local meteor network and helped them develop software for meteor observation and data processing. The first encounter with real science came during this time, when he was involved in a recovery of a meteorite observed by the network’s cameras, and finding new meteors showers. He also collaborated with an observatory in Spain which was focused on discovering near-Earth asteroids. The astronomers running the project offered to share their data and we used them to find 20 new supernovae. After obtaining a Master’s degree in Computer Science, Denis decided to make his passion his profession, and enrolled in a Geophysics PhD program at Western to study meteors. He found that the people at the Western Meteor Physics Group are a great bunch and was flourishing under their supervision. He obtained a PhD degree in 2020, after 3.5 years, during which time he published five peer-reviewed papers. In 2015, he had incredible luck to meet some smart people who had the vision of using Raspberry Pi mini computers as the basis for low-cost video meteor stations. Six years later, this project grew into the Global Meteor Network which has over 300 meteor cameras in 22 countries across the globe. In the near future, Denis hopes to publish as many papers as possible about the incredible meteors observed by the Global Meteor Network, and get hired as an astronomy professor. When not at the keyboard writing code or papers, Denis enjoys long hikes when in Canada, and sailing when visiting family in Croatia.