John Parsons retired from his career four years ago and moved to the Algarve with his wife for sunny weather and friendly people. He found both but continued searching the sky, this time looking for meteors.
John purchased and installed an Allsky7 camera system designed to support the growing American Meteor Society network of skywatchers. The project has three goals: popularise astronomy and atmospheric phenomena, support scientific analysis, and to capture and share data and recordings.
I visited him to see how well the system works first hand, and to see if a similar system could be successful at capturing evidence for Unidentified Aerial Phenomena, the modern name for UFOs.
“The hardware for the system consists of this 7-camera enclosure, mounted on a scaffolding,” John said pointing to the little saucer shaped enclosure he mounted to his roof, “and a little computer module running the Allsky7 software on Ubuntu.”
“That’s it?” I said.
“That’s it. Well, you do still need your own computer to manage the recordings.”
24 hour monitoring
The 7 cameras in the AllSky7 enclosure overlap to reduce distortion and monitor the sky 24 hours a day for any tell-tale flashes from a meteor hitting the atmosphere at Mach 20.
“Here was a very bright flash a few weeks ago.” John said, opening a short clip automatically saved onto his computer. “The meteor made a large green fireball when it hit the atmosphere. My system picked it up and so did the other system in Tomar, Portugal.”
There is one other system in north Portugal, run by Rui Gonçalves.
John and Rui can now triangulate where that Meteor could possibly land and try to find it.
John said, “Unfortunately it can be big money for meteor hunters, some of these sell for 1,000 euro per gram and can weigh 20-30kg,”
“That’s 200-300,000 euro per meteor!” I said.
“Yes. We track where they land, but if we have their trajectory we also learn exactly where they came from. There is an immense amount of information to be learned about how our solar system formed, how the earth formed. Some of these have broken off from Mars or the moon. I want to find those meteorites for science, not for sitting on some rich person’s shelf.”
That citizen science mentality is the reason I made the trip to see John’s system.
The US government confirmed in it’s 25 June National Intelligence Preliminary Assessment that UFOs “probably do represent real objects” and that somehow we still don’t know what they are.
After 70 years of ineptitude, it is this author’s opinion that thousands of citizens working together are about to change that narrative.
Hardware and software costs have fallen dramatically in the last few years. For 1200 euro John purchased and mounted the very capable system himself. The software is open source and free to the public.
Once set up the Allsky7 cameras run on their own. They use starmaps of the sky to continually refine their image. The software uploads meteor data and saves interesting events for John to review later.
“This was that bright green flash of a meteor I mentioned earlier, normally they are white but green means a high carbon content. Here was something else interesting,” John clicked on a video clip of a string of lights slowly moving across the sky, “The system ignored it because it wasn’t a meteor but for a minute I thought maybe we caught Santa’s sleigh…”
It turns out it was the starlink satellite deployment, recognised and ignored by the system.
“Could a system like this be used for other citizen projects?” I asked, “Do you think Sky360 could work?”
“I don’t see why not, the Allsky7 system works quite well, there must be areas of collaboration.”
I had the same sentiment. John’s system had noted 658 meteors the previous night, during the annual Geminid Meteor shower.
“Did you find that meteorite you tracked, John? The green one?” I asked.
“No, it is still quite a lot of work. With only two active systems in Portugal the accuracy is not very good. We only get a 20 mile impact possibility so I’d have to be pretty lucky. We need more people to get involved.”
I could feel the excitement and enthusiasm from John. Citizen science is growing and I think it desperately needs to. We can continually talk about wanting to improve STEM in our schools and societies, or like John, we can put our time and money where our mouths are by just doing STEM projects. Will 2022 be the year we prove the existence of extraterrestrial life? With enough eyeballs looking up I think there is a real possibility.
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