Camera online

Researchers have their eyes on the sky

Although Chicken Little has reason to panic, for a select few students and researchers, the falling sky is an exciting proposition.

James Hargest College is one of several schools in New Zealand to have received night sky cameras from the University of Ontario in an effort to triangulate the position of any meteors that fall to earth in the hope recover them to study space materials.

The James Hargest camera was installed in October by University of Otago geology researcher Marshall Palmer, who returned to school on Friday with masters student Thomas Stevenson to adjust its positioning due to interference streets and cars.

Palmer and Stevenson both work with Fireball Aotearoa, a collaboration between scientists from the universities of Canterbury and Otago, and citizen scientists who operate meteor observation cameras across New Zealand.

Mr Palmer said there are now 18 cameras in the Southern Zone which have tracked thousands of meteors over the past few months, including a record 409 in one night, although only a handful have reached Earth intact .

“Of all these objects that enter the Earth’s atmosphere, we think four hit the ground in New Zealand in a year, so it’s pretty impressive if they go through the atmosphere.”

Ronan Shearing (18), the deputy director of James Hargest, is a space enthusiast and plans to study astrophysics at the University of Canterbury next year.

“It’s pretty cool to see astronomy in our school… Just being here and talking to these guys and listening to what they’re doing is really cool,” he said.

Samantha York, scientific director of James Hargest College, said the project was ideal for involving children with a passion for astronomy, and she hoped to incorporate the camera into their citizen science project.

One of the most recent intact meteors tracked by Fireball Aotearoa fell to earth near Dunedin in September, although efforts to recover the object have so far been unsuccessful.

Mr Palmer said the likelihood of a meteor hitting a property was unlikely, although in 2004 a 1.4kg meteor hit an Auckland house, landing in his living room.

From: Ben Tomsett