Meteors and Observations from Dunsink
Meteors, also called shooting stars, are beautiful and short-lived streaks of light in the sky that last between a fraction of a second for the faint ones up to a few seconds for the bright ones. They are tiny pieces of dust and rock, usually millimetre to centimetre sized, burning up as they enter the upper atmosphere at speeds of about 10 kilometres per second. Many are debris from comets and asteroids. A few are big enough to hit the ground and, very occasionally, they cause damage! Find out more about meteor observing in Ireland below.
- Find and label meteors in the Dunsink data!
- View the raw images via our file browser.
- Citizen Science and the NEMETODE network
- About the Dunsink meteor cameras and radio antenna
- Education and research with meteors
- Useful Links
- Thanks and Acknowledgements
Citizen Science and the NEMETODE Network
The NEMETODE Network initiative is led by amateur astronomers as a citizen-science project, coordinating meteor-observing activities to detect and analyse meteors over the UK and Ireland. The network of cameras automatically search the sky for meteors and record the properties of any that they find. Analysing data from multiple cameras allows us to triangulate a meteor’s position, speed, trajectory, and even its orbit in the Solar System.
We joined NEMETODE with two cameras in late 2016 and a radio antenna in early 2017, funded through the SFI Discover Programme. Our colleague Michael O’Connell described our work in a BAA article from 2017. Getting started was a team effort, and we really appreciate everyone travelling from all over Ireland and even across the channel to help with the installation.
Since 2017 we have hosted regular meetings of the Irish and UK NEMETODE communities. Our cameras are pointed so that we have joint coverage with a number of other NEMETODE members in Ireland, and we are working to grow the network and help to fill in some of the geographical coverage gaps. Following the success of the NEMETODE cameras, we installed two higher-resolution digital cameras in October 2019, one with a fish-eye all-sky lens and the other pointed West but with wider sky coverage than the previous cameras.
In late 2019 we received a grant from the Royal Society Public Engagement Fund to install the all-sky meteor cameras at five more locations in Ireland, in partnership with Met Éireann, I-LOFAR, Armagh Observatory & Planetarium, CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, and Ballycroy National Park. Delayed by everything that happened in 2020, we are assembling and testing the systems at Dunsink.
The Dunsink meteor cameras and radio antenna
The 2016 cameras are Watec analog video cameras with approx 720×576 pixel resolution and 25 frames per second (fps). These are connected to a PC running SonotaCo UFOcapture software, which saves a frame buffer for up to 10 seconds and records video data to disk when motion is detected above the trigger thresholds. The meteor detections are checked manually to distinguish meteors from wildlife, airplanes, satellites and even fast clouds. This time-consuming process means the Watec camera images do not get processed quickly. Our cameras look south and south west, covering about 60×30 degrees of the sky.
The radio antenna covers a much larger fraction of the sky, but we don’t have any information on the direction from which the meteor is detected. The antenna is connected to a PC and events are recorded in a data table and a spectrogram. The NEMETODE group are working on correlating visual meteors with radio detections, to learn more about how to interpret the radio detections.
The 2019 and 2020 meteor camera systems are comprised of an Ultra-low-light IMX291 camera controlled by a Raspberry Pi 3b+ unit. These systems have been developed and provided by the Croatian Meteor Network and Global Meteor Network and all software is open source. The camera operates at 25 fps for high-definition video. The all-sky cameras are fitted with an ultra-low-light fisheye lens with 180-degree field of view (FOV), and the West-pointing camera has a 100-degree FOV. The camera is powered and connected by a single connector using power-over-ethernet.
Education and research with meteors
Transition Year Week
An annual Transition Year (TY) Week was set up in February 2017 at Dunsink Observatory to expose students to day-to-day scientific research through the use of meteor data. Meteors introduce students to concepts like shockwaves, fluid dynamics, radiative processes, the structure of the atmosphere, the Solar System and orbital dynamics. Data from the meteor cameras is ideal for TY students because it does not require high-level processing, the concept of meteors is quite simple to grasp, and the mathematics used for triangulation and orbit calculation are accessible to students who have completed the Junior Certificate.
It is very rewarding to see the students applying the Sine Rule and other concepts from Trigonometry to real data (usually for the first time), and realising that they can use Maths to pinpoint the location in Ireland over which a meteor entered the atmosphere. Students from North and South Dublin and Kildare have participated in our TY Weeks. We are strongly supported by volunteers during these weeks, including Michael O’Connell, Mike Foylan, David Malone, and DIAS staff and scholars.
In 2018 Mark Molloy from IT Sligo based his 4th Year Bachelor Thesis in Computer Science on developing a machine-learning algorithm to classify images from the Dunsink meteor cameras according to whether they contained a meteor or not. Former Dunsink TY student and current TCD bachelor student Sarah Joyce has also been investigating using machine learning for detecting meteors. Many of our images contain clouds, airplanes, birds, bats, satellites, cosmic rays, UFOs, etc., and sorting them manually is time-consuming. The machine-learning algorithm is excellent at excluding images that do not contain a meteor, and should make our work a lot easier!
- The DIAS Meteor data image repository
- The NEMETODE meteor network
- International Meteor Organisation and their Fireball Report Programme, where you can report your observations and upload images/video.
- The Global Meteor Network, where you can purchase cameras and get instructions to build your own.
- Fireball detection networks: European Fireball Network, FRIPON in France, SCAMP in the UK, Desert Fireball Network in Australia
- American Meteor Society
We are grateful to our funders and volunteers for supporting Citizen Science and Education at Dunsink Observatory:
- The NEMETODE cameras were installed in 2016 thanks to Jonathan Mackey’s grant from Science Foundation Ireland Discover Programme and lots of help from NEMETODE members, especially William Stewart and Michael O’Connell.
- Sam Green has led maintenance of the computers and cameras since 2016, and with Maria Moutzouri put together a workbook for the TY students.
- David Malone, the Institute of Physics in Ireland and Paul Nugent have supported us in developing the educational programme.
- In 2020 Jonathan Mackey received a grant from the Royal Society Public Engagement Fund to build up our online presence and start an all-Ireland network of all-sky cameras, in partnership with Met Éireann, I-LOFAR, Armagh Observatory & Planetarium, CIT Blackrock Castle Observatory, and Ballycroy National Park.
- Nicky Pochinkov has been our Royal Society-funded Summer Intern in Summer 2020 and created the meteor web-interface serving the data.
- Many thanks also to the diverse group of people who have supported the Dunsink meteor observation and related educational activities over the years: Rachael Ainsworth, John Flannery, Mike Foylan, Sarah Joyce, Samuel McKeague, Gordon Reineke, Kevin Smith, Peter Stewart, Camille Stock, and many more.
- Thanks to the DIAS IT staff for their help and support with Citizen Science at Dunsink!
- Special thanks to Hilary O’Donnell for all of her work and support in starting and growing the project, and Dunsink Directors (past and present) Luke Drury and Peter Gallagher for their support of citizen science at Dunsink.