Leicester scientists to search skies for 'falling fireballs'

An optical camera on a roof of a building
The FRIPON optical camera at Space Park Leicester -Credit:Space Park Leicester

Scientists will be able to search the skies for “falling fireballs” after the installation of a “special camera” in Leicester. The optical camera was installed at the University of Leicester’s £100 million science and innovation park, Space Park Leicester.

Space Park Leicester said the camera would help scientists more efficiently recover meteorites when they fall to Earth from outer space. It said over the “past few days” the camera has identified a meteorite over the Midlands and recorded images of The Northern Lights on Friday, May 10.

Following the camera’s installation, scientists at the park and from the University have become part of the Fireball Recovery and InterPlanetary Observation Network (FRIPON), which is operated by a team of international scientists. Professor of Planetary Science John Bridges, from the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy and Space Park Leicester said that they are “very proud” to have joined.

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An image of a meteorite captured over the Midlands' skies by an optical camera in Leicester
An image of a meteorite captured over the Midlands' skies by the Leicester team -Credit:Space Park Leicester

He said: “Its main objectives include detecting fireballs and computing their trajectories and orbits, calculating where meteorites have fallen, determining the meteorites’ origins and analysing recovered samples. The study of the properties of such interplanetary matter is incredibly important because it’s crucial to our understanding of the formation and evolution of the Solar System.

“We’re very proud to be part of the FRIPON scientific project which is operated by an international team of scientists.” University of Leicester PhD student Niamh Topping said: “We were really excited to pick up a meteorite in the Midlands’ skies during the past few days.

“Researchers haven’t been able to locate the fall site for this particular meteorite but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until one of the meteorites we record in Leicester is recovered.” The development comes in the run-up to the 60th anniversary of the largest meteorite fall observed in Britain which occurred in Leicestershire.

University of Leicester PhD student Niamh Topping
University of Leicester PhD student Niamh Topping -Credit:Space Park Leicester

On Christmas Eve 1965, a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite fragment the size of a turkey broke up over the village of Barwell. FRIPON aims to increase the number of recoveries by triggering a field search within 24 hours of a meteorite falling to Earth.

Professor Bridges said: “The most efficient approach for recovering freshly fallen meteorites is to observe their bright atmospheric entry via specialist camera and radio networks, like FRIPON. Such networks make it possible to accurately calculate meteorites’ trajectories which enables us to not only determine their pre-atmospheric orbit but also their fall location.”

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