New Meteor Observation Camera Deployed at Jodrell Bank Observatory

Yesterday – on the hottest day of the 2022 – we had first light on our 360 degree all sky meteor observation camera deployed at the Jodrell Bank observatory site in Cheshire, UK. The new camera is the 2nd that the University of Manchester is working with (see here for our blog about the original camera working on the main university campus), and forms part of the SCAMP (System for Capture of Asteroid and Meteorite Paths) meteor camera network which is part of the French FRIPON camera network. In the UK the SCAMP network is one of the partners of the UK Fireball Alliance who coordinated the observation and recovery of the Winchcombe UK meteorite in Feb 2020.

Getting our bearings… trying to find north so we know which direction the camera is pointing. Andy and Sarah working the compass, and Katie being a human sundial. Photo: Tim O’Brien.
Jodrell Bank’s newly installed SCAMP / FRIPON meteor observation camera keeping an eye on the Lovell telescope. Image: Katherine Joy

The camera will automatically detect fireball events when meteoroids strike Earth’s atmosphere, and data collected will be used in coordination with the other UK camera network stations to calculate the orbits of the arriving objects, and to predict if they dropped a meteorite sample. Fireballs enter Earth’s atmosphere at incredible speeds – some 10 to 20 km per second and then they are rapidly slowed down and start to burn up through friction creating a bright streak which we can observe and track. The hope is that when the next event occurs, we will help find another UK meteorite fall event so that the sample analysis community can use newly arrived space rock to ask all sorts of interesting questions about the origins and evolution of planetary bodies in our Solar System.

First light on the Jodrell Bank FRIPON camera on the 19th July 2022. The bright object at the centre of the image is the Sun, to the left the Lovell telescope, at the top of the frame the 42 ft telescope, and to the right are tree tops. Image: Fripon / Anthony Holloway.

The camera sits with a great view of two of the dishes – the larger Lovell telescope and the 42 foot telescope – at the spectacular Jodrell Bank Observatory, part of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics, now a UNESCO world heritage site. The observatory has a fantastic newly designed visitor centre, which tells the story of the observatory and of the science of radio astronomy. Observations at Jodrell Bank were originally set up in the 1940s to look at cosmic rays from far off galactic sources, however, instead of cosmic rays, the radar equipment detected echoes from meteor trails in the upper atmosphere. Meteors became the primary research topic at Jodrell Bank in its earliest years. Thus, our new camera is carrying on the tradition of meteor observations this time using camera observations rather than radio waves.

First nightlight from the newly installed SCAMP / FRIPON camera at the Jodrell Bank observatory. At left is the rotating Lovell telescope, and at the top of the frame the 42 ft telescope. The chain of lights is from hanging chains of lanterns at the 2022 BlueDot music festival. Images: FRIPON/ François Colas

A massive thanks to Andy Smedley, Jim Rowe and the FRIPON team for coordinating the camera setup. Also huge thanks to the Jodrell Bank team of Sarah Smith, Anthony Holloway, and Tim O’Brien who have helped on the local logistics to find the camera a home at Jodrell. Thanks to the Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Manchester and the Royal Society for helping to fund the equipment.

Post camera installation – Katie, Tim, Andy and Anthony take a moment in the heat to pose with the newly installed SCAMP camera. The 42 ft telescope can be seen to the right. Image: Katherine Joy
The Lovell reflecting on the camera housing. Photo: Tim O’Brien.

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Links to meteor and meteorite science webpages

About Katherine Joy

Hello! I am Katherine Joy. I am part of the University of Manchester Isotope Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry group. More details about my research interests can be found at http://www.seaes.manchester.ac.uk/people/staff/profile/?ea=katherine.joy
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