Japanese company Astro Live Experiences (ALE) is gearing up to send satellites into space to produce the world’s first man-made meteor shower.
The project, named Sky Canvas, aims to study the path and light emission of shooting stars to help scientists develop better weather models.
ALE had originally scheduled the launch for 2020, but it was forced to cancel the firework show after detecting a malfunction in one of the satellites.
The company has now announced the meteor shower will take place in 2025, when “ALE hopes to give Brits and others all over the world the opportunity to view the world’s first live human-made meteor shower”.
Meteor showers occur when dust from space objects – such as asteroids and comets – enter the Earth’s atmosphere and heat up due to friction from the air. The heat causes gases around the space particles to glow brightly, creating what we call ‘shooting stars’.
ALE plans to reproduce this effect artificially with metal-based ‘shooting star’ particles, around 1cm in size. The grains will be placed in small satellites and sent to orbit.
Once the orbit stabilises, the particles will be released at around 400km above Earth. The particles will then travel a third of the way around the planet before burning upon entering the atmosphere at an altitude of 60-80km, the company said.
The company aims to use the satellites to collect data such as wind speed, and atmospheric composition, to improve current climate models and “contribute to the sustainable development of humankind”.
“As a first step, I founded ALE to create the world’s first human-made shooting star, to inspire wonder and to spark scientific curiosity,” said Dr Lena Okajima, founder and chief executive of ALE.
“In the future, by combining critical climate research with a new form of space entertainment we believe we can further our scientific understanding of climate change while also inspiring curiosity and interest in people all over the world about space and the universe.”
The company said its ground-based experiments have succeeded in producing multiple colours, but it is not yet known whether multicoloured shooting stars can be produced in orbit.
Once the satellites have reached the end of their life, they will be plunged into the atmosphere and burned off.
“We will also take all possible precautions in the release of meteor sources so that [they] do not hit other man-made objects and increase space debris,” ALE said.
Over the last few years, there has been considerable discussion by space agencies, lawmakers and private companies about how to tackle the problem of space debris, ranging from policy suggestions (such as the introduction of orbital-use fees) to high-tech active space clean-ups (using satellites armed with claws, nets, magnets and other devices).
To address the issue of space junk, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted to reduce the deadline for the removal of unused satellites in low-Earth orbit from 25 years to five.
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