28 February 2014

Astronomers at Curtin University are gathering valuable information about meteorites from  amateur sky-spotters through a new (free) smart phone application.

The ‘Fireballs in the Sky’ app allows enthusiasts—if they spot what they believe to  be a meteorite from their tell-tale fiery flashes—to report a sighting on their  iphone or Android, document its location and help work out where it came from  in the solar system. At the same time, the field observations and data about  the meteorites is being added to an important shared online database.

Meteorites generate a trailing fireball as they come through the atmosphere. It is possible to work out their trajectory, and track the rocks back to where they came from in the solar system.

Knowing where a meteorite came from, and what it is  made of, may help to determine how our planetary system came into being, and our own planet became capable of supporting life.

Curtin University’s Desert Fireball Network project is attempting to gather this data to answer these important questions.

Using a  network of digital cameras in the outback desert of  Australia, the Desert Fireball Network is continually capturing photographs of the night sky. The Network aims to image  the night sky over roughly one-third of Australia, and track whatever is coming  through the atmosphere.

The  Fireballs in the Sky app is providing further information from the public which  will feed into the data and photos received through the Network, creating an  extensive online catalogue of information about meteorites.    

2011 ARC Australian Laureate Fellow, Professor Phil Bland, leads the project at Curtin University and  said the Fireballs in the Sky app is a kind of “crowdsource  smartphone astronomical facility” that allows the public to share in the discoveries  of the Desert Fireball Network.

“Fireballs in the Sky is  essentially a citizen-science initiative that provides an engaging and  informative way to include ordinary people in the research process, to work alongside the research scientists studying meteorites,” Professor Bland said.

The Desert Fireball Network project is funded through the ARC Australian Laureate Fellowships scheme, and the Fireballs in the Sky app is an Australian  Government Inspiring Australia initiative.

Find out more about the Desert Fireball Network and download  the Fireballs in the Sky app from the Curtin University website.


Image: Screenshot of ‘Fireballs in the Sky’ app. Image courtesy: Professor Phil Bland and Curtin University.