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Perseid meteor shower (as seen by a radio telescope)

Submitter: Megan Argo
Description: This weekend (August 12-14) see the annual maximum of the Perseid meteor shower, caused by the Earth passing through the debris trail of comet Swift-Tuttle. As the tiny particles of dust and rock left behind by the comet enter our atmosphere they heat up and give off light, leaving behind a visual trail which can be seen from the ground.

But, like much in astronomy, meteors can also be seen in other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum. This image shows several hours of Perseid observations from August 12th 2009, made using a simple radio telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory in the UK. Each yellow patch in the image is the radio signature of an individual meteor.

You can try this yourself. The setup is simple: you need a dipole antenna and a scanning receiver capable of operating in the VHF band. As meteors pass through the atmosphere they ionise the air. These ions act like a mirror for radio waves, allowing you to detect radio and TV transmissions which are normally too far away to pick up. Tune your receiver to the frequency of a transmitter in another country and you should hear a ping each time a meteor passes through the atmosphere.

Join CAMRAS at the Dwingeloo radio telescope this weekend to have a listen for yourself!
Copyright: Jodrell Bank Observatory
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