The Earth's meteor environment

Supervisor: Dr. Paul Wiegert

Project Description (Abstract):

You're probably familiar with meteors, commonly referred to as 'falling stars' or 'shooting stars'. Each one of these is a small bit of rock about the size of a grain of sand, hitting the top of the Earth's atmosphere. Travelling at up to 72 kilometers per second, it has a tremendous amount of kinetic energy, some of which is released as a flash of light which we can see at the ground with the naked eye even though it burns up 100 km up in the sky. Here at Western there's a large Meteor Physics group. Meteors are studied with video cameras (which looks for the light flashes we see with our eye) but also by a special meteor radar located north of the city. This radar can detect meteors day or night, rain or shine and has been operating for about a decade. The radar regularly detects previously unseen meteor showers or outbursts of known meteor showers, and has accumulated a huge database of meteor information. The meteor Physics group operates in close cooperation with NASA, who are interested in the danger that meteors pose to spacecraft and astronauts. There is a large database of meteor orbits that has been collected, and that needs to be examined for new showers and to study some of the unusual aspects of the meteor environment. You would be using software that has already been developed to search the database, and examining individual meteor detections. Most of the work will be office/computer based, but you will get the chance to go and visit the radar and the other meteor instrument sites, which are located in the countryside around London. Computer skills, and any experience with computer programming at any level is helpful but not necessary.