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Space Science

Astronomer Photographs Meteor Through Telescope 81

Matt Rogers writes "Amateur astronomer Mike Hankey may be the first person on earth to take a picture of a fireball meteor through a telescope. The picture has been confirmed authentic by numerous professional astronomers and asteroid hunters. This picture could possibly be the first of its kind. Taking a picture of a meteor is a very difficult thing to do, taking a picture of a meteor through a telescope is near impossible. The hunt is on in southern PA for the meteorites that broke away from this space rock. Using Hankey's picture, as well as security tape, meteorite hunters have been able to narrow down the crash site to a smaller area. Even with the trajectory roughly determined, professional meteorite hunters think finding these meteorites may be near impossible. However if they are found they will be immensely valuable and could be very large."
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Astronomer Photographs Meteor Through Telescope

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  • makes me smile (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JeffSh ( 71237 ) <jeffslashdot@NOsPam.m0m0.org> on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @10:49PM (#28790933)

    I can tell from reading his blog post that Mike is very excited to be wrapped up in this whirlwind affair of being the first person in the world to ever catch a meteorite through a telescope, the guy is absolutely giddy in his writing and awe of the world wide attention. It has a sort of innocence about it that is rather charming. It absolutely comes through in his writing, reading it makes me smile from how genuine it comes across. He's in for some fun and exhausting times for the next few days. he must be having a hard time sleeping and all that, how exciting for him, way to go mike!

  • by syousef ( 465911 ) on Wednesday July 22, 2009 @11:03PM (#28791027) Journal

    It's common for amateur astronomers to do meteor photography but they do not use telescopes. Instead they use wide angle lenses on a camera to improve their chances of a meteor being caught on film (digital or otherwise). The reason it hasn't been done before is that it would be very frustrating and you'd need to take a lot of pictures before statistically expecting to capture one meteor. Despite that I'm very surprised it hasn't been done before (and I have a degree in Astronomy, though I must admit meteors were never one of my principle interests).

    Clearly it's exciting because if you can get a closer look at something you can learn more about it. As for it being just a streak, I doubt there's a camera on Earth that'll catch anything more than a streak using current techniques. Meteors are both faint and very fast moving. Either one you can compensate for but both...that's a challenge.

  • by plover ( 150551 ) * on Thursday July 23, 2009 @12:51AM (#28791655) Homepage Journal

    "its basically almost impossible to do. especially a meteor like this."

    I don't understand why it's nearly impossible, is it JUST because "you'd need to take a lot of pictures before statistically expecting to capture one meteor" as one commenter said? Nor do I understand how/why he was able to do it.

    Could someone please explain?

    How about "He got lucky because a meteor happened to pass through his time lapse exposure of Andromeda." Does that explain it better?

    Nowhere did the article say he was explicitly trying to photograph a meteor. He was just photographing some sky near Andromeda when the meteor accidentally passed his scope. If you were to try to photograph a meteor, you'd be spending a lot of time outside.

    For fun, let's do the math and figure out how hard it would really be to photograph a meteor. First, just suppose his telescope and camera setup could gather light from about 1 arc minute of sky. (Crap, I'm lousy at this math, so I'll post it anyway and let someone correct me.) There are about 3,437 arc minutes in a radian, squared that would be about 11,812,969 arc minutes in a steradian. There are 4 pi steradians in a sphere; given that you can only see half the sky, that leaves 2 pi steradians of sky in which to point your telescope.

    Assuming you have a night where you are guaranteed to see one meteor, but you don't know where it will be in the sky, you have a roughly one in 75 million chance that your telescope will be pointing in the right direction when it blasts by. Since meteors are extremely quick little buggers, you'd have no time to aim or even click the shutter upon its arrival. That means you'd have to reduce your chances even further by the time you are NOT spending taking pictures (setting up, between shots, changing batteries, etc.)

    Statistically, you have a better chance of winning the lottery than you do of photographing a meteor through a telescope. "Nearly impossible" is pretty accurate.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 23, 2009 @03:10AM (#28792441)

    Many 'amateur' astronomers are not amateur at all. And when the world's largest telescopes have full schedules targeting deep space mysteries and other weird objects, the 'common' celestial targets are ignored. Amateur astronomers don't ignore such things, they spend a lot of time and effort to observe them.

    For example, the planet Jupiter.

    Here's a discovery made by another amateur, Anthony Wesley. An impact mark on Jupiter, similar to Shoemaker-Levy which occurred back in 1994. And here's the link [samba.org].

    I didn't see anything about it in /. Why?

  • by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Thursday July 23, 2009 @03:56AM (#28792657) Journal

    First, just suppose his telescope and camera setup could gather light from about 1 arc minute of sky. (Crap, I'm lousy at this math, so I'll post it anyway and let someone correct me.)

    Most astronomical telescopes have a light-gathering cone covering about a degree of sky (so-called widefield scopes manage a few degrees). The amount visible through an eyepiece is less than this, by a factor which depending on many parameters. The amount captured in focal plane photography is also less, then the whole field, but typically not greatly less.
    Meteors are common enough - you'll see several per hour in a dark site with clear skies. Fireball meteors are rare, however; I've only seen two, and I'm an amateur astronomer. One was in the mid 1980s and was visible in broad daylight and took several seconds to cross about a quarter of the sky (probably burned out at high altitude). The other was at night in the late 1990s and was truly spectacular - it crossed the entire sky in little more than a second, with a flaming trail covering at least 20 degrees.

  • Re:Burkina Faso? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ezzzD55J ( 697465 ) <slashdot5@scum.org> on Thursday July 23, 2009 @09:02AM (#28794197) Homepage

    2-letter acronyms for the US states are so common, and so easy to recognize from context, that I don't think it's unreasonable. I'm not American and I picked up on it instantly. (Anecdotal, I know.)

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. -- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.