Peter Brown’s research within the Meteor Physics Group in the Department of Physics and Astronomy might have the largest territorial spread of any lab in the Faculty of Science. Studying various aspects of meteors, like speed, size, and trajectory, as they rocket to Earth, the Group has 20 observational sites across Ontario and Quebec. The majority of the sites have cameras set up to record segments of the sky, looking for the characteristic streaks of light produced by the meteors as they collide with our atmosphere. There are also six radar stations; when the meteors burn up in our atmosphere, they leave a trail of ions which reflect radio waves, then sensed by the radar. A great advantage offered by the radar stations operated by the Brown Lab is that they are not dependent on clear skies to gather information. Regardless of location or type, all of the Group’s instruments are fully automated, meaning that they are continuously gathering crucial information on the rocky bodies pelting our planet.
“We build everything in house,” says Brown, “the cameras are all constructed and tested here at Western before being deployed to the field.” In addition to the campus-made observational equipment, they also operate a server farm; “we’re generating hundreds of terabytes of data, so we have computer clusters and servers here at Western to crunch all those numbers,” explains Brown. To further enrich the picture, Brown and his colleagues also use sensitive microphones to listen for shockwaves from the incoming meteors and correlate the audio with the optical data. The Group’s meteor tracking also helps to build predictive models for incoming meteor showers, which are necessary to protect orbiting defense and telecommunications satellites from being destroyed.
Members within the Brown Lab:
Auriane Egal – Postdoctoral fellow
Denis Vida – PhD student
Mike Mazur – PhD student