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The Sciences

On-Demand Meteor Showers Could Soon Be For Sale in Japan


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Forget fireworks: on-demand shooting stars are the future of sky-high pyrotechnics. It sounds far-fetched, but a Japanese start-up company, called ALE, believes it has the technological muscle to manufacture artificial “meteor showers” that light up the night sky. ALE plans to pull off this feat by sending a tiny satellite into orbit that would eject a stream of 1-inch balls that glow as they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

Cosmic Firecrackers

Shooting stars, of course, aren’t stars at all; they’re tiny bits of space dust and debris — called meteoroids — that visibly burn brilliantly as they enter Earth’s atmosphere, becoming meteors. Meteors typically disintegrate before they hit Earth, but if they make landfall, they are then termed meteorites. Unfortunately, natural meteor showers aren’t a common spectacle, and they’re even less common if you life in major cities bathed in light pollution. Japanese astronomer Lena Okajima founded ALE, in partnership with scientists and engineers, to make the cosmic spectacle conform to modern society’s “on-demand” expectations.

Design Phase

ALE is still seeking funds from investors to develop their conceptual enterprise, so it's not clear when the service will actually start lighting up the skies. In the meantime, the company's researchers are currently designing a tiny, 20-inch satellite, or CubeSat, that would orbit the Earth about 250 to 310 miles in the sky with a payload of artificial meteoroids. The satellite would then eject the balls into the atmosphere and let gravity and friction do the rest of the work. What, exactly, these tiny balls are made of is a closely held secret, but Okajima told AFP that the chemical formula could be tweaked to customize the color of each “shooting star.” Furthermore, tests performed on the balls indicate that they would be visible even in Tokyo, a metropolis drowning in artificial light. And if clouds happen to spoil your shooting star party, the show can be called off up to 100 minutes before launch. Before you plan your first meteor shower, you’ll want to take a hard look at your budget: Each shooting star will cost around $8,100. In a world where we choose which movie we want to watch, the song we want to hear, the news that pours through our feeds and even the weather we experience on our wedding day, it seems fitting that shooting stars, which have amazed cultures since ancient times, may soon be personalized as well.

Photo credit: fabiodevilla


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