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New Smartphone App Allows Armchair Astronomers To Identify Fireballs

November 28, 2013
Image Credit: Thinkstock.com

[ Watch the Video: Tracking Fireballs With New Smartphone App ]

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online

Citizen astronomers will now be able to use their smartphones to help collect important meteorite data, courtesy of a new app developed by researchers at Curtin University in Perth, Australia.

The software is known as Fireballs In The Sky (FITS), and according to Joanna Egan of Australian Geographic, it will allow users to track the paths of meteors and other fireballs.

Experts will then be able to analyze the collected data and send information about how and where the object formed, as well as how fast it was traveling. The team that developed the app said that anyone would be able to use it – all they need to do is hold their phones up to the night sky after observing a meteorite. A map of the stars will then appear on the device’s screen, allowing users to indicate where the fireball started and ended.

Curtin University professor Phil Bland, one of the developers of the app, told BBC News Science Editor Paul Rincon that it could be used anywhere in the world, and would take advantage of a smartphone’s GPS, compass and accelerometer to help collect data that could be used in a crowdsourced meteor network.

“If we get enough observations we can determine a trajectory and send that information back to you – for instance, you might get a message that the rock that made your fireball came from the outer asteroid belt, or that it was a chunk of a comet,” Bland said.

“Essentially, members of the public can help us track anything that’s coming through the atmosphere,” he added. “It’s wonderful to see one of these things; it’s even more amazing to know where the object that made your fireball came from in the Solar System.”

According to Rincon, FITS was developed by the Desert Fireball Network, a project at the university that was designed to help track meteorites that fall to the planet’s surface by capturing images of fireballs and meteors. Members of the network have created a matrix of cameras throughout Australia, helping them capture fireballs on camera while they soar through the skies and helping scientists calculate the origins and orbit of meteors.

Furthermore, Egan explained that the app will allow users to generate an actual animation of the objected that they witnessed. “So if there was a big bright flare, you can pick that option and on the screen you’ll see a fireball with a big bright flare,” Bland said. “You can then change the color of the fireball; you can change its speed; and you can play around with the animation until it replicates what you saw.”

The app was released earlier this month for both iOS and Android, and is currently available for download from both the Apple App Store and the Google Play marketplace. Fireballs In The Sky will only operate on iPhone 4 or later iPhone models, and the Android version is only compatible with Android 4.0 or later versions.


Source: redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online