For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them...

The Stardust Meteor Observatory

One of the research projects under development at the CRS' Van Andel Creation Research Center is the use of amateur radio equipment as a radio observatory to study the characteristics and origin of meteors entering the earth's atmosphere. Meteor showers are thought to be debris resulting from the breakup of comets, perhaps less than 10,000 years ago. What is the rate and pattern of meteor bombardment? Can any conclusion be drawn about the rate of accumulation of meteoritic dust on the earth's surface?
The Stardust meteor observatory is currently collecting data on an average of 3,000 meteor falls per day.

Stardust is a program to evaluate incoming meteors by monitoring the VHF radio reflectivity of ionized meteor trails. Meteor trails normally form from 90 miles up down to about 70 miles or so. These trails are composed of ionized atmospheric gases. A typical trail may be 20 miles in length, a few feet in diameter, and may last from 0.5 seconds (or less) up to perhaps 30 seconds for a really bright "fireball." The more energy imparted to the atmosphere, either be velocity or by size, the longer the ionized trail will last. Incoming speeds are between about 40,000 and 140,000miles per hour. Size is usually that of a sand grain.

The ionized meteor trail has an interesting property. It will cause reflection of radio signals in the 30 MHz to 150 MHz range. Mid-range frequencies are best. An FM or TV receiver that is tuned to a station far beyond the line of sight will occasionally detect a momentary reflection of the sky wave signal back down to earth. Depending on meteor activity, size and velocity of the meteor, power of the transmitting station, distance of the transmitting station, orientation and gain of the receiving antenna, sensitivity of the receiver, etc., it is possible to detect 3,000 to 6,000 meteor trails in a 24 hour period. Though it is not possible to tell precisely, we estimate that our system covers a "footprint" about 300 miles wide and 800 miles in length.

Our system uses a computer controlled Icom PCR-1000 all band receiver with the signal strength output being fed into a second computer using a DATAQ A/D converter for display and recording. The accumulated data are then analyzed with a custom software program.

In June 2000 we established a second Stardust observatory near Sebring, Florida. This one is being operated by Bob Meyer. He is a retired missionary who is an amateur radio operator and who has a lot of technical background. In December 2000 a third Stardust observatory was established at Cedarville College in Cedarville, Ohio. This observatory will be used by the Electrical Engineering department and will incorporate student and faculty research projects to improve signal detection and analysis and to reduce interference problems.

These three observatories have been established through generous donations of friends and members who have earmarked contributions to this specific project. That support is greatly appreciated. Continuing support for this project will allow us to continue its development

Implications of this project relate to evaluating decaying comets that produce meteor showers, developing a data base on meteor activity to evaluate accumulation of meteorite dust coming into the atmosphere, developing a model for the origin and age of meteorites, and basic meteor astronomy.

While we have put much time and many dollars into the development of this project, a meteor observatory station can now be replicated by anyone who has two dedicated computers, about $1,500 and the ability to build electronic equipment from plans and instructions. Standard test bench equipment would also be needed. The computers do not need to be high speed but must run Windows. A high degree of curiosity is also an essential element!

If you would like to visit any of these locations, please let me know and I will try to make arrangements. We would be glad to work with other members who might have an interest in building the Stardust system. It is a fascinating project and it is quite impressive to see signals on the computer screen that are generated by visitors from outer space!

Project Details:

STARDUST RADIO-METEOR OBSERVATORY DATA FOR JANUARY, 2000 Observers, Del Dobberpuhl, John Meyer, Jack Meyer.

Location: Van Andel Creation Research Center, Chino Valley, AZ. USA. 34 50 ' 50" N, 112 29' 50" W. Elevation 1347 meters ( 4420 feet) above sea level.

Frequencies: 88.5, 88.9, and 89.7 MHz for signal FM receivers; 87.9 MHz (currently an unused frequency) for noise FM receiver.

Transmitter Locations: Many possibilities including: El Paso, TX ; Mesquite, TX: Commerce, TX; Abilene, TX; Farmington, NM; Colorado Springs, CO.

Antenna: Dipole housed in corner reflector built from wire screen. Open end of reflector tilted at about 65 degrees above horizon and facing due east.

Antenna Pre-amplifier: 27 db gain.

Coax Cable: 152 meters(500 feet) of RG-8

Receiver Inputs: Four-way splitter with outputs to each receiver

Receivers: Four OPTIMUS STA-80 FM receivers modified to 10KHz band width using IF amplifiers with 80 db dynamic range signal strength output voltages.

Data Acquisition: DATAQ type DI-190, 2-channel module connected to computer serial input port. Acquisition rate is forty samples per second for each channel. Channel one is the combined peak signal amplitudes from the three signal receivers. Channel 2 is the signal amplitude from the noise receiver. Data are reported only when signal strength at the antenna exceeds -124 dbm. Storage continues for one second after signal drops below -124 dbm.

Interference Rejection: Data storage is inhibited if interference at the noise receiver's frequency exceeds -122 dbm at the antenna. Inhibiting continues for one second after noise level drops back below -122 dbm.

Data Reduction: Mostly automated computerized reduction.

Data Format: Results are shown as total seconds of reflection time per hour. When no figure is shown, the equipment was either out of service or results could have been contaminated by sporadic-e or interference.

Meteor Data File (January 2000)

The VACRC is looking for electronics technicians, amateur radio operators, and communications engineers to assist in the project on a voluntary basis. Those interested should contact the VACRC at the address or email listed below.

phone: 928-636-1153
6801 N. Hwy 89
Chino Valley, AZ 86323-9186 USA

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