RESEARCH

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WHY OBSERVE FIREBALLS AND STUDY METEORITES?

Rocky bodies in interplanetary space are of cometary or asteroidal origin. They are on different orbits to the Earth and can occasionally fly right into us. They can be travelling at speeds of up to 72 km a second and when they hit the atmosphere, it’s like someone turned on the brakes – they turn into a ball of fire. Small cometary dust usually burns up and never makes it to the ground. Asteroidal material can be bigger and, if the conditions are right, can survive the atmosphere and land on the ground as a meteorite. Some meteorites also come from larger planetary bodies, such as the Moon and Mars. Meteorites are special in that they preserve the histories of their parent bodies, giving us clues to planetary body formation and evolution over the last 4.56 billion years. Highly primitive meteorites contain some of the first solids to have formed in our Solar system and have changed very little since their initial formation. These have been used to date a more precise age of our Solar System (4.568 billion years).

Meteorite falls observed using the DFN observatory helps to inform how a body interacts with the Earth’s atmosphere, how it decelerates, how bright the meteor is depending on the object, and the changes in mass whilst it falls. Observing the atmospheric trajectory of these bodies allows us to calculate their orbits and, if a meteorite is recovered, give us the key spacial context to the information it holds.

Meteorites are the oldest rocks in existence: the only surviving physical record of the formation and evolution of the solar system. They sample hundreds of different objects like asteroids and comet in space. Meteorites can offer a direct route to understanding our origins, but to decode that record we need to know where they come from in the solar system. The DFN is world-first research designed to provide that context.

Fireball networks allow researchers to try and answer some really cool questions:

To answer these questions, the DFN operates as a full-stack science team, from data collection to science outcomes. The team develops its own observation hardware, building autonomous instruments capable of handling both the hottest and the coldest places on Earth. The data reduction methods are all made in-house, building from previous research and also breaking through at every level to find innovative ways to deal with the unique data that are collected. An assessment is made as to whether any material survived the atmosphere to hit the ground and meteorite searches are organised for promising events with the help of volunteers and UAVs.

Projects

Data Management

Data Management

How we deal with 4TB of new data every day

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Meteoroid modeling

Meteoroid modeling

How big is that space rock?

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Instrumentation

Instrumentation

Meet the team who designs autonomous intelligent observatories, able to work in the Canadian polar winter as well as survive the Australian desert

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Meteorite Searching

Meteorite Searching

Let’s find space rocks!

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Data Reduction Pipeline

Data Reduction Pipeline

From taking pictures to triangulated orbits.

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FireOPAL

Adapting DFN technology to Space Situational Awareness

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Meteorites recovered

Meteorite name Fall date Country State/Region Classification Meteoritical Bulletin(s),
Other references
Bunburra Rockhole July 21, 2007 Australia South Australia Brecciated achondrite MetBull
Bland et al. (2009) Science
Spurny et al. (2012) MAPS
Benedix, G. K. et al. (2017) GCA
Mason Gully April 13, 2010 Australia Western Australia H5 MetBull
Dyl et al.(2016) MAPS
Murrili November 27, 2015 Australia South Australia H5 MetBull
Benedix et al. (2016) LPI contributions
Dingle Dell October 31, 2016 Australia Western Australia L/LL5 MetBull
Benedix et al. (2016) LPI contributions
Mason Gully April 13, 2010 Australia Western Australia H5