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International Meteor Conference 2010

Held in Armagh, Northern Ireland, 2010 September 16-19

A Report for the SPA Meteor Section by Tony Markham

This meeting of amateur and professional meteoricists from 24 countries was organised by Armagh Observatory. It was the first-ever International Meteor Conference (IMC) in the UK, and also the first time that I'd attended one. The number of attendees was 127 (easily surpassing the previous record of 94). The age distribution of attendees was better than that that typically seen at meetings of UK astronomy groups too. I would, however, have liked to have seen more attendees from the British mainland.

With a large number of people wishing to speak, each speaker was restricted to 15 minutes (including set up and questions). This had the advantage of ensuring presentations were concise and to the point. All presentations were given in English (I wonder how many British people would be able to give a presentation and answer questions in a foreign language?). Sessions were devoted to optical work, the meteoroid environment, visual observations, radio work, fireballs & ablation, astrometry & trajectories, cultural topics and meteor odds & ends. In addition, there were also Saturday afternoon excursions to Armagh Observatory (including taking part in the Human Orrery) and to the Navan Centre (where the residents of the iron-age dwelling welcomed the "wise people who follow the stars"), plus social sessions in the evenings. The participants enjoyed the meteor song and solar system Irish dance performed by local children during a coffee break too!

Presentations included:

  • Bill Cooke (NASA) describing how amateur observations are used to calibrate meteoroid flux predictions, covering particle sizes ranging from those capable of penetrating spacesuits up to those with potential to cause a loss of the Space Shuttle. He highlighted how the Landsat-5 satellite was sent tumbling on 2009 August 13 by an event which coincided with that year's third Perseid peak, although, somewhat embarrassingly, none of the published Perseid predictions for 2009 had included the third peak.
  • Pete Gural giving an overview of the NASA-funded California All-sky Meteor Surveillance (CAMS) system that is being developed to investigate the belief that 85% of the zodiacal cloud is derived from now defunct comets.
  • Praksh Atreya giving an overview of the French Meteor Network (PODET-NET).
  • Gerhard Drolshagen reporting on ESA's investigations relating to meteoroid populations, ranging from infra-red (IR) studies of the zodiacal light, through to lunar crater sizes and, more directly, through studies of impact crater sizes in the Hubble Space Telescope solar arrays returned by NASA.
  • Detlef Koschny describing the development of the Virtual Meteor Observatory – a database of 30 000 video-recorded meteors – and illustrated how this has provided improved statistics on shower meteor start heights.
  • Jürgen Rendtel reporting the results of an analysis of more than ten years of video-recorded meteors for the period August 23-October 29. This has resulted in revisions to the dates of maxima and radiant locations for several of the minor showers active during this period.
  • Abedin Abedin explaining how numerical modelling had been used to follow the fragments of Comet Schwassmann-Wachmann 3 (which showed 5 fragments in 1995 and more than 70 fragments in 2006) back in time.
  • Jérémie Vaubaillon reporting that various analyses for the 2011 Draconids indicated peak activity will occur (sometime) between 19h and 21h UT on October 8th, favouring observers at European longitudes. The peak ZHR is likely to be measured in the hundreds, but is unlikely to reach storm level.
  • Megan Argo describing a low-cost public outreach activity started at Jodrell Bank in late 2006 to record meteors using the forward-scatter technique from a transmitter in Spain … and how the digital switchover has recently necessitated a switch to another transmitter.
  • Jean-Louis Rault summarising the various types of meteor echoes ("Epsilons, Cs, Corkscrews and Co") detected at radio wavelengths by members of the Belgian VVS meteor observing group. He later combined many of these to produce a short "musical" composition during the traditional Saturday evening cultural session.
  • Casper ter Kuile giving a report on the expedition to Sudan to recover fragments from the break-up in the atmosphere of asteroid 2008TC3. Fortunately this had fallen in the north of Sudan rather than the less stable southern part of the country. Around 10kg of material (more than 250 pieces) has been recovered to date.
  • Felix Bettonvil suggesting a design for an 'optimal' amateur all-sky camera, costing less than 1000 Euros and balancing the needs of astrometry, photometry & velocity determination.
  • Anna Kartashova outlining how (using some rather complex equations!) to derive celestial coordinates of meteor events registered by TV systems.
  • Eliska Anna Kubickova reporting the results of attempts to use "computer vision" to search for meteors in images. Although there were some cases of spurious identification, around 80% of meteors were successfully detected.
  • David Cullen outlining a proposed mission to generate hypervelocity meteoroids by sending particles of known mass and composition on a lunar free return trajectory – this could be one component of an ESA medium-sized mission opportunity.
  • Damir Segon describing how astrometry often seems to overestimate the speed of very bright meteors, leading to a larger than expected scatter in calculated semi-major axes. Inspection of individual video frames often shows asymmetry in the heads of such meteors, which may be partly due to effects within the optical system.
  • David Asher & John McFarland giving an overview of the work of E J Öpik. Öpik had worked from Arizona in the 1930s to record large numbers of meteor images, which he subsequently analysed when working at Armagh in order to calculate their orbits.
  • Mike Simms giving an overview of the three 20th century Irish meteorite falls at Crumlin (1902), Bovedy (1969) and Leighlinbridge (1999). Analyses indicated that all three meteorites were originally part of planetoids that had been large enough for melting and differentiation to have occurred. Compositions suggested the Bovedy meteorite was derived from near-surface material, whereas the other two were from deeper levels.
  • Apostolos Christou describing the Armagh Observatory meteor cameras. This system has been in operation for 5 years from sites at Armagh and Bangor (NI). In 16 250 hours of operation (averaging 3 hours usable sky per night), this has recorded 6309 single station meteors and 1281 double station meteors of which 53 were fireballs of magnitude –4 or brighter, 25 of which were associated with meteor showers.
  • Sylvain Bouley outlining the development of an international network to monitor lunar meteoroid impacts between last quarter and first quarter lunar phases. Flashes recorded to date have been in the magnitude range +3 to +10 – the latter limit is surprising since the equipment used is capable of detecting fainter flashes.
  • Attendees from Venezuela, India and Nepal describing their attempts to encourage meteor observing in their respective countries.
  • Nagatoshi Nogami providing a translation of a meteorite poem from ancient China.
  • Rainer Arlt suggesting possible areas for future work, including monitoring for meteors in the 8-10 micron IR window and investigating radio radiation from meteors. There is also a desire to encourage more meteor observing from Africa.
  • Mark Gyssens giving an overview of the IMO membership and finances. Although there was the inevitable dip after the Leonid storm years, membership has since increased from 192 in 2005 to 244 in 2009, and is now 261. The IMO is now offering an electronic-only subscription. Members who choose to receive WGN electronically benefit from a 5 Euro reduction in their subscription.

In summary, I would say that I very much enjoyed the meeting. It was a great opportunity to meet many people who I had previously only known by name. I would recommend future IMC meetings to anyone who is able to attend.

Tony Markham is a long-time SPA member and contributor to the work of the Meteor Section. He became an Assistant Director to the Meteor Section in the early autumn of 2010. He also formerly directed the SPA's Variable Star Section

Many of the IMC presentations are available online via the special IMC 2010 website. Photos of the event and other notes are also available via the IMC 2010 homepage.