Wishing on a shooting star in Japan with man-made meteors

TOKYO (TIP): Fancy a meteor shower racing across the night sky to mark your birthday? One Japanese start-up is hoping to deliver shooting stars on demand and choreograph the cosmos.

And, say scientists, it’s not just about painting huge pictures on the night-sky that would be visible to millions of people; artificial meteors could help us to understand a lot more about Earth’s atmosphere.

Lena Okajima, who holds a doctorate in astronomy, says her company – ALE -is intending to launch a micro satellite that can eject shooting stars at exactly the right time and place to put on a celestial show.

“I’m thinking of streams of meteors that are rare in nature,” Okajima told AFP in an interview.

“It is artificial but I want to make really beautiful ones that can impress viewers,” she said.

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In collaboration with scientists and engineers at Japanese universities, the ALE team is developing a satellite that will orbit the Earth and eject dozens of balls.

These balls Рwhose chemical formula is a closely-guarded secret Рwill race through the atmosphere at around 7-8 kilometres (up to five miles) a second, glowing brightly from the friction created by smashing into the air.

Although it sounds fast, that is considerably slower than naturally-occurring meteors Рchunks of material that either broke away from a planet or never managed to form one in the first place Рwhich can hurtle through the atmosphere at up to 80 kilometres a second.

Tinkering with the ingredients should mean that it is possible to change the colour of each bright streak, says Okajima, offering the possibility of a multi-coloured flotilla of shooting stars.

The stars are expected to shine for several seconds before they are completely burned up — well before they fall low enough to pose any danger to anything on Earth.

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