If you ever find yourself sitting back in wonder as super-bright artificial meteors flash across the sky, you will be able to thank the credit crunch – at least in part. After the crisis of 2008 that Lena Okajima decided to leave her job at a financial company for a radical new venture: a firm that aimed to put satellites in orbit capable of launching artificial meteor showers.
“I had to change my job because the financial situation was very bad at the time,” she explains now, nearly 10 years later.
It was even earlier, way back in 2001, while watching the natural Leonid meteor shower that she first had the idea of trying to recreate such a display artificially.
“These meteor showers occurred from very small particles from outer space so we thought we could recreate the same situation using little satellites,” Okajima says.
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Now her company, Astro Live Experiences (ALE), is on track to launch its first satellite and begin experiments in space for the first time. If successful, ALE could be on its way to creating meteor shows at special events for crowds of thousands. And other forms of artificial celestial entertainment may follow. But will Okajima’s plan really work?
Her ambition is certainly great. The idea is to load each satellite with 400 pellets, each one 2cm (less than an inch) in diameter. A few of them would be released at a time to allow for a meteor shower three to 10 seconds long. A full show could last several minutes, says Okajima.
One of ALE’s promotional videos shows spherical pellets fired from the back of an orbiting satellite. They whizz down through Earth’s atmosphere and as they are heated they begin to glow, creating fabulous meteor effects over cities and – why not – Mount Fuji.
It’s the same thing that happens to natural meteors, tiny grains of space dust or small rocks that meet the Earth’s path as our planet orbits the Sun. Some of the dust burns up in the atmosphere, causing meteor showers.