20 July 2018 News

Made-to-order meteor showers available soon say Japanese company

An outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky. Image: NASA/JPL
An outburst of Perseid meteors lights up the sky. Image: NASA/JPL

Stuck for a birthday gift and have plenty of cash to spare? Why not surprise your loved one with a made-to-order meteor shower to light up the night sky!

Once upon a time, the internet was filled with companies offering you the chance to name a star after your beloved – the perfect gift for any budding astrophile - even though it might never have been possible to spot “your” star without the aid of a telescope.

Now, you can go one better as Tokyo-based start-up company ALE is claiming it can produce shooting stars anytime, anywhere and even in any colour.

Meteors, or shooting stars are little chunks of rock that streak across the sky as they pass through our atmosphere and there are at least eight annual meteor showers that Earth experiences each year; some of which can be relied upon year after year to warrant standing around in the cold for hours for a momentary glimpse of awe and wonder.

But if the Perseids or Leonids don’t coincide with a celebratory date you had in mind, in a few years you may be able to command your own dazzling display of shooting stars to mark that special occasion.

ALE, the Japanese company behind the endeavour is reported to be in the final stages of developing two micro-satellites – the first of which will be launched next year – that will release 400 tiny balls on command to create an artificial meteor shower.

The company are keeping tight-lipped on what the spheres are actually made from, but have stated that they can colour coordinate the showers on request.

ALE plan is launch the second satellite in mid-2019 on a private-sector rocket and by 2020 the company want to showcase their “Sky Canvas” by lighting up the skies over the western Japanese city of Hiroshima; a location chosen for its good weather, landscape and cultural assets. After that, the sky is the limit, apparently.

"We are targeting the whole world, as our stockpile of shooting stars will be in space and can be delivered across the world," ALE chief executive Lena Okajima told a news conference.

Each satellite will have enough balls for 20-30 events, and as the man-made meteorites are larger than the usual variety, they are expected to last for several seconds before burning up.

The project is said to be costing around $20m (£15.4m) for the development, production, launch and operation of the two satellites, and they will be able to stay in space for around two years, said the company.

Of course, its not all about the wow factor as ALE have said it is working in collaboration with scientists and engineers at Japanese universities as well as local government officials and corporate sponsors to learn more about how space junk burns up when it reenters Earth’s atmosphere.

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