December 1 2002

University of Alberta observatory domes


"Thank you so much for visiting our class on Friday! The kids loved it...they thought it was pretty cool to meet a "real" Astronomer! Thanks again, Janine"

Updated November 19, 2011

Leading meteor scientist taps into Sky Scan data

Edmonton AB - The Sky Scan Science Awareness Project is pleased to announce its first success in sharing data with the science community at-large. The Bannerman and Spruce Avenue radio observatories, together with private ones at the homes of Sky Scan project leader David Cleary and Education Development Coordinator Bruce McCurdy, may be primitive in comparison with the meteor backscatter radar technique employed at the Ondrejov Observatory by the professionals of the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Republic Academy of Sciences. Yet data obtained by these two disparate sources during the recent Leonid Meteor Shower have been used equally by Dr. Rob McNaught a leading theorist in meteor science.

Dr. McNaught is with the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Australian National University. McNaught has collaborated with David Asher of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland to produce some of the best predictive models of the dust trails that comprise the Leonid meteoroid swarm. When it came time to compare predictions to what really happened, and thus begin the process of improving future predictions, Dr. McNaught looked for some reliable data.

Upon obtaining multiple successful results, Sky Scan posted the charts of peak activity on the Sky Scan website. Sky Scan's Bruce McCurdy sent a routine email to the "meteorobs" news group, an active group of people from around the world ranging from interested amateurs to many of the top scientists in the field, advising of the project's success and providing a link.

A few days later Dr. McNaught posted the following message to the Meteorobs news group:

"Thanks to Rosta, Petr and Bruce for the results of the Ondrejov radar and the Edmonton Sky Skan radio results for the two Leonid peaks. 

After applying the topocentric correction (the peak time varies by a few minutes depending on your location on the Earth), the following geocentric peak times are derived for the two peaks. These geocentric peak times can then be compared with predictions. 

Observatory Longitude Latitude Observed Peak (UT) Correction (minutes) Geocentric Peak (UT)
Ondrejov  14d 47'E 49d 55'N 04:06 -3.1 04:03
Edmonton  113d 31'W 53d 34'N 10:47 -3.6 10:43

Of course, these are just results from two stations and are not meant to imply a final result. Robert H. McNaught."

A more detailed discussion of the scientific points raised by Dr. McNaught can be seen here.

But the greater point may be that this exchange of information proves brilliantly one of the stated objectives of the Sky Scan project. By using the real Universe as their laboratory, it is possible for young scientists -- or more accurately, young people who don't yet know whether they are scientists -- to contribute results of value to the scientific community at large. "When writing the curriculum connections piece for the website," Bruce McCurdy stated, "the not-fully-developed idea was to take our data to the U. of A. and beg one of their research assistants to do something, anything, with it, just to prove the greater point."

It turned out to be much simpler than that: data was posted on the website, a note was submitted to meteorobs, and within a week a leader in the field of meteor science working in Australia used the Sky Scan data. Data from professionals in the Czech Republic and from amateur astronomers and Grade 9 classes in Edmonton, Canada allowed Dr. McNaught to further fine-tune his, and the collective "our", understanding of a fascinating astronomical phenomenon. "This is a more global reach for our little project than we could have anticipated!" says McCurdy. But it proves the value of the Internet as perhaps the ultimate communication technology.

If in the process, one or two of the young people at Spruce Avenue or Bannerman Schools suddenly conclude that science is actually kind of neat, well surely that's the ultimate objective. (See the related page with school results from November 19, 2002.


Copyright 1999-2015 by Sky Scan, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the 

Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Department of Physics (University of Alberta)

and the

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

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