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Why Scientists Aren't Fans Of Creating On-Demand Meteor Showers


If you've got a boatload of cash and someone you really want to impress, a Japanese company says it can help. It says it will soon be able to make meteor showers to order.



In this video, the firm Astro Live Experiences explains how it hopes this will work. A satellite in low orbit around the Earth releases a cluster of small spheres. Those spheres fall through the atmosphere. And as they do, they burn up. Here on Earth, that translates into an artificial shooting star show.

SHAPIRO: Sounds like it could be pretty. But if the idea of manmade spheres hurtling through the atmosphere also sounds alarming, you're not alone. Some scientists have objections. For one thing, they say we need to be able to observe objects beyond our atmosphere.

MORIBA JAH: Having something that is designed to be really, really bright for human beings tends to then saturate these astronomical instruments that are looking for very dim signals.

SHAPIRO: That's Moriba Jah at the University of Texas at Austin.

CHANG: And science writer Claudia Geib says it's already hard to get people excited about real meteors. And this will make that even harder.

CLAUDIA GEIB: They always tend to be at the coldest part of the night and the earliest part of the morning. Many, many people have never actually seen a meteor shower just because it's so hard to get yourself out of bed.

CHANG: But meteor shower purists might not need to panic yet.

BILL COOKE: It's not exactly the same as a regular meteor.

CHANG: Bill Cooke is a scientist with NASA. He says these Japanese objects just won't come down fast enough.

COOKE: We have no way of replicating the speed at which a meteor can enter the atmosphere.

SHAPIRO: That makes Cooke curious about how they're going to give customers a bang worth their bucks.

COOKE: These guys say they can do it with a slower speed. So they've got to have some special stuff in their particles because if you were just chucking a normal rock out of a spacecraft, it would not be very spectacular at all.

SHAPIRO: Astro Live Experiences says it hopes to test those made-to-order shooting stars next year.

CHANG: Or if you're short on cash, you can check out the naturally occurring Lyrid meteor shower, which is expected to peak around mid-April. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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