Meteorites are the oldest rocks in existence: the only surviving physical record of the formation and evolution of the solar system. They sample hundreds of different heavenly bodies. Potentially, meteorites offer a direct route to understanding our origins. But to decode that record we need to know where they come from. The Desert Fireball Network (or DFN for short) is designed to provide that data.
Meteorites generate a fireball as they come through the atmosphere – you may even have seen one of these yourself. The DFN is a network of digital cameras in the outback desert of Australia which capture photographs of the night sky. By making networked observations of the fireball we can triangulate its trajectory, track the rock forward to where it lands, and back, to where it came from in the solar system.
More and more cameras are being added to the DFN as the project expands. The final network will image the night sky over roughly one-third of Australia, and track whatever is coming through the atmosphere. DFN researchers will then go out and recover the meteorite. Knowing where the meteorite came from, and what it is made of, will help us to address some of the biggest questions in planetary science: how our planetary system came into being, and how dust and gas produced a planet capable of supporting life – our Earth.
Fireballs in the Sky is a citizen science initiative that will allow the public to share the discoveries of the Desert Fireball Network. By 2014 the website will deliver images from all our cameras, results, and blogs from the field, so that you can see a research project as it happens, provide your own data, and experience the highs (and the occasional lows) as we experience them. Watch this space!