A Japanese company has announced that it wants to create artificial meteor showers, and some reports indicate they may do so during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The company is called Star-ALE, and their goal is to launch a spacecraft that releases pellets – each costing $8,000 – in low Earth orbit. As the pellets re-enter the atmosphere, they burn and produce a flash of light similar to that created by natural meteors.
The project is known as Sky Canvas, with the spacecraft being loaded with 500 to 1,000 of these spherical pellets. In lab tests, the company found they could change the color of the meteors by using different elements. Lithium will shine pink, for example, while copper will shine green.
Now, we initially reported on this proposal in June of last year, but it’s doing the rounds again owing to this link to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. A spokesperson from the company told us that while they wanted to aim for the Olympics, it had not been decided yet that they would be working with them. “Therefore articles claiming that we 'want' to provide shooting stars for the Olympics are true, but those that claim that we 'will' or 'have proposed to' are no,” the spokesperson said.
What is on the table, though, is that Star-ALE wants to launch a demonstration spacecraft as early as next year. The pellets will burn up in the atmosphere at an altitude of about 60 to 80 kilometers (35 to 50 miles), and they’ll be visible on the ground across an area spanning 200 kilometers (125 miles), 400 times wider than a firework exploding at an altitude of 500 meters (1,640 feet).
Each meteor would apparently shine with a magnitude of about -1, which is brighter than Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. The company said that 30 million people in Tokyo would see the meteors.
“When the satellite stabilizes in orbit, we will discharge the particles using a specially designed device on board,” the company said on its website. “The particles will travel about one-third of the way around the Earth and enter the atmosphere. It will then begin plasma emission and become a shooting star.”
You may be wondering what the point of all this is. After all, 1,000 pellets would cost $8 million, a rather hefty price, and that’s not even including the cost of developing the spacecraft or launch costs. However, the company’s founder hopes that the project can inspire more investment in space-based scientific research.
“This type of project is new in the sense in that it mixes astronomy and the entertainment business,” said CEO Dr. Lena Okajima, reported Core 77. “These shooting stars that are born through science function as a high-profit entertainment business, and the resulting funds will serve to further advance fundamental scientific research.”
We’ll have to wait and see if that’s the case. Still, it’s a pretty neat idea regardless.