Japanese Startup Wants to Create Man-Made Meteor Showers

The all-natural Perseid meteor shower. Muskoka Stock Photos/Shutterstock

A Japanese startup is planning on launching tiny satellites into orbit around our planet that will release specially made “space pellets” on demand. As these fall back to Earth, they will create artificial meteor showers. If it works, birthdays and weddings could be celebrated with your very own celestial display. Because what says “I love you” more than tiny bits of metal burning up in the atmosphere?

Apparently in the process of developing their first micro satellite to test out their closely-guarded space pellets, the company called ALE hopes that they’ll be able to create a display to rival real meteor showers. “I'm thinking of streams of meteors that are rare in nature,” explained Lena Okajima, the CEO of the company. “It is artificial but I want to make really beautiful ones that can impress viewers.”

Working with scientists and engineers from several Tokyo universities, the plan is to have the miniature satellites release about a dozen balls that contain a special chemical formula. These will then fall back to Earth traveling at an estimated 8 kilometers per second (5 miles per second), lighting up the sky as they burn up. Then, by tweaking what chemicals they fill the pellets with, they claim they should be able to alter what colors we see, like a cosmic fireworks display.

“People may eventually become tired of seeing shooting stars if they come alone. But they could be coupled with events on the ground,” explains Okajima. “Making the sky a screen is this project's biggest attraction as entertainment. It's a space display.”

But there is an aspect of science to all this. It could offer a rare chance for scientists to study the atmosphere 60 kilometers (37 miles) up. This area of space is too high for hot air balloons, but too low for satellites, so some suggest that if we knew exactly where and when these objects will burn up, researchers could train their telescopes on them and get an idea of the temperature and densities of this region of the atmosphere.

If you think this might be something you’d like to do on your birthday, then you should probably get saving, because it ain’t going to come cheap. As the company has to claw back its investment, each individual shooting star will cost in the region of a million yen – or $8,100. You’d better hope it’s not cloudy either, or you might have to reschedule your whole birthday.   

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