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| August 2023 |

Montana Learning Center’s Meteor Detection Camera System Set to Capture Upcoming Perseid Meteor Shower

The Perseid Meteor Shower—one of the most well-known and spectacular sights in the sky each year—will be visible in August and Montana Learning Center (MLC) is ready to capture it in real time!

When a meteoroid (a smaller rock or particle in space), a piece of an asteroid (a large rocky body in space), a piece of a comet (a gigantic cosmic snowball of frozen gases, rock and dust that orbit our Sun), or other space dust or debris is caught in Earth’s gravitational field and then vaporizes in Earth’s atmosphere without reaching the planet, it’s known as a meteor and is commonly seen as a streak of light in the sky.

Each year, as the Earth orbits around our Sun, it passes through the debris trail left by the Comet Swift-Tuttle (also known as Comet 109P) when the comet last visited the inner part of our Solar System in 1992. As Earth passes through that debris trail, we are treated to a stunning display in the sky of long streaks (“wakes”) of light and color from the vaporizing debris, especially at night. We refer to this annual, multi-week display in the sky as the Perseid Meteor Shower.

The streaks we see in the sky vary in size and duration, based on the size and mineral content of the meteor that’s vaporizing. When larger meteors vaporize in our atmosphere, the explosions of light and color we see are larger, brighter and last longer, and are referred to as “fireballs.” The streaks of light and color in we see in the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower appear to be coming from the constellation Perseus (hence, the name “Perseid”), but the constellation is not the source of the vaporizing meteors generating the lights and colors we see. Rather, the constellation is simply a point of reference to help us see approximately where Earth passes through the Comet Swift-Tuttle debris trail.

The lights and colors of the Perseid Meteor Shower should be visible in the sky over MLC’s campus on the shores of Canyon Ferry Lake from approximately July 17, 2023 to August 24, 2023, with peak visibility expected on the evening of August 12th to the early morning of August 13th. Ryan Hannahoe, MLC’s Executive Director, anticipates that up to 400 to 600 meteors will vaporize in Earth’s atmosphere each night during that peak period, providing a magnificent show for those watching from Earth.

MLC’s Meteor Detection Camera System will automatically record each streak seen in the sky over its campus—day or night—during the Perseid Meteor Shower. First brought online in late December of 2020, the Camera System has seven HD video cameras that are controlled by a powerful, Linux-based computer running proprietary software designed and built by Mike Hankey. The software allows the System to do much more than simply record events in the sky 24/7. The software tries to identify the source of the recorded events, calibrates the videos the System’s cameras take and extracts precise scientific measurements related to the recorded events. The software can create a 3D atmospheric trajectory of the vaporizing meteors, identify their orbit before they entered Earth’s atmosphere, determine their velocity and magnitude before vaporizing, and estimate their pre-atmospheric mass. MLC’s Meteor Detection Camera System is the only system of its kind in Montana.

The data collected by MLC’s Meteor Detection Camera System is uploaded automatically to databases maintained by the American Meteor Society and the International Meteor Organization.

MLC plans to post some of the best videos of the Perseid Meteor Shower taken by its Meteor Detection Camera System on its Facebook page, Videos of future astronomical events captured by the Camera System will be posted on MLC’s Facebook page as they occur.

A composite image captured by our camera system.

The Meteor Detection Camera System that we utilize.

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