In Collaboration with NASA, Camera on Mudd Roof Gathers Astological Information, Triangulates Meteor Paths

Elizabeth Dobbins, Staff Writer

As part of a collaboration between Nasa and the College, a high-powered camera was installed on the roof of Mudd library this semester. The camera, whose lens is poised to record any nocturnal meteors, is part of a growing network of cameras placed in schools, science centers and planetariums throughout the nation. The cameras have intersecting fields of vision, which, in conjunction with location and time, are used to gather information on astronomical bodies and to triangulate the path of meteors.

“The overall effect of this is to help NASA determine more about how much stuff is out there that’s coming in contact with us,” said Dave Lengyel, the Oberlin Observatory and Planetarium coordinator.

The information gathered by the cameras is available to the public at NASA’s All Sky Fireball Network. The website includes videos of the fireballs and information about their orbit and luminosity. Although students have yet to use the data for research, Yumi Ijiri, chair of the Physics and Astronomy department, feels this is a potential benefit of the camera.

“We could access the same data and think of just different kinds of projects that would be involved in tracking and understanding meteors, which is an area we currently don’t really do anything with,” Ijiri said.

Oberlin’s camera is one of four in the Ohio and Pennsylvania area currently gathering information that NASA predicts will help to protect space crafts and satellites.

“The first night they put it up we started getting meteors on it. We will get three, four, five bright fireballs per night just from this camera,” said Lengyel.

The project was set in motion when Lengyel received an email from NASA asking to place a fireball camera on campus. Lengyel agreed and over the course of the school year collaborated with different departments to make the project possible. The roof of Mudd was selected because it provides a clear view of the horizon.

“You remember what R2D2 in Star Wars looks like? Kind of a robot with a round [dome]. [The camera] looks like that,” said Lengyel.

Lengyel and Elizabeth Gilmour, OC ’13 and physics lab technician, assisted NASA employees in the installation of the camera. Although NASA paid for the camera, the installation, which [took] about eight hours, was funded by the College.

“This is really how scientists work. We spend most the day there setting up things. Most of it was pretty mundane, like running the wires and getting holes drilled and stuff, but that’s how science works,” said Lengyel.

However, in the last week, the camera has been experiencing difficulties thought to be due to radio interference. Lengyel expects the issue to be resolved and the camera to be fully operational within the month.

“I think it’s a really cool project,” Gilmour said. “They’re getting a lot of information on fireballs this way.”