Saturday, February 05, 2005

Meteor mystery -- Part 2

A few days ago, Tom posted comments on an "Astronomy Picture of the Day" which appears to show a corkscrewing meteor. He expresses doubt that a meteor entering the upper atmosphere at high speed might wobble with a lateral amplitude of 75 feet.

Hmm? I don't know. I suppose a rotating object outgassing violently on one side might do something like this. But the fact that the star images in the photo are blurred by the same amplitude (and direction) as the wobble suggests a shaky camera. (Tom, you should work out the frequency of oscillation from the photograph, making reasonable assumptions about altitude and speed, and see if it's consistent with a mechanical vibration.)

What I really like about Tom's post is the way he used Starry Night software to identify the star field in the photograph and, thence, the amplitude of the wobble. Starry Night is a wonderful program that anyone interested in the sky would love. With it, one can view the sky from any place, at any time in the past or future -- including what you will see in the sky this evening.