© University of New Mexico
When University of New Mexico Physics & Astronomy Professor Greg Taylor turned on the first Long Wavelength Array (LWA1) station in 2011, he wasn’t exactly sure what they were going to find. Fast forward five years, and now, Taylor and recent Ph.D. graduate Ken Obenberger have detected and studied a strange, meteoric phenomenon no one else had ever seen.
The pair had discovered a new type of emission coming from fireballs streaking across earth’s upper atmosphere.
“When we talk about fireballs, we’re talking about large meteors that enter the earth’s atmosphere and explode,” said Taylor.
Using LWA1, a low-frequency radio telescope station made up of 256 dual-polarization dipoles, the team has tracked about 150 of these fireballs flying more than 90 kilometers (about 56 miles) above us in the sky.
What sets their discovery apart is the strange reaction taking place that allows their radio telescope to detect these meteors. Typically, when a space rock enters earth’s atmosphere it explodes and can be seen optically for only a few seconds. According to Taylor’s data, these fireballs can radiate radio waves for up to several minutes.
“The meteor burns up and produces this big trail of plasma and then somehow that’s producing radio emission,” said Obenberger, who graduated with his Ph.D. in May. “But, we still don’t really understand what’s causing that emission.”
Because this project is studying a previously undiscovered type of meteor emission, the research naturally produces a lot of questions for Taylor and Obenberger. And while…