Re: (meteorobs) Planetarium meteors

Hi, list:

Malcolm and Pierre just made some interesting posts about meteors in

A lot of planetaria include meteors in their programming in one way or
another.  It's not unusual to discuss meteor showers as they approach,
either.  Like the planetarium in Montreal, we'll be doing a meteor shower
program as the Leonids approach, and like Montreal's, it will discuss the
night sky in general for about half the program and the Leonids for about

Meteors are really hard to do realistically on the dome.  We have a
projector that puts one across on demand, and a more sophisticated one of
our own design that sends one across the dome when it feels like it.  Not
even the lecturer knows when (or if) a meteor will be seen, or where it will
be, which gives a very realistical "feel" when one does appear.  They seem
to show up in mid-sentence, just out the corner of your eye -- just like the
real thing!

Meteor showers are worse.  Projectors can show sharp, bright meteors over a
small portion of the dome, or fuzzier, fainter meteors over a large portion
of it.  Pierre's description of the meteor shower appearing only close to
the radiant is right on -- most meteor shower projectors are terribly
unrealistic.  At this planetarium, we are trying to design a system of
projectors (rather than a single one) to give a more realistic meteor
shower, but it will be a while before we can build it.

I'm glad Pierre liked the "awesome meteor storm" projector, though.  It's a
great effect, but the projector probably cost the planetarium about a
thousand dollars (U.S.), big money in most domes.  We do the same thing with
a hand-made version that was a LOT cheaper, but not quite as good.  Still
gets gasps from the audience, though!

The suggestion of using the planetarium to train and calibrate observers for
the Leonids is a good one, but I've never heard of anyone doing it.  It may
not be practical because of the cost and difficulty of preparing projectors
for many different rates (I'd be curious to hear more from Pierre on how he
made the projectors he used in his simulations).  Seems like it would be
easier to do with software.  I wonder what Sirko's software would look like
videoprojected onto the dome in an image 15 or 20 feet across?  Maybe that's
worth looking into!

The other problem is the low interest from the public in doing something
that "serious."  I've tried several times to organize training for the
Perseids, but with no takers.  To be honest, the average planetarium visitor
has a healthy curiousity about the universe, but just wants to watch the
pretty show during showers (which is fine -- after all, they ARE pretty!).
People who want to go further are rare (on the other hand, one just walked
into the office today, already familiar with AMS but not sure how to
proceed.  Yippee!).

Malcolm, if you have some other questions about meteors in planetaria, feel
free to contact me privately -- I'll answer any of them that I can.

Dave Hostetter
Curator of the Planetarium
Lafayette (LA) Natural History Museum & Planetarium

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