Space force

Space Force releases 30 years of meteor data • The Register

The US Space Force is releasing nearly 30 years of fireball meteor data in hopes of improving near-Earth object (NEO) detection and impact prediction.

The data contains information on bolides, classified as any meteor that has enough mass to become a fireball but not enough to cause ground impact, several dozen of which occur each year.

NASA data on bolides is publicly available, but Space Force is adding light curve data to the mix, which the agency says has been highly sought after by the scientific community.

Lightcurve data shows a plot of brightness as a meteor passes through the atmosphere and shatters. Prior to the release of bolide data, fireball reports were limited to peak brightness time, lat/long, altitude, speed (and speed components), total radiated energy and calculated impact energy.

“The breakup of an object in Earth’s atmosphere provides scientific insight into the strength and composition of the object based on the altitudes at which it breaks up and disintegrates.

The approximate total radiated energy and pre-entry velocity vector (i.e. direction) can also be better derived from bolide light curve data,” NASA said.

The U.S. government established NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (PDCO) in 2016 to manage everything related to protecting the Earth from near-Earth objects and is responsible for the discovery of near-Earth objects larger than 140 meters. Space Force was part of that mission, and NASA planetary defense officer Lindley Johnson said the new data on the bolide will make a huge difference.

“The growing archive of fireball reports, as published on the NASA JPL Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS) Fireballs website, has greatly increased scientific knowledge and contributes to the White House-approved national strategy and action plan for near-Earth object readiness,” Johnson said.

NASA said its impact prediction systems are already fully functional, as evidenced by the 2022 EB5 impact on March 11, 2022. NASA said it predicted exactly when and where the impact would occur, though the meteor is only about 6.5 feet (~2 meters) in length. Its small size meant it was only detected hours before impact, meaning data was limited and the prediction was made with minimal information.

Still, NASA said the detection of 2022 EB5 should boost confidence in its ability to detect and predict the path of a larger object on a collision course with Earth, and that’s before the private sector also begins to experiment with these new data. ®