Friday, October 14, 2011

Catch a Falling Star

If you missed the Draconid meteor shower last week, don’t despair. Meteorites are continually falling to earth. All day long. The problem is, you don’t see them because most of them are really, really tiny.

But you might be able to catch a few. All you need is a large plastic or aluminum bin (a few inches deep), a magnet and a plastic bag.

Put your star-catching bin someplace high enough so you don’t get Earth dust, but yet easy enough to reach. You’ll want it open to the sky, so avoid overhanging trees. Fill the bin with several inches of water and leave it in place for three or four weeks. Check to make sure there is water in it and add some if you need to.

How long will it take to actually capture a falling star? Give it a month or so. Then bring your container down and set it on a sturdy table. First thing you’ll notice is a lot of sediment in the bottom of the bin. So how do you separate out meteorite bits from dust and pollen?

That’s where the magnet comes in. Put the magnet inside the plastic bag and slowly move it around in the water. Make sure to stir up the sediment on the bottom of the bin. Now pour some water in a clean bowl and put your magnet in that. Take the magnet out of the plastic bag and magnetic meteorite bits will fall into the clean bowl.

Those meteorite bits may have come from the farthest reaches of our solar system. And they may be old – really old, like four billion years or more. So take care of them!

And, if you want to watch stars falling out of the sky this fall, there are still a few more showers coming up. The only problem is that the moon might get in the way of seeing the meteors streak across the sky.

Peak viewing times:

Orionids                      Oct 21                        
South Taurids              Nov 5             
North Taurids              Nov 11-12      
Leonids                       Nov 17           
Geminids                     Dec 13            

Learn more at Earth & Sky

1 comment:

  1. Sue,
    I really enjoyed your article. I have been involved in similar activities before, learning about them at some astronomy events I have attended. I often use a powerful rare earth magnet taped to a walking stick. People usually do not realize just how many micro meteorites fall to Earth every day, not just during meteor showers. This will be a good activity for my astronomy club. I think we will also incorporate this activity into a class or two at the Kopernik Observatory and Science Center. Thank you.