An astronomy graduate at the University of Hertfordshire has set up the first UK camera which can continuously scan the night sky and dictates the best conditions for surveys.
David Campbell, an Astrophysics graduate at the University, who collects meteorites as a hobby, set up the camera at Bayfordbury Observatory in October 2009 and has captured some interesting data since then.
The All-Sky camera records images of the entire sky continuously throughout the night. One of the main aims of the camera is to detect clouds above the observatory so that researchers can monitor sky conditions and gauge the best time to scan the sky.
The camera is an SBIG AllSky-340C, containing a highly sensitive Kodak 640x480 pixel CCD and a Fujinon 1.4mm f1.4 fisheye lens giving horizon to horizon coverage.
David's project is the first known attempt at automating the detection of clouds at night from such a camera and he has come up with findings that suggest that Sunday nights are four times clearer than Tuesdays nights, although more surveying is needed to confirm this categorically.
The Bayfordbury camera has already detected twenty-six potential fireballs, and a few actual fireballs from the recent Perseid meteor shower. Another camera has been set up at Hemel Hempstead and one at the Isle of Wight and a camera is currently being set up in Norfolk, which means that very soon the astronomers will be in a position to triangulate the path of an incoming meteor and help in the recovery of meteorites.
"We could be filming a supernova before we know it," said David. "The All-Sky cameras give us a complete record of the sky, not just a compressed picture. No one has surveyed the night sky over the UK like this before."
The AllSky camera website can be found at: http://star.herts.ac.uk/allsky
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