Chasing Meteors

Chris Peterson

The science of meteoritics has seen a renaissance in recent years, as new instrumentation and computational techniques have advanced our understanding. Meteors, from tiny particles observed only with radar, through bodies large enough to glow as they pass through the atmosphere, provide an important window into the debris in our solar system, from dust through asteroids. Much of what we know about the formation and evolution of the Solar System stems from the study of interplanetary dust.

In cooperation with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, I’ve been operating a network of allsky cameras across Colorado since 2001. I’ll discuss the wealth of information to be found in over 50,000 recorded meteors: fine structure in showers, evidence of new showers, details of the size distribution of bodies in the near-Earth environment, atmospheric dynamics, and much more. We’ll explore what this teaches us about the Solar System, and about potential risks to space-based assets as well as to those of us on the ground. I’ll describe the simple cameras you can build to collect your own data, and how by enlisting one or two friends you can set up your own mini-network that could let you track the next big meteor all the way to the ground, and figure out where meteorites might have landed.


Chris Peterson started developing computerized, guided mounts in the late 1970s. His astronomical interests follow two paths: instrumentation and analytical imaging. On the instrumentation front, he has designed or consulted in the design of a number of mount controllers. He has also developed numerous CCD and CMOS cameras, both for imaging and for guiding, and developed guiding systems currently used on space-based platforms. Imaging interests include photometry of eclipsing binaries and fast rotators, as well as video analysis of occultations. Chris has a BS in Applied Physics from the California Institute of Technology. He owned a California company for many years which designed and built ophthalmological surgical instruments. He is currently an independent consultant, and a Research Associate at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. He operates a network of allsky cameras which collect meteor and fireball data over Colorado and the surrounding states. He lives in the tiny town of Guffey, Colorado, with his wife Louise and their assortment of animals. When not working in his observatory or analyzing data, he might be found hiking or riding in the local mountains, or mentoring budding middle school scientists at the local school.


Friday, August 18, 2017 - 16:00