Meteor beacon for astronomy

Amateur radio and radio astronomy communities united to create what’s called GB3MBA: Meteor Beacon for Astronomy, to check out meteor events taking place above the UK. Today marks the day I learnt that you can hear meteors, but thankfully I found a lot of useful information from people who know exactly what they’re talking about.

Figure 1. The beacon installation at the Sherwood Observatory.
The beacon installation at the Sherwood Observatory

How does stargazing with a radio work?

Meteor News explains the basics of what GB3MBA does, and why it’s cool, best:

The beacon transmitter, operating on a frequency of 50.408MHz, is directed vertically upwards with a beam width sufficient to illuminate a region with a diameter of about 400km, centred above the observatory. This region is at an altitude of 90 to 100km, where meteors burn up due to friction with the atmosphere, briefly creating an ionised trail that is reflective to radio as they do so. Radio reflections from the ionised trails can be observed to a distance of about 1,200km from the observatory. An advantage of making meteor observations by radio is that such observations are largely independent of weather conditions and can be made equally well by day and night.

The transmit antenna
The transmit antenna up close[r]

Dive into Meteor News’ brilliant article if you have a reasonable grasp on the world of radio and would like a little more in-depth, extra-credit reading. They explain really clearly how receiving and displaying radio echoes from meteors works.

How Raspberry Pi helps

Raspberry Pi monitors the beacon’s output power, dump power, PA voltage, PA temperature, and back-up battery voltage. It also runs a web interface so you can check on the status of the beacon from the comfort of the indoors. We love the night sky as much as the next person, but we also really love the indoors.

UK Radio Astronomy Meteor Beacon - GB3MBA
Check on the beacon from the comfort of the indoors

Thanks go to…

The Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) provided funding for the project, while the Mansfield & Sutton Astronomical Society lend space at their Sherwood Observatory to host the beacon. Amateur radio volunteers built the beacon in the first instance, and running costs will be supported by the radio astronomy community.


Christoff Smith avatar

Great stuff! How about a citizen science themed issue of Magpi sometime?

Steve avatar

This is a great idea, Christoff. I second the motion!

Lucy Hattersley avatar

Good idea! I’ll add it to the forward planner

Ashley Whittaker avatar

BirdNET-Pi is my favourite. Ornithology is science, right?

Dave G8GKQ avatar

A Raspberry Pi based Meteor receiver is under development as part of the project. The prototype works (and has “seen” meteors), but is not yet ready for release. More information to follow. Dave G8GKQ

Des avatar

This is a truly outstanding project and makes great use of the raspis capabilities. I look forward the the release of the raspi based meteor receiver project.
Des (M0AYF)

Tony Abbey avatar

Raspberrry Pi’s are great for monitoring because of low power consumption. I use a R Pi 3 in my All Sky Camera which also monitors the Earth’s magnetic field. I want to move meteor reflection monitoring over to a Pi as well – have used PC’s in the past. A Citizen Science edition would be great.

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