So far, 2014 has been a very good year for stargazers and astronomers. However, there's another spectacular light show coming to town and scientists expect that a new meteor shower will peak this coming weekend.
This coming Friday night and Saturday Morning (May 23 and May 24), astronomers have predicted that yet another meteor shower will peak in a dazzling display of light. Current estimates say that up to 1,000 shooting stars may be visible during the shower's peak. The shooting stars will be the result of debris shaken off from the Comet 209P/LINEAR. As the debris hits the Earth's upper atmosphere, they light up and may be visible from many parts of the Earth.
However, one of the most annoying things for stargazers is poor visibility during the peak of a meteor shower. Some skywatchers clear their schedules and take out their trusty binoculars to prepare for the light show only to be greeted by cloudy skies. In certain locations, light pollution can also make shooting star hunting more difficult. In this case however, individuals intent on observing the meteor shower may have another viable option, listening to the radio.
"Listening" to a meteor shower may seem very odd but in certain situations, meteors can actually have an observable effect on the radio waves used to transmit radio broadcast signals reports Joe Rao of Space.com. While it seems a bit counterintuitive, star gazers and amateur astronomers who happen upon bad weather this weekend can simply turn on their radios and "tune-in" on the meteor shower.
Radio signals sent out by radio transmitters are actually affected by the Earth's ionosphere. Radio signals that are beamed out can bounce off of the ionosphere. This part of the Earth's atmosphere is somewhere between 370 miles and 53 miles up in the sky. This effect has a number of practical applications and radio operators sometimes take advantage of it to communicate over long distances.
Frequencies higher than 30 MHz pass right through the ionosphere since it can only reflect lower frequency radio waves such as 30 Mhz or lower. For higher frequency transmissions, the signals usually travel in a straight line. However, they can also be reflected back to Earth under certain specific conditions. If specific parts of the atmosphere are ionized, even FM signals can be affected. These conditions can be brought about by a meteor shower.
As shooting stars plummet into the Earth's atmosphere, they can actually ionize that air that they pass through. Scientists say that the size of the incoming meteorites are actually perfect for ionizing the correct part of the atmosphere required to reflect FM broadcast signals. To "tune-in" to the upcoming shower, find an area relatively far away from FM stations. Start scanning the FM frequencies starting from just under 91.1 Mhz. These frequencies are usually populated by smaller low-power radio stations and can be perfect for looking for the characteristic amplifications of a passing meteor. While dialed in to an frequency "occupied" by a very distant radio station, listeners may notice sudden signal "amplifications" that can cause the radio transmissions to suddenly become louder. These are the tell-tale signs that a shooting star has just passed through.