PARAMUS, N.J. — On Thursday night, when the Perseid meteor shower hits its peak, you’ll find STEM student Jesse Kent at his computer at an outdoor desk office at Bergen Community College in Paramus.
He’ll be sitting alongside a field where a student-built Yagi antenna is set up.
“Our objective is to count meteors,” said Kent, of Nutley, who’s heading up the Radio JOVE project at the college this summer.
The antenna, pointing northwest toward a Canadian television station, is connected to Kent’s specially equipped computer.
“When a meteor comes through the sky, it ionizes the air. It heats up the sky,” Kent said. “The radio signal bounces off that and we receive it. It comes up as a blip on our screen.”
Private citizens looking skyward from 12 a.m. Friday through dawn Friday may be able to see as many as 200 meteors an hour this year – lots more than usual.
That’s because the Perseid meteor shower is experiencing what astronomers call an “outburst.”
But Kent and the other members of the Radio Team – Daniela Liberato of Lyndhurst, Nicolette Filippone of Carlstadt, and Kimberley Maldonado of Maywood — will see more.
“With our software, we should be able to see close to 1,000 meteors per hour,” Kent said.
So where does the data go?
The local STEM (sceince, technology, engineering and math) students have hooked up to LiveMeteors.com , which livestreams its meteor detections. It is forming a collective to map out meteors around the globe.
“There is a big database online,” Kent said, “and we each can see everybody else’s data and compare the data.”
Professor Joe Sivo of Fair Lawn, who teaches astronomy and physics and is project mentor for the STEM Student Union at the college, said the students are doing a lot with a little technology.
They built the antenna, he said, using $50 worth of supplies from Home Depot.
“As with most things in astronomy, the data has absolutely no practical application whatsoever,” he said. “We just want to know about our place in the universe. It’s about the existential pleasure of contributing to science.”
Many people run to an observatory when there’s as astronomical event, he said. But that’s not the thing to do to see this year’s spectacular Perseid show.
“Your best viewing place is outside, on the ground, lying on a blanket,” he said. “Another thing that’s nice this year is that the moon will be setting at 1 a.m., which gives us extra darkness in the skies.”
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