Hiram College

Photo by James Guilford

The first fireball meteor captured by the camera atop Colton Hall. (Upper right streak) More photos from the camera available at http://fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov/.

The first fireball meteor captured by the camera atop Colton Hall (upper right streak). More photos from the camera available at http://fireballs.ndc.nasa.gov/.

Hiram College is one of the newest homes to a NASA All-Sky Fireball Network station.

The Fireball Network is a network of cameras, set up by NASA, which watch the sky every night for exceptionally bright meteors called fireballs.

Crews set the camera up atop Colton Hall on Aug. 13, 2013. It has already begun to capture images of fireballs and contribute to NASA research.

“We are excited to participate with NASA in the All-Sky Fireball Network,” said Louis Oliphant, assistant professor of computer science, who was involved in getting the camera set up on campus. “We hope to engage Hiram students to have a better understanding of the world around them by looking at and analyzing some of the data captured from this system.”

Fireball meteors are small – only about the size of a fingertip – but mighty. They travel at speeds of 25,000 miles per hour or more. The cameras can help scientists learn more about these meteors – their speed, direction and height – and learn about the meteor’s orbit and where it may have come from. That information can help designers protect satellites and astronauts from meteoroid collisions.

Until recently, the network was made up of eight cameras, all located in the western or southeast region of the U.S. The Northeast and Midwest were underrepresented because artificial light tends to pollute a clear view of the evening sky, which is required to view these fireballs.

Hiram College’s location, though, seemed to be an exception. So James Guilford, manager of Hiram’s Stephens Memorial Observatory, began to inquire about getting a station set up on campus.

“Hiram has that magical combination – it’s a little island of dark sky between several brightly-lit cities,” he said.

Guilford worked with Oliphant and Laura Van Wormer, professor of physics, to get the process started. NASA then needed additional sites with overlapping views of the sky.

“Hiram’s application and our interest in doing this was the thing that really got it going for this region,” Guilford said. “No one else (in our region) was asking about having one of these stations. After we did it, NASA sought other sites with which Hiram could coordinate.”

Now, stations at Oberlin College, the Allegheny Observatory and Oil Region Astronomical Observatory, work with Hiram’s station to capture fireballs in the Ohio-Pennsylvania region and contribute to national research for NASA.

The benefits of having the camera on campus will be passed down to Hiram College students.

“We can, at Hiram participate in real, ongoing research,” Guilford said. “That makes it a good thing all by itself.”