Meteor Detection Systems: The Saskatchewan Fireball Camera Network

The following gives information for the setup and operation of the all-sky video camera meteor detection systems which are part of the Saskatchewan Fireball Camera Network. The network is currently all down and the hardware is being refurbished - the plan is for the cameras to be up and running by the end of 2017.

Past driving software: The camera fireball2 (originally on the roof of the U of S Physics Building) used the Sandia sentinel software written by Joe Chavez with a sentinel box. Martin Beech's camera, fireball5, is off-network and records to VCR tape. Cameras fireball1, 3, 6 and 7 originally used Rob Weryk's Asgard software with a video capture card. All (except fireball5) recorded only when a bright transient event triggers them at night.

The following table lists the past location of the cameras, and where their likely new locations will be. They will all be using the WSentinel software and will report to the Sky Sentinel Network.

fireball1Winnipeg, Manitoba - new location not identified yet97.080 W49.901 N230 mLarry Gundrum
fireball3Saskatoon, roof of Physics Building - will possibly move to another Saskatoon location106.634 W52.132 N569 mGordon Sarty
fireball4Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan - to remain in same location107.264 W51.154 N724 mTenho Tuomi
fireball5Regina, Saskatchewan - VCR camera 104.417 W 50.417 N575 mMartin Beech
fireball6Yorkton, Saskatchewan - to possibly remain in same location102.521 W51.209 N519 mJim Huziak
fireball7Dauphin, Manitoba - permanently offline100.192 W50.993 N420 mRon Lupack

Coordinates for fireballs 3, 4 and 7 are from a GPS receiver using WGS 84 coordinates. Coordinates for fireball 1 are from Google Earth. fireball 5 coordinates, from Martin Beech (except for height which is an estimate from Google Earth), are from a GPS receiver in an unknown coordinate system.

Here is a small diary of interesting events caught by the cameras:

Collaboration with International Space Station - April 21-22, 2012

Bill Cooke of NASA MSFC wrote: "Even though the April Lyrids are not noted for spectacular rates, the combination of a New Moon near the shower peak and a very favorable viewing geometry from the International Space Station (ISS) presents a unique opportunity to simultaneously image shower meteors from both the ground and from space. Through the appropriate channels, the NASA Meteoroid Environments Office (MEO) has communicated the Lyrid viewing circumstances to astronaut Don Pettit on the ISS, who will attempt to image Lyrid meteors with onboard equipment near the shower peak. Even though this equipment was designed for tasks other than meteor observing, Don is a skilled amateur astronomer, and we have every confidence that he will maximize the chances of capturing a Lyrid from 400 km above Earth's surface. Feedback from the ISS is not immediate, but it is expected that we will receive in fairly short order the times that a meteor was observed from the station, to be followed in due course by the image/video of the event(s).

"The MEO is requesting that operators of meteor cameras, particularly all sky cameras, turn on their systems during the night of the Lyrid peak (April 21-22) to maximize the chances of simultaneous ground/ISS observations. We are asking that the operators transmit the times of the meteors observed by their cameras near the Lyrid peak so that we can correlate with the times of any events observed by ISS. Please send ONLY the times and approximate location of the camera; no video or stills are needed until after the correlations are made. We will send an email to the operator(s) requesting this additional data in the event of a match."

Meteors were detected by cameras of the Saskatchewan Fireball Camera Network the night of April 21-22 and reported to Bill Cooke, but none were coincidental with any meteors recorded by Don Pettit. Here is the list of detections from the Saskatchewan Fireball Camera Network for April 21-22:

Times are April 22, 2012 UT

UT Location
08:25:33 97.080W 49.901N Winnipeg
08:27:53 106.634W 52.132N Saskatoon
08:27:53 107.264W 51.154N Lucky Lake
08:28:12 107.264W 51.154N Lucky Lake
08:29:21 107.264W 51.154N Lucky Lake
10:08:44 100.192W 50.993N Dauphin
10:10:01 106.634W 52.132N Saskatoon*
10:10:01 107.264W 51.154N Lucky Lake*
10:42:37 107.264W 51.154N Lucky Lake
10:45:52 107.264W 51.154N Lucky Lake
10:45:57 106.634W 52.132N Saskatoon
*coincidence detection with computed orbit - a Lyrid

Fireball of February 21, 2012

From the Lucky Lake camera, fireball4 (click on image for video if your browser can play avi files):

The event from Calgary: u-tube video. From Corman Park, a security video.

Buzzard Coulee Fireball - November 21, 2008

A bright fireball on November 21, 2008 caught lots of media attention, see on-line article from Astronomy magazine. Meteorites were found, see another article with some photos by Rick Huziak. Below are 3 frames from the fireball4 (then in Saskatoon) video and an image of a meteorite I found, with Garry Stone, when I joined Alan Hildebrand's search team on December 4. More pictures from that search can be found by clicking on the meteorite image below. Another search in the spring of 2009 was organized. I have been out looking a second time, for pictures of that trip, look here. See Bob Johnson's blog on his Buzzard Coulee experience (beware - the site is a busy bandwith hog). And I have been out looking a third time and a fourth time to be a BBC extra.

Perseids - 2007

Here's one of my favorite images. Two nearly simultaneous Perseid meteors at 08:04:59 on August 8, 2007 UT from fireball3 (in Saskatoon):

Northern Lights

The northern lights are frequent in Saskatoon, but are not normally bright enough to trigger the fireball cameras. When they do the results are spectacular. Below are some northern light videos from fireball3 in Saskatoon:

March 8-9, 2008
|event-20080309-065424-03.m2v |event-20080309-065614-03.m2v |event-20080309-065630-03.m2v |event-20080309-065632-03.m2v |event-20080309-065650-03.m2v |event-20080309-065653-03.m2v |event-20080309-065657-03.m2v |event-20080309-065701-03.m2v |event-20080309-065710-03.m2v |event-20080309-065721-03.m2v |event-20080309-070007-03.m2v |event-20080309-070012-03.m2v |event-20080309-070037-03.m2v |event-20080309-070131-03.m2v |event-20080309-070134-03.m2v |event-20080309-070159-03.m2v |
Get the VLC plug-in if you cannot view these videos.

Camera Construction Pictures

Originally, I used a plexiglass base for the meteor cameras (2 have been made).

But the heat from the heating resistors melted the plexiglass!

So the plexiglass has been replaced with aluminum. For those who are interested in building your own allsky cameras, there are four 500 ohm resistors hooked up in parallel to 120V. So that's 28.8W x 4 = 115W. It's probably overkill, but I've never had any snow, ice or condensation on the domes. Even after the wildest blizzard. There's a thermostat, behind the video camera in this view, that shuts off the resistor heaters at about 15C. So, in Saskatchewan they are on most of the time.

The meteor cameras where constructed in my garage and represent the continuation of my telescope building projects that include an 8 inch f5 Newtonian (under blanket), a 3 inch refractor (behind camera) and an 18 inch f5 Newtonian (biggest object in picture). The second meteor camera may be seen on top of the tool cart. Also visible is an inclinometer for visual fireball sightings and the barrel upon which the 8 and 18 inch mirrors were ground. [The plexglass base camera is awaiting its aluminum upgrade here.]

Here are fireball3 (foreground) and fireball4 (background) on the roof of the Physics building on the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon. fireball4 has since been moved to near Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan (see below).

fireball4 was moved to Tenho Tuomi's place near Lucky Lake on February 16, 2009.

There it is on the roof of the house.

fireball4 joins the suite of weather and magnetometer equipment in Tenho's basement.

On February 22, 2009, fireball1, the refurbished old Sandia camera from Laird, took up fireball4's old spot for a check out run.

On May 12, 2009, Larry Gundrum, who I met searching for meteorites at Buzzard Coulee took fireball1 to Winnipeg. Here is fireball1 on the roof of Larry's house. Larry has kept the camera running reliably ever since.

Here's fireball6, installed 2010 on a school roof in Yorkton. This location didn't work out because I couldn't communicate with the camera through the school's firewalled internet connection. Establishing an internet connection with the fireball cameras is the single most difficult problem to solve when installing a new camera.

Here's fireball6 in late 2013, finally installed in a working location.

Here's fireball7, installed on Ron Lupack's roof in Dauphin. Ron took the camera offline in 2012 to pursue other projects.

fireball3 and fireball4 both caught their first simultaneous meteor on March 1, 2009 as shown in the images above. The data were automatically sent to a central computer named io which then computed an orbit shown below.

The central "correlator" computer io was replaced by luna in 2012 after io was broken into by hackers. I have taken steps to make the network computers are now more secure.

fireball1/3/4/6 usage - Rob's mid 2008 software

The command startx will start a simple x-windows for viewing images. After X-windows starts, right click the mouse to get a menu and pick a command terminal. From the command terminal you can run the commands described below. The easiest way to get real time video output for focusing is to kill the asgard daemon (killall asgard && killall dnotify -- if asgard is on and you may have to killall asgard several times), then run:
vidgrab --dev v4l:/dev/video0 --sdl --dry
for fireball6 run:
vidgrab --dev v4l:/dev/video0,port=0 --sdl --dry

vidgrab (old version was metgrab) is a program Rob wrote that just records video to disk.
The --sdl means display it in a window and --dry means don't actually write to disk.

When you want to restart the detection, run ~/scripts/ or (safer) reboot the machine: sudo reboot

For rejecting stationary events, the ~/meteor/etc/evproc.conf file needs to have a "reject spot" line added.

How to kill and restart asgard:

$ killall asgard
$ killall evctrl
$ killall dnotify

evctrl is used to start the daemon when the sun has sufficiently set and to stop it when it rises.

dnotify is a program that will run a script when something in a specified directory changes. Rob uses it on the older ubuntu installs to automatically run the asgard processor program on event files as they are detected. It has been superceded by something called inotify, and the evwait program uses this (but can't on the fireball3/4 systems) - it has the big advantage that it's very easy to reject events if there are multiple triggers in a row (above some set limit) - Rob has a workaround for the dnotify systems to do the same thing, but he's not sure if it's set up on fireball3/4.

Restart with ~/scripts/ (or reboot)

fireball2 usage

More information can be found in the Sentinel User Manual.

fireball2 is not used any more in favor of asgard, but it and the sentinel box are still around and functional.

To start up the Sentinel software for running the camera

To begin detecting

Type the following commands in the sentinel software (./sentuser2):

Viewing the videos

To test if the Sentinel box is functional

In the sentinel program type:

To capture an image

In the sentinel program type:

Archiving of video captures

Setup of ssh public keys

This only needs to be done as the last "new system install" step. On the fireball system type:
  1. ssh-keygen -t dsa
  2. scp .ssh/
  3. ssh fireball@microquasar
  4. cat >> ./ssh/authorized_keys
  5. chmod 700 .ssh
  6. chmod 600 .ssh/authorized_keys
  7. rm
  8. exit
  9. ssh fireball@microquasar
  10. install keychain from

More links:
  1. Some possibly useful software: the Japanese UFOCapture suite.
  2. NASA Meteoroid Environment Office (MEA)
  3. North American All Sky Camera Database
  4. NASA WORKSHOP ON METEOR VIDEO OBSERVATIONS AND ANALYSIS: Workshop info, The YouTube video | My presentation
  5. The NASA fireball network produces statistics like this: Fireball orbits from December 12, 2013.
New meteor radar product - active meteor showers - from Bill Cooke, NASA Meteoroid Environment Office

The NASA Meteoroid Environment Office (MEO) is pleased to announce a new data product which meteor observers will find invaluable in determining which meteor showers are active based on real-time measurements. Using data gathered by the MEO-sponsored Canadian Meteor Orbit Radar, meteor activity in near real-time is now plotted on starcharts for observers to immediately gauge actual meteor activity from their location in Eastern North America. These maps show both the number of meteor radiants recorded by the radar and the speeds of meteoroids from each recorded radiant as measured by CMOR during the previous 24 hour period plotted on a starchart. These starcharts also identify known meteor showers which the radar has detected as being active during the previous day. The starcharts update every 15 minutes showing both what stars and meteor radiants are visible and can be viewed by clicking on the radar link at:

The sky chart plots are also augmented by Earth-centered plots - to toggle between these pages use the links at the top of the radar page. The Earth-centered plots show all meteor showers active throughout the day and their apparent strength from radar data.

The radar detects meteors in the magnitude +6 to +8 range - sub millimeter particle sizes.

Space Coast Intelligent Solutions (SCIS) links:

I was looking forward getting these fireballs on video.

(Image sent to me by Andre Phillips. A fair use display.)