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Updated November 19, 2011
You can use your FM radio to detect meteors as they enter the earth's atmosphere. As the meteor burns up on entry, atmospheric gases are ionized creating conditions that will reflect line of sight radio waves over the horizon from distant radio stations where they normally won't travel. If you are tuned to an FM radio station over the horizon from your home, and you hear music or voices, a meteor has probably passed between you and the radio station. Click this link to find sample audio files.
Please note: The information on this page is written with reference to locations in Alberta, Canada due to the mandate of this site as a public education project of the Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada and the Dept. of Physics at the University of Alberta. However, most of what you see here applies to other locations around the globe.
Here's how to get started
While meteors are constantly falling into the atmosphere, there are times each year when the number of meteors is noticeably higher. As the earth travels in its orbit around the sun, it passes through the paths of a number of comets and other space debris that also orbit the sun. These are called meteor showers.
These showers are of particular interest to both amateur optical and amateur radio astronomers because they are predictable events to plan observing sessions around. Both optical and radio astronomers count the number of meteors they detect and compare notes with others observing in different locations. This provides useful information about changes in the nature of the shower stream. Follow this link for a list of Meteor Showers.
More on how meteor showers work.
You will need a good FM radio, an antenna, a method of recording your observation (optional), and a way of showing your data. Depending on how involved you want to get, you can also add a pre-amplifier and other recording equipment.
When choosing an FM station to use for observing there are several steps you must take to select one that will work.
Connect the receiver to the antenna. Connect your data logging equipment to the earphone jack of the receiver. Start your software. Start the receiver. And away you go. These are the basic steps required. More detail on how to do each step is described on other pages on this website. See the Site Map for an overview of what is available.
It is better to observe overnight when human activity is at a low ebb. Also, the number of meteors observable increases at around 6 a.m. when the leading edge of the earth travels into the stream of sporadic or shower meteors. These meteors tend to enter the atmosphere at a greater speed because of the Earth's velocity through space of 28.8 km per sec. This higher energy translates into higher levels of ionization. As a result of these two factors, many radio meteor observers conduct their observations between midnight and 7 a.m.