The Solar Planetary And Meteor Detection has a hilarious acronym, but more importantly it's a way to watch a meteor shower despite being clouded in. Here's a glimpse of how the radio antenna network observed the brand-new Camelopardalids.

When a meteor strikes the atmosphere and burns up, it's not only pretty, it also it ionizes the gas around it. This ionization has a chance of producing radio waves, which can be detected by a radio antenna network.


The S.P.A.M system translates reflected waves into amplitude, frequency shift, and decay time. Analyzing the amplitude gives information on the relative size of the meteor strike, and the frequency shift and width of the trace is used to determine the approximate speed and deceleration.

Aside from producing a spectra we can use to analyze meteor showers, that same ionization can be used by ham radio operators to bounce transmissions off the upper atmosphere. They use software developed by astrophysicist and Nobel Laureate Joe Taylor to make the trick work any time, taking advantage of the constant low-level ionization of tiny motes of dust burning up as our planet plows through space.

Here's a few snapshots of the meteor shower over the United Kingdom. Not every detected event is a meteor — the constant background of small blue spikes are the natural background noise of ionization. Each spike is a scattered shooting star, occasionally flaring into dramatic signal peaks that must have been beautiful fireballs.

Check the live feed here. All images credit the S.P.A.M. team. Thank you to Summer Science Program alum John Rabold for pointing out the link between meteor-induced ionization and ham radio!


How was the meteor shower where you were? Please share photos of you've got them! Don't feel badly if you missed it: the Canadian Meteor Radar Group is reporting a strong shower of under-dense signals, which translates into a whole lot of very faint shooting stars.