Video Depicts the Trippy Manmade Meteor Showers That Could Soon Light Skies

Catching meteor showers like the Delta Aquarids or the Geminids in all of their dazzling glory requires being in the right place at the right time. Skywatchers need to respect the will of nature if they want to be graced by its beauty. But a Japanese company is about to take an initial step toward being able to conjure meteor shower-like displays by sending a satellite into space.

The company behind the stunt is Tokyo-based firm Astro Live Experiences (ALE), which plans to launch a satellite on Wednesday at 7:50 p.m Eastern that will help them create the world’s first artificial meteor shower. The orbiter is being flown into space aboard the Japanese space agency’s Epsilon Rocket. Its goal? Gathering data to aid in the creation of a synthetic celestial light show over Hiroshima in the year 2020. If the company pulls it off, their manmade meteor shower is expected to be visible to up to six million people over a 124-mile (200-kilometer) area.

ALE plans to achieve this by dropping roughly 400, 2-centimeter in diameter pellets from a satellite to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. These so-called “meteor particles” are specially designed to burn longer than the natural space rocks that regularly are trapped by our planet. They’re estimated to remain visible in the sky for up to ten seconds.

artificial meteor shower
Diagram of how ALE's plan to create a meteor shower. 

Uhhh… Is This Actually Safe?

These human-made meteors are slated to be released around 249 miles (400 km) above the Earth’s surface, though they will eventually wind up closer to roughly 50 miles (80 km) above the ground before disintegrating. The company said it has verified this using mathematical simulations and experiments, which isn’t the same as a dry run but leave a lot of wiggle room.

The final satellite will also have an onboard computer that will determine if dropping the pellets could damage any of the other 2,000 spacecraft that are also in orbit. It’ll use three CPUs to check the position of other satellites and calculate where and how fast the pellets will travel. On paper, this should keep ALE from damaging anything neighboring orbiters.

What About The Environmental Impacts?

As for pollution? ALE’s site says dust from their imitation meteors will fall to Earth, but it’ll be negligible.

A 2014 study in the Journal of Geophysical Research estimated that roughly 60 tons of cosmic dust rains down on Earth every day. The 400 pellets that would be dropped over Hiroshima would have a mass of 2.2 pounds (1 kg), according to the company, so it would be like adding a drop of water into a silo full of water.

artifical meteor shower
Image of one of the pellets being tested under simulated atmospheric pressure.

However, particularly if successful, it’s easy to see how adding entertainment companies dropping fake meteors to the mix has the potential to contribute to the growing problem of space junk. Researchers are already trying to figure out how to clean up the roughly 6,800 tons of defunct rocket parts and other debris that’s already in orbit.

The company also says they have a proposed a plan that seems to address these concerns and it’ll move forward with its plans to recreate nature. Still, it wouldn’t be the first time attempts to mimic nature have carried an air of hubris.

Humans Love to Play Mother Nature

Whether it’s the breathtaking Aurora Borealis or a frightening cyclone, humans have tried their hand at replicating all kinds of natural phenomena. Sometimes it’s for a specific reason, like looking to animals for ideas about ways to imbue robots with non-human abilities. Sometimes it’s just because it’s cool.

The Mercedes-Benz Museum houses a massive, artificial tornado.

Some of these efforts are a bit of both. Local mechanical engineers in the Ladakh region of India, for example created a giant artificial glacier, known as an ice stupa in the desert. That’s objectively cool as hell, but it’s also an effort to look for creative ways to store water. Figuring out how to put big-ass hunks of ice in dry, hot regions could also potentially be a way to deliver water to crops during dry seasons.

More similar to ALE, artists and companies have recreated the marvels of nature to simply entertain. Swiss artist Dan Acher, used high-powered lasers to project blue and green light onto clouds to re-create the Norther Lights. And the Mercedes-Benz Museum is home to a 113 foot artificial tornado.

If ALE succeeds, they’ll be the first to mimic a cosmic event.