A spectroscopic survey of meteoroid elemental compositions

Grant #: NNX12AM14G
Senior Scientist: Peter Jenniskens

Objectives: We propose to develop and deploy the first automated survey of meteoroid elemental compositions (Mg, Na, Fe, Ca, ...), by simultaneously measuring meteoroid orbits and meteor spectra in large numbers on both the northern and southern hemisphere. The survey will shed light on the diversity of meteor shower parent bodies. This data will be used to test recent planet formation models and improve the first dynamical model of the formation and evolution of the zodiacal cloud. 

Methods: The proposed work is a follow-up on, and is made possible by, the technology developed during the predecessor Planetary Astronomy program grant NNX08AO64G. In this prior work, a night-time meteor video surveillance system was developed, a 60-camera network called CAMS, which now records meteoroid trajectories from three locations in California, and by triangulation of these trajectories determines the meteor light curve, initial velocity, and deceleration in the Earth atmosphere, as well as the meteoroid orbit in space. The new spectroscopic capability of CAMS would be achieved by equipping the 20 cameras of one of the three stations with objective transmission gratings, and by developing the software tools to automate the extraction of the meteor spectra from this data and derive elemental abundances. 

Perceived Significance: This would dramatically scale up the simultaneous collection of meteoroid orbits and meteor optical spectra and obtain the first such data on minor showers. The proposed work is relevant to the scientific research objectives of the Planetary Astronomy program, because ground-based astronomical observations of meteors will be performed in the range of 380 to 880 nm that will generate a large amount of data that contribute to the understanding of the general properties and evolution of asteroids and comets. An element of new observations is introduced that supports NASA Solar System program objectives that cannot be met by current spacecraft missions. In particular, the elemental composition of large mm to cm sized dust grains will be measured, which are not sampled by in-situ spacecraft visits to comets. Many more comets can be sampled than can be realistically visited by space missions. The data from this survey is expected to fundamentally improve our understanding of the origin of the zodiacal cloud and provide ground truth for recently proposed models of planet formation, fundamentally related to the goal of understanding the evolution of the Solar System and of comets (NASA Strategic Goal 3C).