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There are plenty of phenomena that light up the night — and it turns out that the same type of detector fortuitously catches two very different types of celestial fireworks.
One of those phenomena is lightning: Because bolts can spark wildfires, scientists and engineers at NASA designed a satellite-mounted monitor that maps lightning strikes from space. But scientists who track how Earth's atmosphere destroys meteoroids have confirmed in new research that they can piggyback on those detectors.
Impacts - Remains - Appeal - Detector - Scientists
That requires studying as many impacts and their remains as possible, hence the appeal of a space-bound detector that could send scientists alerts about incoming asteroids. Such an alert system would improve the chances that researchers could gather impact debris for analysis, Jenniskens said.
That's still far in the future, but the new research suggests scientists have come a step closer, thanks to an instrument called the Global Lightning Mapper. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's GOES-16 and GOES-17 (formerly called GOES-R and GOES-S) weather-monitoring satellites each carry a GLM, and the technology is due to fly on the next two satellites in the series — which will eventually be called GOES-18 and GOES-19 and are scheduled to launch in the early 2020s, as well.
GLM - Strikes - Wavelength - Light - Oxygen
But the GLM is tailored to lightning strikes, measuring only a single wavelength of light that's produced by oxygen atoms during a strike, Jenniskens said. That means it can see lightning even during daylight, but at the cost of ignoring a ton of other data. So while scientists had hoped that the GLM would pick up meteoroid explosions, they couldn't be sure until they had some data to check. That became possible early this year, after GOES-16 had been watching the sky for almost a year and its observations could be compared with reports of incoming meteoroids from a network of Department...
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