Thursday, 22 May 2014


At various times of the year, Earth's orbit takes it through bands of comet debris. This is what causes meteor showers. During intense periods, people with good vision can enjoy the sight of sand grains burning up as they travel through the atmosphere at high speed.

But what good are these spectacles for those of us with poor or no sight? While sighted folks "ooh!" and "Ahh" at the shooting stars, we have to content ourselves through their descriptions of what they see.

There is a way for those of us without good vision to observe meteor showers. All we need to do is turn on an FM radio and find a space on the dial with no stations on it.

When comet debris burns up in the atmosphere, the air around the fiery trails becomes ionized. This causes very high frequency signals to be reflected back to earth. Radio stations beyond our listening area can be heard when their signals bounce back to us rather than flying off into space.

The length of these signal reflections is brief, often lasting just a few seconds. During strong showers, they can last up to a minute. With a tape or digital recorder connected to the radio, people such as myself can catch the station's identification and learn how far the signal traveled.

This also works for other types of radio signals. Before the switch to digital television, I caught the transmission from a station on channel four in Auston, Texas. I left my VCR recording the channel during the night of a meteor shower. When I watched the tape the next day, I was able to make out the TV station's call letters and the city's name.

Some amateur radio operators transmit packets of data toward where the meteor shower is coming from. I've heard that they make contacts with other hams thousands of miles away on frequencies normally useful for local transmissions. I don't have the equipment to do that but it would be fun to try.

All the widely-varied aspects of the radio hobby have appealed to me throughout my life. I mentioned my love of this wonderful pastime in all three of my books. The first two can be purchased through the Bruce Atchison's books page. My latest, called How I Was Razed, is available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Virtual Bookworm Publishers.

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