Fail of the Week: Tracking Meteors with Weather Radio

It’s not hard to detect meteors: go outside on a clear night in a dark place and you’re bound to see one eventually. But visible light detection is limiting, and knowing that meteors leave a trail of ions means radio detection is possible. That’s what’s behind this attempt to map meteor trails using broadcast signals, which so far hasn’t yielded great results.

Passing jet’s Doppler signature

The fact that meteor trails reflect radio signals is well-known; hams use “meteor bounce” to make long-distance contacts all the time. And using commercial FM broadcast signals to map meteor activity isn’t new, either — we’ve covered the “forward scattering” technique before. The technique requires tuning into a frequency used by a distant station but not a local one and waiting for a passing meteor to bounce the distant signal back to your SDR dongle. Capturing the waterfall display for later analysis should show characteristic patterns and give you an idea of where and when the meteor passed.

[Dave Venne] is an amateur astronomer who turns his eyes and ears to the heavens just to see what he can find. [Dave]’s problem is that the commercial FM band in the Minneapolis area that he calls home is crowded, to say the least. He hit upon the idea of using the National Weather Service weather radio broadcasts at around 160 MHz as a substitute. Sadly, all he managed to capture were passing airplanes with their characteristic Doppler shift; pretty cool in its own right, but not the desired result.

The comments in the RTL-SDR.com post on [Dave]’s attempt had a few ideas on where this went wrong and how to improve it, including the intriguing idea of using 60-meter ham band propagation beacons. Now it’s Hackaday’s turn: any ideas on how to fix [Dave]’s problem? Sound off in the comments below.

16 thoughts on “Fail of the Week: Tracking Meteors with Weather Radio

  1. Try this:

    “The meteor detector at LIVEMETEORS.com is located in DC Metropolitan area and is currently pointing the Yagi antenna at a TV tower in Canada broadcasting on channel 3 analog TV, around 61.260 MHz, likely located in Timmins, ON. Receiver is RTL/SDR and software is SDR#.”

    http://livemeteors.com/

    And the YouTube Live Streaming direct link (Meteor Echoes Live Stream: livemeteors.com):

    Bookmark those links above for the next Meteor Shower event, during which you’ll see some interesting stuff.

  2. It would be interesting to use a second dongle on 1090 MHz to receive the ADS-B signals and try to correlate the reported plane positions with the doppler signals detected. This might not help with the meteor detection, but could automatically remove the plane detections if you come up with a system that sees both.

    I’ve wanted to do this to figure out where the occasional HDTV dropouts I always get during football games are coming from – I suspect multipath interference from passing aircraft, but have never checked out the local traffic when it happens to find a smoking gun.

    1. I was under the impression that DTV is immune to multipath interference. Perhaps this is nothing more than the shortcomings of the system. It’s a bit wonky. Faithful analog reception changed to junk in some instances.

      1. I think in the US they use ATSC for digital TV. This is still somewhat susceptible to multipath whereas DVB-T used elsewhere is less susceptible due to OFDM being used. Not exactly sure of the multipath performance differences tho.

  3. I remember my first reception report from my 10 meter propagation beacon was from (we think) a meteor bounce. I wonder if the 10m propagation beacon network could be taken advantage of for pinpointing these things?

  4. Seems like if there’s embedded precision timing information in the NWS or other beacon transmissions, that could probably be used to discriminate between echos from low-altitude scstterers like airplanes (below 10 km altitude) and the much higher altitude scattering from the meteor trials near 100 km altitude – would there be enough difference in the transit time delay for these sorts of reflection heights for these sorts of SDR rigs to discriminate between the two kinds of scatterers?

    Discrimination by Doppler shift is a good way to discriminate as already noted – is there a significant Doppler shift present in the meteor trail once the meteor itself has past?

  5. To start, you should use a better receiver. RTL-SDR sticks have poor dynamic range (48dB max), so it will get deaf if strong signals are present in band.

    A successful attempt including 3D tracking of meteors using multiple receiving stations:
    http://ea4eoz.blogspot.com.es/2016/01/wideband-quadrantids-using-graves-radar.html
    http://ea4eoz.blogspot.com.es/2016/04/determining-radiant-of-meteor-using.html
    http://ea4eoz.blogspot.com.es/2016/04/determining-radiant-of-meteor-using_10.html

  6. Take a look at zooniverse citizen science site for Radio Meteor Zoo.
    https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/zooniverse/radio-meteor-zoo
    It’s an attempt for volunteers to pick out meteor pings from airplane doppler from a transmit/receive pair specifically designed for meteor cataloging.

    You can see the difference from an airplane vs the short meteor ping.

    I’m not sure why you couldn’t use the center carrier from the NWS tx. A program like Spectrum Lab
    http://www.qsl.net/dl4yhf/spectra1.html
    could also be useful for looking at the finer details such as carrier drift of the RX or TX and more.

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