Geology & Geophysics Editors' Highlights

Meteors Can be Used to Calibrate a Radar System

Every day meteors burn up in the atmosphere with highly predictable results, reflecting radio waves that could be used to calibrate antennas.

Source: Radio Science


A meteor entering the atmosphere heats up and ablates near 100 kilometers, forming an ionized trail that can reflect radio waves. These transient trails can be detected by ionospheric radars. Depending on the radar system parameters, the known average properties of the meteor trails can be used to calibrate aspects of the radar. SuperDARN is an international consortium of scatter radars that scan the polar ionospheres and can produce maps of ionospheric convection at approximately 1 to 2 minute resolution. These convection maps rely on good geolocation of the Doppler velocity measurements made by the individual radars, which depends on accurate estimates of the HF propagation path to and from the scattering volume. Due to difficulties calibrating the elevation data, virtual height models have been used to estimate the most likely propagation paths, and these are often of limited accuracy. Chisham [2018] uses the integrated meteor flux to improve the elevation calibration of the individual radars in the consortium. This will in turn improve the geolocation accuracy of ionospheric backscatter measured by the radars, which is critical for the integrity of polar ionospheric convection maps.

Citation: Chisham, G. [2018]. Calibrating SuperDARN interferometers using meteor backscatter. Radio Science, 53.

—Phil Wilkinson, Editor-in-Chief, Radio Science

Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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