Fireworks of the future? Japan to create fake shooting stars

Story highlights

Japanese space start-up ALE has set out to invent artificial shooting stars.

After launching its first satellite into orbit, ALE plans to debut its meteor show in 2018.

Visible across 124 miles in diameter, each show will feature about a dozen artificial meteors in various colors.

CNN  — 

Ephemeral and poetic, shooting stars are among the world’s most beautiful natural wonders.

But come 2018, these fleeting fireballs will no longer be left to chance.

Japanese space start-up ALE is developing the technology to deliver on-demand man-made meteors, which could turn the night sky into a blank canvas.

“Imagine a future, where you can use our meteors for international fireworks displays, a proposal for marriage, or a special memorial,” says Shinsuke Abe, ALE’s research director and Nihon University aerospace engineering professor.

The grand showcase for this outer space entertainment could be the opening of the 2020 Olympics, in Tokyo, which ALE is rumored to have bid to take part in.

Meanwhile, in 2018, the company plans to launch its first satellite into orbit, and present its debut show in the same year, when that satellite has reached its position.

“We want people to look up, not down at the ground,” says Abe. “People in Japan are so busy everyday and they need more culture and science in their lives to bring them closer to nature, and to relax.”

Watch this space

It was Lena Okajima’s childhood in Tottori, roughly 100 miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Osaka, that sparked the ALE founder’s fascination with space.

The least populous prefecture in Japan, Tottori enjoys clear night skies and frequent displays of shooting stars, most notably the spectacular annual Leonid meteor shower.

“A lot of people have thought about (creating fake meteor showers) but Okajima was the first one to invest years of research into this,” says Rie Yamamoto, ALE’s global strategy director.

“Okajima watched meteor showers when she was younger, but living in Tokyo (as an adult) she couldn’t really see them, so that played a part in her inspiration.”

A former investment banker with a PhD in astronomy, in 2011 Okajima founded ALE, garnering private funding and collaborating with academics from three academic institutions.

Her ambition? To bring shooting stars to Tokyo.

Up in the thermosphere

Creating a man-made meteor show is a significant scientific feat.

First, the team will need to launch a satellite into orbit, which will take several months to reach its position at an altitude of approximately 310 miles (500 kilometers) in the thermosphere, the second highest layer of the atmosphere.

With the ability to orbit the earth for up to four years, each satellite will store about 300 to 500 of ALE’s man-made meteoroids.

The satellite will frequently pass over major cities at night time, poised to provide a meteor shower.

Once the satellite is in orbit, ALE won’t be able to control its speed or location, but as the company adds more satellites its coverage will become more flexible.