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Out-of-focus find

While focusing a telescope on objects in deep space, researchers happened to collect images that enabled them to answer a question much closer to home: How wide are the glowing vapor trails known as meteors?

When extraterrestrial objects blaze through Earth's atmosphere, they typically start to glow at heights of about 100 kilometers. Telescopes that observe deep-space phenomena are focused at infinity, so any meteor that shows up in images is far out of focus, says Masanori Iye, an astronomer at the National Observatory of Japan in Tokyo. Previous research had suggested that these incandescent trails are less than 1 meter wide, but the images didn't allow further precision, he notes.

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