In recent months there have been a few snags with the preparations for the 2020 Olympic games to be held in Tokyo. Poorly planned stadiums and allegations of copyright infringement have really been taking the wind out of everyone’s sails for what is usually an auspicious event.

At this point it might take a magical feat of celestial beauty to lift people’s spirits, like a thousand multi-colored shooting stars descending at once over the site of the games during their opening ceremony. But while they’re predictable, those hard-headed events known as meteor showers tend not to occur at our mere beck and call.

However, now a small team in Japan has nearly completed creating an artificial meteor shower that can be seen anytime and anywhere you want, and which may even be brighter and more colorful that the real thing.

■ All out of ALE
Due to their beauty and fleeting nature, shooting stars have always been a symbol of fortune, attracting people all over the world as the Perseids did last week.

“Today the Perseid meteor shower was predicted to be seen too. They said that yesterday too, but for those who could see it there was also a chance to see the International Space Station. If you’re lucky there might be a chance to see it today too.”

It was such an annual meteor shower that inspired Reina Okajima to create Star-ALE. While an undergrad at the University of Tokyo she visited her parents’ home in Tottori during the Leonid meteor shower in November. Watching it she thought “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a meteor shower anytime, anywhere, and with anyone you wanted?”

After graduating, getting her doctorate in astronomy, doing a brief stint at Goldman Sachs, getting married, and having a kid, the 32-year-old working mom finally got around to making her own meteors and founded ALE Co. Ltd. in 2011. Now a group of 20 or so researchers led by Okajima in varying capacities, Star-ALE feels fairly confident they can begin making meteor showers as early as 2016.

■ How does it work?
Making a shooting star isn’t all that complicated, considering it’s just a chunk of some mineral that falls through the Earth’s atmosphere and glows as it burns up. Even causing something to fall at the right location and time is pretty much old hat for those involved in space technology.

The real challenge is finding just the right material that will burn brightly enough for everyone to see. Even more so than regular shooting stars, this substance would have to be so bright that it could also be seen in the light and polluted air of urban environments. Star-ALE has developed such a material that they say currently glows as bright as a magnitude-three star and was visible in tests conducted in the relatively moderate air-pollution of Tokyo.

The material is produced in tiny one-centimeter (0.4 inch) thick pellets. The ultimate goal is to tweak the compound so that it can become as bright as a magnitude-one star and also be seen in a variety of colors.

■ Goes great with Dubai
When a meteor shower is ordered, a 50-centimeter (20-inch) tall satellite is filled with about 1,000 meteor material pellets. Then it’s launched into an orbit of about 500 kilometers (310 miles) above the Earth’s surface.

When in position, the satellite will poop out the meteor pellets which will fall through the atmosphere and begin to burn up.

Then presto! Just when you thought Dubai couldn’t be any more opulent looking.

■ Meteoric Price
Right about now you’re probably thinking, “Great! I’ve got a hot date lined up and a romantic meteor shower would really knock their socks off.” Well, hold your horses. As you might suspect, meteor showers don’t come cheap. Although not confirmed, a Star-ALE show is said to cost in the neighborhood of 500 million yen (US$4 million).

While it’s not a price suited for private indulgences it would work for major events with huge budgets like, say, Olympic opening ceremonies. With artificial showers expected to be available as early as 2016, Star-ALE has plenty of time to get a few Super-Bowls and Blue Ivy Carter’s sixth birthday party under their belt. Then, as 2020 rolls around, they should have honed their skills enough to put on quite a show if the Tokyo Olympic committee signs off on it, and really, how could they not?

So next time remember: When you wish upon a star, makes no difference where you are, it might actually just be an artificially processed ball pooped out of a satellite as a part of a multi-million-dollar business arrangement between a Japanese venture company and their outrageously wealthy client for the purpose of self-promotion. As dreamers do.

Source: Star-ALE (Japanese / English), Iroiro, Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Naver Matome (Japanese)
Video: YouTube/ALE Co., Ltd.