Sign up for (1332) Marconia Using Occult Watcher

Occult Watcher (OW) is an extremely useful tool developed by the IOTA community for tracking and signing up to participate in occultation campaigns.  The software for OW has been installed on all of the Netbooks that were shipped out to our sites last month.


We have created two guides to help you sign up for our upcoming (1332) Marconia campaign:

Setting up Occult Watcher for the First Time

Signing up for an Event in Occult Watcher

Thanks in advance for using these two guides to sign up for the Marconia campaign. You can also send an email to if you have any questions or concerns about this procedure.

Spring 2014 RECON Road Trip

I had a wonderful road trip the week of March 24 to our southern RECON sites.  Below is a map of the week-long trek to Bishop, Tonopah, Hawthorne, and Yerington.

Route of roadtrip made by John Keller during Spring 2014

Route of roadtrip made by John Keller during Spring 2014

First I met up with Adrian Sears in Bishop, California and spoke with his physics class and two chemistry classes on Tuesday morning, March 25. That afternoon, I drove over to Tonopah, Nevada and connected with Clair and Teralyn Blackburn, who had arranged for me to give a presentation to Dr. Tom Whalan’s physical science class at the high school. That evening, I gave a public talk at the school and showed the group how to use their Bahtinov mask to focus the telescope (unfortunately it was too cloudy for stargazing).


Photos from visit to Tonopah

Photos from visit to Tonopah

Wednesday morning, I met with Dr. Whalan’s life science class and then headed over to Hawthorne, Nevada. It was spring break for their school district as well, but Katherine Trujillo organized a well-attended star party with over a dozen students and parents. We had clear skies and used the scope to look at Jupiter, the Orion Nebula, and other deep sky objects, and Kathy and I were able to get the Hawthorne camera working successfully with the new RECON netbook.

Thursday, I drove up to Yerington and met up with Todd Hunt, Scott Darrington, and Joanna Kuzia. Over 40 students and teachers joined us in the Yerington High School Library for a public talk and star party that night. The night was partially cloudy, but we were able to show the students Jupiter and Orion and also got some practice on telescope alignment, focusing, and identifying star fields.

Throughout the trip, I was extremely impressed with the questions and curiosity of the students I met and the dedication, teamwork, and enthusiasm of our team leaders!  I’m looking forward to my next visit!!!

Check Out New RECON Guides

We are receiving many reports back from teams throughout the RECON network that Netbooks have been arriving safely!  To support teams in becoming familiar with the Netbooks, we have duplicated the previous post on setting up your Netbook upon arrival and created two additional guides on using your Netbook to capture camera data and checking your camera settings. All of these procedures are best done in the comfort of a warm, lighted room where you can become familiar with the Netbook/camera combination and confirm that your camera settings are correct.  Please do not hesitate to let us know if there are any confusing points on the guides that we can help clarify or correct!  You can also navigate to the above guides by selecting the page labeled  RECON Guides under the Participant Resources menu topic. Coming soon is a guide on using OccultWatcher to sign up for campaign events!

Looking forward to hearing reports on how the Netbooks work with 2001XR254 this coming Sunday night/early Monday morning!


Setting up Your New RECON Netbook

Here’s what you should find in the netbook box:

  • netbook
  • power cable
  • plug adapter
  • battery
  • dust cloth
  • RCA cable
  • USB video adapter
  • 3 spare fuses for telescope/camera power splitter
  • RECON stickers
  • manufacturer user guides and warranty information

Packing materials such as cardboard, foam, and bubble wrap can be discarded.

 Getting Started

First, connect the plug adapter to the end of the power cable.

You can insert the plug adapter in any direction, depending on which orientation best suits your power outlet. Turn the adapter clockwise to lock it in place. To remove the adapter (to adjust the orientation), press the tab and turn the adapter counter-clockwise.

Next, insert the battery into the netbook. 

Plug the power cable into an outlet, then into the netbook. You should see a charging light come on at the front of the netbook.

Open the netbook, remove the protective foam from the keyboard and the screen, then press the power button above the upper left of the keyboard. After it boots up, you will see the following desktop:

 Date and Time Settings

It is important to make sure your netbook has the correct date and time settings, particularly with respect to the time zone. Move the cursor to the very bottom of the screen to bring up the taskbar. Check to see if the date and time shown in the lower right corner is correct.

date_time1Click on the time in the taskbar, then click “Change date and time settings…”

Under “Time zone”, make sure the correct time zone is selected: “(UTC -08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)”. If it’s not, click the “Change time zone…” button and select the correct time zone from the drop-down menu.

date_time2If the time shown in the taskbar is still not correct, you have two options: 1) Set the time manually by clicking the “Change date and time…” button, or 2) Connect to the internet so that the computer can sync to Microsoft’s internet clock.

For option 2, you can connect to the internet by either inserting an ethernet cable on the left side of the netbook, or clicking the wireless network icon in the taskbar to set up a WiFi connection (if one is available).

Once you’ve established a working internet connection, click the “Internet Time” tab, then click the “Change settings…” button. On the window that pops up, ensure the box next to “Synchronize with an Internet time server” is checked, then click the “Update now” button. (If you get an error message, check your internet connection and try again.) Shortly, you should see the correct time shown in the taskbar. Press “OK” on each window to close it.

Finally, restart the computer so that OccultWatcher and other software will re-calibrate to the correct time zone.

Connecting the Camera System

Identify the yellow RCA connector on the USB video adapter. Connect it to one end of the RCA cable.

Connect the other end of the RCA cable to the output jack of the IOTA-VTI box, and connect the USB end of the adapter to the netbook. (The connections between the IOTA-VTI box and the camera are the same as before.)


Congratulations! You’re now ready to begin collecting data with VirtualDub.

Handling Video Data

To date in the project we have been using a mini-DVR for recording video for our occultation events.  In my last posting, I talked about the problems discovered with this approach.  Since then I have been working on setting up a new data recording system. This week marks the completion of that work and new data collection tools will be shipped out to all the teams. This document discusses the changes and the reasoning.  New training documents will also be made available shortly to help with the transition.

We are going to now use netbook computers in the field for data collection. I tried a couple of different systems and settled on an Acer Aspire V5 running Windows 7.  These systems will come pre-configured with VirtualDub, OccultWatcher, LiMovie, Chrome, LibreOffice, Skype, Occult, and a few other useful utilities.  These computers should not be used for general tasks, instead they are project machines for things like collecting data, transmitting data to SwRI, and signing up for events.  A small amount of customization of each system will be required, such as putting in your OW credentials.

Each computer comes with a video frame grabber interface (StarTech SVID2USB2) and a video cable that will connect to the output of the IOTA-VTI box.  Inside the box are also a couple of spare fuses as well as some of our cool new RECON stickers.  I recommend using at least a few of these stickers on the equipment (telescope, telescope crate, and so on).  If you need more, let me know.

I think you will all like the new system.  It’s not so great for dark adaption, the screen seems really bright at night even turned all the way down. But, you’ll be able to get a bigger image on the screen than what’s been possible with the mini-DVR and you’ll find that focusing and finding the field will be easier since you can see it from a distance while operating the telescope.  The program, VirtualDub, is what you run to see the video signal coming in.  Once you turn on the capture mode the video is live.  Stay tuned for a more detailed document on how best to setup and use this program.

The data quality from this setup is exceptionally good.  There is a price, however.  The files you have been collecting with the mini-DVR up to now are really quite small.  The new system makes much bigger files.  The data rate is about 200Mb/minute and your upload times will be significantly longer.  Unfortunately, this can’t be helped but the extra time will pay off in the increased scientific value of the data.  Note that the data are compressed pretty well already.  You won’t get much more out of using zip other than to pack a bunch of files into one clump for a single upload.

Everyone should see their systems arriving late this week or early next week.  I’m trying to get this equipment in your hands in advance of the 2001XR254 event in early March. I’m confident you’ll be able to make the switch in time but in an emergency the mini-DVR will be able to handle this upcoming event.

Tonopah Telescope Back in Action

The Tonopah telescope recently returned from maintenance and is back in action!  See newspaper article and photos below for recent RECON activity in Tonopah.

RECON Featured in Tonopah Times-Bonanza Article

Tonopah students participate in training at high school

Tonopah students participate in training at high school

Tonopah team members working with telescope outside

Tonopah team members working with telescope outside

Photo of Jupiter taken with Tonopah telescope

Photo of Jupiter taken with Tonopah telescope

Cloudy and bright for (976) Benjamina as Tonopah student looks for Antares with sky app

Cloudy and bright for (976) Benjamina as Tonopah student looks for Antares with sky app