Spring 2018 RECON Update

The 2017-18 academic year started off strong with our Annual RECON Team Meeting in Sunriver Oregon in late October and an occultation event in November involving Centaur 01SQ73. However, since then we have not had any high probability TNO occultation events to pursue as a network.  We wanted to briefly explain why and share what we have been working on to address this.

Mayall 4-m Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory (credit P. Marenfeld & NOAO/AURA/NSF)

Up through January 2016, RECON Principal Investigator Marc Buie had successfully competed for routine use the Mayall 4-meter Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory to monitor the positions and orbits for TNOs that feed into our RECON occultation prediction system. However, the Mayall Telescope has been undergoing a significant mission reconfiguration over the past two years to focus on the 3-D structure of the universe to investigate dark energy.

While this involves cool science, the downside has been that the facility is no longer available to RECON and other projects previously using the telescope facility. With the resulting loss of telescope time for monitoring TNO positions, we have seen a significant drop in our ability to predict high-probability TNO occultation opportunities this year.  Hence, no official, full-network RECON campaigns since November.

Apache Point Observatory in Sunspot, New Mexico

To address this, Marc Buie and Rodrigo Leiva at SWRI and John Keller (now at Fiske Planetarium at the University of Colorado Boulder) have been working over the past several months to obtain observing time on other telescopes to collect more positional data for our TNO prediction system. Toward that end, RECON was recently awarded 4 half-nights with the 3.5-meter telescope at Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. Weather permitting, we hope to measure as many as 70 TNOs in April and May with this facility.

Gemini North 8-m Telescope in Hawaii

We have also obtained 4 hours for a pilot program with the Gemini North 8-m Telescope located in Hawaii. With this telescope, we expect to observe 5-6 TNOs, focusing on much fainter objects.

During the middle of March, we observed the first three objects of this Gemini study and analyses are on the way. Shown below is a stacked image of one of these objects taken at three different times during the night.  The white objects are stars, while the red, green, and blue dots are the the same object changing positions with each exposure, a TNO moving relative to the background stars!

Mosaic of three Gemini images showing position of moving TNO (red, blue, and green dots)

We also have monthly time allocated on the 4.3-meter Discovery Channel Telescope (DCT) at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, and another proposal was recently submitted to observe more than a 100 TNOs with our Canadian colleagues at the 3.6-m Canada France Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) telescope.

Discovery Channel Telescope in Flagstaff, Arizona

Canada France Hawaii Telescope

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaia spacecraft run by European Space Agency

Another important development coming up in less than a month is the second data release of the Gaia mission headed by the European Space Agency on April 25. This catalogue will provide ultra-high precision position and proper motion information for over 1.3 billion stars.

 

Because occultation predictions depend on known positions of both the target star and occulting object, both the Gaia dataset and our TNO monitoring efforts described above should get us back on track to our proposed cadence of 6-8 occultation campaigns per year by the start of the next school year.

So what should RECON teams expect before the start of summer? There are currently five potential TNO campaigns in our prediction system on the following four dates before the end of the school year (5/10, 5/24, 5/25, 6/8, all UT dates). Clear skies permitting, we plan to measure the positions of all five of these objects on April 16-17 from Apache Point Observatory (along with an additional 60ish objects). We will use this data and the Gaia dataset to update our prediction system by the end of April, and we will let our RECON teams know by early May if any of these five become high probability events that we would like to pursue. This is a classic example of how additional and higher quality data can used to obtain better predictions to drive further science.

Shadow path prediction for Pluto occultation on August 15 UT (provided by Lucky Star Project led by B. Sicardy)

Finally, looking ahead to the summer, it is also very likely that RECON will participate in an important occultation opportunity involving Pluto. This event will occur on August 15 around 05:32 UT, and RECON is very well positioned to provide valuable data during this event. Additional information on this and other TNO and Centaur predictions is available on the ERC Lucky Star Project prediction page.

 

 

Rodrigo and John are planning to blog from the Apache Point Observatory the nights of April 17 and April 18. We will keep you posted on how this observing run goes and the resulting impact on future TNO predictions.  Stay tuned!!

Clear skies over most of RECON

This evening, Friday December 8, RECON is holding an optional campaign to record TNO 07TH422 starting around 5:10UT (9:10PM Pacific / 10:10PM Mountain).

Apart from a system up in Washington, sky conditions are looking excellent for all sites south of the Dalles!

Sky forecast of 2017 December 9 at 5UT (from Clear Sky Clock)

Team members can check out local sky predictions on our Sky Conditions Page.

Good luck tonight!!!

RECON set for first 2017-18 occultation tonight!

The RECON Project will be conducting the first TNO occultation campaign for the 2017-18 school year this evening.  Centaur 01SQ73 will be occulting a magnitude 11.2 star on November 19 at 09:02 UT.  For RECON teams, most will start recording 08:49 UT (that’s 12:49AM PST / 1:49AM MST this Sunday morning, November 19).  You can check out the Event Detail Page for 01SQ73 for local recording windows.

Weather across the network is not perfect but much better than many of last year’s events!  Team members can check out local sky forecasts on our Sky Conditions Page. Because the target star is reasonably bright, team members can also increase sense-up to get a better signal through partial clouds if needed.

Good luck to all of our RECON teams tonight.

Clear Sky Clock forecast map for 2017/11/19 at 9UT

 

Daytime Occultation of Regulus by the Moon

Good luck to all of our RECON Teams on two occultation opportunities this month:

Also, on Saturday morning, November 11 around 17UT, the waning crescent moon will occult the star Regulus.  This event will occur during daylight hours for the western US, but through a telescope, with binoculars, or even just naked eye, you should be able to see both the moon and Regulus before the occultation occurs. The prediction map below shows the path of the moon’s shadow.  This map, along with predicted occultation time by major city, is also available at http://www.lunar-occultations.com/iota/bstar/1111zc1487.htm.

Shadow prediction for lunar occultation of Regulus

 

Optional IOTA Campaigns

There are two main belt asteroid occultation opportunities for teams located from:

  • Southern Oregon to Portola CA on Friday night, July 21 around 11:20PM PDT/MST
  • Owens Valley down to Lake Havasu City AZ on Saturday night, July 22, around 11:04PM PDT/MST

Both campaigns are optional, but they provide great practice opportunities and will contribute to IOTA efforts. Participating teams are encouraged to sign up using OccultWatcher (or to contact John Keller so that he can sign your team up on OW). Details are provided below.

(1428) Mombasa:
RECON Teams: North Lake OR to Portola CA
Date: 22 Jul 2017 at 06:21 UT
Recording Window: 06:20-06:23 UT
Sense-up: 32x
IOTA Details: http://www.asteroidoccultation.com/2017_07/0722_1428_58040.htm

http://www.asteroidoccultation.com/2017_07/0722_1428_58040_Map.gif

(76) Freia:
RECON Teams: Bishop CA to Lake Havasu City AZ
Date: 23 Jul 2017 at 06:04 UT
Recording Window: 06:03-06:06 UT
Sense-up: 16x
IOTA Details: http://asteroidoccultation.com/2017_07/0723_76_58054.htm

http://asteroidoccultation.com/2017_07/0723_76_58054_Map.gif

 

RECON Campaign involving Chiron!

Happy Fourth of July, RECON!!!

We wanted to provide a heads up about an exciting opportunity to measure Chiron, a 100-km Centaur with suspected ring structure(s)!  We will have an event page up shortly, but the map below provided by LESIA at L’Observatoire de Paris shows that the probabilities of successfully recording this object are high and that the extended RECON network down to Arizona is well positioned to map any extended structures associated with the main body!

Prediction map for occultation by Centaur Chiron on 2017 August 15 UT

The event will occur early on the morning of Tuesday, August 15 around 11:51 UT (4:51AM PDT/MST). Twilight will be approaching during the occultation, but there should be plenty of time to get onto the field prior to this. Mark your calendars now and stay tuned for details!

Observers Track New Horizons’ Next Target – Sky & Telescope

Sky & Telescope just published a nice article about last week’s Southern Hemisphere occultation involving 2014 MU69:

Observers Track New Horizons’ Next Target – Sky & Telescope

All teams on the campaign collected useable data which is currently being analyzed. A photo of RECON Team Member Robert Reaves from Parker, Arizona is included in the article.

RECON Team Member Robert Reaves participating in MU69 campaign in Argentina

RECON Contributes to Southern Hemisphere Campaign

This is an exciting week for RECON Principal Investigator Marc Buie as well as RECON team member Robert Reaves from Parker, Arizona.  Marc is leading a dual continent occultation campaign involving 22 telescopes being deployed in Argentina and South Africa to measure the shadow of 2014 MU69, the next target for the NASA New Horizons mission.  This Friday evening (2017 June 3 at 03:11:50 UT) 22 teams will be deployed on both continents for the first of three occultation opportunities this summer.

Marc invited RECON team member Robert Reaves to join one of these teams for this week’s event.  Both Marc and Robert are currently in South America prepping for the big event. For the next occultation opportunity in early July, Charlene Weisenborn from our Searchlight / Boulder City team will be participating as well.

Marc has been centrally in charge of working on predictions for these campaigns using Hubble and Gaia data.  In addition to observing form Argentina this week, he will also be flying aboard NASA SOFIA during the July event. According to Marc, our experience setting up the RECON network of over 50 telescope sites has been very valuable in prepping for these campaigns. Because 2014 MU69 is only thought to be around 30 km, the spacing of the network will be much tighter than RECON, with telescopes spaced roughly every 10 km rather than 50 km.

For more information, you can check out the New Horizon’s Webpage and the following post:  New Horizons Deploys Global Team for Rare Look at Next Flyby Target

Over the next six weeks, the New Horizons mission team gets an “MU69” preview of sorts – and a chance to gather some critical encounter-planning information – with a rare look at their target object from Earth.

Good luck, Marc, Robert, and all involved in Friday’s campaign!