RECON is excited for our second occultation campaign of the 2020-21 academic year involving Kuiper Belt Object 04VV130 in a 3:2 resonance with Neptune. This event will occur a quarter hour before 9PM PST/10PM MST on the evening of Winter Solstice, Monday December 21. In addition, on this evening Jupiter and Saturn will be less than 0.1 degree from each other and visible in our telescope camera field of view and eyepiece. This is the closest Jupiter-Saturn conjunction visible in the night sky in the past 800 years! We highly encourage ANYONE with a telescope of ANY SIZE to check out Jupiter and Saturn this evening in the hour following sunset. Below is a quick shot from Stellarium of how close these two largest planets will appear. Should be quite the telescope sight!
It’s been a busy summer. RECON has been acquiring new QHY systems for our occultation network, and we distributed 24 of these during a recent deployed campaign involving a comparable number of teams that travelled to northern Oregon/southern Washington to measure the Trojan Asteroid Eurybates on September 16 UT. There were significant challenges faced during this campaign due to smoke from regional fires, but data was collected by a handful of teams and there was lots of learning about the QHY system and deployed campaign logistics.
We are currently pulling together an additional 20 camera systems to distribute to our remaining RECON teams. We hope to distribute these out to teams by late November/early December after we have completed our NSF Proposal for RECON 2.0 due on November 15. For intervening RECON campaigns, half of our teams will collect data using the QHY and the other half will use their MallinCam systems.
The first of the campaigns of the academic year will occur on October 21 around 11:34UT, which is early that Wednesday morning. This event will involve Centaur 02QX47, currently located just inside the orbit of Neptune. This is a high probability campaign opportunity with 33% probability of detection. Thanks to all of our teams for indicating your availability and any existing equipment concerns through the RECON Campaign Signup Form.
From August through November 2019, RECON conducted six occultation campaigns involving two Centaurs, three Resonant Objects, and one Classical Kuiper Belt Object. In addition, five teams from Northern California and Southern Oregon deployed a mobile campaign to measure Leucus, a Trojan Asteroid that the NASA Lucy mission will visit in the coming decade.
Following a hiatus during the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Years, RECON is ringing in the new decade with FIVE events during January 2020. We have an unusually dense number of campaign opportunities this month that hope to pursue. Check out the RECON Observation Campaigns Page for a listing of these upcoming events!
We’d like to take this opportunity at the close of the 2010’s to thank our hundreds of RECON volunteers (students, teachers, and community members) from over 60 communities for their countless hours of participation in over 40 occultation campaigns over the decade. Of these, we have successfully measured 9 trans-Neptunian Objects and contributed to our knowledge of the outer Solar System and its formation.
It’s been a busy spring for the RECON Network. Following a highly productive science team meeting in Boulder City, Nevada in early March, the network has collected data for two campaigns: one involving Centaur 16FH13 on April 23 and the second involving Centaur 98BU48 on May 1 (both UT dates). The May 1 campaign was particularly challenging for our RECON teams due to twilight sky conditions during this early evening event. Only teams to the south of Reno were able to participate in this campaign given sky conditions. Meanwhile, RECON leadership from Boulder Colorado deployed three telescopes in northern New Mexico, where the sun had set an hour earlier, to support the campaign.
Below are some photos taken on May 1 from Mills Canyon Rim Campground by RECON Co-PI John Keller. The “occulting” moth shown below was attracted to the visible and thermal IR given off by the laptop screen!
We’ve had an active RECON campaign season over the past two months, with six full network observation campaigns since October! We have one more campaign this month involving Resonant KBO 14YJ50 on 10 February at 04:01UT. Thanks to all of our team members for your dedication and perseverance!
We are also looking forward to our upcoming 2019 RECON Team Meeting to be held at Lake Mead National Recreation Area near Boulder City, Nevada. We will be holding an Orientation Training Session for newer team members starting Thursday February 28. Veteran team members will join for the full team meeting Friday through Sunday, March 1-3. We ask that team representatives register by Monday, February 4.
RECON is gearing up for an important science opportunity involving Pluto. As shown below, the shadow path of Pluto passes over most of the United States as the dwarf planet occults star GA0680:34878053 on Tuesday evening, August 14 (August 15 around 05:30UTC).
We’ve posted a star field image of GA0680:34878053 on the Pluto Occultation Event Page. Because the target star is relatively bright (mag 13.0), RECON sites will be recording this event with a sense-up of 32x.
As with all RECON campaigns, we ask that team members practice taking a recording of the target star field prior to event night. This provides an opportunity to test out RECON equipment and build confidence in recognizing the star field. During the practice session, we also encourage team members to confirm that their Camera Settings are set properly.
Good luck to our RECON sites as well as all other observers planning to participate in this important occultation opportunity!
On Saturday morning, August 4, Marc and John were in Senegal with roughly 60 other observers from the US, France, and Senegal and Rodrigo was in Columbia with a dozen astronomers. Both groups were pursuing the shadow track of 2014MU69, the ~30km Kuiper Belt Object that New Horizons will fly be on New Years Day, January 1, 2019. Rodrigo’s teams in South America were rained out, and Senegal teams faced cloudy conditions. However, all teams persevered and several Senegal sites were clear enough to collect useable data. These data are currently being analyzed and synthesized with last summer’s campaigns to inform the New Horizons team as they plan for the upcoming flyby. We will provide updates as added details are made available.
In addition to collecting useful data, the expedition was a valuable opportunity for US and French observers to work with researchers from Senegal and to build international ties. The link above points to a New York Times article featuring the occultation expedition in Senegal.
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.
Up through January 2016, RECON Principal Investigator Marc Buie had successfully competed for routine use of 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!!
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!
Team members can check out local sky predictions on our Sky Conditions Page.
Good luck 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.