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!!

Feb. 9th – Successfully Observing Both (191) Kolga AND (154) Bertha

On February 3rd the RECON projects leads announced an optional observing event for asteroid (191) Kolga for the evening of Feb. 9th.  The specifics of this event was also noted on Occult Watcher (OW) which provided many of the event details, like potential observing station information, path maps, data on the occulting asteroid and target star, etc. What many may not know, is that on the evening of Feb 9th, another event involving asteroid (154) Bertha was also predicted to occur approx. 17 minutes later then Kolga, over much of northern California and northern Nevada.  The prediction paths for these two events crossed some 40-50 km northeast of Reno, Nevada.  For my typical observing station in Gardnerville Nevada, I was NOT in the predicted path of either of these events, (although inside 1 sigma for the Bertha event).  After some evaluation of the events and the possibility of observing positives for both, I decided to “go mobile” with an 8” SCT and attempt observing both events from a location near Lahonton State Recreation Area, which is northeast of Carson City (approx. 56 km).  For this location OW predicted that I had a 78% positive observing probability for Kolga and a 98% probability for Bertha.  The LiMovie generated light curves for these observations are below.

As can be seen, I was fortunate enough to record occultation events for both Kolga and Bertha.  For Kolga the duration was 5.74 seconds and for Bertha 5.34 seconds.  It is a rare opportunity that two events are predicted for the same evening so close in time and so close together, location wise.  For me, it was even more surprising that, none of other potential obstacles to making these observations (travel, weather, setup, etc.), got in the way of a successful evening.

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 feature in Air & Space Magazine

We are happy to announce that RECON was featured in Air & Space Magazine!

Former RECON student assistant Jeralyn Gibbs and current student at Central Washington University shared their perspective as participants in the RECON project. The article also explores the start of the RECON project and how it has expanded to include over 55+ sites led by citizen scientists.

Check out the article here and let us know what you think!

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