Marc Buie: Exploring the Outer Solar System with Occultations

Marc W. Buie, Southwest Research Institute

The Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network (RECON) is a project to use occultations to probe basic properties of outer solar system objects.  Occultation measurements can be done with relatively small telescopes but the principle challenge is in predicting events. RECON uses a strategy of a large set of fixed sites to overcome the prediction challenge.  Our system uses 28-cm telescopes with high-sensitivity integrating video cameras hosted by schools across the Western United States.  Our network consists of 56 stations with an average spacing of 50 km between stations.  With this system, we reduce the prediction quality needed by an order of magnitude compared to a traditional “chase-the-shadow” deployment while also probing over a 2000 km region near the body.  Such data can measure the sizes and shapes of the occulting body as well as detecting very close binary systems or rings and dust environments.  RECON has often been described as a citizen-science project but it is really more of a new collaborative research model.  This presentation will review how the project was setup and is operated and provide examples of recent scientific results from our efforts.