January 6, 2014
Young astronomers to investigate the outer solar system
Students and amateur astronomers in small western U.S. communities help scientists measure Kuiper Belt objects out beyond Neptune
With support from the National Science Foundation (NSF), astronomers Marc Buie and John Keller are involving citizen scientists from throughout the western United States to participate in “RECON,” which stands for the Research and Education Cooperative Occultation Network.
The project has provided telescope equipment and training to 14 small western U.S. communities north and south of Reno, Nevada, where night skies are clear and dark. When RECON students look out at the night sky, they look way out to the Kuiper Belt, a ring of icy debris that litters the solar system out beyond Neptune. The network is looking to determine the sizes of Kuiper Belt objects as they pass in front of distant stars.
Combating the challenges in predicting the shadow paths of these distant objects will require a larger network of telescopes stretching from southern Arizona to northern Washington. In the process, this project will bring together students, teachers, and knowledgeable amateur astronomers from each community in accomplishing this authentic astronomy research study.
This is not just a classroom exercise--far from it! Buie, Keller, and students like those featured from the Davis Observatory in Carson City, Nevada, will analyze the data gathered to calculate the sizes of the Kuiper Belt objects, which will help determine other characteristics, such as density and composition of these ancient objects formed in the early days of our solar system.
Thus far, the project involves more than 50 community members and 20 teachers and their students from the California communities of Tulelake, Cedarville, Fall River, Burney, Susanville, Greenville, Quincy, Portola, and Bishop, and the Nevada communities of Reno, Carson City, Gardnerville, Yerington, Hawthorne, and Tonopah.
The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1212159, RECON--Occultations of Outer Solar System Objects.
Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.