Sisters RECON team members recording an event. Pictured left to right: Alex Burroughs, Rima Givot, Thomas Jeffrey and Ron Thorkildson. photo provided
Sisters RECON team members recording an event. Pictured left to right: Alex Burroughs, Rima Givot, Thomas Jeffrey and Ron Thorkildson.

photo provided

On the evening of June 10 a small group of educators, students and amateur astronomers gathered at Sisters High School in an attempt to detect the presence of a small, icy body located at the outer reaches of the solar system.

It was RECON's (Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network) inaugural campaign to measure the size of objects orbiting the sun beyond Neptune, called Trans-Neptunian Objects, or TNOs. Telescopes and cameras at 60 communities stretching from Oroville, Washington to Yuma, Arizona were all focused on the same patch of sky, looking to see if the TNO would move in front of a pre-selected star, causing the star to wink out.

RECON is a citizen science program developed by Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute and John Keller of California Polytechnic State University that affords participants the opportunity to become involved in ground-breaking science. RECON's goal is to ascertain the size and shape of TNOs using the method of stellar occultation. Small bodies on the outskirts of the solar system are too dim to be seen except by the largest observatories, but when they move in front of a distant star, the star disappears for a time that is proportional to size of the TNO. This is called an occultation, an event that can be observed through medium-sized amateur telescopes.

RECON plans to conduct many more occultation campaigns over the next five years. Sisters was invited to join RECON's network of communities last November, an effort supported locally by teachers and students of Sisters High School and the Sisters Astronomy Club.