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College of Science and Mathematics

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Citizen Science Project Brings Telescopes to Rural Communities

Laser telescope pointed at the stars
A laser pointer shoots toward the sky during the Lassen Volcanic National Park’s Dark Sky Festival,
which some RECON teams attended. Photo credit: Manzanita Lake Night Sky Viewing by Alison

 

One Cal Poly physics professor is bringing real-world astronomy research to underserved communities in five states. John Keller and his research partner, Marc Buie from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., have engaged 56 communities in a citizen scientist project that stretches 1,200 miles from the Canadian border to Mexico.

Each community received a telescope, camera and training as part of the research project. “The town of Hawthorne, Nev., and the Mineral County School District now have a telescope to share for educational and community use, the first time ever,” said community member Kathy Trujillo.

Hawthorne is just one of the communities in the Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network (RECON). These teachers, students and amateur astronomers are helping Keller and Buie measure the size of Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs). These large, frozen bodies that orbit the sun in the outer region of the solar system hold important clues about the origins of the solar system.

Both Buie and Keller see the benefits of RECON stretching far beyond what scientists will learn about KBOs. “These rural cities are highly underserved communities,” Keller said. “This engages a whole network of high school students and citizen scientists in the excitement of scientific discovery.”

The network will conduct six coordinated observation campaigns of KBOs each year through 2019. “It's so exciting that our students will grow and learn with the RECON project throughout their high school careers,” said Trujillo.

Results from the project have already been published in The Astronomical Journal.

 

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