I’m going to move further out into that solar system and look at a recently discovered binary trans-Neptunian object. And boy, is that a mouthful. No, I will not say it five times fast.
Quick breakdown in terms: A Trans-Neptunian object is anything that orbits the Sun out past the orbit of Neptune. A binary system within our solar system is two bodies orbiting each other while still orbiting the Sun as well. And scientists from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) used a citizen science network to find this new object when it caused an “occultation” of a distant binary star system. As it passed between Earth and that distant pair of stars, it caused their light to disappear, allowing the team to measure the size of the two bodies involved.
Scientist Rodrigo Leiva described the new object: What’s also interesting and unusual is this object’s characteristics. The two components are quite close, only 350 kilometers apart. Most binary TNOs are very separated, usually 1,000 kilometers or more. This closeness makes this type of binary TNO difficult to detect with other methods, which is what RECON was designed to accomplish.
RECON is Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network, which is a collection of 56 observation stations stretching from Yuma, Arizona, to Orville, Washington. Each station has an array of observing equipment, including an 11-inch telescope. SwRI researchers train high school teachers to use the equipment, and they go on to teach the students, who then make the observations.
We do love citizen science here at CosmoQuest.
“Stellar Occultation by the Resonant Trans-Neptunian Object (523764) 2014
WC510 Reveals a Close Binary TNO,” Rodrigo Leiva et al., 2020 Sep. 28,
Planetary Science Journal