It worked?!

It worked!

I don’t want anyone to die of suspense after last week’s cliff-hanger, so here is a quick resolution to the South Africa Occultation story (see here for part 1 and part 2).  Team 13 (myself and Simon along with Alistair the documentary maker) ended up having decent (though not great) weather on our event night.  Recall that concern for bad weather is what sent half our team driving across the Karoo in the night at the last minute.  Clouds were in the sky periodically for us, but never covered the actual field.  A less-than-steady mounting situation and less-than-perfect seeing gave us slightly degraded image quality, but we did what we could  The teams who drove east apparently had great seeing as well (and some amazing you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up stories from their adventures and misadventures).

There is no word yet on whether we (or any of the teams) actually captured the occultation, but all teams on both continents took data for the requisite 45 minutes bracketing 3:09 UT on June 3rd.  I’m not allowed to tell you anything about what was discovered (an official announcement is going to happen sometime next week), but really I have no idea who/if actually caught the occultation.  It could have been us – we were pretty close to the centerline after all.  That would be cool.

[edit: June 13th – Word from the core science team (of which I am not a member) is that the lack of news is simply that.  They haven’t got a result yet due to the huge quantity of data to be reduced and the planning for the next occultation trip (July 17th).  An announcement will be made eventually, but probably not this week.  When the dust settles, I hope to hear the details of what we (hopefully) found.]

Pretty sure I can’t outrun this guy.

We were all a bit burned out after the event, but the work wasn’t done.  Most of us went to exhausted sleep right after the event, got a few hours sleep, then dragged our way back to Cape Town to get the equipment checked, cleaned, packed, and sent off to Argentina for the second occultation in July.  Various of us had interesting adventures along the way as well which I’ll detail later but for one teaser photo.

After an exhausting week in-country, we boarded planes and headed north to Frankfurt (12 hours), stumbled around Frankfurt for a few hours, then boarded the flight to Denver (10 hours).  All are now safely home and recovering from the jet lag, the weird sleep schedules, and the huge drain that was #mu69occ.  I’ll write something more coherent later about the whole experience as well as some non-astronomy adventures I had along the way.  First, I need to sleep for about a month.

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3 Responses to It worked?!

  1. skyweek says:

    Why on Earth this strange and unnerving news embargo? There is a long tradition of very rapid – i.e. within hours – and very open data sharing in the occultation community! And this included campaigns going after objects in the Kuiper Belt, also when in support of New Horizons.

    E.g. it was communicated very quickly that the Pluto occultation effort – SOFIA- and ground-based – just before the New Horizons visit to the dwarf planet was a huge success, and even that some had gotten a central flash. Heck, the light curve of the latter became public knowledge soon.

    In the case of MU69 the news blackout is particularly counterproductive as two more occultations are straight ahead in July – and knowing that the first one worked out fine could well trigger more observing efforts by independent groups, resulting in more chords than the official expeditions could ever obtain. But every day lost makes it less likely that travel plans can still be realized … 😦

    • cdan4th says:

      Edit to original comment:

      In my experience with other areas of astronomy, embargoes are the norm for big discoveries. I don’t know why this isn’t the case in occultations. This occultation is also pretty different from others and the sheer amount of data reduction may be the reason for the embargo; 5400 frames per telescope times ~30 ground stations and all for about three frames in which the occultation would be observed. This is *not* something that could be done in real time, unlike earlier Pluto occultations. We want to get this right and there are enough possibilities for false-positives we don’t want anyone jumping to conclusions.

      In any case, the follow-on observation (the July 17th one) will certainly be informed by these results and the plans are well underway. It’s technically much simpler being a much brighter star. AFAIK, there is no plan to observe the July 10th occultation since it is of an even fainter star, has little path over land, and is within a few tens of degrees of a bright moon.

  2. Pingback: Allgemeines Live-Blog vom 10. bis 14. Juni 2017 | Skyweek Zwei Punkt Null

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