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The Use of Fixed Observatories for Faint High Value Occultations

JOA 2019, Vol. 9, No. 3, Page 10

Author(s): S. Conard, T. Blank, J. Gross, R. Kamin, J. Moore

Abstract: The International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA) has supported the science community by taking part in high value occultation campaigns for many years. Until recently, mostof these campaigns involved relatively bright target stars, and were most efficiently observed bydeploying many small telescopes across the predicted path. A single ambitious observer could deploy ten or more stations, and the cost of each station was in the range of hundreds of dollars. In addition, small private or club observatories were occasionally utilized in providing single location chords. More recently, the most scientifically sought-after observations have tended to be faint stars being occulted by Jupiter Trojans, Centaurs, and distant Trans-Neptunian Objects (TNOs).The 15 August 2018 occultation of a 12.9 magnitude star by Pluto offered one of the best opportunities for observing the properties of Pluto's atmosphere since the New Horizons encounter.Data from this event was sought by several groups of scientists from both the US and Europe.The authors, rather than either observe from our home areas or deploy a single large portable telescope, obtained observing time and operational support from four university and museum observatories. These observatories were very close to the centreline of the event, and were in good position to possibly observe the scientifically important central flash. Our team of five contacted these observatories and were enthusiastically welcomed to use their facilities. Despite weather risks, all four sites successfully participated in collecting data.We describe our planning of these observations, outreach to the observatories, operations, andresults from this campaign. We further discuss the advantages to IOTA produced by pursuing theuse of similar observatories in the future. Advantages include ease of logistics, high data quality,public outreach, and recruiting new long-term observers.