Twelve Nevada communities, Hawthorne included, have been selected to join the Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network (RECON) in a five-year research project studying the outer solar system. Hawthorne joins a total of 60 communities up and down the west coast from Oroville, Washington to Yuma, Arizona in collecting data and has been a pilot community for the project over the last two years.

RECON is funded by the National Science Foundation and headed by planetary scientists John Keller from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo and Mark Buie from the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. This project seeks to study the Kuiper Belt, which is described as similar to our solar system’s asteroid belt except far larger, and resides at the outer edge of our solar system.

By May 2015 researchers expect the network will be prepared to conduct coordinated observations multiple times a year until 2019. The goal is to gather data about the “sizes, densities, and other characteristics” of objects orbiting the sun beyond Neptune. The first Kuiper belt object (KBO) was Pluto, discovered in 1930 and since 1992 thousands more have been discovered. Scientists estimate more than 100,000 objects orbit the sun in a similar, circular pattern as Earth. Because these KBOs were formed at the same time as our solar system, observing and collecting information about these objects could help us understand more about our solar system’s origins.

This year, Keller and Buie traveled to various locations along the west coast and selected communities throughout Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington to help them in their endeavor. The scientists will prepare volunteers from 60 communities with CPC-1100 telescopes and cameras which should be delivered within the next month. Since Hawthorne has been a participant in the pilot program, they are already in possession of their equipment and have received training from the scientists. Keller and Buie are also active in Hawthorne’s community as a result, and will be in town within the next couple of weeks to give talks and meet with volunteers. Keller appreciates the enthusiasm these communities have shown for the project and the RECON website thanks the “citizen scientists” of these towns for their help in discovering more about our solar system.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this project however is that the arrival of the RECON equipment has resulted in the first publicly available telescope in the community of Hawthorne.

“Everyone is invited to attend the ‘star gazing’ part of our campaigns,” said Kathy Trujillo, local RECON lead.  She added, “Every time we set up the telescope we see something with our own two eyes for the first time or learn something new.  It’s fascinating!”

The RECON project has also led to an introduction of an astronomy class at MCHS taught by Monica Keady. Monica Keady also plans to begin a Science Club that will participate in the project as it unfolds. Trujillo says youth participation in this activity has helped students understand the importance of research and provides an opportunity for hands-on learning.

In addition, interacting with the scientists and professors allows students to access experts in the field and discover career opportunities in science.

As valuable as the pilot project has been to the youth of Hawthorne, anyone in the community can get involved.

“Hawthorne was privileged to be a part of the ‘pilot’ program,” Trujillo said, “and I can’t wait to see what cool discoveries lie before us as the network expands to include even more communities.”

Anyone who is interested in learning more about the project and volunteer or star-gazing opportunities can contact Kathy Trujillo at 775-316-0388.