Asteroid Occultations : Results

Unistellar’ asteroid program has recorded multiple positive detections since 2020, directly contributing to a better knowledge of these bodies: the blinking of the star, when occulted by an asteroid and recorded by an eVscope, provide valuable data so astronomers can find new information about trajectory, size, shape and composition.

As of April 2021, 259 observations of asteroid occultations have been achieved by our network. Among them, 34 positive detections of an asteroid occulting a star have been recorded by Unistellar’s citizen astronomers.

During the first year of this program, the Unistellar community has already achieved remarkable successes, thanks to the ease-of-use, the speed, and the light-collection capacity of the eVscope.

The network has for example detected occultations by the Orus and Leucus asteroids, two of the targets to be visited by NASA’s Lucy probe, helping guiding that mission towards these poorly known bodies.

NASA's Lucy Mission

Courtesy of NASA

With the growing size of the community, the collective force of the Unistellar network is delivering more and more results. In September 2020, two US-based citizen astronomers from our community detected an occultation by asteroid Begonia, revealing, after analysis by professional astronomers from the SETI Institute, our science partner, that its size was 20% bigger than expected. In February 2021, it is this time no less than five France-based citizen astronomers who, with other amateur astronomers, detected an occultation by asteroid Chaldea.

Unistellar is currently working with IOTA and EURASTER, groups of experienced shadow hunters, to include our results into their own database which will be used by professional astronomers to better understand the shape, size and environment of asteroids. In collaboration with Charles University and the SETI Institute, we are also developing our own database to store and extract realtime insights on those asteroids.

Stay tuned for more exciting asteroid news.

You Too Can Contribute: Testimonials From Citizen Astronomers

Here is what Morand, one of Unistellar’s first citizen astronomers, wrote about his detection of asteroid 2000 UD52, from France:
When I received this occultation “mission”, I was a little confused. It seemed quite simple, the event was known, so no chance discovery by amateurs … But hey, I played the game. I had just received the telescope.

Excited but a little late as always, I followed the procedure and … I saw nothing … However, I sent the data. And, a few days later, I learned that the occultation was clearly visible on the data, that I was the only Unistellar to have observed it, and that the scientific value was real : the occultation was very brief, 0.3s (the predicted maximum was 0.8s), therefore particularly difficult considering the small size of the asteroid (~ 6.6 km) and the width of its centrality band.

Having observers near and into the centrality band will allow to better determine the position of the asteroid, and therefore to refine its orbit ! What a feeling !

Kevin Voeller, a US-based citizen astronomer, succesfully detected an occultation by asteroid Loreley, here is his story:

When the call went out to try and observe the occultation by asteroid (165) Loreley at 1am, I was a little hesitant to stay up that late. But that afternoon I cleared the eVscope of its previous data and checked the sky maps to find a spot free of trees and roofs. As the evening went on, I double checked the coordinates, went through the easy-to-follow online checklist/directions and synchronized my cell phone’s clock.  My supportive wife even stayed up with me! I captured the data, and although I did not notice the occultation live, as I live under Bortles class 7 skies in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I hoped my data would still be useful.

It was extremely satisfying to know that my observational data captured the occultation, and that the data may help someone in their research of this minor body. The total body of scientific knowledge is added to by the sometimes large, but most often small, contributions of countless individuals throughout time. I am proud that I could add my little piece of data to mankind’s understanding of the universe.

Additionally, as a high school Earth and Space Science teacher, one of my favorite things is to bring real examples of ongoing science into the classroom. The citizen science opportunities that the eVscope allows me to participate in are a great way for me to share real ongoing science with my classes. And I hope to include my students in these opportunities going forward.

Unistellar Asteroid Occultations Results (as of April 19, 2021)

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