High school astronomers on RECON mission to study the rocks in our solar system

BY newsdesk  January 6, 2014 at 5:43 PM EDT

Between Neptune and Pluto, about 3 billion miles from Earth, the Kuiper Belt is filled with rocks and balls of ice, remnants of our early solar system. From Washington to Arizona, young astronomers are peering into the night sky hoping to catch glimpses of that outermost ring of our solar system and help scientists understand the debris circling our sun. Miles O’Brien reports for National Science Foundation’s “Science Nation.” Video courtesy of National Science Foundation

When the rocks in the Kuiper Belt pass in front of a star and block its light — called occultation — scientists learn how big these objects are, and how fast they are traveling. That will help astronomers figure out what the Kuiper Belt objects are made of.

RECON — the Research and Education Cooperative Occultation Network — provides equipment and training to amateur astronomers in 14 remote Western communities. The budding collective of adds the high school students’ data about these space objects to a growing body of research, which will be publishable, said Marc Buie of the Southwest Research Institute.

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is an underwriter of PBS NewsHour.