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Cougars & Mustangs 

Welcome, foolish mortals--er, dear readers--to 2015! I’m sure you’re very excited to celebrate the arrival of the new year, but you haven’t got time for that. Your first priority is New Year’s resolutions!

How are you going to spend the next 364 days? What, you don’t have it all figured out yet? But, but ... but nothing, actually. That’s totally OK. But maybe it would be inspiring to hear about a huge plan that should be in full effect by April of this glorious new year. Amid all of those fireworks, past the light pollution, deep, deep, deep through our glorious sphere’s outer edges, perhaps lurking in the corner of our peripheral vision, is a mysterious, wondrous expanse of ... things. Yes, things.

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While it’s true that, as humans, we’ve got a lot about our own oceans and especially personalities to figure out, there’s nothing quite like wondering what lurks past our noses, past the clouds even. And the Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network, known henceforth as RECON, is devoted to the quest of tracking a particular kind of ... well ... thing. Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) are large, frozen bodies that orbit the sun in the outer region of the solar system. There’s far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found—but the stars rolling by in the vast endless sky blink in and out from the KBO’s endless round ... (as well as other things).

RECON, which was launched through a generous $1 million collaborative grant from the National Science Foundation for Cal Poly and the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. to allow the continuation of a citizen-scientist astronomy project, spans its reach for rural western U.S. communities from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. Towns all across this RECON Belt are to receive support in the form of telescopes in training such that, when a KBO passes in front of a star at predicted times, logistical information such as object size and much more can be inferred from the newly collected data.

So, essentially, more than 40 towns are collaborating in one big science project to understand our blessed cosmos that much better. This stretch of recruited participants from Mexico to Canada spans approximately 1,200 miles. And so many of these towns, through the support of this grant, are not only helping KBO research, but are also now receiving the technology and know-how to support further astronomical study, bringing, for example, astronomy classes for the very first time to under-served towns.

So much remains to be discovered about our universe and the other new, as-of-yet unconsidered opportunities brought about through this massive undertaking. For these towns, it’ll be quite the exciting new year indeed!


Intern Chris White-Sanborn puts the “soul” in solar panels. Wait, what? Send collegiate news to

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