In 2014, multiple GEAR UP NLA partner school districts including Oroville, Tonasket, Brewster and Manson were approached by scientists from NASA and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to join the Research and Education Collaborative Occultation Network (RECON) network. The RECON project, a citizen-science initiative designed to help astronomers learn more about objects beyond Neptune’s orbit, includes a network of 40 rural schools and communities along a similar longitude from Oroville, Washington to Yuma, Arizona. RECON teams in these districts are trained in using sensitive equipment to observe the night sky and help scientists map yet-unmapped portions of the Kuiper Belt. Teams are summoned to do their observations from Cal Poly scientists; their data is compiled into active databases. Through this effort, students and their parents and teachers, are contributing real-time to the building of valuable science databases.
The opportunity to participate in real research for NASA scientists has sparked enthusiasm among both middle and high school students. In collaboration with the RECON team and GEAR UP, participant sites have received state-of-the-art telescopes and cameras to capture specific images of the night sky. Further, science teachers from GEAR UP schools are now working with the RECON team to develop Common Core-aligned curriculum about the project.
Student leaders grant-wide have embraced the project, working with school staff, parents and community members to plan observation events and record data. Two MOSAIC students received scholarships to undertake additional training on observation equipment in the summer of 2016 in Carson City, Nevada.
Partnership with Central Washington University’s Physics Department (also a RECON network member) has allowed partner schools to build on the enthusiasm for astronomy. Last summer, CWU ran week-long space camps in Tonasket, Omak, and Wenatchee, where students built their own telescopes, observed the sky in a portable planetarium, learned about galaxies and supernovas, and developed their own research projects. In the Summer of 2017, CWU faculty will again be working with a GEAR UP Science teacher to offer an over-night Astrobiology summer camp at CWU for all GEAR UP students.
As this partnership continues, more students become interested in observing the rural night sky and we gain more astronomers.