Boot Camp

Boot Camp

The page has support for IOTA Boot Camps, describing suggestions for agendas and making an attempt at identifying the most relevant and up-to-date documentation. This is based on the ideas given in a presentation at the IOTA 2021 annual meeting, which is available at the meetings web page. A pdf pf that presentation is available here.

IOTA, for its own self-preservation as well as the implied obligations of being a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable organization, needs to spread knowledge of occultations. This includes training ourselves and new observers proper techniques to ensure we collect valid data as well as to have positive observing experiences. Boot Camps are an idea for somewhat formalized training opportunities.

Boot Camp participants can be anyone who has an interest, from the least experienced to the most. Organizers of the training can be an observer who volunteers to lead a group training or the participants themselves, who decide what topics are included.

There is no specific time that is the “right” time for a Boot Camp. They could be held as a part of an annual meeting. It might be beneficial to have a camp before an observing campaign for a high-profile event.  It would be desirable to hold the camps as in-person events, which would allow better interaction among the participants, but that may not be possible.

This web page is an attempt to assist the training of observers by discussing what is important for observers to know, what are desirable observing practices, where appropriate materials can be found in the multiple websites supporting occultations, and suggested training agendas.

Locations for software, recommended user materials, and other materials described here are given in flyers which are posted to the documentation site. Pointers to their locations are given at the end of this page.

A boot camp is a training exercise for observers to gain or improve skills in predicting, recording, and analyzing occultation data. It can be as organized as the participants wish and may or may not need a lead.

The suggestions given here are to consider the difference people who would be attending a boot camp as either someone with little occultation observing experience or an an experienced observer who wants to add more to their skill set.

The basic observers are those with little experience with occultation observing or who are satisfied with being an observer following the directions of a observing event leader. We do not want to overwhelm new observers or discourage them. And we want to provide them with positive experiences to avoid frustration. They need to know

  • Recording the event – best practices, software, camera, scope
  • Preparing the computer – installing software and drivers, getting the camera, the VTI, the SVID to work
  • Finding the target
  • Proper location determination
  • Evaluating results and preliminary analysis
  • Software used: Occult4, IOTA Video Capture, SVID driver, Pymovie, Pyote
  • Possible other software: Occultwatcher,
  • Basics of observing documentation

More advanced observers

  • Predicting the event – where to find early predictions, joining a campaign
  • Determining best locations for remote stations
  • Practices in remote station deployments
  • Evaluating results when there are difficulties
  • Observing occultations of fainter stars
  • Using digital cameras: QHY174GPS
  • Software used: Exploring the more advanced features of the software listed earlier as well as using SharpCap, limovie, VirtualDub, Tangra, Guide9, C2A
  • More detailed user guides and documentation
  • Some of the more exotic activities: Confirming binaries (stars and asteroids), preparing JOA and other journal articles

Here are suggested agendas for a Boot Camp intended for those who are unfamiliar with occultation observing. The camp is divided into 3 sessions, one before hands-on observing, a second that is an evening of observing practice, and the third, for learning data reduction techniques. Each attendee is expected to have their own computer, telescope, and occultation recording equipment. Best would be a setup that includes a way to annotate recorded data with GPS time stamps.  For remote scopes, the user needs equipment that does not depend on A/C power, WiFI, or cell phones.

First session – before observing, in a group session or via Zoom

  • Discuss joining
  • Installing and using Occult for basic lunar occultation predictions
  • Accessing and using Occultwatcher
  • Installing and using IOTA Video Capture or SharpCap or VirtualDub or limovie – the observer’s choice
  • Using good observing and occultation timing techniques

Evening session – Practice observing

  • Set up scopes and equipment
  • Capture some occultation data
  • Learn finding a target from charts

Data reduction session – After observing

  • Basic data reduction with Pymovie and Pyote or Occult4 using data from the observing session or from previously recorded events
  • How/where to report lunar occultations, grazing occultations, asteroid occultations
  • Requesting a report spreadsheet from OccultWatcher and entering its data
  • Where to get help

A Boot Camp for more experienced observers would add from this list of  topics:

  • More prediction generation from Occult4: asteroid occultations,
  • What to consider when planning remote stations
  • Installing and using Guide9 or C2A for finder charts and prepoint lines/charts
  • Practice in prepointing
  • More advance data reduction techniques, managing with data corrupted by wind shake, reducing an event at the limits of the detector, using a comparison star, double star, asteroid moonlet – any of the many possible ways in which data reduction may need extra care
  • Advice for those who want to lead an observing team

The software flyer tells where the sites are that host the (mostly but not completely) Windows-based software used to predict occultations, record them, evaluate the recordings, and provide analysis results. Most of these packages have user guides either located with the download packages or built in, but there are some additional guides available.

A documentation flyer with recommendations for educational materials is in preparation. The following give locations where documentation on occultation observing can be found.

Multiple pages on the web site provide information on what an occultation is and how to observe one. The section on Citizen Science, and the section Occultations, with its detailed information in the sections under Observing are recommended. Also of note is a primer on asteroid occultations available for download here.

Dave Gault’s tutorial on using Occult for total lunar occultation prediction, David Dunham’s tips on using Occult for major planet and lunar occultations, and Steve Preston’s Occult overview are all introductory material on Occult4. Any one of these three will give the beginning users a good start in understanding the capabilities of Occult4.

Many observers already own or have access to telescopes to use for occultation observing. These flyers show some very inexpensive scopes used for unattended observing from remote, prepointed, sites: the 120mm Might-Maxi, the John Broughton suitcase design, as well as the Mighty Mini, constructed from half of a binoculars.

Since Boot Camps are envisioned as one way to prepare observers for their own multi-station deployment, good resources are the flyer and document on multiple stations that David Dunham prepared. David also has prepared a web page on mobile and multi-station deployment.