An automated occultation network for gravitational mapping of the trans-neptunian solar system
Session 9.08 Occultations (Targeted)
Thursday 06-27 | 12:00 - 12:20

We investigate the potential of 𝒪(102) small telescopes, arrayed along a meridian and automated to measure occulations of minor planets, to constrain gravitational signals from the trans-neptunian solar system through precision tracking of main belt asteroid (MBAs). While the precession generated on an MBA by tidal forces from the Kuiper Belt or beyond (whether from a Planet X, or distributions of less-massive bodies) is smaller than the precession of more distant small bodies, the main belt holds many more objects – 𝒪(105) – bright enough to be optically discovered and larger than the 1 km diffraction limit of occultation detectability. A 100-station array, during a span of 12 years, would yield an average of 5 measured occulations per MBA. The main sources of error in the non-diffraction-limited regime include timing accuracy and asteroid shape noise. We use a sample of existing shape models to estimate the errors in center of mass determination as a function of asteroid size and number of occultation chords. We simulate the survey for a representative subset of the known MBAs and estimate the total positional uncertainties of every detection. We subsequently use N-body simulations to get variational derivatives of the modeled solar system bodies with respect to all relevant sources of gravity and non-gravitational forces. Finally, the positional uncertainties and the derivatives are used to quantify how the expected data points would constrain the mass and distance of a hypothetical Planet X. We further discuss whether such a survey could also be used to constrain the collective mass distribution of the Kuiper belt(s).

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