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Karsten Schindler
Deutsches SOFIA Institut

A vision and a new toolbox for stellar occultation studies

Stellar occultations enable Earth-based observations that sample a planetary body and its proximity at an unrivaled spatial resolution. They are the most effective tool to study planetary atmospheres and rings, which are now known to exist around much smaller bodies thanks to this technique, as well as the structure of comae and tails of comets, active Centaurs and asteroids. They remain the only way to unambigiously determine sizes and albedos of any object in the solar system not yet visited by a spacecraft. Thanks to the Gaia star catalog, the uncertainties of most star positions have become extremely small. With the advent of deep, high cadence time-domain all-sky surveys, a new era for the prediction of stellar occultation events opens up. Especially the commissioning of the Vera C. Rubin observatory has the potential to greatly reduce the biggest remaining hurdle to create accurate occultation predictions for solar system targets of high scientific interest: The large amount of observing time that needs to be allocated on a telescope with sufficient aperture and optical stability to measure the position of mostly very faint objects at multiple epochs, in order to overcome the large errors inherent in public ephemerides. With the involvement of students from the Institute of Space Systems, DSI has developed a new toolchain to accurately predict and analyze data from occultations, tailored to the needs of SOFIA and overcoming limitations of existing software. The talk will give an overview of the software that has been developed over the past years, and discuss how it will enable future occultation observations and reduction of challenging data sets.