Pluto occultation on 2015 June 29 UTC with central flash and atmospheric spikes just before the New Horizons flyby
We observed the occultation by Pluto of a 12th magnitude star, one of the two brightest occultation stars ever in our dozen years of continual monitoring of Pluto's atmosphere through such studies, on 2015 June 29 UTC. At the Univ. of Canterbury Mt. John Observatory (New Zealand), under clear skies throughout, we used a POETS frame-transfer CCD at 10 Hz with GPS timing on the 1-m McLellan telescope as well as an infrared camera on an 0.6-m telescope and three-color photometry at a slower cadence on a second 0.6-m telescope. At the Auckland Observatory, we used a POETS and a PICO on 0.5-m and 0.4-m telescopes, with 0.4 s and 2 s cadences, respectively, obtaining ingress observations before clouds moved in. The Mt. John light curves show a central flash, indicating that we were close to the center of the occultation path. Analysis of our light curves show that Pluto's atmosphere remains robust. The presence of spikes at both sites in the egress and ingress shows atmospheric layering. We coordinated our observations with aircraft observations (Bosh et al., 2017) with the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). Our chords helped constrain the path across Pluto that SOFIA saw. Our ground-based and airborne stellar-occultation effort came only just over two weeks of Earth days and two Pluto days before the flyby of NASA's New Horizons spacecraft.