Does 790 Pretoria Have a Moon?

On 14 Dec 2023 at 10:17:12.943 UT, the 13.6-magnitude outer main belt asteroid 790 Pretoria was in the middle of covering up the 10.9-magnitude star TYC 1299-730-1 (UCAC4 532-018101) in the constellation Taurus, as seen from my vantage point on the west side of Tucson, Arizona.

Stellar Occultation of TYC 1299-730-1 by 790 Pretoria

I observed a 6.6-second occultation, but noticed a single-point event with the same magnitude drop as the main occultation, but 0.5 second earlier. A close up of that section of the light curve is shown below.

Stellar Occultation of TYC 1299-730-1 by 790 Pretoria showing possible moonlet

If 790 Pretoria has a moon that also occulted the star, then you would expect the magnitude drop when the star is covered up to be the same—the magnitude of the asteroid (and its satellite) alone. This is indeed the case here.

An analysis of all the data points prior to these two occultation events indicates that there is only a 1/130,000 chance that the single-point dip was caused by noise. The time-resolution of each data point is 0.03 seconds, so it seems likely that the moonlet occultation event was very close to 0.03 seconds in duration, as the data points on either side fall comfortably within the baseline.

Originally, there were four other observers signed up for this event (three in Arizona and two in Texas), but the other two Arizona observers were not able to observe and the two Texas observers were clouded out, leaving only me with my 8-inch Meade LX90 telescope on the back patio of my home to observe the event.

No moon of 790 Pretoria has yet been reported, and since no one else observed the 14 Dec 2023 event, my observation can only serve as a suggestion that 790 Pretoria might have a moon, but not proof.

Prior to my observation there were 14 stellar occultation events of 790 Pretoria observed, the first in 1998 and the last in 2021. We don’t yet have a shape model for 790 Pretoria.

Only three light curves from previous 790 Pretoria occultation events are available through the VizieR archive. These are listed and shown below.

VizieR Light Curves of previous stellar occultations by 790 Pretoria
LC 238 by R. Sandy
LC 7658 by Dean Hooper
LC 7939 by S. Messner

Here is a list of all previous occultation chords for 790 Pretoria.

And details of the North American events, including the 14 Dec 2023 event I observed.

The 19 Jul 2009 event resulted in the discovery that TYC 2255-01354-1 is a double star.

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