Brian Loader starts a series of articles introducing Occultations, what they are, why they are important, and how to measure them. If you have a hankering to get involved in the science of astronomy, or just to understand something of how it's done, this is a great place to start.

RASNZ 2017 Conference - Dunedin 12 - 14 May

The 2017 RASNZ Conference will be held in Dunedin on 12 to 14 May. The conference is hosted by the Dunedin Astronomical Society at the Otago Museum. It will be followed by the 11th Trans-Tasman Occultation Symposium (TTSO11).

This is the third conference for RASNZ's SWAPA (Students With A Passion for Astronomy) program, and at this conference students from the first SWAPA conference (in Tekapo) are among your hosts to help bring youthful energy, enthusiasm and exuberance to the conference!

Registrations now open

Conference registration may now be made using the online conference registration form.

The Oral presentation program is now full! We are no longer able to accept submissions for oral papers. You may still submit poster Conference papers using the Conference Paper Submission form.

Conference Brochure

The Conference Brochure is now available for download as a .PDF.

Pre-Conference Excursion

On Friday 12 May 2017, delegates have the opportunity to book a cruise on The Monarch. Experience royal albatross, admire the Otago peninsula and if you are lucky, catch a glimpse of dolphins or the New Zealand sea lion.

The tour departs from 20 Fryatt Street at 1pm (returning at 5pm) and includes return shuttle transfers. The tour can be booked through the online conference registration form. For further tour information see Monarch Wildlife Cruises & Tours - Otago Peninsula Wildlife Tour. Numbers for this excursion are limited so be in quick!

Preliminary Conference Program

The following preliminary program is avilable to assist you with travel planning. Please note that times may vary from those shown as the details of the Conference are finalised!

Friday 12th May

Harbour Cruise – departs from 20 Fryatt St, Dunedin at 1 pm
RASNZ Council Meeting 10:30-4:00
Affiliated Societies meeting 4:30-5:30
Conference Opening from 7:30-9:00, followed by Refreshments and Socialising

Saturday 13th May

Talks 9:00-10:30
Morning tea
Talks 11:00-12:45
Talks 2:00 – 3:30
Afternoon tea
RASNZ AGM 4:00-5:00
Conference Dinner  6:30-late

Sunday 14th May

Talks 9:00-10:30
Morning tea
Talks 11:00-12:30
Talks 1:30-3:00, followed by Conference Closure

3:30 Public Talk - Joss Bland-Hawthorn

RASNZ Council Meeting – late

Monday 15th May

11th TransTasman Symposium on Occultations -  all day, times tba

Tuesday 16 May

11th TransTasman Symposium on Occultations -  morning, times tba

Conference Papers (details added as they come to hand)

If you are considering presenting a paper to the conference please visit the Conference Paper Submission form and help enhance the conference.

Joss Bland-Hawthorn. Near Field Cosmology

Our Galaxy, the Milky Way, is a benchmark for understanding disk galaxies. It is the only galaxy whose formation history can be studied using the full distribution of stars, i.e. from white dwarfs to supergiants. The oldest components provide us with unique insight into how galaxies form and evolve over billions of years. We can learn about the physics and chemistry of the first stars, about the impact of reionization on galaxy formation, on the build up of mass and the chemical elements. We can also learn about secular processes that redistribute mass, metals and angular momentum over cosmic time. Galactic studies will continue to play a fundamental role far into the future because there are measurements that can only be made in the near field and much of contemporary astrophysics depends on such observations.

Joss Bland-Hawthorn. Reconstructing ancient star clusters in dwarf galaxies

The chemical abundance patterns of the oldest stars in the Galaxy are expected to contain residual signatures of the first stars in the early universe. Just how the complex data are to be interpreted with respect to "progenitor yields" remains an open question. Here we show that stochastic chemical evolution models to date have overlooked a crucial fact. Essentially all stars today are born in highly homogeneous star clusters and it is likely that this was also true at early times. When this ingredient is included, the overall scatter in the abundance plane can be much less than derived from earlier models. We present tentative evidence for the existence of dissolved star clusters in two dwarf galaxies.

We use the technique of “chemical tagging” to identify stars that are highly clustered in a multi-dimensional abundance space. If corroborated by follow-up spectroscopy, one star cluster at [Fe/H] = -3 is the most metal-poor system identified to date.
Collaborators: A. Frebel, J. Simon, D. Yong

Maria Pozza. New Zealand’s developing space law

New Zealand is presently teasing out the final provisions of its Outer Space and High Altitude Activities Bill. However, is the Bill going to be everything that New Zealand needs as it enters into the commercial space environment. This paper will speak to the oral submission presented at the Select Committee in February 2017 concerning both the strengths and weaknesses of the Bill.

Duncan Hall. The analemma, dials and digits: some unusual combinations

I will demonstrate two types of digital sundial, and a digital clock with a gnomon shadow display.

Robin McNeill and Duncan Hall. Looking down is looking up: contributions towards developing New Zealand’s extra-terrestrial remote sensing capabilities

An arrangement first signed in 2007 was recently renewed between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the New Zealand Government for the Awarua Satellite Station, near Invercargill, to continue to support resupply missions to the International Space Station. Venture Southland and the French Space Agency CNES are the implementing authorities in the arrangement. The agreements include a clause, negotiated by Venture Southland, requiring ESA to promote the space sector to Southland students – which has had significant impact on education in Southland. The Awarua Satellite Station is but one example of New Zealand’s evolving participation in the growing space industry. Building on its work with CNES, Venture Southland now has contracts with five space agencies and satellite operators from two continents to support earth observation from satellites.

Chris Gordon. Discovery of Gamma-Ray Emission from the X-shaped Bulge of the Milky Way

An anomalous signal has been found in Fermi Gamma-Ray Large Area Telescope data covering the center of the Galaxy. Given its morphological and spectral characteristics, this `Galactic Center Excess' is ascribable to self-annihilation of dark matter particles. We report on an analysis that exploits hydrodynamical modeling to register the position of interstellar gas associated with diffuse Galactic gamma-ray emission. Our improved analysis reveals that the excess gamma-rays are spatially correlated with both the X-shaped stellar over-density in the Galactic bulge and the nuclear stellar bulge. Given these correlations, we argue that the Galactic Center gamma-ray excess is not a dark matter phenomenon but rather associated with the stellar population of the bulge and the nuclear bulge.

Ian Griffin. Observing from the Stratosphere with SOFIA & Air New Zealand

In this presentation I will share my experiences as an observer on NASAs SOFIA Observatory during its deployment to Christchurch in July 2016. I will also outline how participating in that flight gave me the idea to organise the first ever charter flight to the Southern Auroral Oval in March 2017, from which images will also be presented.

Steve Kerr. Lucky Star: An International Pro-Am program to explore the outer solar system using occultations

New Zealand amateur observers have long collaborated with international professional groups in support of major occultation science programs. The Lucky Star program based at Paris Observatory commenced in late 2015 with the aim of bringing considerable professional focus on using occultation science to study outer solar system objects. Amateur observers are a major part of this strategy and already significant results have been delivered from our part of the world. This paper covers the scope of Lucky Star, results gained already and future prospects.

Brian Loader. A decade of Double Star video occultations

The programme to study lunar occultations of double stars was launched in 2007. A review of the programme, its antecedents and its results will be presented. Some of the more interesting, mostly recent, observations will be highlighted.

Karen Pollard. The Music of the Stars

I present a summary of the asteroseismology program that we are carrying out at the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory using the 1.0m telescope and HERCULES spectrograph. The types of stars that we analyse and the insights into the structure and evolution we can make from these observations are described.

Bob Evans. Aurora Australis 1979 to 2016

A summary of the former Aurora & Solar Section's data collected over 37 years will be presented.

Robin McNeill and Duncan Hall. Looking down is looking up:  contributions towards developing New Zealand’s extra-terrestrial remote sensing capabilities

An arrangement first signed in 2007 was recently renewed between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the New Zealand Government for the Awarua Satellite Station, near Invercargill, to continue to support resupply missions to the International Space Station.  Venture Southland and the French Space Agency CNES are the implementing authorities in the arrangement.  The agreements include a clause, negotiated by Venture Southland, requiring ESA to promote the space sector to Southland students – which has had significant impact on education in Southland.  The Awarua Satellite Station is but one example of New Zealand’s evolving participation in the growing space industry.  Building on its work with CNES, Venture Southland now has contracts with five space agencies and satellite operators from two continents to support earth observation from satellites.

Dylan Paterson. Fermi Galactic Centre Excess: Template Model for Diffuse Background

Modelling the gamma-ray excess observed towards the galactic centre by Fermi-LAT requires an accurate model of the diffuse galactic gamma-ray background. In the energy range observed by Fermi, the majority of the background gamma-rays originate in hadronic interactions between cosmic rays and hydrogen gas in the Milky Way. Such contributions to the background have been fitted via a template method, where the structure of the emission is modelled by gas column density maps. Presented is the method used to produce the gas column density maps from kinematic methods tracing 21cm HI emission and 12mm CO emission. Dark neutral medium is also mapped using extinction, E(B-V).

Nick Rattenbury. Discovering Planets with WFIRST

NASA's Wide Field Infra-Red Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is a space telescope that will launch mid-2020s. WFIRST will be capable of finding entire planetary systems, including those like our Solar System, complete with habitable Earth-like planets. Finding "Earths" in the same system as a "Jupiter" is important because it is theorised that having massive planets in a planetary system is necessary to deliver water onto the surface of inner, warmer planets like the Earth to make them habitable. The planets found by WFIRST will complement the planet discoveries made by the Kepler Space Telescope. We will create the analysis tools required to discover and characterise planetary systems from WFIRST data, answering the question whether Solar Systems like ours are common in the Galaxy.

Ashna Sharan. Bayesian Analysis of Microlensing Events using MultiNest

We present the analysis of microlensing events using our newly developed methodology employing the MultiNest algorithm. MultiNest is based on the principles of Bayesian inference, which allows us to solve the model selection and parameter estimation problems simultaneously. The focus is placed on the model selection problem since a Bayesian-based algorithm such as MultiNest allows us to shift the approach to model selection from qualitative arguments to a quantitative quality factor. We demonstrate our methodology by testing a finite-source point-lens model versus a finite-source binary-lens model, and for the presence of parallax effects. Nested Sampling and its variant algorithms such as MultiNest have been tried and tested in many fields of study. By demonstrating MultiNest on a real microlensing event for the first time, we aim to provide an impetus for said algorithms to find their place in the microlensing community as well.

Alex Li. The First Eclipsing Binary Catalogue from the MOA-II Database

We present the first catalogue of eclipsing binaries in two MOA fields towards the Galactic bulge, in which over 8,000 eclipsing binary candidates, mostly contact and semi-detached binaries of periods < 1 day, were identified. In this paper, the light curves of a few highly eccentric binaries and binaries with interesting phase modulations are shown as examples. In addition, we identified three triple object candidates by detecting the light-travel-time effects in their eclipse timing variation curves. 

Steve Butler. Our changing world

Our world is constantly changing. If we want the change to be for the better, we need to be involved and to guide that change. As users of the night environment we need to raise awareness, educate and lead at every opportunity.

Dave Herald. Diameters, Volumes and Bulk Densities of 40 asteroids

This presentation gives an overview of how observations from different areas of astronomy (precise astrometry, photometric light curves ([mostly amateur] and occultation observations [almost all amateur] are combined to derive accurate models of asteroid size, shape and density

Jennie McCormick (Fellows’ address) . Lost in Space …. an amazing journey of discovery

I became captivated by the beauty of space from a young age. This talk will follow the unlikely journey under New Zealand skies of an amateur astronomer from modest beginnings. So how does a 15 year old horse loving school leaver end up giving a lecture to the faculty and students of Ohio State University Astronomy Department? It all started in a Wanganui backyard in the late 60s when a five year old became aware of Orion the Hunter for the first time. In the late 1980’s I progressed on with a small pair of binocularsand then to a succession of ever more capable telescopes. In 2000 Farm Cove Observatory was established and has now contributed to a number of areas of modern astronomy. We will look at the paths taken and explore how becoming lost in the space was just the start of an amazing journey among the stars.

Graeme Jonas. KiwiStar Weaves Large Lenses for the William Herschel Telescope

Lower Hutt based company KiwiStar Optics is currently manufacturing six large lenses for a prime focus corrector unit which, when completed, will be installed on the William Herschel Telescope. This will increase the telescope’s corrected field of view from 50-arc minutes to two-degrees. The telescope will then be used to provide starlight for a new wide-field multi-object spectrograph. The prime focus corrector and spectrograph are part of the WEAVE project. During this presentation, I will provide an overview of KiwiStar’s involvement with the WEAVE project.

Sunday afternoon public talk

The Dunedin Astronomical Society and the Otago Institute are delighted to take the opportunity of Joss Bland-Hawthorn's presence in Dunedin for the RASNZ conference to host a public talk by Joss. We thank both Joss as a willing participant and the RASNZ as hosts for making this talk possible.

There is limited seating available for the talk. Seats will be allocated on a first come, first seated basis. There is no charge for this talk.

Sunday public talk:
Start time 3:30 pm.
Hutton Theatre

Joss has provided the following details for his public talk:

Front Row Seat on the Daily Life of a Supermassive Black Hole

The Galaxy's supermassive black hole (Sgr A*) is a hundred times closer than any other object of its kind. It is surrounded by a highly unstable ring of gas so why is the black hole so peaceful at the present time? Evidence is gathering that Sgr A* was far more active in the recent past. We present exciting new evidence that the Galactic Centre was a full blown "active galaxy" just a few million years ago. Why did this occur? What impact did the event have? Can it happen again? These are just a few of the interesting questions I will cover in this talk.

RASNZ 2017 Sponsors

We are greatfull for the support of ASTRONZ and Emerson's with the 2017 RASNZ Conference.


Toward the end of November last year DAS member Ron Paine captured the ISS crossing the Sun.

RASNZ's president John Drummond briefly recaps last year, looks forawrd to the new year and extends seasons' greetings.

In the first of a series of occasional blogs Dr Nicholas Rattenbury talks about Auckland University and New Zealand's ventures into space exploration.

From the president’s desk, 24 May 2016

RASNZ's new President John Drummond's first blog describes the excellent RASNZ Conference and Astrophotography Workshop hosted by the Hawks Bay Astronomical Society in Napier this year.

From the president’s desk, 9 May 2016

In the final blog post for his term as President of the RASNZ, John Hearnshaw reports on the Executive Committee meeting of the IAU recently held in Mexico City.

The excellent 2016 RASNZ Conference at Napier has finished. We hope to see you all in Dunedin next year. The 2016 conference information will remain available for a little while below until we start ramping up for the Dunedin conference in 2017.

RASNZ's 2016 Conference will be held in Napier and hosted by the Hawke's Bay Astronomical Society and held 20 - 22 May 2016.  The Conference venue will be MTG Hawke's Bay, Napier's recently reopened museum, theatre and art gallery.  The Conference will be followed by a two day astrophotography workshop.

Paper submissions may be made online. The Conference online Registration form is now available.

We are pleased to have as our Invited Speaker Dr Michele Bannister, an ex-pat Kiwi and planetary astronomer, who will be talking about the recent discoveries at Pluto made by the New Horizons spacecraft.

The 2016 RASNZ Conference Brochure .PDF is now available for viewing and download. You may also download the RASNZ 2016 Conference Programme.

Provisional Speakers List for the 2016 RASNZ Conference

  • Sergei Gulyaev: The Radio Astronomical Observatory at Warkworth (20 min)
  • Brian Loader (Fellows’ Lecture): Pluto, 2015 June 29 (45 min)
  • Ashna Sharan: Microlensing modelling using nested sampling (20 min)
  • Georgie Taylor and Mason Ng: Modelling the spectra of hot stars (20 min)
  • John Bray: Is the link between the observed velocities of neutron stars and their progenitors a simple mass relationship? (20 min)
  • John Hearnshaw: The Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative (20 min)
  • Gary Sparks: Halley’s Comet World Tour: A Philatelic Odyssey (20 min)
  • John Drummond: Deeply imaging interacting galaxies to detect tidal features (20 min)
  • Michele Bannister: New Discoveries in the Outer Solar System (45 min)
  • Bethany Jones : The effect of space travel on human physiology (20 min)
  • Maria Pozza: New Zealand and the need for Space Law (20 min)
  • Warwick Kissling: Is the Solar System Stable ? (20 min)
  • Karen Pollard: Asteroseismology at Mt John (20 min)
  • SWAPA mini-session 1: Finlay Mably & Joshua Daglish (10 min)
  • Sarang Shah: Finding lonely planets with the KMTNet microlensing survey (20 min)
  • M. C. Alex Li: Eclipsing Binaries in the MOA database (20 min)
  • Mike Mackrill: It’s Life Jim..Aliens as Depicted in Film and television (20 min)
  • Brian Loader: Lunar occultations of double stars (20 min
  • Orlon Petterson: Educational and research tools in Astronomy (20 min)
  • Grant Christie: Auckland Astronomy – Future directions, opportunities and challenges (20 min)
  • Nicolas Rattenbury: Recent results from the MOA collaboration (20 min)
  • SWAPA mini-session 2: Anushka Kharbanda + Annabelle Ritchie (20 min)
  • Jennie McCormick: The role of chance in astronomical discoveries from Farm Cove Observatory (20 min)
  • Ed Budding: Basic queries in astrobiology: where do we begin, and when will it end ? (20 min)
  • Lin Xiao and JJ Eldridge: Interpreting nebular line emission of star-forming regions with BPASS models (20 min)
  • David Huijser: Bayesian inference of galaxy morphology using reversible jump MCMC (20 min)

RASNZ acknowledges the following sponsors and thanks them for supporting the 2016 RASNZ Conference.

RASNZ's President, John Hearnshaw, makes an annual trek to Thailand to sit on the International Scientific Advisory Committee (ISAC) of NARIT. Click below to read about this year's trip.

As President of RASNZ John Hearnshaw was invited to attend the Prime-Minister’s Science Prizes awards ceremony at Te Papa in Wellington. Click Read More for his report of the event.