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Contents

1. The Conference
2. The Solar System in July
3. Venus Transit
4. Aoraki-Mackenzie becomes IDA Dark Sky Reserve
5. SKA Split Decision
6. The Universe: See It Now!
7. Heavy Elements in Ancient Star
8. Venus as an Exoplanet
9. How to Join the RASNZ
10. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
11. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
12. Here and There

1. The Conference

A very successful Conference was held in Carterton last weekend. Around seventy attended, coming from places as far apart as Auckland and Invercargill. Clive Ruggles, our Beatrice Hill Tinsley (BHT) lecturer, was from the University of Leicester where he is Emeritus Professor of Archaeoastronomy. Featured lecturer Professor Wayne Orchiston came from Queensland, and Dr William Tobin from France.

The Conference was hosted by the Phoenix Astronomical Society. Much work was done by Kay Leather and Richard Hall. Edwin Rodley and others looked after the audio-visuals and details. RASNZ's Conference Committee members, notably Orlon Petterson, got the speakers sorted and their PowerPoints into the computer.

Unfortunately the Conference weekend coincided with the coldest week so far this winter -- white frosts in Auckland! -- so warm wrapping was required. Superb catering by Wild Oats Cafe at the coffee-breaks and lunches, and at the Conference dinner, kept everyone fuelled. (Wild Oats also did great breakfasts as well, as those of us staying at that end of town found.)

The Education Section had a workshop on the Friday. This was mostly arranged by Ron Fisher. There were talks in person illustrated with classical PowerPoint as well as new-fangled deliveries from Nelson, Oxford (Canterbury), Portugal and the USA by Skype. One Section member followed the proceedings via the internet. Communicating astronomy, and science generally, at all levels was discussed. The message from those actively involved to was to use all the modern communication devices but keep the message simple.

The Conference proper began on Friday evening with the Fellows Lecture by Ed Budding. Ed summarised current exoplanet searches and ventured some novel ideas on the possibility of life elsewhere.

At the Saturday night's Conference dinner Stuart Parker was presented with the Murray Geddes Memorial Prize for his supernova discoveries.

The Saturday and Sunday sessions were a feast of papers covering a wide range of astronomy from technical to cultural.

On the cultural side Richard Hall made assertions about the relationship of astronomy to civilization. Anna Kingsley showed how the sky has been represented in art over the past 600 years. William Tobin showed how transits of Venus had inspired art, literature and music, some dodgy. The take-home message: Sex sells! Pam Kilmartin reviewed asteroid names relating to popular culture and much else.

Clive Ruggles told of his investigations into temple sites on the Hawaiian island of Maui. This gave an insight into the scientific rigour required in interpreting ancient piles of stones. On Sunday afternoon Clive gave a BHT public lecture "Ancient Astronomies - Ancient Worlds".

Though June 6th's transit of Venus was clouded for much of New Zealand, its history was well covered at the meeting. Wayne Orchiston described Lieutenant Cook's expedition to Tahiti in 1769. The British expeditions got good results -- close to today's Earth-Sun distance -- but these disagreed with others. The disappearance of all their original records is curious. William Tobin showed a trove of photos taken by the 1874 German transit of Venus expedition to the Auckland Islands.

Further astronomy involving the sun was presented by Wayne in a history of solar physics investigated in 19th Century eclipses. This reminded us that helium was first found on the sun. Sun-grazing comets, of which last Christmas's Comet Lovejoy was the latest naked-eye example, were described by Alan Gilmore.

The recent awarding of an International Dark Sky Association gold grading to the Aoraki-Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve was noted by Steve Butler in his summary of dark sky places.

Technical astronomy was well represented. Anna Niemiec showed how high- magnification (but not too high) micro-lensing events can be used to detect planets around lensing stars. Sara Shakouri looked at diffuse radio emission from galaxy clusters, finding that the actual galaxies are a small part of a cluster's mass.

John Talbot, via Skype, summarized recent successful asteroidal occultations with a warning about timings from integrating cameras. Brian Loader's poster paper showed results from Darfield. Ian Cooper described his efforts to produce user-friendly charts of non-stellar objects in the Small Magellanic Cloud.

Orlon Petterson gave us a quick idea of the wealth of databases and software now available on-line. Orlon suggested that the next conference have a workshop on computers in astronomy. Duncan Hall hoped that developments in computer speed would be fast enough to enable processing of the SKA's output. Warwick Kissling showed how modern development of the classical 'three-body problem' has enabled spacecraft to get to distant places.

Haritina Mogasanu looked at unconventional ways of communicating science to the general public. She noted that 50% of NZers are on Facebook, presenting an opportunity for the RASNZ to be visible. Ron Fisher summarised ideas presented at Friday's Education workshop.

The 2013 Conference will be in Invercargill, May 24-26.

-- Alan Gilmore

2. The Solar System in July

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for July 2012 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Jul_12.htm. Notes for August 2012 will be on line in a few days.

The planets in july

Mars and Saturn will be visible in the first part of the evening, but get rather low in the later part of the evening. During the month the separation of the two planets will decrease as Mars moves towards Saturn and Spica.

Mercury will be an easy object to the northwest an hour after sunset for the first two weeks of July. It will then get lower and fainter to become lost in the setting Sun´s glare within a few days.

In the morning Venus and Jupiter will be level and quite close in the dawn sky at the beginning of the month. During the month Jupiter gets higher.

Planets in the evening sky

Mercury will be quite easy to see in the early evening during the first half of July. Best viewing is likely to be 45 minutes to an hour after sunset. As the month progresses Mercury will get fainter, its magnitude changing from 0.6 on the 1st to 1.9 on the 15th. An hour after sunset the planet will have an altitude about 10° and be to the northwest.

Procyon will be some 20° to the left of Mercury and a little brighter than the planet. Sirius will be another 25° away and noticeably higher.

After mid July Mercury will continue to fade and get lower in the evening sky as it heads back towards the Sun. It is at inferior conjunction on July 29 but no transit. The planet will pass 5° to the south of the Sun.

Mars and SATURN are both in Virgo throughout July. They will be readily visible in the first part of the evening, getting lower later. Mars sets between a little before midnight at first, half an hour earlier by the end of the month. Saturn sets a couple of hours after Mars on the 1st but only 40 minutes later on the 31st.

During July the distance between the two planets will steadily decrease, falling from 25° to 8° as Mars moves to the east through Virgo.

Saturn remains paired with Spica throughout July, with the two less than 5° apart. Saturn will be lower and slightly brighter than the star.

The distance between Mars and the Earth increases from 212 to 243 million km in July, its brightness will correspondingly drop from magnitude 0.9 to 1.1. So by the end of July Mars will be similar in brightness to Spica, but the two will of course be rather different in colour.

The moon passes the planets on July 24 and 25. On the 24th it will be 27% lit and 8° to the lower left of Mars. The following night the moon will form more of a group with the planets and Spica. The 38% lit moon will be 7° above Mars and the same distance to the left of Saturn. Spica will be a little closer to the moon, 5.5° to its upper right.

Planets in the morning sky

Venus and JUPITER are in Taurus: early in July both are to the left of Aldebaran. At first they will rise almost simultaneously, some 2 hours and 40 minutes before the Sun. The two planets will be about 5° apart with Venus to the right of Jupiter for the first week or so as they both move slowly to the east through the stars. After a few days Venus will be begin to move more rapidly than Jupiter so will move below and to the right of the gas giant as the month progresses. By the end of July the two will be 14° apart.

Jupiter starts July about midway between the Pleiades, to its left, and Aldebaran to its right. Venus starts the month in the Hyades. Jupiter, moving more slowly than Venus, will end July with Aldebaran a little above it and to its right. By then Jupiter will be rising nearly 4 hours before the Sun and so be higher in the dawn sky.


Uranus is stationary on July 13 so its position barely changes during the month. It will be at magnitude 5.8 located in a corner of Cetus close to Pisces. By the end of July it will rise a little before 11pm so remaining essentially a morning object.

Neptune is in Aquarius during July moving very slowly to the west. Its magnitude will be between 7.9 and 7.8. By the end of July it will rise about 7.30 pm, so will be well positioned a little to the north of east by late evening.

Both Uranus and Neptune will also be visible as morning objects.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres and (4) Vesta are both morning sky objects in Taurus in the vicinity of Jupiter, Venus and Aldebaran.

At the beginning of July, Ceres at magnitude 9.2 will be less than 4° above Jupiter and 5° to the upper left of Venus. Vesta will be a little over 6° above and a little left of Ceres, and little brighter at magnitude 8.5.

Ceres will be 3.3° to the upper right of Jupiter at their closest on July 12, and on the edge of the Hyades. A week later it will lie between Jupiter and Aldebaran, 1.5° from the star and 3.5° from the planet. By the end of July, Ceres will be at magnitude 9.1 and 4.6° to the right of Jupiter.

Vesta is moving to the east slightly faster than Ceres. It ends July in the Hyades some 5° above Jupiter and 2° to the upper left of Aldebaran. Ceres will be barely 6° to Vesta´s the lower right.

By the end of July the two asteroids along with Jupiter and Aldebaran will be between 10 and 15° to the upper left of Venus.

No other asteroids are within reach of binoculars during July.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2012.

-- Brian Loader

3. Venus Transit

No formal reports have been seen but then it isn't much of a scientific event these days. [But see Item 8.]

For NZ the weather was predictably ropey. The north of the country had patchy cloud so some of the transit was seen. The east side of the North Island around Gisborne and Tolaga Bay got good views for most of the day.

The lower half of the North Island and the top of the South Island were mostly under cloud. Christchurch was largely shut down by snow and stayed overcast. The cold front that gave the snow cleared most of the southern half of the South Island during the transit or earlier. At Lake Tekapo the cloud stalled a frustrating ten degrees above the sun in the late morning, finally dispersing around 1:30.

All observers were impressed at how black Venus looked compared to the sunspots. That sunspots are really quite bright, in absolute terms, was obvious. Seeing the disk of a planet by naked eye was a novelty too. -- Ed.

4. Aoraki-Mackenzie becomes IDA Dark Sky Reserve

The following is from Scott Kardel of the International Dark Sky Association, Tucson. ------

Over 4,300 square kilometres of New Zealand´s South Island have just been proclaimed as an International Dark Sky Reserve, making it the first such reserve in the Southern Hemisphere and only the third in the world.

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve (IDSR), comprised of the Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin, is also the largest dark sky reserve in the world.

International Dark-Sky Association´s Executive Director Bob Parks remarks, "The new reserve is coming in at a `Gold´ level status. That means the skies there are almost totally free from light pollution. To put it simply, it is one of the best stargazing sites on Earth."

This week´s announcement coincides with the Third International Starlight Conference, a United Nations-led effort that emphasizes that a star-filled night sky is part of the common heritage of mankind and that protections are necessary to ensure that present and future generations will be able to see the stars. The new IDSR is playing host to the conference and sets a wonderful example for attendees.

Organizers of the new reserve recognize that the night sky has played a critical role in the area´s history as its first residents, the Maori, used the night sky not only to navigate to the island but also integrated astronomy and star lore into their culture and daily lives. The reserve seeks to honour that history by keeping the night sky as a protected and integral part of the area´s natural and cultural landscape. It is a perfect place to protect and honour those traditions as the IDSR´s Mackenzie Basin has the clearest, darkest and the most spectacular night sky in New Zealand.

Outdoor lighting controls were first put into place in the area during the early 1980s. They have helped to minimize light pollution not only for the nearby Mt. John Observatory, but to conserve energy, protect wildlife and to make the area a popular stargazing destination for tourists. For the past several years increased efforts have been focused on strengthening these protections in the formation of the International Dark Sky Reserve.

About the IDSPlaces Programme

IDA established the International Dark Sky Places conservation programme in 2001 to recognize excellent stewardship of the night sky. Designations are based on stringent outdoor lighting standards and innovative community outreach. Since the program began, three reserves, four communities and ten parks also have received International Dark Sky designations.

To learn more about the IDSPlaces programme, please visit: http://www.darksky.org/IDSPlaces

----------------- This award is pleasing recognition of a lot of work by many people over many years.

The original lighting ordinances were drafted by the Mackenzie County Council in 1981 following submissions from John Hearnshaw. Modifications to the lighting ordinance boundary, and lobbying for improvements in Lake Tekapo's street lighting, was the work of William Tobin in the 1990s.

The move to have the region internationally recognised as a Starlight Reserve was kicked off by Graeme and Carolyn Murray when they attended the first Starlight Conference in La Palma in 2007. Margaret Austin has worked with her many UNESCO and government contacts, trying to get a framework established for recognising and preserving dark sky regions.

The local initiative has involved many interests in the Aoraki-Mackenzie region. Representatives from the Mackenzie District Council, the Department of Conservation, tourism, farming and science have all had inputs, ably assisted by Steve Butler's expertise and contacts in lighting engineering.

Canterbury University's Allison Loveridge supervised trios of students over two summers. The first group showed that any UNESCO framework suitable for a local Starlight Reserve was a distant prospect. The second group prepared the submission to the IDA with much help from all the people mentioned above. The IDA panel commented that the Aoraki-Mackenzie submission was the best they had ever seen.

The official announcement was made at the Third International Starlight Conference in Lake Tekapo on June 10th. The Conference was attended by around seventy people with good international representation and wide expertise. More on this later, we hope.

-- Alan Gilmore.

5. SKA Split Decision

The reputation of physics as the queen of sciences is reflected in the amount of money that governments are willing to spend on it. The Large Hadron Collider, Europe´s latest particle smasher, cost around $9 billion and took a decade to build. But, just occasionally, other fields get to play with some big, taxpayer-funded kit of their own, too.

On May 25th it was the astronomers´ turn in the limelight. For several years two groups of countries, one consisting of Australia and New Zealand, and the other of several sub-Saharan nations led by South Africa, have been polishing their rival bids to host the Square Kilometre Array, a gargantuan, EUR1.5 billion ($1.9 billion) radio telescope first proposed in 1991 and designed to be the most sensitive ever constructed. After months of deliberation, the SKA´s funding nations announced their decision: that the telescope would be split, and both groups would host a bit of it.

In astronomy, as in particle physics, bigger kit is better kit. A larger telescope can gather fainter signals and produce sharper images. Radio astronomers already have a few supersized instruments to have fun with, notably the 305-metre-wide Arecibo telescope, carved into a Puerto Rican hillside in 1963, and the 100-metre Robert C. Byrd instrument in West Virginia, which, unlike the Arecibo dish, can be steered to point at different parts of the sky.

Yet the physics of radio astronomy means that such mighty machines are, nevertheless, fairly crude. The resolving power of a telescope is determined by the ratio of its size to the wavelength of the radiation it is collecting. A typical optical telescope has a diameter a few million times the wavelength of visible light. Applying that sort of ratio to the SKA, which is designed to work with wavelengths measured in metres, would require a dish thousands of kilometres across.

Building such a dish is obviously impossible. But what is possible is to build many smaller dishes spaced a long way from one another, and to link them with clever computer algorithms so that they behave as if they were a single giant telescope. This is called interferometry, and is not a new idea. Many of the world´s radio telescopes are linked in this way, providing far better resolution than any of them could alone. And several countries have already built collections of small, cheap dishes and networked them into more powerful "virtual" instruments.

What makes the SKA special is its sheer scale. The design calls for around 3,000 individual receivers arranged rather like a spiral galaxy, with most of the telescopes concentrated in an inner core, and the rest arranged into a set of arms up to 3,000km (about 2000 miles) long. Fibre-optic cables will link each of these dishes to a central processing area, where supercomputers will stitch their data together. When it is fully up and running (by 2024, assuming no big delays), the SKA will be more than 50 times more sensitive than any other radio telescope, and able to survey the sky thousands of times faster.

That power will be used to investigate some of the biggest outstanding questions in astronomy. The SKA will join the hunt for gravitational waves-ripples in the structure of space predicted by Albert Einstein´s general theory of relativity. It will probe the mysterious magnetic field that exists between the stars. It will allow astronomers to peer back into the universe´s Dark Ages, a period roughly 400,000 to 800m years after the Big Bang, during which things cooled enough to allow the first large-scale objects, such as galaxies and clusters of galaxies, to form. And its resolving power will help with the search for extrasolar planets.

But all that is a long way off, and the telescope will have to be built
first. That the funding nations felt able to split the telescope in half
reflects how closely matched the two bids were. Both consortia had
constructed precursor telescopes that could be integrated into the SKA
itself, and each bid had its advantages. The African bid, whose core will
be in Northern Cape province, did well in the technical stakes, chiefly
because the geography of the area allows a more efficient layout for the
telescope, and also because electricity was thought likely to be cheaper
there. The SKA will use about 110 megawatts when up and running, so power
bills will be a significant expense. The Australasian bid, centred on the
virtually unpopulated Shire of Murchison, in Western Australia, scored
better for radio quietness (important to prevent interference), and on
non-scientific factors such as political stability and the quality of the
working environment.

Nevertheless, many people - including Naledi Pandor, South Africa´s science minister, who said as much in an official statement - reckon that the decision had more to do with politics than science. As with all such big projects, questions of national prestige intruded upon the technical judgments. And that was particularly so in Africa, where the SKA is seen as a good-news story for a continent still struggling to overcome its image as a violent and chronically unstable place.

Building on two separate sites is possible because the SKA is really three telescopes in one, with different sets of receivers designed for low-, medium- and high-frequency work. The new plan calls for the low-frequency antennae to be given to the Aussies and the Kiwis, with the other types being built in Africa. Doing it that way will cost more, if only because the bidders will each need to construct their own fibre-optic network to link their antennae together. But although the funding nations may grumble, the prospect of a bit of extra money seems unlikely to go down too badly with the legions of radio astronomers who are, at last, going to see their dream machine built, nor with South Africa´s scientific establishment, which will have a chance to show that it is up to the task of running a big project of this sort. South Africa has an impressive history of astronomy. The first permanent observatory in the southern hemisphere was built, in 1820, near Cape Town. If this project is equally successful, the country will have a strong future in the subject, too.

-- The Economist, 2012 June 2, p.82-83.

6. The Universe: See It Now!

The universe is a marvellously complex place, filled with galaxies and larger-scale structures that have evolved over its 13.7-billion-year history. Those began as small perturbations of matter that grew over time, like ripples in a pond, as the universe expanded. By observing the large- scale cosmic wrinkles now, we can learn about the initial conditions of the universe. But is now really the best time to look, or would we get better information billions of years into the future -- or the past?

New calculations by Harvard theorist Avi Loeb show that the ideal time to study the cosmos was more than 13 billion years ago, just about 500 million years after the Big Bang. The farther into the future you go from that time, the more information you lose about the early universe.

Two competing processes define the best time to observe the cosmos. In the young universe the cosmic horizon is closer to you, so you see less. As the universe ages, you can see more of it because there's been time for light from more distant regions to travel to you. However, in the older and more evolved universe, matter has collapsed to make gravitationally bound objects. This 'muddies the waters' of the cosmic pond, because you lose memory of initial conditions on small scales. The two effects counter each other -- the first grows better as the second grows worse.

Loeb asked the question: When were viewing conditions optimal? He found that the best time to study cosmic perturbations was only 500 million years after the Big Bang.

This is also the era when the first stars and galaxies began to form. The timing is not coincidental. Since information about the early universe is lost when the first galaxies are made, the best time to view cosmic perturbations is right when stars began to form.

But it's not too late. Modern observers can still access this nascent era from a distance by using surveys designed to detect 21-cm radio emission from hydrogen gas at those early times. These radio waves take more than 13 billion years to reach us, so we can still see how the universe looked early on.

'21-centimeter surveys are our best hope,' said Loeb. 'By observing hydrogen at large distances, we can map how matter was distributed at the early times of interest.'

The accelerating universe makes the picture bleak for future cosmologists. Because the expansion of the cosmos is accelerating, galaxies are being pushed beyond our horizon. Light that leaves those distant galaxies will never reach Earth in the far future.

In addition, the scale of gravitationally unbound structures is growing larger and larger. Eventually they, too, will stretch beyond our horizon. Some time between 10 and 100 times the universe's current age, cosmologists will no longer be able to observe them.

This research was published in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics (JCAP) and is available online at http://arxiv.org/abs/1203.2622

-- from a Harvard-Smithsonian press release of 22 May, forwarded by Karen Pollard.

7. Heavy Elements in Ancient Star

The Big Bang produced lots of hydrogen and helium and a smidgen of lithium. All heavier elements found on the periodic table have been produced by stars over the last 13.7 billion years. Astronomers analyze starlight to determine the chemical makeup of stars, the origin of the elements, the ages of stars, and the evolution of galaxies and the universe. Now for the first time, astronomers have detected the presence of arsenic and selenium, neighbouring elements near the middle of the periodic table, in an ancient star in the faint stellar halo that surrounds the Milky Way. Arsenic and selenium are elements at the transition from light to heavy element production, and have not been found in old stars until now.

Stars like our Sun can make elements up to oxygen on the periodic table. Other more massive stars can synthesize heavier elements, those with more protons in their nuclei, up to iron by nuclear fusion -- by the process in which atomic nuclei fuse and release lots of energy. Most of the elements heavier than iron are made by a process called neutron-capture nucleosynthesis.

Although neutrons have no charge, they can decay into protons after they're in the nucleus, producing elements with larger atomic numbers. One of the ways that this method can work is by exposure to a burst of neutrons during the violent supernova death of a star. This is called the rapid process (r-process). It can produce elements at the middle and bottom of the periodic table -- from zinc to uranium -- in the blink of an eye.

Ian Roederer of the Carnegie Observatories, with co-author James Lawler, looked at an ultraviolet spectrum of star HD 160617 from the Hubble Space Telescope public archives. HD 160617 is in the galactic halo and is 12 billion years old. In its spectrum they found lines caused by arsenic and selenium. These elements were made in an even older star, which has long since disappeared. Its remnants were among the material that formed HD 160617.

The team also examined data for this star from the public archives of several ground-based telescopes and were able to detect 45 elements. In addition to arsenic and selenium, they found rarely seen cadmium, tellurium, and platinum, all of which were produced by the r-process. This is the first time these elements have been detected together outside the Solar System.

Astronomers cannot replicate the r-process in any laboratory since the conditions are so extreme. The key to modelling the r-process relies on astronomical observations. Understanding the r-process helps us know why we find certain elements like barium on Earth, or understand why uranium is so rare.

See the original paper in http://arxiv.org/abs/1204.3901

-- From a Carnegie Institution press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

8. Venus as an Exoplanet

Historically transits of Venus have mattered more than merely as an astronomical curiosity. In the 17th century they were used to make the first accurate-ish estimates of the size of the solar system. By the 18th and 19th centuries they were scientific festivals, with nations dispatching astronomers to every corner of the planet to record it. Modern kit has allowed astronomers to nail down cosmic distances with far greater precision. Even in the age of radar and space probes the transit has its uses. This time astronomers hope it would help them refine techniques for exploring other solar systems.

Exoplanets, which orbit stars other than the sun, have been a hot topic in astronomy since the first few were discovered in the 1990s. Hundreds have since been spotted, and NASA, America's space agency, has a telescope dedicated specifically to searching for them. Presently, astronomers can infer only very basic properties about such planets, such as their orbital periods, rough estimates of their sizes and a broad-brush picture of their composition (i.e., whether they are gaseous giants or smaller, rocky planets like Earth or Venus).

One popular exoplanet-hunting method relies on the fact that, just like Venus, such worlds will sometimes pass in front of their parent stars. Modern telescopes are sufficiently sensitive to note the miniscule drop in those stars' brightness as seen from Earth. Observing a transit close up, in front of a star as well-understood as the sun, offers oodles of useful data to help make sense of observations farther afield.

Eventually, though, astronomers want to do better still. In principle, a sufficiently sensitive telescope could examine the tiny fraction of the star's light that passes through the thin shell of the planetary atmosphere. Analysing that light with spectroscopy should reveal what gases make up the atmosphere - and, just possibly, the existence of alien life.

Although telescopes are not yet sensitive enough to analyse the atmospheres of remote exoplanets, they are perfectly adequate to the task of analysing Venus's. And thanks to probes that have actually visited the planet, astronomers have a pretty good idea of what the Cytherean atmosphere consists of (carbon dioxide, mostly, and lots of it, which accounts for the planet's hellish surface conditions). Both NASA and the European Space Agency were thus planning to test their telescope measurements against this known target. Such a dry run would let them calibrate their instruments and confirm that the spectroscopy method produces no surprises.

The timing is fortuitous. Though they follow a predictable pattern, transits of Venus are rare. Pairs of transits occur roughly eight years apart, with either 105 or 125 years separating them from the next pair. The last one took place in 2004; the next is due in 2117. The previous pair, in 1874 and 1882, happened before modern astronomy really took off. Contemporary stargazers were never going to miss this chance.

-- from The Economist's Babbage blog. See http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2012/06/transit-venus

9. How to Join the RASNZ

A membership application form and details can be found on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/InfoForm/membform.htm. Please note that the weblink to membership forms is case sensitive. Alternatively please send an email to the membership secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

The annual subscription rate is $75, not including the Yearbook. For overseas rates please check with the membership secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

10. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

The RASNZ administers the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund to assist Affiliated Societies with travel costs of getting a lecturer or instructor to their meetings. Details are in RASNZ By-Laws Section H.

For an application form contact the Executive Secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

11. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants may be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

12. Here and There

EVIDENCE FOR INTELLEGENT LIFE IN THE ASTEROID BELT? Vest has a visible and infrared mapping spectrometer... -- Astronomy & Geophysics, 2011, August, p.4.9.

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6000 P.O. Box 57 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Lake Tekapo 7945 New Zealand


Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore   Phone: 03 680 6000
P.O. Box 57   Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

A .pdf for this issue is not currently available.

Solar Eclipse of 2011 November 25
Jay Pasachoff

The solar eclipse of November 25 viewed from Invercargill and elsewhere.
Volume 51, number 2. June 2012. P3

BONZER: Backyard Observatories in New Zealand for Educational Radioastronomy
Ian Gallagher and Ed Budding

A short review is given of Emerald Hill Radio-interferometer, including notes on the historical context in which it arose and an illustration of how the kind of data it produces could be processed to yield significant information.
Volume 51, number 2. June 2012. P5

NACAA XXV
R W Evans

The 25th National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers was held over Easter 2012 at the University of Queensland, Brisbane. I spent three fascinating days at the convention and report briefly on the proceedings.
Volume 51, number 2. June 2012. P9

TTOS6 at NACAA XXV
Jacquie Milner

The Sixth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO6) was held as part of NACAA XXV on Monday 9th April 2012 but presentations relating to occultations were given on both days of the main convention as well.
Volume 51, number 2. June 2012. P12

The Townsend Observatory
Karen Pollard

I outline the history of the Townsend Telescope and Observatory located in the Arts Centre of Christchurch. The telescope, which is owned and operated by the University of Canterbury, was severely damaged by the collapse of the Observatory Tower in the magnitude 6.3 Christchurch earthquake of 22 February 2011, but, amazingly, the optics are entirely intact. The intention is to restore the historic telescope.
Volume 51, number 2. June 2012. P15

DSLR Photometry with Variable Stars South
Stan Walker, Mark Blackford, Glen Schrader

Forty years ago many amateurs were trying to find methods of using conventional cameras for scientific astronomy with little success. But the wheel has turned and after the complexities of classical PEP and CCD photometry it is now possible to use digital cameras, preferably DSLR, with simple techniques to obtain high quality observations in BVRc of the standard colour system. This discussion covers equipment requirements, observing and reduction methods, suitable projects and their goals and provides practical illustrations in several observational research areas.
Volume 51, number 2. June 2012. P18

The RASNZ Email newsletter is distributed by email on or near the 20th of each month. If you would like to be on the circulation list This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for a copy.

Affiliated Societies are welcome to reproduce any item in this email newsletter or on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ in their own newsletters provided an acknowledgement of the source is also included.

Contents

1. Sun Viewers Awaited
2. The Solar System in June
3. RASNZ Annual General Meeting
4. BHT Lectures: Ancient Astronomies - Ancient Worlds
5. Don Glass
6. Third International Starlight Conference
7. RASNZ Conference June 15-17
8. Transit of Venus Factsheet and Book
9. New Zealand Transit of Venus images from 1874
10. Venus Transit Photographers Sought
11. Asteroid Mining?
12. Type Ia Supernovae Have Two Origins?
13. Astronomer´s Dream: Home & Astronomy Income
14. How to Join the RASNZ
15. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
16. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
17. Poetry Corner

1. Sun Viewers Awaited

We have now sold out our initial supply of solar viewers, however a new shipment has been ordered and we await its arrival. If you wish to purchase one (or many!) of these viewers, please keep checking the RASNZ website (www.rasnz.org.nz) where the availability of the new shipment will be announced.

Glen Rowe President RASNZ.

2. The Solar System in June

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for June 2012 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Jun_12.htm. Notes for July 2012 will be on line in a few days.

Venus transit june 6

The two notable events for June are the transit of Venus on the 6th, and a partial eclipse of the moon two nights before.

Some times for the transit (NZST) are:

             Auckland   Wellington  Christchurch   Dunedin
             hr mn sec   hr mn sec    hr mn sec    hr mn sec
1st contact   10:15:31    10:15:37     10:15:43     10:15:48 am
  Altitude      24°         20°          17°          15°
2nd contact   10:33:37    10:33:45     10:33:52     10:33:58 am
Mid transit   1:29:10     1:29:19      1:29:29      1:29:39 pm
  Altitude      28°         24°          23°          21°
3rd contact    4:25:15     4:25:23      4:25:32      4:25:41 pm
4th contact    4:43:28     4:43:48      4:43:46      4:43:56 pm
  Altitude       4°          2°           2°           2°

Times for other places in New Zealand and for main cities in Australia are on the RASNZ web site along with other details of the transit. Note the need to take precautions to protect the eyes when attempting to view the Sun. Details again are on the RASNZ web site, http://www.rasnz.org.nz.

Lunar eclipse june 4

All phases of the partial eclipse of the moon on June 4 are visible from New Zealand. The umbral phase starts 3 seconds before 10 pm, NZST, when the Earth´s shadow will start to move onto the right side of the moon. Maximum eclipse is just over an hour later at 11:03:14 pm. 37% of the moon will be eclipsed, the shadow being on the upper right part of the moon. The umbra leaves the moon just after midnight at 12:06:28 am, at about the 11 o'clock position.

The penumbral phase starts at 8:48:04 pm and ends at 1:18:24 am.

The planets in june

Mercury moves into the evening sky and will be visible to the west after sunset by the end of the month. Mars remains prominent early evening but is low late evening. Saturn is easily visible all evening.

Venus reappears in the dawn sky after its trip across the Sun and will move up to be alongside Jupiter by the end of June.

Planets in the evening sky

Mercury was at superior conjunction at the end of May. It will become visible in the early evening sky during the second half of June. It sets about 75 minutes after the Sun mid month and about 2 hours later on the 30th.

Mid June Mercury will be magnitude -0.5, but will fade by almost a magnitude by the 30th. By then it will set a good 2 hours after the Sun and be 8 or 9° above the horizon almost to the northwest an hour after sunset. Nearly 20° to its left Procyon will be similar in magnitude and slightly higher. Sirius will be still further left, a little south of west, 25° from Procyon and distinctly higher.

On the 21st the moon, as a very thin crescent, will be to 7° to the left of Mercury. The following night the moon, now 6.5% lit will be a similar distance above Mercury so should act as a marker for the planet, if one is needed.

MARS sets shortly before midnight by the end of June, so will be easiest
to see early in the evening once the sky darkens.  It transits close to 7
pm at the beginning of June and some 40 minutes after sunset on the 30th.

The planet will be in Leo most of the month, moving steadily to the east and away from Regulus. The two will be some 30° apart by the end of June. A few days before that, on the 26th, Mars crosses into Virgo as it moves towards Saturn.

During June the distance between Earth and Mars increases from 178 million km (1.19 AU) to 211 million km (1.41 AU). It will correspondingly lose brightness, its magnitude changing from 0.5 to 0.9, so becoming slightly fainter than Saturn.

The 41% lit moon will be 5° to the left of Mars on June 26, the two being closest late evening.

Saturn is in Virgo making a pair with Spica all month. The planet will be moving slowly to the west until the 26th when it is stationary. It will then start moving to the east. Its position relative to Spica will barely change during June with the two less than 5° apart.

Saturn is highest at about 9.20 on the 1st, almost 2 hours earlier by the 30th. At the time of transit the planet will be almost directly below Spica and nearly a half a magnitude brighter than the star.

The moon joins Saturn and Spica twice during June. On the 1st the 85% lit moon will be just under 3° to the right of Spica and a little over 6° to the upper right of Saturn. Almost 4 weeks later, on the 28th, the moon, now 63% lit, will be slightly closer to the two, 2° from Spica and less than 6° from Saturn.

MORNING SKY VENUS moves into the morning sky quite rapidly following its transit as it will be moving to the west in the opposite direction of the Sun. By the 14th Venus will rise an hour before the Sun, by the end of June two and a half hours earlier. So it will be easily visible to the northeast shortly before sunrise.

The planet is in fact stationary on the 27th, so by the end of the month its distance from the Sun will not be increasing so rapidly. But it will also have almost caught up with Jupiter. On the last morning of the month the two planets will be almost level with Venus just under 5° to the right of Jupiter. Venus will be in the Hyades cluster with Aldebaran under 3° to the right of Venus.

On the morning of the 18th while Venus is still some way below Jupiter, the crescent moon will be about 3° to the left of Venus which will place the planet about midway between the moon and Aldebaran.

Jupiter will be moving to the east through the stars although not as quickly as the Sun. As a result its distance from the Sun will increase but more slowly than Venus´s.

On the 1st Jupiter rises a little over an hour before the Sun. Half an hour before sunrise it will be about 5° up a little to the east of northeast. It will gradually gain altitude during the rest of June so that it, like Venus, will rise two and a half hours before the Sun by the 30th.

Jupiter is also in Taurus, early in June it will be nearly above the Pleiades, by the end of June it will be more or less level with them but 6° to their right. So Pleiades, Jupiter, Venus and Aldebaran will form a line to the northeast. The Pleiades are likely to be difficult to see in twilight without an optical aid.

The crescent moon will 6° to the upper right of Jupiter on the morning of June 17. The following morning the moon, when near Venus, will be a similar distance below Jupiter.


Uranus crosses a corner of Cetus close to Pisces during June. Its magnitude is 5.9 early in June, brightening slightly to 5.8 by the end of the month. It rises a little after 2am on the 1st and a few minutes after midnight on the 30th.

Neptune is in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9. It rises about 11.30 pm on June 1 and almost two hours earlier at the end of the month.

Both Uranus and Neptune will be easiest to observe as morning objects.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres and (4) Vesta are also both in the morning sky above Jupiter. On the morning of June 1 Vesta will be about 14° higher than Jupiter, with Ceres half that distance. They will then be in Aries. By the end of June both asteroids will have moved into Taurus, with Ceres only 4° above Jupiter, and slightly over 5 from Venus. Vesta will be about 6° to the upper left of Jupiter.

Ceres will be at magnitude 9.1, with Vesta a little brighter at 8.4.

No other asteroids are within reach of binoculars during June.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2012.

3. RASNZ Annual General Meeting

The 89th Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand will be held on Saturday 16 June 2012 at the Carterton Events Centre, Carterton, beginning at the end of the conference proceedings for the day, about 4pm. Notices of motion are invited and should reach the Executive Secretary by 5 May 2012.

-- Rory O´Keeffe, Executive Secretary.

4. BHT Lectures: Ancient Astronomies - Ancient Worlds

The 2012 Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lectures are being given by Clive Ruggles, Emeritus Professor of Archaeoastronomy at the University of Leicester, UK. The lectures are organised by the RASNZ Lecture Trust.

Christchurch: Saturday June 9th, 7:30pm, C3 Lecture Room, University of Canterbury. Carterton: Sunday June 17th, likely 3pm but to be confirmed, Events Centre, Holloway St, Carterton. Napier: Monday June 18th, 7:00pm, Napier War Memorial Centre, Marine Parade, Napier. Auckland: Tuesday June 19th, 7:30pm, Auckland Museum.

Abstract We know a good deal about ancient astronomical knowledge and practices in places such as ancient China and Babylonia from the evidence contained in their recorded history, but people all over the world strived to make sense of what they saw in the sky long before the written record existed. What can we ever know of this?

Many people have suggested that Stonehenge and many other prehistoric constructions around the world provide proof of sophisticated sky knowledge that existed as far back in the Stone Age. If that is so, how did our distant ancestors acquire it and how did they use it?

In the absence of written evidence, we must find indications in the evidence available to the archaeologist: things such as man-made objects, human debris, and the layout of monuments and buildings. There are also valuable clues in beliefs and practices that have survived among indigenous peoples right through to modern times. Trying to make sense of this type of evidence is the business of the fields of study that have become known as archaeoastronomy and ethnoastronomy.

As Clive will show, some of the world´s most iconic ancient monuments provide tantalising glimpses of long lost beliefs and practices relating to the sky, although they often have to be interpreted with considerable caution. Taking in examples from many different parts of the world, including his own ongoing field projects in Europe, Peru and Hawaii, Clive will use these insights to build up a broad picture of the diverse ways in which ancient peoples perceived and understood the world-the cosmos-within which they dwelt.

Professor Ruggles His is apparently the first University Chair in this subject to be created in the world. Archaeoastronomy is the study of beliefs and practices related to the sky in the past, and Clive trained as an astrophysicist before switching fields and becoming an archaeologist.

Clive has worked in many parts of the world and has published books, papers and articles on subjects ranging from prehistoric Europe and pre- Columbian America to ancient Greece, Egypt, Polynesia and indigenous astronomies in Africa. He has ongoing fieldwork projects in Peru and Hawaii as well as various parts of Europe, and is a leading figure in a joint initiative by UNESCO and the International Astronomical Union to promote, preserve, and protect the world's most important astronomical heritage sites.

His work in South America hit the headlines in March 2007 with the publication in the journal Science of his work with Peruvian archaeologist Ivan Ghezzi on the Thirteen Towers of Chankillo, a 2300-year old solar observation site. His books include Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland (Yale UP, 1999), Ancient Astronomy: An Encyclopedia of Cosmologies and Myth (ABC-CLIO, 2005), Skywatching in the Ancient World: New Perspectives in Cultural Astronomy, edited with anthropologist Gary Urton (Colorado, 2007), and most recently Heritage Sites of Astronomy and Archaeoastronomy, edited with technology historian Michel Cotte (ICOMOS- IAU 2010) and Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy: Building Bridges between Cultures (Cambridge UP, 2011), the Proceedings of the first IAU Symposium to be devoted to this topic.

Clive´s website is www.cliveruggles.net.

5. Don Glass

Don Glass, a long-standing member of the RASNZ and former President of the Hawera Astronomical Society, passed away on May 4th. He was 90. Older RASNZ members will recall Don's attendance at Conferences over many years.

Don was President of the Hawera Astronomical Society for 21 years to 2000. This time is remembered by locals as golden years for the society.

We hope to have memories of Don in a later Newsletter or Southern Stars. In the meantime there is much background on Don at http://www.pukeariki.com/Research/TaranakiResearchCentre/TaranakiStories/T aranakiStory/id/604/title/steering-by-the-stars.aspx which also appeared in Southern Stars, Volume 42, number 4. December 2003. Pp 17-19.

-- Thanks to Daniel Hovell, President of the Hawera Astronomical Society, and to Rod Austin.

6. Third International Starlight Conference

The Starlight Conference is at Lake Tekapo, 11-13 June 2012. The website is accepting registrations. Visit www.starlight2012.org for full details.

It will be a multidisciplinary conference on the scientific and cultural benefits of observing dark starlit skies. The meeting will be of interest to RASNZ members and to many other interest groups in education, tourism, environmental protection and to those interested in the cultural and ethnic aspects of astronomy.

The Starlight Conference is jointly hosted by the University of Canterbury and by RASNZ, and is being sponsored by the University of Canterbury, by RASNZ, by the Royal Society of NZ, by Endeavour Capital Ltd and by the NZ National Commission to UNESCO.

-- Abridged from a note by John Hearnshaw.

7. RASNZ Conference June 15-17

The Annual RASNZ Conference is now less than four weeks away. The programme has come together, and we think there will be something there to interest everyone.

Don't forget our Guest Speakers - Clive Ruggles and Wayne Orchiston. There is information about them and their topics on the RASNZ Webpage. And also, Ed Budding will give the Fellows Lecture on the Friday night following the opening. We look forward to what everyone delivers in their papers.

We have had one or two queries regarding costs. I guess this is something that goes through everyone's mind at some stage. All we can say is that Conference costs are kept as low as possible without compromising standards - and compared to other groupings of amateur and professional scientists who hold conferences similar to ours, the RASNZ Conference is possibly the least expensive of any of them and delivers excellent value for money, if past feedback is anything to go by. Interestingly the 2012 Conference is easily the LEAST expensive conference since at least 2008. So while people's income have been increasing, we have actually decreased costs. If we had held conference in one of the main centres, as one or two have suggested, then costs by my calculations would be in the vicinity of 30% higher - and not to mention the higher accommodation costs that one pays in larger centres.

Some of us have already seen the venue - the Carterton Events Centre. We are all very impressed with this facility.

So, all that remains now is for members (including members of Affiliated Societies) to register (if you haven't already), and turn up. All information you need is on the registration form etc - click on 'conference' on the webpage. If you have any late queries please get those to us as soon as possible - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - so we can get quick responses back to you.

Ok - let's see you all at conference, then.

-- Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee.

8. Transit of Venus Factsheet and Book

An Astronomical Society of Australia Factsheet is available, describing the Transit of Venus on 6 June. It can be found on the ASA's Australian Astronomy web site (http://www.astronomy.org.au). The specific link is: http://www.astronomy.org.au/ngn/engine.php?SID=1000011&AID=100326 . The sheet may be freely copied for wide distribution provided the Australian Astronomy and ASA logos are retained.

This information is provided by Nick Lomb (Sydney Observatory) and Martin George (Launcestion Planetarium) as initiative of the ASA Education and Public Outreach Chapter. Nick also has a book out on the subject - see http://www.sydneyobservatory.com.au/2011/transit-of-venus-the-book/

-- John O'Byrne, Secretary of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

------------- For a really good history of the transits see "The Transits of Venus" by William Sheehan and John Westfall, published by Prometheus Books, New York, 2004. ISBN 1-59102-175-8. -- Ed.

9. New Zealand Transit of Venus images from 1874

William Tobin has managed to track down some of the dozen or so photographic plates of the transit of Venus taken by the British expedition at Burnham in 1874. They are free to use, and can be downloaded from http://tobin.pagesperso-orange.fr/

10. Venus Transit Photographers Sought

Jeff Baldwin of California seeks the cooperation of a NZ observer in obtaining the parallax of Venus from transit photography. Jeff writes: I am looking for somebody who will participate in photographing the transit at ten minute intervals as I will, after which we would exchange photographs. I teach an astronomy class, and this is an opportunity to measure the distance between the Earth and the Sun using the parallax shift observed in Venus´s position in front of the Sun by two observers on opposite sides of the Earth. I'm in California and there is a period of time in which the transit is visible to both of us, and we are nearly as stretched out on opposites as you can get.

For more information contact Jeff Baldwin This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

-- Rolf Carstens forwarded this request to the nzastronomers group.

11. Asteroid Mining?

Can reality trump art? That was the question hovering over the launch on April 24th, at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, of a plan by a firm called Planetary Resources to mine metals from asteroids and bring them back to Earth.

It sounds like the plot of a film by James Cameron - and, appropriately,
Mr Cameron is indeed one of the company´s backers. The team behind the
firm, however, claim they are not joking. The company´s founders are Peter
Diamandis, instigator of the X Prize, awarded in 2004 to Paul Allen and
Burt Rutan for the first private space flight, and Eric Anderson, another
of whose companies, Space Adventures, has already shot seven tourists into
orbit. Larry Page and Eric Schmidt, respectively the chief executive and
the chairman of Google, are also involved. So, too, is Charles Symonyi,
the engineer who oversaw the creation of Microsoft´s Office software (and
who has been into space twice courtesy of Mr Anderson´s firm). With a
cast-list like that, it is at least polite to take them seriously.

As pies in the sky go, some asteroids do look pretty tasty. A lot are unconsolidated piles of rubble left over from the beginning of the solar system. Many, though, are pieces of small planets that bashed into each other over the past few billion years. These, in particular, will be high on Planetary Resources´ shopping list because the planet-forming processes of mineral-melting and subsequent stratification into core, mantle and crust will have sorted their contents in ways that can concentrate valuable materials into exploitable ores. On Earth, for example, platinum and its allied elements, though rare at the surface, are reckoned more common in the planet´s metal-rich core. The same was probably true of the planets shattered to make asteroids. Indeed, the discovery of a layer of iridium-rich rock (iridium being one of platinum´s relatives) was the first sign geologists found of the asteroid impact that is believed to have killed the dinosaurs. Most asteroids dwell between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. But enough of them, known as near-Earth asteroids, or NEAs, come within interplanetary spitting distance of humanity for it to be worth investigating them as sources of minerals - if, of course, that can be done economically.

The first thing is to locate a likely prospect. At the moment, about 9,000 NEAs are known, most of them courtesy of ground-based programmes looking for bodies that might one day hit Earth. That catalogue is a good start, but Planetary Resources plans to go further. In 2014 it intends to launch, at a cost of a few million dollars, a set of small space telescopes whose purpose will be to seek out asteroids which are easy to get to and whose orbits return them to the vicinity of Earth often enough for the accumulated spoils of a mining operation to be downloaded at frequent intervals.

That bit should not be too difficult. But the next phase will be tougher. In just over a decade, when a set of suitable targets has been identified, the firm plans to send a second wave of spacecraft out to take a closer look at what has been found. This is a significantly bigger challenge than getting a few telescopes into orbit. It is still, though, conceivable using existing technology. It is after this that the handwaving really starts.

Broadly, there are two ways to get the goodies back to Earth. The first is to attempt to mine a large NEA in its existing orbit, dropping off a payload every time it passes by. That is the reason for the search for asteroids with appropriate orbits. This approach will, however, require intelligent robots which can work by themselves for years, digging and processing the desirable material. The other way of doing things is for the company to retrieve smaller asteroids, put them into orbit around Earth or the moon, and then dissect them at its leisure. But that limits the value of the haul and risks a catastrophic impact if something goes wrong while the asteroid is being manoeuvred.

Either way, the expense involved promises to be out of this world. A recent feasibility study for the Keck Institute for Space Studies reckoned that the retrieval of a single 500-tonne asteroid to the moon would cost more than $2.5 billion. Earlier research suggested that, to have any chance of success, an asteroid-mining venture would need to be capitalised to the tune of $100 billion. Moreover, a host of new technologies will be required, including more-powerful solar panels, electric-ion engines, extraterrestrial mining equipment and robotic refineries.

All of which can, no doubt, be done if enough money and ingenuity are applied to the project. But the real doubt over this sort of enterprise is not the supply, but the demand. Platinum, iridium and the rest are expensive precisely because they are rare. Make them common, by digging them out of the heart of a shattered planet, and they will become cheap. The most important members of the team, then, may not be the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who put up the drive and the money, nor the engineers who build the hardware that makes it all possible, but the economists who try to work out the effect on the price of platinum when a mountain of the stuff arrives from outer space.

-- From The Economist April 28th 2012, p. 72. For the original article see http://www.economist.com/node/21553419

12. Type Ia Supernovae Have Two Origins?

The exploding stars known as Type Ia supernovae serve an important role in measuring the universe, and were used to discover the existence of dark energy. They are bright enough to see across large distances, and similar enough to act as a 'standard candle' -- an object of known luminosity. The 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the discovery of the accelerating universe using Type Ia supernovae. However, an embarrassing fact is that astronomers still don't know what star systems make Type Ia supernovae.

Two very different models explain the possible origin of Type Ia supernovae, and different studies support each model. New evidence shows that both models are correct -- some of these supernovae are created one way and some the other.

Type Ia supernovae are known to originate from white dwarfs -- the dense cores of dead stars. White dwarfs are also called degenerate stars because they are supported by quantum degeneracy pressure.

In the single-degenerate model for a supernova, a white dwarf gathers material from a companion star until it reaches a tipping point where a runaway nuclear reaction begins and the star explodes. In the double-degenerate model, two white dwarfs merge and explode. Single-degenerate systems should have gas from the companion star around the supernova, while the double-degenerate systems will lack that gas.

A group of U.S. astronomers studied 23 Type Ia supernovae to look for signatures of gas around the supernovae. Gas should be present only in single-degenerate systems. They found that the more powerful explosions tended to come from 'gassy' systems, or systems with outflows of gas. However, only a fraction of supernovae show evidence for outflows. The remainder seem to come from double-degenerate systems, two white dwarfs merging. The conclusion is that there are definitely two kinds of environments -- with and without outflows of gas. Both are found around Type Ia supernovae.

This finding has important implications for measurements of dark energy and the expanding universe. If two different mechanisms are at work in Type Ia supernovae, then the two types must be considered separately when calculating cosmic distances and expansion rates. "It's like measuring the universe with a mix of yardsticks and meter sticks -- you'll get about the same answer, but not quite. To get an accurate answer, you need to separate the yardsticks from the meter sticks," explained Ryan Foley, one of the team of astronomers.

This study raises an interesting question -- if two different mechanisms create Type Ia supernovae, why are they homogeneous enough to serve as standard candles? "How can supernovae coming from different systems look so similar? I don't have the answer for that," said Foley.

The paper describing this research will appear in the Astrophysical Journal and is available online at http://arxiv.org/abs/1203.2916

For text & Images see http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2012/pr201214.html

-- From a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

13. Astronomer´s Dream: Home & Astronomy Income

New large 4 bedroom house (150 square meters - plus double garage) with separate self-contained studio accommodation business. Private spa pool. Observatory: 4 meter (school sized) observatory on front lawn housing 15- inch Newtonian telescope. Parking for 3+ vehicles. Established gardens including a banana grove at the rear of the property. 5 minutes walk to beautiful Baylys beach in affordable sunny Northland. 2 km to golf course. 15 minutes to all the local amenities. Reluctantly selling due to a change in family circumstances and the need to relocate due to current family needs but would prefer not to have to dismantle the observatory and shut down the business. I would love to find someone else who could carry on the 'Astronomy Adventures' business. Please contact Deborah on 09 439 1856 or by e-mail for more details This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

For a video made in 2010 where Astronomy Adventures featured on Marcus Lush North check out: http://tvnz.co.nz/north/marcus-lush-goes-up-while-4009197 - episode 3 first ten minutes.

14. How to Join the RASNZ

A membership application form and details can be found on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/InfoForm/membform.htm. Please note that the weblink to membership forms is case sensitive. Alternatively please send an email to the membership secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

The annual subscription rate is $75. For overseas rates please check with the membership secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

15. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

The RASNZ administers the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund to assist Affiliated Societies with travel costs of getting a lecturer or instructor to their meetings. Details are in RASNZ By-Laws Section H.

For an application form contact the Executive Secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

16. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants may be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

17. Poetry Corner (Verse or Worse)

Twinkle,twinkle, little star, I don't wonder what you are; I surmise your spot in space When you left your missile base. Any wondering I do Centers on the price of you, And I shudder when I think What you're costing us per twink. (William W. Pratt)

Passed along by Graeme Kershaw who saw it in the Readers' Digest 50 years ago. The sentiment could now be applied to the International Space Station. While we're on the subject, the following bears repeating in this age of management-speak. The original:

Twinkle, twinkle little star; How I wonder what you are, Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone, When he nothing shines upon, Then you show your little light; Twinkle, twinkle all the night.

When the traveller in the dark Thanks you for your tiny spark. He could not see which way to go If you did not twinkle so. (Jane Taylor)

The same three stanzas as paraphrased by some anonymous genius:

Scintillate scintillate, globule vivific; Fain would I fathom your nature specific, Loftily poised in the ether capacious, Strongly resembling a gem carbonaceous.

When torrid Phoebus removeth his presence, Ceasing to lamp us with fierce incandescence, Then you illumine the regions supernal; Scintillate, scintillate, sempi-nocturnal.

The victim of lustreless peregrination Gracefully hails your minute coruscation. He could not determine his journey's direction But for your scintillative protection.

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6000 P.O. Box 57 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Lake Tekapo 7945 New Zealand


Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore   Phone: 03 680 6000
P.O. Box 57   Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

The RASNZ Email newsletter is distributed by email on or near the 20th of each month. If you would like to be on the circulation list This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for a copy.

Affiliated Societies are welcome to reproduce any item in this email newsletter or on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ in their own newsletters provided an acknowledgement of the source is also included.

Contents

1. Sun Viewers for Venus Transit
2. The Solar System in May
3. RASNZ Annual General Meeting
4. Third International Starlight Conference
5. RASNZ Conference June 15-17
6. Astronomer´s Dream: Home & Astronomy Income
7. Venus Transit Photographers Sought
8. Satellite Galaxies Threaten Dark Matter
9. Find Hubble's Best Pictures
10. Yellow Supergiants Surveyed in LMC and M33
11. Solar 'Climate Change' Could Cause Rougher Space Weather
12. Earth's Minimoons
13. How to Join the RASNZ
14. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
15. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
16. Here and There

1. Sun Viewers for Venus Transit

Solar viewers suitable for observing the transit of Venus now available.

The RASNZ has sourced a supply of viewers that will be ideal for viewing the transit of Venus that will take place, and be visible from New Zealand weather permitting, on 6 June 2012.

These viewers have been safety tested by one of the world's leading authorities on solar viewing devices and provide full eye protection when observing the Sun directly. Note that the viewer should not be used in conjunction with any optical device such as telescope, binoculars, camera etc.

During the transit, Venus is of sufficient apparent diameter to be able to be seen by eye through the filter. Later in the year an eclipse of the Sun will occur and the viewer will also provide a safe and easy way to observe this event, too. Each viewer is supplied with an information sheet about these two events.

Order your Solar Viewers by going to: http://www.rasnz..org.nz/Sales/SolarViewers.html

-- Glen Rowe, President RASNZ. ----------------------------------

Jennie McCormick adds:

These handy viewers have been safety tested for RASNZ by Associate Professor Ralph Chou (School of Optometry, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) for use during the Transit of Venus on the 6th of June and the Partial Eclipse on November 14th this year.

Your astronomical society or group may like to place an order to sell the viewers to the local community - a perfect way to fundraise, to promote your group, or to use during your own organised events.

There is nothing like exciting astronomical 'goings on' to stir the public's imagination and to get everyone along to check out what your group gets up to.

To order online see http://www.rasnz.org.nz/Sales/SolarViewers.html

Orders for 1 to 9 viewers $2.50 each Orders for 10 to 99 viewers $2.00 each Orders for 100 or more viewers $1.50 each All prices include postage and packing.

As these events will take place during the working week, family, friends, workmates and local schools might like to order a few, so please pass on the information.

2. The Solar System in May

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for May 2012 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/May_12.htm. Notes for June 2012 will be on line in a few days.

The planets in may

Jupiter is at conjunction with the Sun on May 13, so will be too close to the Sun to observe during the month.

Venus is low in the sky to the northwest following sunset early in the month but is much lower later in May. Mars and Saturn are easy evening objects all month

Mercury starts May as an easy morning object but disappears later in May.

Planets in the evening sky

Venus sets about 100 minutes after the Sun in the first part of the month so will be an obvious object, low to the northwest, after sunset. The planet is stationary on May 16, after which it starts moving back to the west and towards the Sun. As a result it will rapidly get lower in the evening sky to disappear before the end of May. Inferior conjunction, with the transit of Venus, is of course on June 6.

Venus is in Taurus throughout May, only a few degrees from El Nath, beta Tau, at magnitude 1.7 the second brightest star in the constellation. The star and planet are closest on May 7 when they are less than a degree apart with Venus above El Nath. During the next few evenings, while Venus is still moving to the east, the distance between the two increases slightly. After being stationary, Venus will swing back again but now a little further above the star, but they remain less than 2 degrees apart up to the 20th. By then El Nath will be so low it will be very difficult to see even in binoculars.

On the evening of May 23 the moon will be just under 6 degrees above Venus. The moon will be a very thin crescent only 4% lit. 15 minutes after sunset, Venus will be to the northwest only 5 degrees above the horizon.

Mars is highest and to the north about 8.30 pm on May 1 and 7.00 pm on the 31st. So it is best placed for observation early evening. Later in the evening it will be to the northwest and lower. Having been stationary in April, the planet will be moving steadily to the east through Leo. This will take it away from Regulus, alpha Leo, their separation increasing to nearly 15 degrees by the end of May.

The distance of the Earth from Mars increases from 141.5 million km on May 1 to 177 million km on May 31. Consequently the brightness of the planet drops from magnitude 0.0 to 0.5 during the month. That is still considerably brighter than the 1.4 of Regulus.

The 70% lit moon will be 7 degrees from Regulus and Mars on May 1. The moon will be at the top of a near isosceles triangle formed by the three. On the 29th the moon will again be above Mars and a little closer to the planet. The moon will then be just past first quarter.

Saturn is following Mars across the evening sky. It is highest at about 11.30 pm at the beginning of May advancing to about 9.30 pm by the end of the month. Saturn is nearly 20 degrees further south than Mars so will transit that much higher than the red planet.

Saturn will remain in Virgo during May, moving slowly in a retrograde sense to the west. It will be 5°; from Spica, so the two forming an obvious pair with Saturn below Spica much of the evening. By late evening the rotation of the sky will bring Saturn more round to the right of Spica.

Saturn´s magnitude will drop from 0.3 to 0.5 during May, so it and Mars will be similar in brightness. Spica is a little fainter than Saturn at magnitude 1.1.

The moon, just short of full will be at its closest to Saturn and Spica on the evening of May 4. At 9 pm the moon will be 5 degrees to the upper left of Spica and just over 8 degrees from Saturn.

Morning sky

Mercury is visible in the morning sky in the first part of May, the brightest object low in the sky about 20 degrees north of east. During May, Mercury will be getting further from the Earth. Even so it will brighten as it moves further round the Sun and becomes more fully lit. The planet´s altitude, as seen from Wellington 45 minutes before sunrise, will drop from 14 degrees on the 1st to 4 degrees on the 16th. So by about the latter date it is likely to be lost to view despite being at magnitude -0.9.

The planet is at superior conjunction on May 27 when it will be 198 million km from the Earth, 46 million km from the Sun. After conjunction it begins to move into the evening sky.

About the middle of May, Mercury will move past the asteroid Vesta, magnitude 8.3. The two will be moving on almost parallel paths, Mercury considerably faster than Vesta. They are closest, 3 degrees apart, on the 12th. On the 11th the two will be at about the same level, Mercury to the left of Vesta. A 4th magnitude star will be between them, just under 1 degree from asteroid. The following morning Mercury and Vesta will be closest, 3 degrees apart, with Mercury a little lower than Vesta and the star will be slightly higher. It may be possible to see Vesta in binoculars an hour before sunrise when the Sun is 12 degrees below the horizon.

Jupiter moves into the morning sky after conjunction with the Sun on May 13. It will be too low to see for most of the month. On the last morning of May Jupiter will rise one hour before the Sun. Half an hour before sunrise at the beginning of civil twilight, it will be 5 degrees up in a direction some 30 degrees to the north of east.


Uranus, magnitude 5.9, starts May in Pisces but crosses into a corner of Cetus on the 12th. At the beginning of the month it rises about 4.20 am and two hours earlier by the end of the month.

Neptune, magnitude 7.9, rises about 1.30 am on May 1 and before midnight by the end of the month. The planet is in Aquarius throughout May.

Brighter asteroids:

Both Ceres and Vesta emerge from the Sun into the morning sky during May, with Vesta leading by 6 to 7 degrees. At the beginning of the month Vesta is 12 degrees from the Sun, Ceres only 6. By the 31st the elongations will have increased to 27 degrees and 20 degrees respectively. The magnitude of Ceres will be about 9 while Vesta is 8.4. Both will be in Aries by the end of May.

No other asteroids are within reach of binoculars during May.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2012.

3. RASNZ Annual General Meeting

The 89th Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand will be held on Saturday 16 June 2012 at the Carterton Events Centre, Carterton, beginning at the end of the conference proceedings for the day, about 4pm. Notices of motion are invited and should reach the Executive Secretary by 5 May 2012.

-- Rory O´Keeffe, Executive Secretary.

4. Third International Starlight Conference

The Starlight Conference is at Lake Tekapo, 11-13 June 2012. The website is accepting registrations and on-line requests to give an oral or poster paper. Visit www.starlight2012.org for full details.

It will be a multidisciplinary conference on the scientific and cultural benefits of observing dark starlit skies. The meeting will be of interest to RASNZ members and to many other interest groups in education, tourism, environmental protection and to those interested in the cultural and ethnic aspects of astronomy. As participation will be limited, early registration is encouraged.

The Starlight Conference is jointly hosted by the University of Canterbury and by RASNZ, and is being sponsored by the University of Canterbury, by RASNZ, by the Royal Society of NZ, by Endeavour Capital Ltd and by the NZ National Commission to UNESCO.

-- Abridged from a note by John Hearnshaw.

5. RASNZ Conference June 15-17

Well, less than two months to go until Conference and things are coming together nicely. And our grateful thanks to The Phoenix Astronomical Society and the Carterton Events Centre for the work they are putting into this.

A reminder that registrations need to be in by 15 May to avoid the late registration fee. So if you haven't yet registered please do so as soon as possible. Additional information re accommodation and transport is available on the registration form. And all the information you may need is on the Conference link on the RASNZ Webpage - www.rasnz.org.nz

Don't forget the Astronomy Outreach Workshop that will run day time Friday. This will appeal to anyone who is involved in public and/or educational astronomy outreach. You can register for this at the same time you register for the main conference.

At the time I write this there is still room for a few more papers. One thing I'd like some feedback on is whether we should include a Transit of Venus results session (or part session) in the programme. Conference is just over a week following the transit, and people may have some great stories and observations to share. So thoughts please.

I think most of what needs to be covered re Conference has appeared in recent newsletters, and of course lots of information is available on the RASNZ Webpage. But of anyone does have any queries please contact us - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - and we will be happy to assist. This is the main Conference for astronomers in NZ - amateur and professional. And the content of the programme should always reflect that - hopefully. There should be something for everyone.

As is now usual, we will be asking for feedback following Conference so we can strive to continually improve what we can offer. If there are any specific questions you would like us to solicit feedback from attendees on, please let us know as soon as possible.

In the meantime, however, please register as soon as possible. If you wish to give a paper/poster paper please submit this with some urgency, as the final deadline is fast approaching.

Look forward to seeing everyone in Carterton.

Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

6. Astronomer´s Dream: Home & Astronomy Income

New large 4 bedroom house (150 square meters - plus double garage) with separate self-contained studio accommodation business. Private spa pool. Observatory: 4 meter (school sized) observatory on front lawn housing 15- inch Newtonian telescope. Parking for 3+ vehicles. Established gardens including a banana grove at the rear of the property. 5 minutes walk to beautiful Baylys beach in affordable sunny Northland. 2 km to golf course. 15 minutes to all the local amenities. Reluctantly selling due to a change in family circumstances and the need to relocate due to current family needs but would prefer not to have to dismantle the observatory and shut down the business. I would love to find someone else who could carry on the 'Astronomy Adventures' business. Please contact Deborah on 09 439 1856 or by e-mail for more details This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

For a video made in 2010 where Astronomy Adventures featured on Marcus Lush North check out: http://tvnz.co.nz/north/marcus-lush-goes-up-while-4009197 - episode 3 first ten minutes.

7. Venus Transit Photographers Sought

Jeff Baldwin of California seeks the cooperation of a NZ observer in obtaining the parallax of Venus from transit photography. Jeff writes: I am looking for somebody who will participate in photographing the transit at ten minute intervals as I will, after which we would exchange photographs. I teach an astronomy class, and this is an opportunity to measure the distance between the Earth and the Sun using the parallax shift observed in Venus´s position in front of the Sun by two observers on opposite sides of the Earth. I'm in California and there is a period of time in which the transit is visible to both of us, and we are nearly as stretched out on opposites as you can get.

For more information contact Jeff Baldwin This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

-- Rolf Carstens forwarded this request to the nzastronomers group.

8. Satellite Galaxies Threaten Dark Matter

Astronomers from the University of Bonn in Germany have discovered a vast structure of satellite galaxies and clusters of stars surrounding our galaxy, stretching out across a million light-years. The work challenges the existence of dark matter, part of the standard model for the evolution of the universe.

The Milky Way consists of around three hundred thousand million stars as well as large amounts of gas and dust arranged with arms in a flat disk that wind out from a central bar. The diameter of the main part of the Milky Way is about 100,000 light years. A number of smaller satellite galaxies and globular clusters orbit at various distances from the main Galaxy.

Conventional models for the origin and evolution of the universe are based on the presence of 'dark matter', invisible material thought to make up about 23% of the content of the cosmos that has never been detected directly. In this model, the Milky Way is predicted to have far more satellite galaxies than are actually seen.

In their effort to understand exactly what surrounds our galaxy, the Bonn scientists used a range of sources from twentieth century photographic plates to images from the robotic telescope of the Sloan Deep Sky Survey. Using all this data they assembled a picture that includes bright 'classical' satellite galaxies, more recently detected fainter satellites and the younger globular clusters.

The astronomers found that all the different objects are distributed in a plane at right angles to the galactic disk. The newly-discovered structure is huge, extending from as close as 33,000 light years to as far away as one million light years from the centre of the galaxy.

As the different companions move around the Milky Way, they lose material, stars and sometimes gas, which forms long streams along their paths. The new results show that this lost material is aligned with the plane of galaxies and clusters. This shows that the objects are not only situated within this plane right now, but that they move within it. The structure is stable.

The various dark matter models struggle to explain this arrangement. In the standard theories, the satellite galaxies would have formed as individual objects before being captured by the Milky Way. They would have come from many directions. So it is next to impossible for them to end up distributed in such a thin planar structure.

The team concluded that the satellite galaxies and clusters must have formed together in one major event, a collision of two galaxies. Such collisions are relatively common. They result in large chunks of galaxies being torn out due to gravitational and tidal forces. The forces act on the stars, gas and dust in the galaxies, forming tails that are the birthplaces of new objects like star clusters and dwarf galaxies.

The evidence indicates that the Milky Way collided with another galaxy in the distant past. The other galaxy lost part of its material, material that then formed our galaxy´s satellite galaxies, the younger globular clusters, and the bulge at the galactic centre. The companions we see today are the debris of this 11 billion year old collision.

The team assert that their model appears to rule out the presence of dark matter in the universe. This threatens a central pillar of current cosmological theory. They see this as the beginning of a paradigm shift, one that will ultimately lead us to a new understanding of the universe we inhabit.

The work appears in "The VPOS: a vast polar structure of satellite galaxies, globular clusters and streams around the Milky Way", M. S. Pawlowski, J. Pflamm-Altenburg, P. Kroupa, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, in press. Preprint of the paper: http://arxiv.org/abs/1204.5176

For image and movies see http://www.astro.uni-bonn.de/~mpawlow/pr2012.html. This animation is also available on YouTube at http://youtu.be/nUwxv-WGfHM.

-- From a Royal Astronomical Society [UK] press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

--------------- For a view on dark matter's effect on the Milky Way see "Scientific American" October 2011, p.24.

9. Find Hubble's Best Pictures

Since 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has made more than a million observations. Many of these are featured on spacetelescope.org, and the most stunning are in our Top 100 gallery at <http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/archive/top100/> and iPad app.

But there are thousands of pictures in Hubble´s science archive that have only been seen by a few scientists. We call these images Hubble´s hidden treasures - stunning images of astronomical phenomena that have never been seen and enjoyed by the public. Every week, we search the archive for hidden treasures, process the scientific data <http://www.spacetelescope.org/projects/hiddentreasures/imageprocessing/> into attractive images and publish them as the Hubble Picture of the Week <http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/potw/> . But the archive is so vast that nobody really knows the full extent of what Hubble has observed.

This is where you come in. Searching Hubble´s archive for hidden treasures is a lot of fun, and it's pretty straightforward, even if you don't have advanced knowledge. So we're inviting you to come and help us find iconic Hubble images that have never before been shown to the public. See <http://www.spacetelescope.org/projects/hiddentreasures/>

-- Thanks to Joan Gladwyn for passing this request along.

10. Yellow Supergiants Surveyed in LMC and M33

Stars live for a long time, with even the most massive stars having lifetimes measured in millions of years. But, for a mere few thousand years towards the end of their lives, some massive stars go through what astronomers call the yellow supergiant phase. This is remarkably short in astronomical terms, and, as a result, stars in this phase are incredibly rare. In a recent study, astronomers from Lowell Observatory have identified hundreds of these rare yellow supergiants, and their more long- lived descendants, the red supergiants in two neighbouring galaxies.

The Lowell astronomers use these newly identified populations to provide a stringent observational test for the theoretical models which describe how these stars change from blue, to yellow and then to red. These constraints are vital because the behaviour of the models in this phase can influence many theoretical predictions, including something as basic as what types of stars explode as supernovae.

Nearby red supergiant stars include such well-known stars as Betelgeuse, Antares, and Mu Cephei, and yellow supergiant stars include names like Canopus and Rho Cassiopeiae, although these stars were not included in the study.

Using telescopes in Chile and Arizona the astronomers have observed a relatively complete set of red and yellow supergiants in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and M33. They compared their observations with computer models of stars derived by a group at Geneva Observatory, Switzerland. They found excellent agreement between their observed sample and theory in predicting the stellar lifetimes and general stellar properties during a critical period near the end of the stars' lifetimes. This is in contrast to studies from three years ago by the same teams that showed large discrepancies between yellow supergiant populations and a previous version of the Geneva evolutionary models.

These two studies were led by two young researchers at Lowell Observatory, Kathryn Neugent (lead for the LMC study) and Maria Drout (lead for the M33 study). Both involve an international collaboration with Dr. Georges Meynet (Geneva Observatory), one of the world¹s experts in stellar evolution theory.

To astronomers, the Hertzsprung-Russell (HR) diagram -- a plot of the intrinsic luminosity versus temperature of all stars -- is key to understanding the evolution of stars. For most of their lives stars are fueled by hydrogen in their cores. During this time they are constant in brightness and temperature. This is called the main sequence phase. It is well understood. However, there have been problems with understanding how the temperature and luminosity of a star rapidly changes as the core of the star is exhausted at the end of the stellar life. Understanding the late stages of stellar evolution is important for other questions, too. Yellow supergiants may be the progenitors of core-collapse supernovae, and understanding supernovae completely has important implications for cosmology.

Interpreting the HR diagram depends on mathematical models of a star's interior, which indicate how stars of different masses change with age. These models, based on knowledge of the physics of nuclear reaction rates, predict how a star of a given mass will change in temperature and luminosity over its lifetime. The models require careful comparison with actual observations.

Suppose curious aliens visited Earth and, from a quick schoolyard survey, noted that human weight and height increase with age. The aliens might propose a model for human growth in which weight and height increase smoothly with age, but this model would not allow for adolescent growth spurts or middle age. If they compared their model with further measurements of fast sprouting teenagers, they would be puzzled. This is akin to the problem astronomers have faced in understanding the red and yellow supergiants. Previous evolutional models predicted far too many yellow supergiants. Theoretical yellow supergiants seem to live much longer than the real stars in nature. This may resonate with those familiar with star names: it's easy to come up with examples of red supergiants like Betelgeuse. It is more difficult to think of examples of yellow supergiants. That's because yellow supergiant lifetimes are measured in only a few tens of thousands of years.

The Lowell group studied the supergiants in nearby galaxies, rather than our own Milky Way, to avoid the problems of identifying and characterizing stars at different distances. First, they selected stars based on their colours and angular motion across the sky. Then they looked at their spectra. The spectra show a star's radial velocity: motion towards or away from us. This is key to deciding which stars are actually foreground red and yellow stars in our own Milky Way galaxy masquerading as red supergiants in these other galaxies.

Published version of the LMC paper: ttp://lanl.arxiv.org/abs/1202.4225 Preprint of the M33 paper accepted for publication: http://lanl.arxiv.org/abs/1203.0247 Text & Images: http://www.noao.edu/news/2012/pr1201.php

-- from a National Optical Astronomy Observatory press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

11. Solar 'Climate Change' Could Cause Rougher Space Weather

Recent research shows that the space age has coincided with a period of unusually high solar activity, called a grand maximum. Isotopes in ice sheets and tree rings tell us that this grand solar maximum is one of 24 during the last 9,300 years and suggest the high levels of solar magnetic field seen over the space age will reduce in future. This decline will cause a reduction in sunspot numbers and explosive solar events, but those events that do take place could be more damaging. Graduate student Luke Barnard of the University of Reading will present new results on 'solar climate change' in his paper at the National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester.

The level of radiation in the space environment is of great interest to scientists and engineers as it poses various threats to man-made systems including damage to electronics on satellites. It can also be a health hazard to astronauts and to a lesser extent the crew of high-altitude aircraft.

The main sources of radiation are galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), which are a continuous flow of highly energetic particles from outside our solar system and solar energetic particles (SEPs), which are accelerated to high energies in short bursts by explosive events on the Sun. The amount of radiation in the near-Earth environment from these two sources is partly controlled in a complicated way by the strength of the Sun's magnetic field.

There are theoretical predictions supported by observational evidence that a decline in the average strength of the Sun's magnetic field would lead to an increase in the amount of GCRs reaching near-Earth space. Furthermore there are predictions that, although a decline in solar activity would mean less frequent bursts of SEPs, the bursts that do occur would be larger and more harmful.

Currently spacecraft and aircraft are only designed and operated to offer suitable protection from the levels of radiation that have been observed over the course of the space age. A decline in solar activity would result in increased amounts of radiation in near-Earth space and therefore increased risk of harm to spacecraft and aircraft and the astronauts and aircraft crews that operate them.

By comparing this grand maximum with 24 previous examples, Mr. Barnard predicts that there is an 8% chance that solar activity will fall to the very low levels seen in the so-called 'Maunder minimum', a period during the seventeenth century when very few sunspots were seen. In this instance, the flux of GCRs would probably increase by a factor of 2.5 from present day values and the probability of observing a large SEP event will fall from the presently seen 5 down to 2 events per century.

However, the more probable scenario is that solar activity will decline to approximately half its current value in the next 40 years, in which case the flux of GCRs will increase by a factor of 1.5 and the probability of large SEP events to increase from the current value to 8 events per century. As a result the near-Earth space radiation environment will probably become more hazardous in the next 40 years.

In presenting his results, Mr. Barnard comments: "Radiation in space can be a serious issue for both people and the delicate electronic systems that society depends on. Our research shows that this problem is likely to get worse over the coming decades -- and that engineers will need to work even harder to mitigate its impact." For text and images see http://www.jodrellbank.manchester.ac.uk/meetings/nam2012/pressreleases/nam12.html -- from a Royal Astronomical Society [UK] press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

12. Earth's Minimoons

Earth usually has more than one moon, according to a team of astronomers from the University of Helsinki, the Paris Observatory and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Our 3000 km-diameter Moon has been orbiting Earth for over 4 billion years. Its much smaller cousins, dubbed 'minimoons' are thought to be only a few feet across and to usually orbit our planet for less than a year before resuming their previous lives as asteroids orbiting the Sun.

The team calculated the probability that at any given time Earth has more than one moon. They used a supercomputer to simulate the passage of 10 million asteroids past Earth. They then tracked the trajectories of the 18,000 objects that were captured by Earth's gravity. They concluded that at any given time there should be at least one asteroid with a diameter of at least one meter orbiting Earth. Of course, there may also be many smaller objects orbiting Earth, too.

According to the simulation, most asteroids that are captured by Earth's gravity would not orbit Earth in neat circles. Instead, they would follow complicated, twisting paths. This is because a minimoon would not be tightly held by Earth's gravity, so it would be tugged into a crazy path by the combined gravity of Earth, the Moon and the Sun. A minimoon would remain captured by Earth until one of those tugs breaks the pull of Earth's gravity, and the Sun once again takes control of the object¹s trajectory. While the typical minimoon would orbit Earth for about nine months, some of them could orbit our planet for decades.

In 2006, the University of Arizona's Catalina Sky Survey discovered a minimoon about the size of a car. Designated 2006 RH120, it orbited Earth for less than a year after its discovery, then resumed orbiting the Sun.

The team's paper, "The population of natural Earth satellites" appears in the March issue of the journal Icarus.

-- From a University of Hawaii Institute of Astronomy press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

13. How to Join the RASNZ

A membership application form and details can be found on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/InfoForm/membform.htm. Please note that the weblink to membership forms is case sensitive. Alternatively please send an email to the membership secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

The annual subscription rate is $75. For overseas rates please check with the membership secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

14. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

The RASNZ administers the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund to assist Affiliated Societies with travel costs of getting a lecturer or instructor to their meetings. Details are in RASNZ By-Laws Section H.

For an application form contact the Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

15. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants may be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

16. Here and There

 

MOST UNUSUAL The geology around Svalbard and Spitzbergen is most unusual. It has fossil evidence of trees that lived 300,000 million years ago. -- Exodus Travels, advertising brochure, 2011 April, p. 11.

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6000 P.O. Box 57 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Lake Tekapo 7945 New Zealand


Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore   Phone: 03 680 6000
P.O. Box 57   Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

The RASNZ Email newsletter is distributed by email on or near the 20th of each month. If you would like to be on the circulation list This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for a copy.

Affiliated Societies are welcome to reproduce any item in this email newsletter or on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ in their own newsletters provided an acknowledgement of the source is also included.

Contents

1. Sun Viewers for Venus Transit
2. The Solar System in April
3. RASNZ Annual General Meeting
4. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9
5. Third International Starlight Conference
6. RASNZ Conference June 15-17
7. 'Nomad Planets' Common?
8. The Helix Nebula in New Colours
9. ESO's 50th Anniversary
10. Globular Clusters: Survivors of an Ancient Massacre
11. IBEX Probes Interstellar Clouds
12. Superstring Theory Gives 3-D Universe
13. How to Join the RASNZ
14. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
15. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
16. Quotes

1. Sun Viewers for Venus Transit

Solar viewers suitable for observing the transit of Venus now available.

The RASNZ has sourced a supply of viewers that will be ideal for viewing the transit of Venus that will take place, and be visible from New Zealand weather permitting, on 6 June 2012.

These viewers have been safety tested by one of the world's leading authorities on solar viewing devices and provide full eye protection when observing the Sun directly. Note that the viewer should not be used in conjunction with any optical device such as telescope, binoculars, camera etc.

During the transit, Venus is of sufficient apparent diameter to be able to be seen by eye through the filter. Later in the year an eclipse of the Sun will occur and the viewer will also provide a safe and easy way to observe this event, too. Each viewer is supplied with an information sheet about these two events.

Order your Solar Viewers by going to: http://www.rasnz..org.nz/Sales/SolarViewers.html

-- Glen Rowe, President RASNZ. ----------------------------------

Jennie McCormick adds:

These handy viewers have been safety tested for RASNZ by Associate Professor Ralph Chou (School of Optometry, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) for use during the Transit of Venus on the 6th of June and the Partial Eclipse on November 14th this year.

Your astronomical society or group may like to place an order to sell the viewers to the local community - a perfect way to fundraise, to promote your group, or to use during your own organised events.

There is nothing like exciting astronomical 'goings on' to stir the public's imagination and to get everyone along to check out what your group gets up to.

To order online see http://www.rasnz.org.nz/Sales/SolarViewers.html

Orders for 1 to 9 viewers $2.50 each Orders for 10 to 99 viewers $2.00 each Orders for 100 or more viewers $1.50 each All prices include postage and packing.

As these events will take place during the working week, family, friends, workmates and local schools might like to order a few, so please pass on the information.

2. The Solar System in April

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for April 2012 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Apr_12.htm. Notes for May 2012 will be on line in a few days.

NZDT reverts to NZST on the morning of April 1.

The planets in april

Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn are all visible in the evening sky during April. Jupiter and Venus will be low to the northwest at sunset and set less than 2 hours later. Mars remains easily visible all evening, while Saturn is at opposition mid month and best seen late evening.

Mercury is at its best morning sky apparition of the year during April. It will be higher and brighter in the second half of the month, easily visible some 15° up an hour before sunrise.

Planets in the evening sky

Venus will continue to set over 90 minutes after the Sun during April - up to 2 hours after in the north of NZ. 15 minutes after sunset will find Venus to the northwest about 12° above the horizon. During the month the planet will move a few degrees round to the north and become a degree lower, again 15 minutes after sunset.

Early in April, Venus will pass the southern edge of the Pleiades. It will be closest to the cluster on the 3rd and 4th of the month. On the 3rd Venus will be 24´ from Meriope, magnitude 4.2 with the brightest star Alcyone, mag 2.8, 40´ from the planet, beyond Meriope. By the next evening Venus will have moved past Alcyone to be 32´ from the star. It will also be 13´ above Atlas, mag 3.6, the second brightest star in the Pleiades. Due to twilight binoculars will be needed to see the Pleiades.

During the rest of April Venus crosses Taurus, passing 10° below Aldebaran on the 14th and ending the month 3°left of El Nath, beta Tau magnitude 1.7. The crescent moon, 13% lit will be 5° above Venus on the 25th.

Jupiter sets earlier than Venus. At the beginning of April Jupiter will be 15° to the left of Venus and 7 or 8° above the horizon half an hour after sunset and set about 50 minutes later.

During the rest of April, Jupiter gets lower in the evening sky and so steadily becoming more difficult to see. By the end of the month it will probably be lost in the twilight, setting about 30 minutes after the Sun.

Mars is well past opposition in April and so will get a little fainter and smaller as the distance between it and the Earth increases. Even so it will remain a bright object in the northern part of the sky all evening, at its highest just after 10 pm (NZST) on April 1 and soon after 8 pm on the 30th. Its magnitude drops from -0.7 to 0.0 during the month.

Mars is in Leo, moving to the west towards Regulus early in the month. The star and planet will be closest, just over 4° apart, on April 15 when Mars is stationary. For the remainder of April, Mars will be moving to the east and so away from Regulus.

The moon, a little short of full, will pass Regulus and Mars on the nights of April 3 and 4. Regulus will be between the moon and Mars on the 3rd. The following night the moon will be to the upper right of Mars. On both evenings the separation of the moon and Mars will be about 10°. On the last day of April the moon, this time 60% lit, will again be in the vicinity, 10° to the left of Regulus. The three will form a nice triangle the following evening.

Saturn is at opposition mid April, so will be highest and due north at local midnight. At opposition Saturn will be 1304 million km from the Earth, 8.72 AU. By the end of April Saturn will rise just over half an hour before sunset, so will be readily visible to the northeast by the time the sky darkens. The planet is in Virgo about 5° below Spica. Saturn will be almost a magnitude brighter than the star.

During April Saturn´s north pole is tilted just under 14° towards the Earth. This will result in the rings being reasonably well exposed to view through a small telescope. The brightest satellite, Titan magnitude 8.4, is also visible through a small telescope. It will be at its greatest distance east of the planet at the beginning, mid and end of April, some 3´ from Saturn. On the 7th and 23rd Titan will be a similar distance to the west of Titan.

Our own moon, almost full, will be closest to Spica and Saturn on the 7th. At 10 pm the moon will be 3° to the right of Spica and just over 5° above Saturn.

Morning sky

Mercury is visible in the morning sky during April. It will be highest during the second part of the month when it will also be brighter. On the 1st it will rise about 80 minutes before the Sun, by the 8th about 2 hours before the Sun and at its greatest on April 20 close to 2.5 hours earlier. Mercury also brightens from magnitude 2 to 0 during the month. At its best near the 20th of April, and an hour before sunrise, Mercury will be about 15° up, in a direction 15° north of east. At magnitude 0.0 it will be the brightest star like object towards the east.

Mercury is at greatest elongation, 27° west of the Sun on April 19. It easterly movement through the stars will take it past Uranus. When closest on April 23, Uranus will be 2° to the left of Mercury. At magnitude 5.9, Uranus will be visible in binoculars. There will be a 5.7 star just over half a degree below and slightly right of Uranus.


Uranus becomes visible in the morning sky in the second part of April following its March conjunction with the Sun. See above for its conjunction with Mercury.

Neptune will be well up in the morning sky, 25 to 30° above Mercury. The planet is in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9.

Brighter asteroids:

(4) Vesta is in conjunction with the Sun on April 9, as is (1) Ceres on April 26. So the two brightest asteroids will be too close to the Sun to observe. By the end of April they will be moving into the morning sky.

No other asteroids are within reach of binoculars during April.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2012.

-- Brian Loader

3. RASNZ Annual General Meeting

The 2012 Annual General Meeting of RASNZ will be held during conference as usual. However the Annual Conference will be held 15 - 17 June 2012 in Carterton. This is to place the conference after the transit of Venus and the 3rd Annual International Starlight Conference which is being held in Tekapo from 11 to 13 June. Normally the AGM should be held before the end of May but Rule 64 of the RASNZ Rules allows for Council to delay the AGM for special circumstances.

Any notices of motion need to reach the RASNZ Secretary at least six weeks before the AGM, so would need to be received by 5 May 2012. A formal notice of the AGM will be sent out in the next newsletter with details of location and time.

Rory O'Keeffe, Executive Secretary RASNZ.

4. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9

The 25th National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA) meets in Brisbane over Easter, April 6-9. The meeting at the University of Queensland campus is hosted by the Astronomical Association of Queensland and supported by other astronomy clubs in South East Queensland.

The sixth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations and the inaugural Variable Stars South Symposium will be held as part of the NACAA programme.

Register for NACAA 2012 at http://www.nacaa.org.au/2012/register Email enquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write to P.O. Box 188, Plumpton, NSW 2761.

5. Third International Starlight Conference

The Starlight Conference is at Lake Tekapo, 11-13 June 2012. The website is accepting registrations and on-line requests to give an oral or poster paper. Visit www.starlight2012.org for full details.

It will be a multidisciplinary conference on the scientific and cultural benefits of observing dark starlit skies. The meeting will be of interest to RASNZ members and to many other interest groups in education, tourism, environmental protection and to those interested in the cultural and ethnic aspects of astronomy. As participation will be limited, early registration is encouraged.

The Starlight Conference is jointly hosted by the University of Canterbury and by RASNZ, and is being sponsored by the University of Canterbury, by RASNZ, by the Royal Society of NZ, by Endeavour Capital Ltd and by the NZ National Commission to UNESCO.

-- Abridged from a note by John Hearnshaw.

6. RASNZ Conference June 15-17

From Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee:

Well as I write this it is just under 3 months to Conference - and that time will fly by very quickly. Conference registrations are starting to come in now, and we encourage you to register early. Registration forms are available on the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz) Likewise for those wanting to present papers/poster papers - please lodge your intentions via the paper/poster-paper form on the RASNZ Webpage. The deadline to get the early registration discount is still some weeks away, but by registering now you will make sure you don't miss out.

As with the 2010 and 2011 Conference there is no on-site accommodation. But although Carterton is a town rather than a city there are plenty of accommodation options in the town itself, or very nearby. The Standing Conference Committee has grabbed a motel within the camping ground. There are more motels and nice cabins there, and there are motels, and hotel accommodation, in the town. Plus several B & B's, backpackers and the like. The Carterton Events Centre is a nice venue, with tiered seating so everyone can easily see the screens.

On the registration form there is the train timetable for those who need public transport from Wellington to Carterton. The train station is all of 5-10 minutes walk from the Carterton Events Centre, and from some of the accommodations options.

As Orlon Petterson and Warwick Kissling put together the papers timetable information will be put on the RASNZ Webpage. But the feature papers will be those from Ed Budding (Fellows lecture), and from our guests Wayne Orchiston and Clive Ruggles. Clive will also give a public lecture late on the Sunday afternoon. All details will be on the RASNZ Webpage as they become available.

Conference takes place a little over a week following the Transit of Venus. We are anticipating several people will want to discuss the transit, present observations, findings etc. If enough interest is indicated that we should set aside time for this within the programme then we can do so. But, please tell us...

Carterton is a lovely town within the Wairarapa region. It is blessed with a nice, temperate climate, good shopping, some nice cafes, high quality wineries nearby, and also nearby is Stonehenge Aotearoa. A visit to the latter will be an option for those wishing to take it.

Again, our thanks to The Phoenix Astronomical Society for hosting the 2012 Conference. They are putting in plenty of work, so let's show our appreciation by turning up in substantial numbers.

We are also advancing with plans for the RASNZ Conferences in 2013 in Invercargill, and 2014 in Whakatane. In a few months we will call for a host for the 2015 Conference. If your Society is thinking of hosting sometime please look out for the invitation to host in July/August. And if you have any questions in advance please ask us - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - in fact use that address for any questions, queries etc.

See you at Conference.

7. 'Nomad Planets' Common?

Our galaxy may be awash in homeless planets, wandering through space instead of orbiting a star. In fact, there may be 100,000 times more 'nomad planets' in the Milky Way than stars, according to a new study by researchers at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), a joint institute of Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

If observations confirm the estimate, this new class of celestial objects will affect current theories of planet formation and could change our understanding of the origin and abundance of life.

"If any of these nomad planets are big enough to have a thick atmosphere, they could have trapped enough heat for bacterial life to exist," said Louis Strigari, leader of the team that reported the result in a paper submitted to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Although nomad planets don't bask in the warmth of a star, they may generate heat through internal radioactive decay and tectonic activity.

Searches over the past two decades have identified more than 500 planets outside our solar system, almost all of which orbit stars. Last year, researchers detected about a dozen nomad planets, using a technique called gravitational microlensing, which looks for stars whose light is momentarily refocused by the gravity of passing planets.

The research produced evidence that roughly two nomads exist for every typical, so-called main-sequence star in our galaxy. The new study estimates that nomads may be up to 50,000 times more common than that.

To arrive at what Strigari himself called 'an astronomical number', the KIPAC team took into account the known gravitational pull of the Milky Way galaxy, the amount of matter available to make such objects and how that matter might divvy itself up into objects ranging from the size of Pluto to larger than Jupiter. Not an easy task, considering no one is quite sure how these bodies form. According to Strigari, some were probably ejected from solar systems, but research indicates that not all of them could have formed in that fashion.

A good count, especially of the smaller objects, will have to wait for the next generation of big survey telescopes, especially the space-based Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope and the ground-based Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, both set to begin operation in the early 2020s.

For more see: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/february/slac-nomad-planets-022312.html

-- from a Stanford University, Palo Alto, press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

8. The Helix Nebula in New Colours

The European Southern Observatory's (ESO's) VISTA telescope, at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, has captured a striking new image of the Helix Nebula. This picture, taken in infrared light, reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are invisible in images taken in visible light, as well as bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies.

The Helix Nebula is one of the closest and most remarkable examples of a planetary nebula. It lies in the constellation of Aquarius (The Water Bearer), about 700 light-years away from Earth. This strange object formed when a star like the Sun was in the final stages of its life. Unable to hold onto its outer layers, the star slowly shed shells of gas that became the nebula, before becoming a white dwarf, the tiny blue dot seen at the centre of the image.

The nebula itself is a complex object composed of dust, ionized material as well as molecular gas, arrayed in a beautiful and intricate flower-like pattern and glowing in the fierce glare of ultraviolet light from the central white dwarf star.

The main ring of the Helix is about two light-years across, roughly half the distance between the Sun and the nearest star. However, material from the nebula spreads out from the star to at least four light-years. This is particularly clear in this infrared view since red molecular gas can be seen across much of the image.

While hard to see visually, the glow from the thinly spread gas is easily captured by VISTA's special detectors, which are very sensitive to infrared light. The 4.1-meter telescope is also able to detect an impressive array of background stars and galaxies.

The powerful vision of ESO's VISTA telescope also reveals fine structure in the nebula's rings. The infrared light can penetrate the obscuring dust and the hotter, ionized gas to show how the cooler, molecular gas is organized. The material clumps into filaments that radiate out from the centre and the whole view resembles a celestial firework display.

Even though they look tiny, these strands of molecular hydrogen, known as cometary knots, are about the size of our Solar System. The molecules in them are able to survive the high-energy radiation that emanates from the dying star precisely because they clump into these knots, which in turn are shielded by the dust and ionized gas seen in optical images. It is currently unclear how the cometary knots may have originated.

Planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets. This confusing name arose because many of them show small bright discs when observed visually. They resemble the outer planets in the Solar System, such as Uranus and Neptune. The Helix Nebula the catalogue number NGC 7293. It is unusual as it appears very large, but also very faint, when viewed through a small telescope. Binoculars show it in dark skies.

For the Helix image see: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1205/ For photos of VISTA: http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/category/surveytelescopes/

-- from an ESO press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

9. ESO's 50th Anniversary

The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). ESO is the foremost intergovernmental Astronomy organization in Europe and the world's most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

ESO carries out an ambitious program focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries.

ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organizing cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory, and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world's largest survey telescope. The VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light.

ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope the Atacama large Millimetre Array (ALMA), the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 40-meter-class European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become the world's biggest 'eye on the sky'.

-- from an ESO press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

10. Globular Clusters: Survivors of an Ancient Massacre

Our Milky Way galaxy is surrounded by some 200 compact groups of stars, containing up to a million stars each. At 13 billion years of age, these globular clusters are almost as old as the universe itself and were born when the first generations of stars and galaxies formed.

Now a team of astronomers from Germany and the Netherlands have conducted a novel type of computer simulation that looked at how they were born -- and they find that these giant clusters of stars are the only survivors of a 13 billion year-old massacre that destroyed many of their smaller siblings. The new work, led by Dr. Diederik Kruijssen of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, appears in a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Globular star clusters have a remarkable characteristic: the typical number of stars they contain appears to be about the same throughout the Universe. This is in contrast to much younger stellar clusters, which can contain almost any number of stars, from fewer than 100 to many thousands. The team of scientists proposes that this difference can be explained by the conditions under which globular clusters formed early on in the evolution of their host galaxies.

The researchers ran simulations of isolated and colliding galaxies, in which they included a model for the formation and destruction of stellar clusters. When galaxies collide, they often generate spectacular bursts of star formation (³starbursts²) and a wealth of bright, young stellar clusters of many different sizes. As a result it was always thought that the total number of star clusters increases during starbursts. But the Dutch-German team found the opposite result in their simulations.

While the very brightest and largest clusters were indeed capable of surviving the galaxy collision due to their own gravitational attraction, the numerous smaller clusters were effectively destroyed by the rapidly changing gravitational forces that typically occur during starbursts due to the movement of gas, dust and stars. The wave of starbursts came to an end after about 2 billion years and the researchers were surprised to see that only clusters with high numbers of stars had survived. These clusters had all the characteristics that should be expected for a young population of globular clusters as they would have looked about 11 billion years ago.

Dr. Kruijssen comments: "It is ironic to see that starbursts may produce many young stellar clusters, but at the same time also destroy the majority of them. This occurs not only in galaxy collisions, but should be expected in any starburst environment. In the early Universe, starbursts were commonplace -- it therefore makes perfect sense that all globular clusters have approximately the same large number of stars. Their smaller brothers and sisters that didn't contain as many stars were doomed to be destroyed."

According to the simulations, most of the star clusters were destroyed shortly after their formation, when the galactic environment was still very hostile to the young clusters. After this episode ended, the surviving globular clusters have lived quietly until the present day.

The researchers have further suggestions to test their ideas. Dr. Kruijssen continues: ³In the nearby Universe, there are several examples of galaxies that have recently undergone large bursts of star formation. It should therefore be possible to see the rapid destruction of small stellar clusters in action. If this is indeed found by new observations, it will confirm our theory for the origin of globular clusters.²

The simulations suggest that most of a globular cluster's traits were established when it formed. The fact that globular clusters are comparable everywhere then indicates that the environments in which they formed were very similar, regardless of the galaxy they currently reside in. In that case, Dr. Kruijssen believes, they can be used as fossils to shed more light on the conditions in which the first stars and galaxies were born.

Preprint: http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.1065 Images & Movies

http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de/~diederik/1m11clusters.html A movie of two colliding galaxies based on the new simulation, covering 3.3 billion years. The galaxies eventually merge, destroying many of the stellar clusters (visible here as dots) in the process. Credit: D. Kruijssen, MPA

-- from a joint press release by the Max Plank Institute for Astrophysics in Garching and the Royal Astronomical Society in the U.K., forwarded by Karen Pollard

11. IBEX Probes Interstellar Clouds

Space scientists have described the first detailed analyses of captured interstellar neutral atoms -- raw material for the formation of new stars, planets and even human beings. The results were from the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) satellite. It directly sampled material carried from outside our solar system across the galaxy by solar and stellar winds.

IBEX was launched into an elliptical orbit around Earth in 2008. It uses a pair of special cameras to sample neutral atoms reaching Earth's surroundings from the edges of the solar system and its immediate neighbourhood.

Earth is mostly shielded from direct bombardment by interstellar atoms by the solar wind -- the blast of charged gas emanating from the Sun. It creates a protective bubble around us that deflects many charged atoms back into space. Without this bubble, called the heliosphere, more cosmic radiation would reach us. IBEX provides the first global view of the outer boundary of this protective bubble.

IBEX also provides a direct sample of the surrounding neutral gas, which blows as an interstellar wind through the solar system. Interstellar gas is the raw stuff that forms stars and planets. In the beginning there was only hydrogen and helium. These two elements formed the first stars. When those stars collapsed and died, they spewed their material, including new elements created through the process of nuclear fusion, into space. We can tell a lot about the evolution of our universe and perhaps gain insight into other galaxies and planetary systems by analyzing these atoms.

With the capacity to detect and analyze helium, hydrogen, neon, and oxygen, IBEX has been able to provide researchers with more information about our galactic neighbourhood. It has also raised some interesting questions. The IBEX observations suggest that the ratio of neon to oxygen in material emanating from outside our solar system is larger than the ratio from within our solar system and also within the Milky Way as a whole. The ratio difference may suggest that the Sun's present location differs from its birthplace. Either that or that a significant amount of oxygen might be bound up in grains of dust floating in interstellar space.

IBEX has also found that the interstellar wind blows at 23 km per second, about 3 km/s slower than previously thought. Using this, and directional information from IBEX, the researchers have been able to gain a better understanding of where the Solar System currently sits relative to nearby interstellar clouds in our galactic neighbourhood.

The nearby interstellar clouds are moving at substantial speeds. Curiously, the previously known interstellar wind speed did not match the speeds of any of the closest clouds. However, the new IBEX observations place the solar system near the edge of what is called the Local Interstellar Cloud. The solar system will leave this cloud within the next few thousand years -- just the blink of an eye on astronomical time scales. When this occurs, the heliosphere, the protective bubble surrounding us, may expand significantly since it will be less constrained by the much thinner interstellar gas outside the cloud. On its journey roughly in the direction of the centre of the Milky Way, our solar system will meander toward and into the next cloud over. It is called the G cloud as it is toward the galactic centre.

Just three and a half years into the IBEX mission, at a time when the two Voyager spacecraft are due to exit the heliosphere within the next decade, who knows what other surprises researchers will uncover about our solar system and its immediate neighbourhood?

Text & Image: http://www.lanl.gov/news/releases/ibex_probe_glimpses_interstellar_neighborhood.html

-- from a Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

12. Superstring Theory Gives 3-D Universe

According to Big Bang cosmology, the universe originated in an explosion from an invisibly tiny point. This theory is strongly supported by observation of the cosmic microwave background and the relative abundance of elements. However, a situation in which the whole universe is a tiny point exceeds the reach of Einstein's general theory of relativity, and for that reason it has not been possible to clarify how the universe actually originated.

In superstring theory, which is considered to be the 'Theory of Everything', all the elementary particles are represented as various oscillation modes of very tiny strings.

Among those oscillation modes, there is one that corresponds to a particle that mediates gravity, and thus the general theory of relativity can be naturally extended to the scale of elementary particles. Therefore, it is expected that superstring theory allows the investigation of the birth of the universe. However, actual calculation has been intractable because the interaction between strings is strong, so all investigation thus far has been restricted to discussing various models or scenarios.

Superstring theory predicts a space with nine dimensions. This poses the big puzzle of how this can be consistent with the 3-dimensional space that we live in.

Three Japanese researchers have succeeded in simulating the birth of the universe, using a supercomputer for calculations based on superstring theory. They showed that the universe had nine spatial dimensions at the beginning, but only three of these underwent expansion at some point in time.

In this study, the team established a method for calculating large matrices which represent the interactions of strings, and calculated how the 9-dimensional space changes with time. If one goes far enough back in time, space is indeed extended in nine directions, but then at some point only three of those directions start to expand rapidly. This result demonstrates, for the first time, that the 3-dimensional space we live in does emerges from the 9-dimensional space that superstring theory predicts.

It is almost 40 years since superstring theory was proposed as the theory of everything, extending the general theory of relativity to the scale of elementary particles. However, its validity and its usefulness remained unclear due to the difficulty of performing actual calculations. The newly-obtained solution to the space-time dimensionality puzzle strongly supports the validity of the theory.

Furthermore, the establishment of a new method to analyze superstring theory using computers opens up the possibility of applying this theory to various problems. For instance, it should now be possible to provide a theoretical understanding of the inflation that is believed to have taken place in the early universe, and also the accelerating expansion of the universe, whose discovery earned the Nobel Prize in Physics last year. It is expected that superstring theory will develop further and play an important role in solving such puzzles in particle physics as the existence of the dark matter that is suggested by cosmological observations, and the Higgs particle, which is expected to be discovered by Large Hadron Collider experiments.

Preprint of Physical Review Letters paper: http://arxiv.org/abs/1108.1540

-- from a joint press release by the Japanese High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, Shizuoka University and Osaka University, forwarded by Karen Pollard.

13. How to Join the RASNZ

A membership application form and details can be found on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/InfoForm/membform.htm. Please note that the weblink to membership forms is case sensitive. Alternatively please send an email to the membership secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

The annual subscription rate is $75. For overseas rates please check with the membership secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

14. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

The RASNZ administers the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund to assist Affiliated Societies with travel costs of getting a lecturer or instructor to their meetings. Details are in RASNZ By-Laws Section H.

For an application form contact the Executive Secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

15. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants may be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

16. Quotes

"If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run -- and often in the short one -- the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative." -- Arthur C Clarke.

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." -- Alan Kay.

"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18." -- Albert Einstein.

"I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him." -- Galileo Galilei.

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice, there is." -- Chuck Reid.

"I believe that a scientist looking at non-scientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." -- Richard Feynman.

"My karma ran over your dogma." -- Unknown.

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6000 P.O. Box 57 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Lake Tekapo 7945 New Zealand


Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore   Phone: 03 680 6000
P.O. Box 57   Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

A .pdf for this issue is not currently available.

A Transit of Venus Primer
William Tobin

I outline the science and history of Venusian transits, concentrating on points which may be useful when presenting June's transit to members of the public.
Volume 51, number 1. March 2012. P3

Book Review - Transit of Venus: 1631 to the Present
Naomi Pasachoff

Volume 51, number 1. March 2012. P19

Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (Inc) Annual Report of Council for 2011

Volume 51, number 1. March 2012. P21

A Sense of Scale
Martin Unwin

The most important reason to watch the 2012 Transit of Venus has nothing to do with either history or rarity, and everything to do with astronomy. It's about scale.
Volume 51, number 1. March 2012. P42

The RASNZ Email newsletter is distributed by email on or near the 20th of each month. If you would like to be on the circulation list This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for a copy.

Affiliated Societies are welcome to reproduce any item in this email newsletter or on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ in their own newsletters provided an acknowledgement of the source is also included.

Contents

1. What the RASNZ Does
2. The Solar System in March
3. Council and Executive Nominations
4. RASNZ Annual General Meeting
5. Wellington Astro-music Concert - March 16
6. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9
7. Third International Starlight Conference
8. RASNZ Conference June 15-17
9. SKA Note
10. Astronomer in Australia Day Honours
11. Royal Greenwich Observatory Tour
12. Strange Variable Stars in Harvard Plates
13. Antikythera to the Square Kilometre Array
14. How to Join the RASNZ
15. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
16. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

1. What the RASNZ Does

An inquiry to the nzastronomers Yahoo! Group about what the RASNZ does got this response from RASNZ President Glen Rowe:

The RASNZ Annual Report is a good place to get a full summary of what the Society does. As a member you get 11 monthly e-mailed Newsletters [12 in 2011], 4 issues of Southern Stars and other publications such as Jennie McCormick's 'Keeping in Touch' newsletter. On a broader scale you are helping the Society to support a range of activities.

Whilst an individual member may benefit from only some of the following, your support of the Society will enable it to remain viable so it can continue to provide services at a national level without which astronomy in NZ would be so much the poorer.

The Society's premier event each year is the Annual Conference. This provides a valuable opportunity to showcase the latest research by our professional astronomers alongside presentations on a wide variety of topics.

The Society's web-site is a valuable resource for astronomical information. It gets nearly 250,000 visits per year so appears very popular.

Our Member Body status with the Royal Society provides the opportunity, as required, to comment on astronomical related matters at both the government level and internationally through the International Astronomical Union.

RASNZ is fortunate to have access to the Kingdon-Tomlinson Bequest. Through this, many individual and societies have benefited from grants made to assist with equipment purchases and projects that promote astronomy in NZ.

We also have two lectureship schemes. The Gifford-Eiby covers travel expenses for speakers to travel within NZ to present a lecture or run a workshop to a society or group of members. A more recent initiative is the RASNZ Lecture Trust which enables an international astronomer to be brought to NZ to deliver a number of Beatrice-Tinsley Lectures.

We encourage our affiliated societies to take advantage of the services we offer as a way of providing additional resources/opportunities to benefit their members. In response to a suggestion made at the last Affiliated Societies meeting, RASNZ will shortly be marketing safe solar viewers for unaided viewing of the Transit of Venus and partial eclipse later this year.

The Society has a number of sections (Variable Stars, Occultations, Comet & Meteors, Aurora & Solar, Astrophotography) that support and encourage their members' observational endeavours and interests.

In addition there are three groups that promote other initiatives.  The
Professional Astronomers' Group attends to the needs of the professional
community within NZ.  Indeed one of the special strengths of the RASNZ is
its strong relationship with our professional astronomers.  The Education
Group is developing plans to increase an awareness of astronomy within
both the educational and public arenas.  The Dark Sky Group is working
hard to promote the benefits of minimising light pollution and preserving
our wonderful night skies.  RASNZ is providing support to the initiative
to have a Starlight Reserve designated in the Tekapo area and also for the
International Starlight Conference being held there in June of this year.

I hope that this summary gives some idea of what a member "gets" in return for their subscription. Just as the advertisement for a certain card says, some of these benefits are priceless.

2. The Solar System in March

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for March 2012 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Mar_12.htm. Notes for April 2012 will be on line in a few days.

The planets in march

Venus and Jupiter will be a brilliant pair low to the west following sunset. They are closest mid March when they set at about the time of the end of astronomical twilight.

Mars is at opposition and brightest at the beginning of March so visible all evening and most of the night. Saturn rises 90 minutes or so after Mars and is easily visible to the east late evening.

Mercury is too close to the Sun to see in March, being at inferior conjunction on the 21st. It becomes a good morning object in April.

Venus and JUPITER in the EARLY EVENING SKY

Venus and Jupiter are in conjunction during March. The two planets will be closest on March 14 with Jupiter 3 degrees above Venus. They will be visible low to the west after sunset. Venus starts March 12 degrees to the left of, and a little lower than Jupiter. By the end of the month Venus will have moved to be 15 degrees to the right of Jupiter and be slightly higher.

Both Venus and Jupiter steadily set earlier during March. But Venus sets about 100 minutes after the Sun throughout March, slightly more in the north of NZ and slightly less in the south. It will actually set a little later after the Sun at the end of March than at the beginning. Jupiter, on the other hand, sets about 2 hours after the Sun at the beginning of March dropping to 80 minutes later at the end.

During March, Venus will move across Aries, entering the constellation from Pisces on the 5th and moving on into Taurus on the 30th. On the 31st it will be only 3 degrees to the left of the Pleiades. The latter are likely to require binoculars to see in the dusk sky. Jupiter, moving much more slowly through the stars will be in Aries all month. During March it moves about 6 degrees to the east.

The crescent moon will join the two planets on the 26th when it will be about 5 degrees from Jupiter and 6 from Venus, with the moon a little lower than the planets. The following evening the moon will be about 5 degrees to the upper right of Venus and 3 degrees to the upper left of the Pleiades.

Mars and SATURN in the LATER EVENING SKY

Mars is at opposition on March 4 (NZDT) and is at its closest to the Earth, 0.674AU (100.78 million km) two days later. It will then be 1.664AU from the Sun. This is a relatively poor opposition of Mars which will have an angular diameter just under 14". Even, so with a magnitude -1.2, Mars will be almost as bright as Sirius.

The planet will be in Leo, moving to the west towards Regulus, magnitude 1.4. The separation of the star and planet drops from 15 degrees on the 1st to 5.5 degrees on the 31st. Mars and Regulus will be obvious objects to the northeast in the late evening early in March and by the time the evening sky darkens at the end. The planet rises about 15 minutes after sunset on the 1st, about 80 minutes before sunset on the 31st.

The moon will pass Regulus and Mars on the nights of March 7 and 8. The moon is full and at its closest to Mars on the latter date, with the two just under 10° apart as seen from New Zealand in the early evening.

Saturn rises about 100 minutes after Mars on March 1, increasing to about 2 hours later on the 31st. In real time this means Saturn will rise about 10pm NZDT on the 1st and 8pm on the 31st. So it is still best seen late evening. Two hours after it rises, Saturn will be about 20 degrees up a little to the north of east.

The planet will remain in Virgo 7 to 6 degrees below Spica as seen in the evening. It is nearly a magnitude brighter than the star.

Saturn will of course also be visible in the morning sky before sunrise. At the end of March at 7am the planet and star will be to the west with Regulus to the left of Saturn.

The moon, a little past full will be closest to Spica and Saturn for the month on the evenings of 10 and 11 March respectively. At midnight on the 10th it will be 5° to the upper left of Spica; on the 11th, 7° to the right of Saturn.

Mercury is also an evening object early in March but sets only some 30 minutes after the Sun on the 1st so is not likely to be visible. It is at inferior conjunction with the Sun on March 20, so becoming a morning object at the end of the month. By then it will rise about 75 minutes before the Sun, but at magnitude 2.3 it is not likely to be visible in the brightening dawn sky.


Uranus is at conjunction with the Sun on March 25 (NZDT) so will be too close to the Sun to observe all month.

Neptune, having been at conjunction with the Sun in February will be a morning object. By the end of the month it will rise more than two and a half hours before the Sun. The planet will be in Aquarius at magnitude 8.

Brighter asteroids:

None of the brighter asteroids will be readily visible in March.

Both (1) Ceres and (4) Vesta will be low to very low objects to the west in the early evening sky during March. This will make them very difficult binocular objects in the twilight. Their magnitudes will be just over 9 and 8 respectively. They are about 12.5 degrees apart early in March, 10 degrees apart at the end of the month. Both are in conjunction with the Sun during April.

(433) Eros will be at magnitude 9.2 early in March, and will fade quite rapidly during the month. It will be high in NZ evening skies in Antlia.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2012.

-- Brian Loader.

3. Council and Executive Nominations

2012, being an even numbered year, is an election year for the RASNZ Council. Nominations are requested for all officers and council positions. The positions for which nominations are required are: President, Incoming vice-president, Executive secretary, Treasurer, five Council members.

In addition the fellows need to nominate a fellows representative. Affiliated Societies will elect two representatives at the affiliated societies' committee meeting held prior to the AGM. The current president, Glen Rowe, automatically becomes a vice-president. The rules do not allow the president to serve a second consecutive term. By the terms of rule 74, nominations, including any for the fellows representative, need to be sent in writing to the Executive Secretary by 15 March 2012.

If you would like a nomination form please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The nomination must specify the name of the candidate and the office sought. It must be signed by the proposer and seconder and be accompanied by the written consent of the nominee. The address to which nominations should be sent, as soon as possible, is: RASNZ Executive Secretary, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697.

A postal ballot will be held in April 2012 for any position for which the number of candidates exceeds the number of appointees required.

Rory O´Keeffe, Executive Secretary, RASNZ

The Newsletter Editor and the Webmaster wouldn't mind others applying to the new Council for their jobs, either. -- Ed.

4. RASNZ Annual General Meeting

The 2012 Annual General Meeting of RASNZ will be held during the conference as usual. However the Annual Conference will be held 15 - 17 June 2012 in Carterton. This is to place the conference after the transit of Venus and the 3rd Annual International Starlight Conference which is being held in Tekapo from 11 to 13 June. Normally the AGM should be held before the end of May but Rule 64 of the RASNZ Rules allows for Council to delay the AGM for special circumstances.

Any notices of motion need to reach the RASNZ Secretary at least six weeks before the AGM, so would need to be received by 5 May 2012. A formal notice of the AGM will be sent out in the next newsletter with details of location and time.

Rory O'Keeffe, Executive Secretary RASNZ.

5. Wellington Astro-music Concert - March 16

Toronto's Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra is bringing "The Galileo Project" to Australia and New Zealand in March; it will be at Wellington Town Hall on 16 March.

The programme has been created by Tafelmusik's double-bass player Alison Mackay. It includes images, narration, choreography, and music -- all memorized. It has toured Canada, the US, Mexico, and Asia, and now Australia and NZ, and Europe in the future. It's an outstanding fusion of astronomy and the arts. And it's received rave reviews. You can find out more at: http://www.tafelmusik.org/galileo/index.htm

There's more information about the tour at: http://www.musicaviva.com.au/whatson/international-concert-season- 2012/artists-touring/tafelmusik

-- from an article by John Percy, Professor Emeritus: Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto. See last month's Newsletter, Item 7.

6. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9

The 25th National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA) meets in Brisbane over Easter, April 6-9. The meeting at the University of Queensland campus is hosted by the Astronomical Association of Queensland and supported by other astronomy clubs in South East Queensland.

The sixth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations and the inaugural Variable Stars South Symposium will be held as part of the NACAA programme.

Register for NACAA 2012 at http://www.nacaa.org.au/2012/register Email enquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write to P.O. Box 188, Plumpton, NSW 2761.

7. Third International Starlight Conference

The Starlight Conference is at Lake Tekapo, 11-13 June 2012. The website is accepting registrations and on-line requests to give an oral or poster paper. Visit www.starlight2012.org for full details.

It will be a multidisciplinary conference on the scientific and cultural benefits of observing dark starlit skies. The meeting will be of interest to RASNZ members and to many other interest groups in education, tourism, environmental protection and to those interested in the cultural and ethnic aspects of astronomy. As participation will be limited, early registration is encouraged.

The Starlight Conference is jointly hosted by the University of Canterbury and by RASNZ, and is being sponsored by the University of Canterbury, by RASNZ, by the Royal Society of NZ, by Endeavour Capital Ltd and by the NZ National Commission to UNESCO.

-- Abridged from an note by John Hearnshaw.

8. RASNZ Conference June 15-17

The RASNZ's 2012 annual Conference is being held at the Carterton Events Centre, June 15-17. The registration form is available on the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz). Or it can also be accessed via RASNZ Wiki (www.rasnz.org.nz/wiki), as can the publicity brochure. All members have received conference registration forms with the December issue of Southern Stars.

At this time we are issuing a call for papers and poster-papers (Link on the website). Even if you are just thinking of presenting a paper please submit the form, and we can follow up with you at a later date.

On the Friday of Conference there will be an Astronomy Outreach Workshop. This is being co-ordinated by Ron Fisher, and again details are available on the RASNZ Webpage, under Conference.

The Carterton Events Centre is a delightful complex. The information centre and library are part of the same complex. The management are very friendly and helpful and are very much looking forward to hosting us.

Carterton itself has a great range of shopping, cafes etc. There are plenty of accommodation options in and around the town - many are listed on the information supplied with the registration form. Also, Masterton is just 13km up the road in one direction, and Greytown 7km away in the other direction. We know from past conferences that people like to have a range of options available, and Carterton certainly has that range.

The nearest airport is Masterton, but only receives one air service a day, from Auckland. We envisage many people might fly into Wellington, and get the train through to Carterton. The timetable has been printed on the publicity brochure.

Our guest speaker is Associate Professor Wayne Orchiston. Wayne is a past Executive Director of Carter Observatory and is currently Associate Professor in the Centre for Astronomy at James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland. Details of his talks are on the RASNZ Webpage. We also hope to announce a further guest speaker shortly.

The Fellows Lecture for 2012 will be delivered by Dr Edwin Budding. Ed is currently a Research Fellow at Victoria University, and also at the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Canterbury. Ed also worked at the Carter Observatory.

Our hosting society, the Phoenix Astronomical Society, are working hard to ensure we receive a warm welcome. And they are organising some local activities for attendees.

See the RASNZ Webpage for speaker details and updates. There will also be updates in each RASNZ Newsletter leading up to Conference.

-- from notes by Orlon Petterson and Dennis Goodman of the RASNZ Standing Conference Committee.

9. SKA Note

The following note was circulated and endorsed by the Astronomical Society of Australia on January 27. ------------- Dear colleagues,

With the site decision on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope only weeks away, I thought it would be helpful to provide a short summary of the status of the Australia-New Zealand SKA site bid and some further information on possible discussion topics relating to the site decision. I hope that this will assist you in any discussions you may have in the lead-up to the decision.

If anything is unclear at all, or if you have any media enquiries about the SKA site decision that you wish to pass on, please refer them to Dr. Lisa Harvey-Smith, CSIRO SKA Project Scientist email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or to Prof. Brian Boyle, the Australia-New Zealand SKA Director, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Lisa Harvey-Smith CSIRO SKA Project Scientist -----------

On September 15th the Australia-New Zealand SKA Co-ordination Committee submitted a 150 page response (with over 1000 pages of supporting material) to a request for information from the SKA candidate sites. Over 40 different organisations contributed to the document, which was signed by the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand and the Premier of Western Australia.

The ANZ team sent four representatives to London on December 8th to give a 90-minute presentation followed by a question and answer session on the various factors within the response. The interview went well and the group were given a fair hearing. The ANZ team responded to a few additional questions shortly after the interview, which represented our last input into the process before the SKA Site Advisory Committee (SSAC) make their recommendation on a preferred site in mid-February. The board of the newly-incorporated "SKA Organisation" is expected to make a final decision on the site after a possible negotiation period which might last a few weeks.

The ANZ SKA bid team support the SSAC's role in making a clear, merit- based recommendation on a single site for the SKA. We have therefore agreed to refrain from directly comparing the two sites in the media.

Nevertheless, it is useful to talk about the key attributes of the Australia-New Zealand site. These include:

(i) exquisite radio-quietness, underpinned by a very low population density (2 nano-people per square metre!) and a strict legislative framework for spectrum management

(ii) a 5,000 km maximum baseline with existing broadband connectivity stretching right across Australia and NZ

(iii) a low sovereign risk to the project, with political stability and ease of doing business between Australia, New Zealand and to the rest of the world

(iv) a fantastic work and living environment with good schools, hospitals, low crime rate that will attract and retain the best staff.

There has been a level of speculation and scuttlebutt about the respective strengths of the two bids. As we approach the site decision I think it would be worth addressing some of them here.

Rumour: "Both sites are equally radio-quiet"

There is absolutely no evidence to substantiate this. Both sites have been tested using identical equipment and the results of this comparison are in a confidential report in the hands of the SSAC.

Rumour: "Satellites will dominate your spectrum, so it doesn't matter where you put the SKA"

This argument is flawed - if it were true we could put the SKA close to a city. Although interference from satellites currently dominates the spectrum at some frequencies, in the very wide SKA observing band between 70 MHz and 10 GHz the vast majority of the spectrum lies between the satellite interference lines. It is this intervening spectrum that must remain very clear of terrestrial interference.

Rumour: "SKA will be much cheaper to build in Africa"

There are no grounds for this assertion. Site-specific construction costs make up a small fraction of the total project cost of the SKA. ANZ can offer a cost-effective and efficient solution for the SKA, and has a great deal to offer the project, such as our affordable high bandwidth optic- fibre network already available across Australia and New Zealand.

Rumour: "The site should be split between ANZ and South Africa"

The "SKA Design Reference Mission", or science requirements document, states that the SKA shall be capable of conducting observations from different receptor types simultaneously. There are many good scientific reasons for doing so. As there is only ~4 hours of shared sky between the two sites, a split site would seriously reduce the science return. Furthermore, with a split site much of the power, transport, maintenance and operational infrastructure and staff would have to be duplicated at a large additional cost to the project.

Rumour: "The European Union has come out to support the African Bid"

This statement is incorrect and the Communication Unit of the European Commission´s Research & Innovation DG has re-affirmed that the European Commission does not take sides regarding the decision about a final site for the SKA. This month a document "Declaration 45" was distributed to Members of the European Parliament. The declaration expresses the desire to support radio astronomy in Africa and has been signed by a number of MEPs. The document does not mention the SKA at all, despite media reports to the contrary. We reiterate our support for the SKA Site Advisory Committee, who will make a merit-based recommendation on the preferred site for the SKA based upon the factual information and scientific data from the two candidate sites. We believe it would be better for the European Parliament to delay the Written Declaration until after an SKA site decision has been made, so that the Declaration can be informed by the objective outcome of the site selection process.

------- Let´s keep the competition honest and challenge these assertions when they are made. It´s vital that the SKA site selection process be above reproach and based on the facts, not rumours and spin.

Dr. Lisa Harvey-Smith CSIRO SKA Project Scientist | CSIRO Astronomy & Space Science

10. Astronomer in Australia Day Honours

Kate Brooks, Astronomical Society of Australia President, wrote to ASA members: "Please join me in congratulating CSIRO SKA Executive Officer and ASA member Dr Michelle Storey for her award of a Public Service Medal in the 2012 Australia Day Honours.

Michelle's citation is as follows:

PUBLIC SERVICE MEDAL (PSM) Dr Michelle Claire STOREY, Hornsby NSW 2077 For outstanding public service in establishing the Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory and for assisting Australia's bid to host the international Square Kilometre Array project. Dr Storey has served as a trusted technical adviser and has made major contributions in placing Australia in a leading position in one of the most ambitious and innovative scientific projects of the 21st century. The Murchison Radioastronomy Observatory is now home to the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder telescope that is a section of the global multi-science project to build the world's largest radio telescope and is Australia's new premier radiotelescope. This cutting edge infrastructure has been developed to capture vast quantities of radioastromomy data and to facilitate new discoveries about the universe. Dr Storey's dedication has played a largely unheralded role in ensuring that future generations of Australian scientists and engineers continue the tradition of innovation in Australia.

Congratulations Michelle."

11. Royal Greenwich Observatory Tour

Joe Mann provided this travel advisory for anyone planning to visit the UK:

Just thought I'd share a bit about my visit to the Royal Greenwich Observatory, the Maritime Museum and Queens House in Greenwich London.

The RGO has been upgraded since my last visit five years ago, but it's now a great tourist attraction, with plenty of history, and modern public education facilities. The maritime clocks are a tinkerer's dream, and the observatories are very interesting historically, and one is a dedicated solar observatory! This week they have the Astrophotographer of the Year exhibition, with some breathtaking images from people of all ages around Europe.

Just down the hill from the observatory is the National Maritime Museum, which is also undergoing major upgrades. This is a surprisingly excellent place to visit for any Kiwi interested in astronomy, as it houses equipment used by James Cook on all three of his expeditions. It is amazing to read his actual log books and journals, and look at the instruction booklet written for the transit of Venus experiments.

The telescopes fitted with micrometers, and navigational instruments used by Cook and the other astronomers are all on display, and are amazingly crafted, and look as if they are brand new. It is unbelievable at how these instruments have been cared for and preserved over the centuries.

However, a real treat is in Queen's House next door to the museum. It's the only remaining palace in Greenwich, but now houses maritime art collections. Of real interest is the gallery of William Hodges who was the artist painter who went with Cook on his second expedition, to record the events and places visited. There are some great early paintings of very olde New Zealand, with the expedition, and even one painting showing the portable observatory set up in Dusky Bay!

It is rare to get so close to so much important early history, and I would wholly recommend anyone visiting London to visit these three places in Greenwich, its a real treat, and to make it even better, it was all free!

Another bonus of course is to see the northern skies, but unfortunately you need to be well away from London for that.

-------- Watch 'Southern Stars' for an illustrated article by Joe.

12. Strange Variable Stars in Harvard Plates

A century's worth of astronomical photographic plates have revealed a slew of new variable stars, many of which alter on timescales and in ways never before seen.

The discoveries come from a new analysis of some of the 500,000 plates made by the Harvard College Observatory from the 1880s through the 1980s, covering the whole sky. The trove of old-school data has offered astronomers an unprecedented look at how stars change over long timescales.

"The Harvard College observatory has the most wonderful, best collection [of photographic plates] in the world," said Harvard graduate student Sumin Tang, who works on the plate analysis program. "It's a very unique resource because it's over 100 years. No other data set could do this." Tang presented some of the new findings at the 219th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Austin, Texas.

The plates are relics from an earlier era, when researchers used glass surfaces coated with light-sensitive silver salts to record the visions seen by telescopes. The Harvard collection includes plates made with dozens of telescopes. Starting in the 1990s, photographic plates were replaced with more sensitive CCDs (charge-coupled devices), which are digital light sensors. Smaller versions of these same devices power digital cameras.

Now scientists are trying to digitize the plate collection, basically using CCDs to image the plates, then applying an algorithm to quantify how bright stars appear and search for variations over time. The project, called Digital Access to a Sky Century@Harvard (Dasch), is headed by Harvard astronomer Jonathan Grindlay.

Most of the stars in the plate collection were imaged between 500 and 1,500 times, providing ample evidence for some weird stellar behaviour. So far, only 4 percent of the plates have been digitized, but that data set alone has turned up some new finds. The team hopes to digitize the whole collection over the next three to five years.

Several different new types of variables have been found. For example a class of stars that all vary in the same, weird way. These stars all happen to belong to a class called K giants, with temperatures of about 4,400 Kelvin (4,100 C). Over decades they become brighter and dimmer by a factor of two. The researchers think the stars can actually be divided into two classes: binary (double star) systems, and single stars, with two different mechanisms behind their variations.

The binary variables are possibly caused by strong magnetic activity stimulated by interactions between the two stars. The other group might vary due to some little-understood gas processes.

Another weird set of variable stars discovered in the data are called symbiotic stars, which are pairs of stars where one is hot and the other cool - for example, a red giant and a white dwarf star orbiting each other. Some process is causing some of these star systems to alter in brightness over decades, but astronomers aren't sure what. They suspect the phenomenon might be related to nuclear burning of hydrogen on the surface of the white dwarf star, or accretion of mass onto one of the stars.

Ultimately, the researchers hope the project reveals much more about how stars evolve over time.

The project is supported by the National Science Foundation and the Cornel and Cynthia K. Sarosdy Fund for DASCH.

-------- From http://www.space.com/14359 alternatively bit.ly/xg3l9E Or http://www.space.com/14359-telescope-photographic-plates-dasch-variable- stars.html?utm_content=SPACEdotcom&utm_campaign=seo%2Bblitz&utm_source= twitter.com&utm_medium=social%2Bmedia

13. Antikythera to the Square Kilometre Array

Few of us could attend this conference, but the summary is fascinating. --------------- From Antikythera to the Square Kilometre Array: Lessons from the Ancients

More than a hundred years ago an extraordinary mechanism was found by sponge divers at the bottom of the sea near the island of Antikythera in Greece. This Antikythera mechanism is an ancient computer from about 100BC which uses bronze gears to make astronomical calculations based on cycles of the Solar System. Now, more than 2000 years after the device was lost at sea, scientists have used the latest techniques in X-ray computed tomography and reflectance imaging to understand its intricate workings. (see Links to Antikythera Mechanism for details)

In June 2012 we plan to hold a workshop linking modern and ancient astronomical technology through the Antikythera theme. We will explore the evolution of astrometry and computing from ancient Greece to the present, we will compare the technologies used to unravel the secrets of the Antikythera mechanism with the imaging tools of modern astronomy, and most importantly, as we pursue our vision of an exciting scientific future with telescopes such as the Square Kilometre Array we can reflect on why the Antikythera technology was lost for more than a thousand years and whether this can happen again.

The workshop will be held in the village of Kerastari in the ancient region of Arcadia in Greece, 12-16 June 2012. Due to the limitations of the venue, participation will be limited to about 80 people. Pre-registration is now open on the website. Details at: http://www.atnf.csiro.au/people/Tasso.Tzioumis/Antikythera2012/

14. How to Join the RASNZ

A membership application form and details can be found on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/InfoForm/membform.htm. Please note that the weblink to membership forms is case sensitive. Alternatively please send an email to the membership secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

The annual subscription rate is $75. For overseas rates please check with the membership secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

15. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

The RASNZ administers the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund to assist Affiliated Societies with travel costs of getting a lecturer or instructor to their meetings. Details are in RASNZ By-Laws Section H.

For an application form contact the Executive Secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

16. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants may be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697.

16. Quotes

"I'd be more enthusiastic about thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it." -- Terry Pratchett.

"Ours is the age that is proud of machines that think and suspicious of men who try to." -- H. Mumford Jones.

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6000 P.O. Box 57 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Lake Tekapo 7945 New Zealand


Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore   Phone: 03 680 6000
P.O. Box 57   Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

Affiliated Societies are welcome to reproduce any item in this email newsletter or on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ in their own newsletters provided an acknowledgement of the source is also included.

Contents

1. Gary Wilmshurst (1949 - 2011)
2. Comet Lovejoy C/2011 W3
3. The Solar System in February
4. Council and Executive Nominations
5. Murray Geddes Memorial Prize Nominations
6. Stardate South Island - February 17-19
7. Wellington Astro-music Concert 16 March
8. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9
9. RASNZ Conference June 15-17
10. Leap Second on June 30
11. Do We Need Leap Seconds?
12. Reverend George Burgess?
13. White Dwarf Merger Makes Type I Supernova
14. A Planet for Every Star
15. Asteroid Moa
16. How to Join the RASNZ
17. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
18. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

1. Gary Wilmshurst (1949 - 2011)

Gary Wilmshurst unexpectedly passed away on the 28th of December 2011. Gary had been a member of RASNZ and served on Council. He was also a member of the Wellington Astronomical Society (WAS) and was President during the 1980s. Gary also served as a representative of the RASNZ on the Carter Observatory Board.

Gary had a keen interest in astronomy and space exploration. I first met Gary at Carter as telescope operator and presenter and over the years worked with Gary on many WAS/Carter projects. Gary was also on the organising committees for the RASNZ conferences that were held in Wellington.

His favourite topics were the latest images and results from the many NASA probes and missions during the 1980s and 1990s. Through this interest Gary built a long-standing relationship with Bob Mitchell of NASA´s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This resulted in Bob travelling to New Zealand and speaking at RASNZ conferences.

Gary was very keen on promoting science and astronomy with young people. His enthusiasm, smile and great sense of humour will be missed.

-- John Field.

2. Comet Lovejoy C/2011 W3

Comet Lovejoy provided astro-photographers with a superb subject over the Christmas-New Year holidays -- those who had clear dawn skies, that is. Not unexpectedly, the comet's nucleus disintegrated during its close approach to the sun's surface. The dust from its fragmentation produced the long narrow tail that delighted sky watchers.

A puff of dust from a comet's "dirty snowball" nucleus spreads away from the sun along a line. The speed the dust moves away depends on the particle size. The gravity acting on a particle varies inversely as the square of the distance from the sun. The intensity of sunlight varies in the same way but with an outward push. So a particle "feels" a lesser gravitational attraction toward the sun due to the sunlight pressure. It thus moves in a different orbit, as though the sun's gravity was weakened. The smaller the particle, the greater is the acceleration away from the sun due to light pressure.

The line or band of dust is called a synchrone ("same time") as all the dust was ejected together. By analysing the brightness and angles of synchrones it is possible to calculate when the dust was emitted and how big the particles are.

Zdenek Sekanina of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has done this analysis for Comet Lovejoy. Writing in Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams Electronic Telegram No. 2967, 2012 January 6, Sekanina found that most of Comet Lovejoy's tail was the product of a major outburst, or a series of outbursts, that peaked during a relatively short period of time centred on Dec. 17.6 +/-0.4 UT. That was 1-2 days after perihelion.

The bright part of the synchrone contained dust particles larger than about 30 microns in diameter (with radiation pressure acceleration parameter, beta, <0.04) on Dec. 19-20, larger than about 40 microns (beta <0.03) on Dec. 24, larger than about 80 microns (beta <0.015) on Dec. 29, and larger than about 120 microns (beta <0.01) on Jan. 3 (when the bright part is understood to be the northern-most 40' of the feature).

The synchrone approximately coincided with the line of symmetry to the much fainter quasi-parabolic envelope of additional ejecta, consisting of a smaller number of dust particles that -- upon their ejection (on or before Dec. 17.6) -- acquired lateral velocities mostly several tens of m/s, with an upper limit of 200 m/s. The sharp spike at the sunward end of the synchrone, the site of the most massive fragments (possibly boulder-sized or larger) are located, shows that their separation velocities were extremely low.

Sekanina noted that no images showed a second tail produced by new dust from the nucleus. It would have been expected to the south of the synchrone, making an angle of 5-6 deg to it. Also there was a dramatic change in the comet's appearance between Dec. 19 and 20. The comet's nuclear condensation -- the bright cloud around the nucleus -- disappeared on Dec. 20. All this suggests that the comet sustained a severe damage to its nucleus as the source of activity.

Sekanina concluded: "The outburst(s) apparently constituted part of the rapidly-progressing process of cataclysmic fragmentation that was continuing past Dec. 19.4 UT but was essentially completed by Dec. 20.3. The drop in brightness from Dec. 20 on is, in this scenario, understood as reflecting basically the rate of dispersal in space of the dust ejecta released during the Dec. 16-20 period of the comet's activity."

"It appears that, brightness-wise, C/2011 W3 is rivalling the headless sungrazer C/1887 B1, whose tail was visually detected until about 19 days after perihelion. However, C/2011 W3 is doing a little better in terms of the post-perihelion survival of an active nucleus, as comet C/1887 B1 was found to have lasted for only about 6 hours after its perihelion passage (Sekanina 1984, Icarus 58, 81)."

Sekanina's analysis used two images taken by J. Ebr et al on Dec. 19.37 and 20.33 UT with a 0.3-m f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector, a robotic remotely-controlled telescope located at the Pierre Auger Observatory at Malargue, Argentina (as reported by J. Cerny at http://www.kommet.cz); and eleven images were taken by Robert H. McNaught on Dec. 23.75, 24.74, and daily between Dec. 26.74 and Jan. 3.73 UT with the Uppsala 0.5-m f/3.5 Schmidt telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory See http://msowww.anu.edu.au/~rmn/C2011W3.htm.

For more on Comet Lovejoy see http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1153/ http://www.astroarts.jp/photo-gallery/data/rakudaoyaji/6797.jpg

3. The Solar System in February

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for February 2012 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Feb_12.htm. Notes for March 2012 will be on line in a few days.

The planets in february

Both Venus and Jupiter will be easily visible to the west and northwest shortly after sunset. They will get closer to one another during the month.

Mars will become easily visible in the late evening to the northeast by the end of February. Saturn also rises before midnight, and should be visible low to the east at midnight be the end of the month. It will be better seen in the morning sky.

Mercury is at superior conjunction with the Sun on the 7th. At its best Mercury will set about 30 minutes after the Sun at the end of February, so is not likely to be visible in the evening twilight.

(433) EROS, will make a close approach to the Earth at the end of January and beginning of February. It will reach magnitude 8.6 at its brightest so be in the reach of binoculars. During February Eros will be in New Zealand skies all night.

Venus and JUPITER in the EARLY EVENING SKY

Venus sets a little over 90 minutes after the Sun in February, so will be obvious but low to the west soon after sunset. An hour after sunset the planet will be about 6 degrees up early in the month and less than 5 degrees by the end of February. An hour after sunset will be close to the end of nautical twilight, so there will still be considerable brightening of the sky to the west.

At the beginning of February, Venus will be in Aquarius but by the 3rd will have moved into Pisces, which it crosses during the rest of the month.

Venus starts February just under 6 degrees to the lower right of Vesta, magnitude 8.2. As it moves away from the asteroid, Venus will close in on Uranus, magnitude 5.9. The two are closest on the 10th, with Venus less than half a degree to the lower right of Uranus. It should be possible to pick up Uranus in binoculars as the sky gets darker, but of course the two planets will be getting low. There will be no star nearby which could be confused with Uranus. The two planets are no more than 5 degrees apart from the 6th to the 14th of February.

A few evenings later, Venus passes the asteroid, or dwarf planet, Ceres. The two are closest on the 15th, with Ceres just over 7 degrees above and slightly to the left of Venus. At magnitude 9.2 Ceres will be very difficult to spot in binoculars with the sky not completely dark.

Jupiter sets about 10.30 pm by the end of February and will be in Aries. It will be moving to the east more slowly than Venus so that by the end of February the two will be about 12.5 degrees apart. Thus they will be beginning to form a fine pair to the west.

The crescent moon will be a little under 7 degrees to the right of and slightly lower than Venus on the 26th. The following night it will be less than 5 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter.

Mars and SATURN in the LATER EVENING SKY

Mars rises about 100 minutes after sunset at the beginning of February, only 20 later at the end of the month. By then it will be at a moderate altitude to the northeast in the late evening. At magnitude -1.2 it will be the brightest object in that direction and nearly as bright a Sirius.

During February, Mars will appear to be moving in a retrograde sense to the west as the faster-moving Earth begins to catch up with the planet in their orbits round the Sun. Mars starts February in Virgo but crosses into Leo on the 3rd. In Leo the planet will move towards Regulus, the two being just under 15 degrees apart by the end of the month.

On February 10 the moon, 3 days past full, will be some 9 degrees to the upper right of Mars. The previous night it will form a broad triangle with Mars and Regulus with the moon at the apex.

Mars will also be visible in the morning sky, it will be fairly low to the west at about 6am by the end of the month.

Saturn rises shortly before midnight on February 1 and about 10 pm on the 29th. Thus by then it will be visible rather low to the east by late evening. The planet will be in Virgo and some 7 degrees below Spica. Saturn is nearly a magnitude brighter than the star.

Saturn will of course also be readily visible in the morning sky at least up to about 6 am. The planet will then be to the west and considerably higher than in the evening. In the morning sky Saturn and Spica will appear to be about level with the star to the left of the planet.

The moon will be at its closest to Saturn and Spica on the night of February 12/13. At midnight the moon will be less than 1 degree from Spica and about 8 degrees from Saturn. They will be very low to the east. By the morning at about 6am, the moon will be about 3 degrees from Spica and 6 from Saturn. The three will be to the north.


Uranus sets only an hour after the Sun by the end of February. So it is not going to be an easy object. An hour after sunset on the 1st it will be some 11 degrees up to the west. Its conjunction with Venus on the 10th is likely to give an opportunity to locate the planet.

Neptune is at conjunction with the Sun on February 20, NZDT. So it will be too close to see throughout the month.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres will be low to the west in the early evening sky during February. The asteroid will be in Cetus at magnitude 9.3 to 9.2.

(4) Vesta is in Aquarius at the beginning of February but moves in Pisces by the 5th. It will be even lower than Ceres but a magnitude brighter, so a difficult object for binoculars

(433) Eros will be at its brightest, magnitude 8.6, at the end of January and during the first week in February. At its closest at the beginning of February it will be 0.179 AU from the Earth. The asteroid will be visible all night as it moves to the south. Throughout February, at 10.30 pm, it will be a little to the north of east, its altitude increasing from 19 degrees at the beginning of the month to 59 degrees at the end. More information and finder charts are available on the RASNZ web site.

Eros was the first near-Earth asteroid to be discovered. Its close approaches were used to determine its parallax and hence its and the Sun´s distance from the Earth. It seems appropriate that there should be another close approach of Eros this year with the transit of Venus in June. Prior to the observations of Eros, the best determinations of the solar distance had been made using the transits of Venus.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2012.

-- Brian Loader

4. Council and Executive Nominations

New Year´s greeting to all RASNZ members,

Call for nominations to Council. Closing date for receipt: 15 March 2012 2012, being an even numbered year, is an election year for the RASNZ Council. Nominations are requested for all officers and council positions. The positions for which nominations are required are: President Incoming vice-president Executive secretary Treasurer 5 Council members. In addition the fellows need to nominate a fellows representative. Affiliated Societies will elect two representatives at the affiliated societies' committee meeting held prior to the AGM. The current president, Glen Rowe, automatically becomes a vice-president. The rules do not allow the president to serve a second consecutive term. By the terms of rule 74, nominations, including any for the fellows representative, need to be sent in writing to the Executive Secretary by 15 March 2012.

If you would like a nomination form please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The nomination must specify the name of the candidate and the office sought. It must be signed by the proposer and seconder and be accompanied by the written consent of the nominee. The address to which nominations should be sent, as soon as possible, is: RASNZ Executive Secretary 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Road RD 2 TUAKAU 2697 A postal ballot will be held in April 2012 for any position for which the number of candidates exceeds the number of appointees required.

Regards Rory O´Keeffe, Executive Secretary, RASNZ


The Newsletter Editor and the Webmaster wouldn't mind others applying to the new Council for their jobs, either. -- Ed.

5. Murray Geddes Memorial Prize Nominations

Nominations are called for the Murray Geddes Memorial Prize 2012. The prize is awarded for contributions to astronomy in New Zealand. Normally the recipient is a resident of New Zealand. Nominations should be sent to the RASNZ Executive Secretary at the address below by 31 January 2012. R O´Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Road, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

6. Stardate South Island - February 17-19

Euan Mason writes: Stardate SI will be held from February 17th to 19th 2012 at Staveley, Canterbury. This celebration of the cosmos will feature our very own John Drummond as a special guest. The venue and programme are family friendly, and there is plenty of accommodation. The cost is only $12.50/person/ night, which is an absolute bargain for such a fabulous star party. For information and to register on-line, see http://www.treesandstars.com/stardate/

7. Wellington Astro-music Concert 16 March

John Percy writes: Dear astronomy colleagues anywhere near Wellington -- Toronto's Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra is bringing "The Galileo Project" to Australia and New Zealand in March; it will be at Wellington Town Hall on 16 March 2012.

I personally had a small part in the creation of The Galileo Project -- as a 30-year supporter of Tafelmusik, and knowing of the outstanding multimedia programs that its double-bass player Alison Mackay had created, I suggested that they should do a Galileo program as part of International Year of Astronomy 2009, which marked the 400th anniversary of Galileo's development and use of the astronomical telescope. I was one of the organizers of IYA 2009.

Ms Mackay created an outstanding program, including images, narration, choreography, and music -- all memorized. It has toured Canada, the US, Mexico, and Asia, and now Australia and NZ, and Europe in the future. It's an outstanding fusion of astronomy and the arts. And it's received rave reviews.

You can find out more at: http://www.tafelmusik.org/galileo/index.htm including complete notes, some of the rave reviews, and a video excerpt or two.

There's more information about the tour at: http://www.musicaviva.com.au/whatson/international-concert-season- 2012/artists-touring/tafelmusik

I hope you will be able to attend the concert, and I hope you will tell your colleagues and friends about it. Prior to Wellington, it's being performed in major cities in Australia.

I wish I was coming with the orchestra; I remember well my visit to Wellington several years ago, and two other visits with connections to the RASNZ.

John Percy, Professor Emeritus: Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto

8. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9

The 25th National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA) meets in Brisbane over Easter, April 6-9. The meeting at the University of Queensland campus is hosted by the Astronomical Association of Queensland and supported by other astronomy clubs in South East Queensland.

The sixth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations and the inaugural Variable Stars South Symposium will be held as part of the NACAA programme. Those interested in attending please fill in the form at http://www.nacaa.org.au/2012/interested.


For more information see http://www.nacaa.org.au Email enquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write to P.O. Box 188, Plumpton, NSW 2761.

9. RASNZ Conference June 15-17

The RASNZ's annual Conference is being held at the Carterton Events Centre June 15-17. The registration form is available on the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz). Or it can also be accessed via RASNZ Wiki, as can the publicity brochure.

At this time we are issuing an initial call for papers and poster-papers. Even if you are just thinking of presenting a paper please submit the form, and we can follow up with you at a later date.

On the Friday of Conference there will be an Astronomy Outreach Workshop. This is being co-ordinated by Ron Fisher, and again details are available on the RASNZ Webpage, via Conference.

There are many, and various, accommodation options available in Carterton itself and surrounding areas. Some of these are listed on the publicity brochure. The nearest airport is Masterton, but only receives one air service a day, from Auckland. We envisage many people might fly into Wellington, and get the train through to Carterton. The timetable has been printed on the publicity brochure.

Our guest speaker is Associate Professor Wayne Orchiston. Wayne is a past Executive Director of Carter Observatory and is currently Associate Professor in the Centre for Astronomy at James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland. Details of his talks are on the RASNZ Webpage. We also hope to announce a further guest speaker shortly.

The Fellows Lecture for 2012 will be delivered by Dr Edwin Budding. Ed is currently a Research Fellow at Victoria University, and also at the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Canterbury. Ed also worked at the Carter Observatory.

-- from a note by Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

10. Leap Second on June 30

Howard Barnes points out that there will be a leap second on June 30 at 23:59:60 UTC.

11. Do We Need Leap Seconds?

The phrase "clockwork universe" is more than a pithy tribute to the exactitude of physics. For thousands of years, the movement of the heavens (or rather, as was eventually realised, the movement of the Earth within the heavens) served as exactly that -- a clock. It still does. Even the hyper-accurate atomic clocks now used to record the passage of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the globe´s official standard, regularly defer to the addition of so-called leap seconds. These are introduced every so often by the time lords of the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service. Their purpose is to match the relentless stream of regular 86,400-second days that pour out of atomic clocks with the slight irregularities that the Earth experiences in its rotation around its axis.

But possibly no longer. Next week, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is meeting in Geneva, and one of the items on its agenda is the abolition of the leap second. If the assembled delegates vote in favour, then the next leap second (which will be added one second before midnight on June 30th, causing clocks set to UTC to display 23:59:59 for two seconds instead of one) will be one of the last -- and the answer to the question "what time is it?" will have ceased to have anything to do with the revolutions of the heavens.

Worrying about a few stray seconds may remind some readers of medieval debates about the precise number of angels that could be crammed onto the head of a pin. But, say the abolitionists, time -- even small amounts of it -- does matter. America´s Global Positioning System satellites, for instance, do not add leap seconds to their internal clocks, and are therefore out of step with UTC. Receivers on the ground can correct for that discrepancy. But the satellite-navigation systems being launched by China, Europe and Russia use still other definitions of time, so exceptions to UTC are proliferating. That has led to worries that mismatched time signals could cause navigation problems, since even small errors in a time signal would mean positions being off by tens of metres.

Electronic communication is another area where leap seconds are unwelcome. Days in which it is a second before midnight on two occasions can confuse software that relies on accurately timed messages to function. Workarounds exist, but they cause problems of their own. After some of its computers failed to cope with a leap second in 2005, Google, a search-engine firm, has begun running its computer clocks slowly for a short period before one is due, making the change gradual instead of instantaneous. But, notes Peter Whibberley of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Britain´s official measurements lab, that means that while the correction is being applied Google´s watches are out of sync with everybody else´s. And because leap seconds are needed irregularly their insertion cannot be automated, which means that fallible humans must insert them by hand.

Opponents of abolition say such problems are overstated. Engineers are used to dealing with the vagaries of leap seconds, according to Markus Kuhn, a computer scientist at the University of Cambridge. He thinks that a lot of those who worry about leap seconds do not actually have much experience of how things like satnav systems really work. And the switch would not be without problems of its own. Astronomers would be particularly cross: they rely on time having some connection with the movement of the heavens, so that their computers can point their telescopes at the correct patch of sky at a given time every night. A few years down the line, says Dr Kuhn, people may find that automated commercial satellite dishes, which also rely on an astronomical definition of time to spot their quarry, start to fail. Fixing them could mean wading through millions of lines of ancient computer code.

In the longer term, more dramatic effects would appear. Over the decades, centuries and millennia, atomic time would begin to diverge blatantly from solar time because the Earth´s rotation, besides being irregularly variable, is also gradually slowing down [see chart in on-line article]. In about 2,000 years the two measurements would be roughly four hours out of kilter. Eventually, atomic clocks would say it was midday in the middle of the night.

That may seem like a distant worry, but measurements of time can endure for a long time. It has been customary to divide a day into 24 hours for at least 4,000 years, for instance. The final objection is emotional. "Do we really", ask the leap seconds´ defenders, "want to abandon the sun- based reckoning that humans have relied on for their entire recorded history?"

Sadly for the traditionalists, the odds seem stacked against them. An internal ITU poll, conducted last year, found that, of the 16 countries (out of 192) that bothered to reply, 13 were in favour of abolishing leap seconds, whereas only three-thought to be Britain, Canada and China-wanted to keep them. The clockwork universe, then, has had a good run. But its mainspring may be about to break.

-- from The Economist 14 January 2012, p.72-74. See the original article at http://www.economist.com/node/21542717


Leap Second Decision Postponed

A decision on whether to abolish the leap second -- the occasional, extra second added to the world's time -- has been deferred. Experts at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) were unable to reach a consensus, so moved the matter to a meeting in 2015.

The US argued at the meeting that leap seconds were causing problems for communication and navigation systems. But the UK said that the long-term consequences of losing it were great. An ITU spokesman said that Canada, Japan, Italy, Mexico and France all supported the United States' stance on losing the leap second, while Germany, like the UK, wanted the extra second to stay. More countries though, including Nigeria, Russia and Turkey, wanted further study.

As a result, the ITU decided that more research was needed to consider the broader social implications of losing the leap second before a decision could be taken. The ITU suggested that a study group should investigate the issue, before presenting any proposals at the next World Radio Conference in 2015. It means that for now, the world's time will continue to be linked to the Earth's rotation.

-- from an article by Rebecca Morelle, Science reporter, BBC News, noted by Pam Kilmartin. See the full text at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16625614

12. Reverend George Burgess?

Anthony Kinder writes: I am currently engaged in compiling as complete a list as possible of all the members of the British Astronomical Association since its foundation in 1890. Included in this is any biographical information (full dates of birth/death, career, etc.) At present I am focusing on the founder members of the BAA and those up to 1911. One of the founder members of the BAA was the Reverend George Burgess FRAS of Manchester. Sometime around the turn of the century he appears to have emigrated to New Zealand, and presumably died there. If any person could provide me with any information about this person I would appreciate it. So far as I am aware he was either a Methodist or Baptist minister (his name does not appear in Crockford's directory of Anglican ministers). Any assistance would be fully acknowledged. Also, may I ask that if any one is or was a member of the BAA could they also provide any information they wish to divulge, this will be kept confidential (for all living respondents), and is used solely for statistical purposes. Sources (e.g. obituaries, newspapers, etc.) would also be appreciated.

Email replies to Anthony Kinder This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

13. White Dwarf Merger Makes Type I Supernova

It has long been accepted that Type Ia supernovae happen when a white dwarf star exceeds a critical mass limit around 1.4 times the mass of the sun. At that mass the pressure in the star's interior is such that the carbon nuclei in the star begin fusing. An explosion then destroys the whole star. White dwarf stars -- the cores of stars originally as big as eight times the sun's mass -- are made mostly of carbon and oxygen.

The question has been where the white dwarf gets the extra mass from. Does it come from material drawn from a nearby companion star of a normal type, or could the explosion result from two white dwarf stars merging?

Evidence favouring the merger scenario has come from a Hubble Space Telescope (HST) study of a Type Ia supernovae remnant in the Large Cloud of Magellan. The remnant is catalogued as SNR 0509-67.5 from its coordinates.

There are no recorded observations of its explosion. However, researchers at the Space Telescope Science Institute have identified light from the supernova that was reflected off of interstellar dust, delaying its arrival at Earth by 400 years. This delay, called a light echo, of the supernova explosion allowed the astronomers to measure the spectral signature of the light from the explosion. From this they were able to prove it was a Type Ia supernova.

The remnant appears as a symmetric shell or bubble, so the geometric centre can be accurately determined. Thus it is an ideal target to search for ex-companions. The young age of the remnant also means that any surviving stars have not moved far from the site of the explosion.

The team failed to find any ex-companion star near the centre of the remnant. This supports the idea that the supernova explosion was caused by a pair of white dwarf stars merging.

"We know that Hubble has the sensitivity necessary to detect the faintest white dwarf remnants that could have caused such explosions," said lead investigator Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University. "The logic here is the same as the famous quote from Sherlock Holmes: `when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.´"

-- from Louisiana State University via http://www.physorg.com/

14. A Planet for Every Star

An international team has estimated that our galaxy contains a minimum of one planet for every star on average. This means that there is likely to be a minimum of 1,500 planets within just 50 light-years of Earth. A rough estimate from this suggests that there are more than 10 billion terrestrial (Earth-sized) planets across our galaxy.

The results are based on observations taken over six years by the PLANET (Probing Lensing Anomalies NETwork) collaboration. The study concludes that there are far more Earth-sized planets than Jupiter-sized worlds. This is based on calibrating a planetary mass function that shows the number of planets increases for lower mass worlds.

The team used statistics gleaned from a planet search technique called microlensing. If one star passes precisely in front of another star, the gravity of the foreground star bends the light from the background star. This means that the foreground star acts like a giant lens amplifying the light from the background star. A planetary companion around the foreground star can produce additional brightening of the background star. This additional brightening reveals the planet, which is otherwise too faint to be seen by telescopes.

The higher the mass of the "lensing" star, the longer is the duration of the microlensing event. A typical microlensing event due to a star lasts about a month. But the extra brightening due to a planet typically lasts a few hours to a couple of days. Using the microlensing technique, astronomers can determine a planet's mass. This method, however, does not reveal any clues about the world's composition.

Wide-field survey campaigns such as OGLE (Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment) and MOA (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics) cover millions of stars every clear night in order to find stellar microlensing events as early as possible. Follow-up collaborations, such as PLANET, monitor selected candidates more frequently, 24 hours a day, using a round-the-world network of telescopes.

Of the approximately 40 microlensing events closely monitored, three showed evidence for exoplanets. Using a statistical analysis, the team found that one in six stars hosts a Jupiter-mass planet. What's more, half of the stars have Neptune-mass planets, and two-thirds of the stars have Earth-mass planets. Therefore, low-mass planets are more abundant than their massive counterparts.

Results from the three main techniques of planet detection -- star wobble, transits and microlensing -- are rapidly converging to a common result: Not only are planets common in the galaxy, but there are more small planets than large ones.

These results are independent from a gravitational-lens survey led by Takahiro Sumi of Osaka University in Japan, which estimates there are hundreds of billions of planets with orbits larger than Saturn's orbit, or are free-floating throughout the galaxy.

The results are published in the January 12 issue of Nature. -- From a European Space Agency/Hubble Space Telescope press release Information Centre via http://www.physorg.com/

15. Asteroid Moa

An asteroid discovered by Tsutomu Seki in 1991 has been named after the Japan/NZ MOA project. The official citation is: (14880) Moa = 1991 CJ1 Discovered 1991 Feb. 7 by T. Seki at Geisei. A giant flightless bird of New Zealand thought to have become extinct by A.D. 1400, MOA is also the acronym of the project Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics which involves New Zealand and Japanese universities.

16. How to Join the RASNZ

A membership application form and details can be found on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/InfoForm/membform.htm. Please note that the weblink to membership forms is case sensitive. Alternatively please send an email to the membership secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

The annual subscription rate is $75. For overseas rates please check with the membership secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

17. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

The RASNZ administers the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund to assist Affiliated Societies with travel costs of getting a lecturer or instructor to their meetings. Details are in RASNZ By-Laws Section H.

For an application form contact the Executive Secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Road, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

18. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants may be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Road, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6000 P.O. Box 57 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Lake Tekapo 7945 New Zealand

The RASNZ Email newsletter is distributed by email on or near the 20th of each month. If you would like to be on the circulation list This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for a copy.

Affiliated Societies are welcome to reproduce any item in this email newsletter or on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ in their own newsletters provided an acknowledgement of the source is also included.

Contents

1. Gary Wilmshurst (1949 - 2011)
2. Comet Lovejoy C/2011 W3
3. The Solar System in February
4. Council and Executive Nominations
5. Murray Geddes Memorial Prize Nominations
6. Stardate South Island - February 17-19
7. Wellington Astro-music Concert 16 March
8. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9
9. RASNZ Conference June 15-17
10. Leap Second on June 30
11. Do We Need Leap Seconds?
12. Reverend George Burgess?
13. White Dwarf Merger Makes Type I Supernova
14. A Planet for Every Star
15. Asteroid Moa
16. How to Join the RASNZ
17. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
18. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

1. Gary Wilmshurst (1949 - 2011)

Gary Wilmshurst unexpectedly passed away on the 28th of December 2011. Gary had been a member of RASNZ and served on Council. He was also a member of the Wellington Astronomical Society (WAS) and was President during the 1980s. Gary also served as a representative of the RASNZ on the Carter Observatory Board.

Gary had a keen interest in astronomy and space exploration. I first met Gary at Carter as telescope operator and presenter and over the years worked with Gary on many WAS/Carter projects. Gary was also on the organising committees for the RASNZ conferences that were held in Wellington.

His favourite topics were the latest images and results from the many NASA probes and missions during the 1980s and 1990s. Through this interest Gary built a long-standing relationship with Bob Mitchell of NASA´s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This resulted in Bob travelling to New Zealand and speaking at RASNZ conferences.

Gary was very keen on promoting science and astronomy with young people. His enthusiasm, smile and great sense of humour will be missed.

-- John Field.

2. Comet Lovejoy C/2011 W3

Comet Lovejoy provided astro-photographers with a superb subject over the Christmas-New Year holidays -- those who had clear dawn skies, that is. Not unexpectedly, the comet's nucleus disintegrated during its close approach to the sun's surface. The dust from its fragmentation produced the long narrow tail that delighted sky watchers.

A puff of dust from a comet's "dirty snowball" nucleus spreads away from the sun along a line. The speed the dust moves away depends on the particle size. The gravity acting on a particle varies inversely as the square of the distance from the sun. The intensity of sunlight varies in the same way but with an outward push. So a particle "feels" a lesser gravitational attraction toward the sun due to the sunlight pressure. It thus moves in a different orbit, as though the sun's gravity was weakened. The smaller the particle, the greater is the acceleration away from the sun due to light pressure.

The line or band of dust is called a synchrone ("same time") as all the dust was ejected together. By analysing the brightness and angles of synchrones it is possible to calculate when the dust was emitted and how big the particles are.

Zdenek Sekanina of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory has done this analysis for Comet Lovejoy. Writing in Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams Electronic Telegram No. 2967, 2012 January 6, Sekanina found that most of Comet Lovejoy's tail was the product of a major outburst, or a series of outbursts, that peaked during a relatively short period of time centred on Dec. 17.6 +/-0.4 UT. That was 1-2 days after perihelion.

The bright part of the synchrone contained dust particles larger than about 30 microns in diameter (with radiation pressure acceleration parameter, beta, <0.04) on Dec. 19-20, larger than about 40 microns (beta <0.03) on Dec. 24, larger than about 80 microns (beta <0.015) on Dec. 29, and larger than about 120 microns (beta <0.01) on Jan. 3 (when the bright part is understood to be the northern-most 40' of the feature).

The synchrone approximately coincided with the line of symmetry to the much fainter quasi-parabolic envelope of additional ejecta, consisting of a smaller number of dust particles that -- upon their ejection (on or before Dec. 17.6) -- acquired lateral velocities mostly several tens of m/s, with an upper limit of 200 m/s. The sharp spike at the sunward end of the synchrone, the site of the most massive fragments (possibly boulder-sized or larger) are located, shows that their separation velocities were extremely low.

Sekanina noted that no images showed a second tail produced by new dust from the nucleus. It would have been expected to the south of the synchrone, making an angle of 5-6 deg to it. Also there was a dramatic change in the comet's appearance between Dec. 19 and 20. The comet's nuclear condensation -- the bright cloud around the nucleus -- disappeared on Dec. 20. All this suggests that the comet sustained a severe damage to its nucleus as the source of activity.

Sekanina concluded: "The outburst(s) apparently constituted part of the rapidly-progressing process of cataclysmic fragmentation that was continuing past Dec. 19.4 UT but was essentially completed by Dec. 20.3. The drop in brightness from Dec. 20 on is, in this scenario, understood as reflecting basically the rate of dispersal in space of the dust ejecta released during the Dec. 16-20 period of the comet's activity."

"It appears that, brightness-wise, C/2011 W3 is rivalling the headless sungrazer C/1887 B1, whose tail was visually detected until about 19 days after perihelion. However, C/2011 W3 is doing a little better in terms of the post-perihelion survival of an active nucleus, as comet C/1887 B1 was found to have lasted for only about 6 hours after its perihelion passage (Sekanina 1984, Icarus 58, 81)."

Sekanina's analysis used two images taken by J. Ebr et al on Dec. 19.37 and 20.33 UT with a 0.3-m f/10 Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector, a robotic remotely-controlled telescope located at the Pierre Auger Observatory at Malargue, Argentina (as reported by J. Cerny at http://www.kommet.cz); and eleven images were taken by Robert H. McNaught on Dec. 23.75, 24.74, and daily between Dec. 26.74 and Jan. 3.73 UT with the Uppsala 0.5-m f/3.5 Schmidt telescope at the Siding Spring Observatory See http://msowww.anu.edu.au/~rmn/C2011W3.htm.

For more on Comet Lovejoy see http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1153/ http://www.astroarts.jp/photo-gallery/data/rakudaoyaji/6797.jpg

3. The Solar System in February

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for February 2012 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Feb_12.htm. Notes for March 2012 will be on line in a few days.

The planets in february

Both Venus and Jupiter will be easily visible to the west and northwest shortly after sunset. They will get closer to one another during the month.

Mars will become easily visible in the late evening to the northeast by the end of February. Saturn also rises before midnight, and should be visible low to the east at midnight be the end of the month. It will be better seen in the morning sky.

Mercury is at superior conjunction with the Sun on the 7th. At its best Mercury will set about 30 minutes after the Sun at the end of February, so is not likely to be visible in the evening twilight.

(433) EROS, will make a close approach to the Earth at the end of January and beginning of February. It will reach magnitude 8.6 at its brightest so be in the reach of binoculars. During February Eros will be in New Zealand skies all night.

Venus and JUPITER in the EARLY EVENING SKY

Venus sets a little over 90 minutes after the Sun in February, so will be obvious but low to the west soon after sunset. An hour after sunset the planet will be about 6 degrees up early in the month and less than 5 degrees by the end of February. An hour after sunset will be close to the end of nautical twilight, so there will still be considerable brightening of the sky to the west.

At the beginning of February, Venus will be in Aquarius but by the 3rd will have moved into Pisces, which it crosses during the rest of the month.

Venus starts February just under 6 degrees to the lower right of Vesta, magnitude 8.2. As it moves away from the asteroid, Venus will close in on Uranus, magnitude 5.9. The two are closest on the 10th, with Venus less than half a degree to the lower right of Uranus. It should be possible to pick up Uranus in binoculars as the sky gets darker, but of course the two planets will be getting low. There will be no star nearby which could be confused with Uranus. The two planets are no more than 5 degrees apart from the 6th to the 14th of February.

A few evenings later, Venus passes the asteroid, or dwarf planet, Ceres. The two are closest on the 15th, with Ceres just over 7 degrees above and slightly to the left of Venus. At magnitude 9.2 Ceres will be very difficult to spot in binoculars with the sky not completely dark.

Jupiter sets about 10.30 pm by the end of February and will be in Aries. It will be moving to the east more slowly than Venus so that by the end of February the two will be about 12.5 degrees apart. Thus they will be beginning to form a fine pair to the west.

The crescent moon will be a little under 7 degrees to the right of and slightly lower than Venus on the 26th. The following night it will be less than 5 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter.

Mars and SATURN in the LATER EVENING SKY

Mars rises about 100 minutes after sunset at the beginning of February, only 20 later at the end of the month. By then it will be at a moderate altitude to the northeast in the late evening. At magnitude -1.2 it will be the brightest object in that direction and nearly as bright a Sirius.

During February, Mars will appear to be moving in a retrograde sense to the west as the faster-moving Earth begins to catch up with the planet in their orbits round the Sun. Mars starts February in Virgo but crosses into Leo on the 3rd. In Leo the planet will move towards Regulus, the two being just under 15 degrees apart by the end of the month.

On February 10 the moon, 3 days past full, will be some 9 degrees to the upper right of Mars. The previous night it will form a broad triangle with Mars and Regulus with the moon at the apex.

Mars will also be visible in the morning sky, it will be fairly low to the west at about 6am by the end of the month.

Saturn rises shortly before midnight on February 1 and about 10 pm on the 29th. Thus by then it will be visible rather low to the east by late evening. The planet will be in Virgo and some 7 degrees below Spica. Saturn is nearly a magnitude brighter than the star.

Saturn will of course also be readily visible in the morning sky at least up to about 6 am. The planet will then be to the west and considerably higher than in the evening. In the morning sky Saturn and Spica will appear to be about level with the star to the left of the planet.

The moon will be at its closest to Saturn and Spica on the night of February 12/13. At midnight the moon will be less than 1 degree from Spica and about 8 degrees from Saturn. They will be very low to the east. By the morning at about 6am, the moon will be about 3 degrees from Spica and 6 from Saturn. The three will be to the north.


Uranus sets only an hour after the Sun by the end of February. So it is not going to be an easy object. An hour after sunset on the 1st it will be some 11 degrees up to the west. Its conjunction with Venus on the 10th is likely to give an opportunity to locate the planet.

Neptune is at conjunction with the Sun on February 20, NZDT. So it will be too close to see throughout the month.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres will be low to the west in the early evening sky during February. The asteroid will be in Cetus at magnitude 9.3 to 9.2.

(4) Vesta is in Aquarius at the beginning of February but moves in Pisces by the 5th. It will be even lower than Ceres but a magnitude brighter, so a difficult object for binoculars

(433) Eros will be at its brightest, magnitude 8.6, at the end of January and during the first week in February. At its closest at the beginning of February it will be 0.179 AU from the Earth. The asteroid will be visible all night as it moves to the south. Throughout February, at 10.30 pm, it will be a little to the north of east, its altitude increasing from 19 degrees at the beginning of the month to 59 degrees at the end. More information and finder charts are available on the RASNZ web site.

Eros was the first near-Earth asteroid to be discovered. Its close approaches were used to determine its parallax and hence its and the Sun´s distance from the Earth. It seems appropriate that there should be another close approach of Eros this year with the transit of Venus in June. Prior to the observations of Eros, the best determinations of the solar distance had been made using the transits of Venus.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2012.

-- Brian Loader

4. Council and Executive Nominations

New Year´s greeting to all RASNZ members,

Call for nominations to Council. Closing date for receipt: 15 March 2012 2012, being an even numbered year, is an election year for the RASNZ Council. Nominations are requested for all officers and council positions. The positions for which nominations are required are: President Incoming vice-president Executive secretary Treasurer 5 Council members. In addition the fellows need to nominate a fellows representative. Affiliated Societies will elect two representatives at the affiliated societies' committee meeting held prior to the AGM. The current president, Glen Rowe, automatically becomes a vice-president. The rules do not allow the president to serve a second consecutive term. By the terms of rule 74, nominations, including any for the fellows representative, need to be sent in writing to the Executive Secretary by 15 March 2012.

If you would like a nomination form please email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The nomination must specify the name of the candidate and the office sought. It must be signed by the proposer and seconder and be accompanied by the written consent of the nominee. The address to which nominations should be sent, as soon as possible, is: RASNZ Executive Secretary 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Road RD 2 TUAKAU 2697 A postal ballot will be held in April 2012 for any position for which the number of candidates exceeds the number of appointees required.

Regards Rory O´Keeffe, Executive Secretary, RASNZ


The Newsletter Editor and the Webmaster wouldn't mind others applying to the new Council for their jobs, either. -- Ed.

5. Murray Geddes Memorial Prize Nominations

Nominations are called for the Murray Geddes Memorial Prize 2012. The prize is awarded for contributions to astronomy in New Zealand. Normally the recipient is a resident of New Zealand. Nominations should be sent to the RASNZ Executive Secretary at the address below by 31 January 2012. R O´Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Road, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

6. Stardate South Island - February 17-19

Euan Mason writes: Stardate SI will be held from February 17th to 19th 2012 at Staveley, Canterbury. This celebration of the cosmos will feature our very own John Drummond as a special guest. The venue and programme are family friendly, and there is plenty of accommodation. The cost is only $12.50/person/ night, which is an absolute bargain for such a fabulous star party. For information and to register on-line, see http://www.treesandstars.com/stardate/

7. Wellington Astro-music Concert 16 March

John Percy writes: Dear astronomy colleagues anywhere near Wellington -- Toronto's Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra is bringing "The Galileo Project" to Australia and New Zealand in March; it will be at Wellington Town Hall on 16 March 2012.

I personally had a small part in the creation of The Galileo Project -- as a 30-year supporter of Tafelmusik, and knowing of the outstanding multimedia programs that its double-bass player Alison Mackay had created, I suggested that they should do a Galileo program as part of International Year of Astronomy 2009, which marked the 400th anniversary of Galileo's development and use of the astronomical telescope. I was one of the organizers of IYA 2009.

Ms Mackay created an outstanding program, including images, narration, choreography, and music -- all memorized. It has toured Canada, the US, Mexico, and Asia, and now Australia and NZ, and Europe in the future. It's an outstanding fusion of astronomy and the arts. And it's received rave reviews.

You can find out more at: http://www.tafelmusik.org/galileo/index.htm including complete notes, some of the rave reviews, and a video excerpt or two.

There's more information about the tour at: http://www.musicaviva.com.au/whatson/international-concert-season- 2012/artists-touring/tafelmusik

I hope you will be able to attend the concert, and I hope you will tell your colleagues and friends about it. Prior to Wellington, it's being performed in major cities in Australia.

I wish I was coming with the orchestra; I remember well my visit to Wellington several years ago, and two other visits with connections to the RASNZ.

John Percy, Professor Emeritus: Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto

8. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9

The 25th National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA) meets in Brisbane over Easter, April 6-9. The meeting at the University of Queensland campus is hosted by the Astronomical Association of Queensland and supported by other astronomy clubs in South East Queensland.

The sixth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations and the inaugural Variable Stars South Symposium will be held as part of the NACAA programme. Those interested in attending please fill in the form at http://www.nacaa.org.au/2012/interested.


For more information see http://www.nacaa.org.au Email enquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write to P.O. Box 188, Plumpton, NSW 2761.

9. RASNZ Conference June 15-17

The RASNZ's annual Conference is being held at the Carterton Events Centre June 15-17. The registration form is available on the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz). Or it can also be accessed via RASNZ Wiki, as can the publicity brochure.

At this time we are issuing an initial call for papers and poster-papers. Even if you are just thinking of presenting a paper please submit the form, and we can follow up with you at a later date.

On the Friday of Conference there will be an Astronomy Outreach Workshop. This is being co-ordinated by Ron Fisher, and again details are available on the RASNZ Webpage, via Conference.

There are many, and various, accommodation options available in Carterton itself and surrounding areas. Some of these are listed on the publicity brochure. The nearest airport is Masterton, but only receives one air service a day, from Auckland. We envisage many people might fly into Wellington, and get the train through to Carterton. The timetable has been printed on the publicity brochure.

Our guest speaker is Associate Professor Wayne Orchiston. Wayne is a past Executive Director of Carter Observatory and is currently Associate Professor in the Centre for Astronomy at James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland. Details of his talks are on the RASNZ Webpage. We also hope to announce a further guest speaker shortly.

The Fellows Lecture for 2012 will be delivered by Dr Edwin Budding. Ed is currently a Research Fellow at Victoria University, and also at the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Canterbury. Ed also worked at the Carter Observatory.

-- from a note by Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

10. Leap Second on June 30

Howard Barnes points out that there will be a leap second on June 30 at 23:59:60 UTC.

11. Do We Need Leap Seconds?

The phrase "clockwork universe" is more than a pithy tribute to the exactitude of physics. For thousands of years, the movement of the heavens (or rather, as was eventually realised, the movement of the Earth within the heavens) served as exactly that -- a clock. It still does. Even the hyper-accurate atomic clocks now used to record the passage of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the globe´s official standard, regularly defer to the addition of so-called leap seconds. These are introduced every so often by the time lords of the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service. Their purpose is to match the relentless stream of regular 86,400-second days that pour out of atomic clocks with the slight irregularities that the Earth experiences in its rotation around its axis.

But possibly no longer. Next week, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is meeting in Geneva, and one of the items on its agenda is the abolition of the leap second. If the assembled delegates vote in favour, then the next leap second (which will be added one second before midnight on June 30th, causing clocks set to UTC to display 23:59:59 for two seconds instead of one) will be one of the last -- and the answer to the question "what time is it?" will have ceased to have anything to do with the revolutions of the heavens.

Worrying about a few stray seconds may remind some readers of medieval debates about the precise number of angels that could be crammed onto the head of a pin. But, say the abolitionists, time -- even small amounts of it -- does matter. America´s Global Positioning System satellites, for instance, do not add leap seconds to their internal clocks, and are therefore out of step with UTC. Receivers on the ground can correct for that discrepancy. But the satellite-navigation systems being launched by China, Europe and Russia use still other definitions of time, so exceptions to UTC are proliferating. That has led to worries that mismatched time signals could cause navigation problems, since even small errors in a time signal would mean positions being off by tens of metres.

Electronic communication is another area where leap seconds are unwelcome. Days in which it is a second before midnight on two occasions can confuse software that relies on accurately timed messages to function. Workarounds exist, but they cause problems of their own. After some of its computers failed to cope with a leap second in 2005, Google, a search-engine firm, has begun running its computer clocks slowly for a short period before one is due, making the change gradual instead of instantaneous. But, notes Peter Whibberley of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), Britain´s official measurements lab, that means that while the correction is being applied Google´s watches are out of sync with everybody else´s. And because leap seconds are needed irregularly their insertion cannot be automated, which means that fallible humans must insert them by hand.

Opponents of abolition say such problems are overstated. Engineers are used to dealing with the vagaries of leap seconds, according to Markus Kuhn, a computer scientist at the University of Cambridge. He thinks that a lot of those who worry about leap seconds do not actually have much experience of how things like satnav systems really work. And the switch would not be without problems of its own. Astronomers would be particularly cross: they rely on time having some connection with the movement of the heavens, so that their computers can point their telescopes at the correct patch of sky at a given time every night. A few years down the line, says Dr Kuhn, people may find that automated commercial satellite dishes, which also rely on an astronomical definition of time to spot their quarry, start to fail. Fixing them could mean wading through millions of lines of ancient computer code.

In the longer term, more dramatic effects would appear. Over the decades, centuries and millennia, atomic time would begin to diverge blatantly from solar time because the Earth´s rotation, besides being irregularly variable, is also gradually slowing down [see chart in on-line article]. In about 2,000 years the two measurements would be roughly four hours out of kilter. Eventually, atomic clocks would say it was midday in the middle of the night.

That may seem like a distant worry, but measurements of time can endure for a long time. It has been customary to divide a day into 24 hours for at least 4,000 years, for instance. The final objection is emotional. "Do we really", ask the leap seconds´ defenders, "want to abandon the sun- based reckoning that humans have relied on for their entire recorded history?"

Sadly for the traditionalists, the odds seem stacked against them. An internal ITU poll, conducted last year, found that, of the 16 countries (out of 192) that bothered to reply, 13 were in favour of abolishing leap seconds, whereas only three-thought to be Britain, Canada and China-wanted to keep them. The clockwork universe, then, has had a good run. But its mainspring may be about to break.

-- from The Economist 14 January 2012, p.72-74. See the original article at http://www.economist.com/node/21542717


Leap Second Decision Postponed

A decision on whether to abolish the leap second -- the occasional, extra second added to the world's time -- has been deferred. Experts at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) were unable to reach a consensus, so moved the matter to a meeting in 2015.

The US argued at the meeting that leap seconds were causing problems for communication and navigation systems. But the UK said that the long-term consequences of losing it were great. An ITU spokesman said that Canada, Japan, Italy, Mexico and France all supported the United States' stance on losing the leap second, while Germany, like the UK, wanted the extra second to stay. More countries though, including Nigeria, Russia and Turkey, wanted further study.

As a result, the ITU decided that more research was needed to consider the broader social implications of losing the leap second before a decision could be taken. The ITU suggested that a study group should investigate the issue, before presenting any proposals at the next World Radio Conference in 2015. It means that for now, the world's time will continue to be linked to the Earth's rotation.

-- from an article by Rebecca Morelle, Science reporter, BBC News, noted by Pam Kilmartin. See the full text at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-16625614

12. Reverend George Burgess?

Anthony Kinder writes: I am currently engaged in compiling as complete a list as possible of all the members of the British Astronomical Association since its foundation in 1890. Included in this is any biographical information (full dates of birth/death, career, etc.) At present I am focusing on the founder members of the BAA and those up to 1911. One of the founder members of the BAA was the Reverend George Burgess FRAS of Manchester. Sometime around the turn of the century he appears to have emigrated to New Zealand, and presumably died there. If any person could provide me with any information about this person I would appreciate it. So far as I am aware he was either a Methodist or Baptist minister (his name does not appear in Crockford's directory of Anglican ministers). Any assistance would be fully acknowledged. Also, may I ask that if any one is or was a member of the BAA could they also provide any information they wish to divulge, this will be kept confidential (for all living respondents), and is used solely for statistical purposes. Sources (e.g. obituaries, newspapers, etc.) would also be appreciated.

Email replies to Anthony Kinder This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

13. White Dwarf Merger Makes Type I Supernova

It has long been accepted that Type Ia supernovae happen when a white dwarf star exceeds a critical mass limit around 1.4 times the mass of the sun. At that mass the pressure in the star's interior is such that the carbon nuclei in the star begin fusing. An explosion then destroys the whole star. White dwarf stars -- the cores of stars originally as big as eight times the sun's mass -- are made mostly of carbon and oxygen.

The question has been where the white dwarf gets the extra mass from. Does it come from material drawn from a nearby companion star of a normal type, or could the explosion result from two white dwarf stars merging?

Evidence favouring the merger scenario has come from a Hubble Space Telescope (HST) study of a Type Ia supernovae remnant in the Large Cloud of Magellan. The remnant is catalogued as SNR 0509-67.5 from its coordinates.

There are no recorded observations of its explosion. However, researchers at the Space Telescope Science Institute have identified light from the supernova that was reflected off of interstellar dust, delaying its arrival at Earth by 400 years. This delay, called a light echo, of the supernova explosion allowed the astronomers to measure the spectral signature of the light from the explosion. From this they were able to prove it was a Type Ia supernova.

The remnant appears as a symmetric shell or bubble, so the geometric centre can be accurately determined. Thus it is an ideal target to search for ex-companions. The young age of the remnant also means that any surviving stars have not moved far from the site of the explosion.

The team failed to find any ex-companion star near the centre of the remnant. This supports the idea that the supernova explosion was caused by a pair of white dwarf stars merging.

"We know that Hubble has the sensitivity necessary to detect the faintest white dwarf remnants that could have caused such explosions," said lead investigator Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University. "The logic here is the same as the famous quote from Sherlock Holmes: `when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.´"

-- from Louisiana State University via http://www.physorg.com/

14. A Planet for Every Star

An international team has estimated that our galaxy contains a minimum of one planet for every star on average. This means that there is likely to be a minimum of 1,500 planets within just 50 light-years of Earth. A rough estimate from this suggests that there are more than 10 billion terrestrial (Earth-sized) planets across our galaxy.

The results are based on observations taken over six years by the PLANET (Probing Lensing Anomalies NETwork) collaboration. The study concludes that there are far more Earth-sized planets than Jupiter-sized worlds. This is based on calibrating a planetary mass function that shows the number of planets increases for lower mass worlds.

The team used statistics gleaned from a planet search technique called microlensing. If one star passes precisely in front of another star, the gravity of the foreground star bends the light from the background star. This means that the foreground star acts like a giant lens amplifying the light from the background star. A planetary companion around the foreground star can produce additional brightening of the background star. This additional brightening reveals the planet, which is otherwise too faint to be seen by telescopes.

The higher the mass of the "lensing" star, the longer is the duration of the microlensing event. A typical microlensing event due to a star lasts about a month. But the extra brightening due to a planet typically lasts a few hours to a couple of days. Using the microlensing technique, astronomers can determine a planet's mass. This method, however, does not reveal any clues about the world's composition.

Wide-field survey campaigns such as OGLE (Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment) and MOA (Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics) cover millions of stars every clear night in order to find stellar microlensing events as early as possible. Follow-up collaborations, such as PLANET, monitor selected candidates more frequently, 24 hours a day, using a round-the-world network of telescopes.

Of the approximately 40 microlensing events closely monitored, three showed evidence for exoplanets. Using a statistical analysis, the team found that one in six stars hosts a Jupiter-mass planet. What's more, half of the stars have Neptune-mass planets, and two-thirds of the stars have Earth-mass planets. Therefore, low-mass planets are more abundant than their massive counterparts.

Results from the three main techniques of planet detection -- star wobble, transits and microlensing -- are rapidly converging to a common result: Not only are planets common in the galaxy, but there are more small planets than large ones.

These results are independent from a gravitational-lens survey led by Takahiro Sumi of Osaka University in Japan, which estimates there are hundreds of billions of planets with orbits larger than Saturn's orbit, or are free-floating throughout the galaxy.

The results are published in the January 12 issue of Nature. -- From a European Space Agency/Hubble Space Telescope press release Information Centre via http://www.physorg.com/

15. Asteroid Moa

An asteroid discovered by Tsutomu Seki in 1991 has been named after the Japan/NZ MOA project. The official citation is: (14880) Moa = 1991 CJ1 Discovered 1991 Feb. 7 by T. Seki at Geisei. A giant flightless bird of New Zealand thought to have become extinct by A.D. 1400, MOA is also the acronym of the project Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics which involves New Zealand and Japanese universities.

16. How to Join the RASNZ

A membership application form and details can be found on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/InfoForm/membform.htm. Please note that the weblink to membership forms is case sensitive. Alternatively please send an email to the membership secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

The annual subscription rate is $75. For overseas rates please check with the membership secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

17. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

The RASNZ administers the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund to assist Affiliated Societies with travel costs of getting a lecturer or instructor to their meetings. Details are in RASNZ By-Laws Section H.

For an application form contact the Executive Secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Road, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

18. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants may be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Road, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6000 P.O. Box 57 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Lake Tekapo 7945 New Zealand


Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore   Phone: 03 680 6000
P.O. Box 57   Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand

The RASNZ Email newsletter is distributed by email on or near the 20th of each month. If you would like to be on the circulation list This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for a copy.

Affiliated Societies are welcome to reproduce any item in this email newsletter or on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ in their own newsletters provided an acknowledgement of the source is also included.

Contents

1. Kepler Finds Habitable Planet
2. Terry Lovejoy Finds Sungrazing Comet
3. Stu Parker Finds Bright Supernova
4. The Solar System in January
5. Murray Geddes Memorial Prize Nominations
6. Council and Executive Nominations
7. Stardate North Island - January 20-23
8. SKANZ 2012 Conference - February 14-16
9. Stardate South Island - February 17-19
10. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9
11. Third International Starlight Conference
12. RASNZ Conference 2012
13. Vesta in Colour
14. Some Interesting Photos
15. Do We Really Need the James Webb Space Telescope?
16. Two Types of Neutron Stars?
17. New Map of the Milky Way's Magnetism
18. Optics for Sale
19. How to Join the RASNZ
20. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
21. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

1. Kepler Finds Habitable Planet

NASA's Kepler Mission has discovered the first super-Earth orbiting in the habitable zone of a star similar to the Sun. A team of researchers has discovered what could be a large, rocky planet with a surface temperature of about 22° C, comparable to a comfortable spring day on Earth. This landmark finding will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

The discovery team used photometric data from the NASA Kepler space telescope, which monitors the brightness of 155,000 stars. Earth-size planets whose orbital planes are aligned such that they periodically pass in front of their stars result in tiny dimmings of their host star's light -- dimmings that can only be measured by a highly specialized space telescope like Kepler.

This discovery is the first detection of a possibly habitable world in orbit around a Sun-like star. The host star lies about 600 light-years away from us toward the constellations of Lyra and Cygnus. The star, a G5 star, has a mass and a radius only slightly smaller than that of our Sun, a G2 star. As a result, the host star is about 25% less luminous than the Sun. The planet orbits the G5 star with an orbital period of 290 days, compared to 365 days for the Earth, at a distance about 15% closer to its star than the Earth from the Sun. This results in the planet¹s balmy temperature. It orbits in the middle of the star's habitable zone, where liquid water is expected to be able to exist on the surface of the planet. Liquid water is necessary for life as we know it, and this new planet might well be not only habitable, perhaps even inhabited.

Numerous large, massive gas giant planets have been detected previously in habitable-zone orbits around solar-type stars, but gas giants are not thought to be capable of supporting life. This new exoplanet is the smallest-radius planet discovered in the habitable zone of any star to date. It is about 2.4 times larger than that of the Earth, putting it in the class of exoplanets known as super-Earths.

While the mass of this new planet is not known, it must be less than about 36 times that of the Earth, based on the absence of a measurable Doppler (radial velocity) wobble in the host star. The masses of several other super-Earths have been measured with the Doppler technique and determined to lie in the range of about 5 to 10 times that of the Earth: Some appear to be rocky, while others probably contain major fractions of ice and water. Either way, the new planet appears to be habitable.

Text & Image: http://carnegiescience.edu/news/first_habitablezone_superearth_discovered_ orbit_around_sunlike_star

-- From a Carnegie Institution for Science (http://carnegiescience.edu) press releaser forwarded by Karen Pollard.

2. Terry Lovejoy Finds Sungrazing Comet

Terry Lovejoy, Thornlands, Queensland reported his discovery of a comet low in the dawn sky on Nov. 27.7 and 29.7 UT. The comet was found on images taken with a 0.20-m f/2.1 Celestron reflector and QHY9 CCD camera in the course of his normal comet-search program. The comet appeared as a clearly diffuse circular object approximately 1' in diameter, with a central condensation of magnitude 16 and no apparent tail.

Terry's own orbital calculations immediately suggested that the object was a "sun-grazer". His ephemeris based on that assumption enabled others with smaller fields of view to locate comet for follow-up observations. These confirmed that the comet was a Kreutz sungrazer with perihelion on December 16.02 UT at a distance q = 0.0055068 AU = 884,000 km. That meant the comet would pass just 190,000 km from the sun's surface, making it unlikely to survive.

Hundreds of tiny comets in the Kreutz group -- returning fragments of some past large object -- have been recorded by the SOHO satellite as they disintegrated close to the sun. A few larger fragments have made some of history's spectacular comets: C/1843 D1, C/1882 R1, C/1887 B1, C/1965 S1 and, less spectacularly, C/1970 K1. Some of these disappeared at perihelion. Others were seen to depart in fragments, adding to the group.

At press time C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy) clearly survived perihelion. Images of it rounding the sun -- losing its tail on the way -- can be seen on www.spaceweather.com. There is even a post-perihelion ground-based photo taken on December 17.

A SOHO image of the comet approaching the sun can be seen at http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/data/realtime/c3/1024/latest.html A pre-perhelion animation (bottom picture) is posted at http://boingboing.net/2011/12/15/comet-to-plunge-to-firey-death.html And one of it departing the sun with head and tail separated is at http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap111217.html and at www.spaceweather.com .

-- The SOHO images were pointed out by John Drummond and Glen Burgess to the nzastronomers Yahoo group. The Spaceweather animations and links were forwarded by Pam Kilmartin. The discovery and orbit information came from CBET 2930 and Minor Planet Electronic Circulars 2011-X16 and 2011-X36.

3. Stu Parker Finds Bright Supernova

Stuart Parker of Oxford, Canterbury, found a 13th magnitude supernova in the galaxy NGC 1404 on Dec. 2.570 UT. As with his previous discoveries this one was made with his 35-cm Celestron reflector and SBIG ST-10 CCD.

The object was confirmed as a supernova (SN) by spectroscopic observations at the National Astronomical Observatories of China and at the Gemini South telescope. The spectroscopy classified it as a type-Ia at, or nearly at, maximum light. The SN was designated 2011iv in IAU Central Bureau Electronic Telegram (CBET) No. 2940 on December 6. 2011iv's coordinates are R.A. = 3h38m51s.35, Decl. = -35d35'32".0 (equinox 2000.0), which is 7" west and 8" north of the nucleus of the galaxy.

Being a young and relatively nearby at 60 million light years, and largely unaffected by dust obscuration in its galaxy or ours, the 2011iv is to be repeatedly observed spectroscopically by the Hubble Space Telescope.

NGC 1404 is in Fornax. It had a 14th magnitude type Ia supernova in 2007 (SN 2007on) that was extensively studied: CBETs 1121, 1131; Stritzinger et al. 2011, A.J. 142, 156. Other work can be seen at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/08-018.html

Type Ia supernovae are thought to result from a white dwarf star building up a critical mass of carbon from material drawn from a nearby companion star. The carbon 'ignites' -- in a thermonuclear sense -- in one bang, producing the SN explosion. As all such explosions should be of similar size, type Ia supernovae are used as cosmological distance indicators. Thus calibration of a nearby example is very important.

See Stu's pictures at http://parkdale-supernova-factory.webs.com/

-- from comments by Stu Parker and Ian Cooper, posted to the nzastronomers Yahoo group, in CBET 2940 by Dan Green, in the Astronomer's Telegram No. 3797, and by Hon. Ed.

4. The Solar System in January

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for January 2012 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Jan_12.htm. Notes for February 2012 will be on line in a few days.

The planets in january

Venus and Jupiter will be bright and obvious objects in the evening sky, Venus fairly low to the west after sunset, Jupiter a little higher to the northwest.

Mars begins to rise before midnight during January, Saturn will rise about midnight at the end of January. Both remain principally morning objects. Mercury, also nominally a morning object, is too low in the dawn sky to observe.

Evening sky - venus and jupiter

Venus will set about 2 hours after the Sun at the beginning of January, dropping to an hour and three-quarters later, at the end of the month. This will result in Venus getting a little lower in the early evening sky, it will also move a few degrees round towards the north.

The planet starts the month in the middle of Capricornus, its movement to the east will take it into Aquarius on the 12th which it crosses during the rest of the month. On its way it will pass two other solar system objects.

On the 13th Neptune, at magnitude 8, will be just over 1° to the lower right of Venus. The only possible star that could cause confusion is a 7.5 magnitude star which will be directly below Venus, a little over half a degree from the planet.

Later in the month, on the 28th, Venus will overtake the asteroid Vesta. The two will not be as close, Vesta being 4.5° to the upper left of Venus. The asteroid will be at magnitude 8.2. The three 4th and 5th magnitude stars of psi Aqr will lead from Venus to Vesta.

In theory, both Neptune and Vesta will be bright enough to see in binoculars. But it will be at least an hour after sunset before the sky is dark enough to pick out the 8th magnitude objects. By then Venus will be very low, only some 5° to 6° above the horizon.

On the 26th, the 10% lit crescent moon will be 7.5° below Venus. Vesta, Venus and the moon will form an almost vertical line, but the moon will set only one hour after the Sun. The following evening the moon will be 11° to the right of Venus, but still a little lower than the planet.

Jupiter sets about 2 am at the beginning of January, shortly after midnight on the 31st. So the planet will be best viewed as soon as the sky is dark enough following sunset.

The planet starts January in Pisces but crosses back into Aries on the 8th. It left Aries while moving in a retrograde sense early in December but reversed its direction of motion on December 26.

The moon will pass Jupiter twice in January, on the 3rd and 30th. On the 3rd the 70% lit moon will be 7° to the lower right of Jupiter. On the 30th the 42% lit moon will be 5.5° below Jupiter.

EVENING and MORNING SKY

Mars starts to move into the evening sky in January after having been in the morning sky for the previous 10 months. It rises about 12.30 am on the 1st advancing to 10.40 pm by the 31st. By then it will have brightened to magnitude -0.5 so becoming a prominent object low to the north of east by midnight. Even so, the best views of the planet will be in the morning up to about an hour before sunrise

The planet will be slow moving, starting January in Leo. On January 15 it crosses into Virgo, but will be stationary on the 24th. After this it starts moving back in a retrograde sense to the west and towards Leo.

The 79% lit moon will be just under 10° to the upper left of Mars on January 14 as seen about 5 am. The following morning, the moon now 69% lit will be just under 12° to the upper right of Mars.

Morning sky

Saturn will be readily visible in the morning sky to the northeast before dawn during January. It rises about 2 am at the beginning of the month and close to midnight at the end. The planet will be 6th magnitude, so a little brighter than Spica, magnitude 1.1, which will be to the upper left of Saturn before dawn.

The moon, at just after last quarter, will join the planet and star on the morning of January 17, the three forming a triangle to the northeast. They should be readily visible 45 minutes before sunrise, that is at a little before 6 am.

Mercury is in the morning sky throughout January but generally too low in the dawn sky to see. On the morning of January 1 it rises about 80 minute before the Sun. 50 Minutes before sunrise Mercury will be about 5° above the horizon. It will be at magnitude -0.4 but still a difficult binocular object. The planet gets lower in the dawn sky through the rest of January.


Uranus will set a little before 1am in New Zealand at the beginning of January and about an hour before midnight by the end of the month. So it will remain quite well placed for binocular viewing in the early evening after the sky is dark. The planet is in Pisces with a magnitude 5.8.

Neptune sets a little before midnight at the beginning of January and about 10pm at the end of the month. The planet will be in Aquarius at magnitude 8.

Venus will be just over 1° to the upper left of Neptune on the evening of the 13th. The two will be very low before the sky is dark enough to see Neptune in binoculars. After mid January, Neptune is not likely to be visible in the evening twilight.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres will be in the evening sky in January at magnitude 9.1 to 9.2. It starts the month in Aquarius, moves into Cetus on January 3 and on into a corner of Pisces on January 28. By the 31st it will set about 11.30 pm. It will then be about 15° from Venus and 7.5° above Uranus.

(4) Vesta is in Aquarius throughout January. Like Ceres it is an evening object with Vesta setting about 45 minutes earlier. Its magnitude will be 8.1 to 8.2. On the evening of January 10 Vesta will be 11´ to the right of the magnitude 4 star tau Aqr. Later in the month, on the 28th it will be just above the three 4th and 5th magnitude stars of psi Aqr. At the same time Venus will be 4.5° to the lower right of Vesta.

(15) Eunomia fades from magnitude 8.6 to 9.3 during January. It will also be an evening object setting just after 2am on January 1 and just before 1 am on the 31st. It will be close to the Pleiades, just over 7° below them at the beginning of January and 4° below them at the end.

(433) Eros will brighten from magnitude 9.4 to 8.6 during January. At first it will be a morning object in Leo rising about 12.40 am. By the end of January it will rise about 10 pm. It is in Leo up to the 20th when it moves on into Sextans. The asteroid will be about 8° to the right of Regulus mid January as seen in the morning sky.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2012.

-- Brian Loader

5. Murray Geddes Memorial Prize Nominations

Nominations are called for the Murray Geddes Memorial Prize 2012. The prize is awarded for contributions to astronomy in New Zealand. Normally the recipient is a resident of New Zealand. Nominations should be sent to the RASNZ Executive Secretary at the address below by 31 January 2012. R O´Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

6. Council and Executive Nominations

Call for nominations to Council. Closing date for receipt: 15 March 2012.

2012, being an even numbered year, is an election year for the RASNZ

Council. Nominations are requested for all officers and council positions. The positions for which nominations are required are: President Incoming vice-president Executive secretary Treasurer 5 Council members. In addition the fellows need to nominate a fellows representative. Affiliated Societies will elect two representatives at the affiliated societies' committee meeting held prior to the AGM.

The current president, Glen Rowe, automatically becomes a vice-president. The rules do not allow the president to serve a second consecutive term. By the terms of rule 74, nominations, including any for the fellows representative, need to be sent in writing to the Executive Secretary by 15 March 2012

The nomination must specify the name of the candidate and the office sought. It must be signed by the proposer and seconder and be accompanied by the written consent of the nominee. The address to which nominations should be sent, as soon as possible, is: RASNZ Executive Secretary, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697.

A postal ballot will be held in April 2012 for any position for which the number of candidates exceeds the number of appointees required. Rory O´Keeffe Executive Secretary

7. Stardate North Island - January 20-23

Where: Tukituki Valley, near Havelock North. When: 20-23 January 2012

StarDate is an annual event held during the month of January with as much hands on observing as the weather allows. For anyone with an interest in astronomy, StarDate provides opportunities to look through a range of telescopes, listen to a wide range of astronomy related talks and meet a variety of astronomers. Camping, bunks or tent sites available and are included in the registration fee. Individual registrations start from $60 and families from $160. The programme commences at 7pm on Friday 20 January and ends on Sunday night. For registration got to http://www.astronomynz.org.nz/stardate/stardate-2.html or contact Kay Leather at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; phone 06 377 1600 (Stonehenge Aotearoa).

8. SKANZ 2012 Conference - February 14-16

The primary aim of this SKANZ 2012 conference is to foster interaction and collaboration between Australian and New Zealand scientists and engineers, thereby helping to realise the exciting potential of the SKA. It builds on the successful SKANZ 2010 meeting and will again be hosted by the AUT University. The meeting will include sessions on SKA science, SKA precursors, wide-field science, computing for ASKAP and the SKA and transient and high-resolution science.

Where: AUT University. When: 14-16 February 2012 For details and registration see www.aut.ac.nz/skanz2012

-- Dick Manchester, CSIRO (Chair, Science Organising Committee) Sergei Gulyaev, AUT (Chair, Local Organising Committee)

9. Stardate South Island - February 17-19

Euan Mason writes: Stardate SI will be held from February 17th to 19th 2012 at Staveley, Canterbury. This celebration of the cosmos will feature our very own John Drummond as a special guest. The venue and programme are family friendly, and there is plenty of accommodation. The cost is only $12.50/person/ night, which is an absolute bargain for such a fabulous star party. For information and to register on-line, see http://www.treesandstars.com/stardate/

10. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9

The 25th National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA) meets in Brisbane over Easter, April 6-9. The meeting at the University of Queensland campus is hosted by the Astronomical Association of Queensland and supported by other astronomy clubs in South East Queensland.

The sixth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations and the inaugural Variable Stars South Symposium will be held as part of the NACAA programme. Those interested in attending please fill in the form at http://www.nacaa.org.au/2012/interested.

---------- For more information see http://www.nacaa.org.au Email enquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write to P.O. Box 188, Plumpton, NSW 2761.

11. Third International Starlight Conference

The Starlight Conference is at Lake Tekapo, 11-13 June 2012. From 1 December the website will be able to accept on-line registrations and on- line requests to give an oral or poster paper. Visit www.starlight2012.org for full details.

It will be a multidisciplinary conference on the scientific and cultural benefits of observing dark starlit skies. The meeting will be of interest to RASNZ members and to many other interest groups in education, tourism, environmental protection and to those interested in the cultural and ethnic aspects of astronomy. As participation will be limited, early registration is encouraged.

The Starlight Conference is jointly hosted by the University of Canterbury and by RASNZ, and is being sponsored by the University of Canterbury, by RASNZ, by the Royal Society of NZ, by Endeavour Capital Ltd and by the NZ National Commission to UNESCO.

-- Abridged from an earlier published note by John Hearnshaw.

12. RASNZ Conference 2012

Those who are members of RASNZ will have by now received the brochure and registration form with their December issue of Southern Stars.

The registration form is also available on the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz) - just click on RASNZ Conference 2012. Or it can also be accessed via RASNZ Wiki. As can the publicity brochure

At this time we are issuing an initial call for papers and poster-papers. Even if you are just thinking of presenting a paper please submit the form, and we can follow up with you at a later date.

On the Friday of Conference there will be an Astronomy Outreach Workshop. This is being co-ordinated by Ron Fisher, and again details are available on the RASNZ Webpage, via Conference.

The venue for the Conference is the Carterton Events Centre, which only opened in October of this year. This was a change made on the recommendation of The Phoenix Astronomical Society, who are hosting Conference. It certainly appears to meet our requirements. Carterton is one of the smaller centres we will have held a Conference in. But there are many, and various, accommodation options available in Carterton itself and nearby surrounding areas. Some of these are listed on the publicity brochure.

The nearest airport is Masterton, but only receives one air service a day, from Auckland. We envisage many people might fly into Wellington, and get the train through to Carterton. The timetable has been printed on the publicity brochure.

Our guest speaker is Associate Professor Wayne Orchiston. Wayne of course is a past Executive Director of Carter Observatory, and is currently Associate Professor in the Centre for Astronomy at James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland. Details of his talks are on the RASNZ Webpage. We also hope to announce a further guest speaker shortly.

The Fellow Lecture for 2012 will be delivered by Dr Edwin Budding. Ed is currently a Research Fellow at Victoria University, and also at the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Canterbury. Ed of course also used to work at Carter Observatory.

Further updates re Conference will appear in NZAstronomers from time to time. And updates will of course be made regularly on the RASNZ Webpage, and in the RASNZ e-newsletter.

Please start planning now, and we look forward to seeing everyone in Carterton in June. Any questions, ideas, suggestions etc - please direct to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

-- Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

13. Vesta in Colour

Vesta appears in a splendid rainbow-coloured palette in new images obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. The colours, assigned by scientists to show different rock or mineral types, reveal Vesta to be a world of many varied, well-separated layers and ingredients. Vesta is unique among asteroids visited by spacecraft to date in having such wide variation, supporting the notion that it is transitional between the terrestrial planets -- like Earth, Mercury, Mars and Venus -- and its asteroid siblings.

In images from Dawn's framing camera, the colours reveal differences in the rock composition associated with material ejected by impacts and geologic processes, such as slumping, that have modified the asteroid¹s surface.

Images from the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer reveal that the surface materials contain the iron-bearing mineral pyroxene and are a mixture of rapidly cooled surface rocks and a deeper layer that cooled more slowly. The relative amounts of the different materials mimic the topographic variations derived from stereo camera images, indicating a layered structure that has been excavated by impacts. The rugged surface of Vesta is prone to slumping of debris on steep slopes.

Vesta's iron core makes it special and more like terrestrial planets than a garden-variety asteroid. Its distinct compositional variation and layering appear to derive from internal melting of the body shortly after formation, which separated Vesta into crust, mantle and core.

-- from a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

Glide over the giant asteroid Vesta with NASA's Dawn spacecraft in a new 3-D video on line at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/index.cfm?id=1041 Best viewed with red-blue glasses, the video incorporates images from Dawn's framing camera from July to August 2011. It was created by Dawn team member Ralf Jaumann of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).

14. Some Interesting Photos

Maurice Collins has created a new map of the Moon using the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter nearside mosaic and the shaded relief maps, adding labels by hand of the craters, all done using Photoshop. It was featured as Lunar Photo of the Day for 4 December. Maurice has put it up on the Moon-Wiki at http://lpod.wikispaces.com/December+4%2C+2011

Maurice gives a direct link to the full-sized map, 5350 x 5350 pix and 4.55 MB´s in size, at: http://the-moon.wikispaces.com/Maurice+Collins%27+Nearside+Moon+Map

Amazing photos by Alan Friedman from "a downtown Buffalo backyard" at http://www.avertedimagination.com/main1.htm

Five gigapixel image of the entire night sky stitched together from 37,440 exposures: http://skysurvey.org/

-- Thanks to Karen Pollard who passed the latter two along from Larry Marschall.

15. Do We Really Need the James Webb Space Telescope?

Two views in The Economist.

Against: Throwing money into space

THE Hubble space telescope, an orbiting observatory launched in 1990 by NASA, America´s space agency, has been one of that agency´s most successful missions since the Apollo moon shots in the 1960s and 1970s. It has produced a string of scientific achievements: confirming that most galaxies have a black hole in the middle; providing a front-row seat for the collision, in 1994, of a comet with the planet Jupiter; and helping to uncover the strange fact that the expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating. But beyond the science, it has also been a public-relations hit. Its beautiful images have introduced a generation to the wonders of astronomy.

So in 2002, when the agency considered plans for a successor that would study the universe in infra-red, rather than visible light, would be ready to fly in 2010 and would cost just $2.5 billion, saying "yes" was easy. Nine years later, NASA is regretting that decision. The James Webb space telescope (JWST), as the new machine is called, is still in the workshop, and its launch date has been set back repeatedly (2018 is the latest official estimate). Its cost has gone up to $8.8 billion, a figure that, if history is any guide, could rise still further. Which would be embarrassing at the best of times, but with public-spending cuts looming and NASA´s budget flat for the foreseeable future, it is causing real strains.

In July, irritated by the JWST´s rising costs, the House of Representatives tried to cut $1.9 billion from NASA´s budget for next year, in an attempt to have the project cancelled. On November 1st, after lobbying from the telescope´s defenders (particularly the American Astronomical Society), the Senate passed a bill that restored the telescope´s funding.

But it is not just politicians that are restive. Astronomers have long worried that the ballooning costs of the telescope would affect NASA´s other science projects. Officially, the space agency will say only that other missions will be delayed, but there are fears that some could be cut completely. One potential sacrifice is WFIRST, an infra-red space telescope intended for launch in 2020. This is designed to probe the nature of "dark energy", which is thought to be responsible for the quickening expansion of the universe that Hubble helped bring to the world´s attention. A string of other, smaller projects could suffer as well.

The telescope´s advocates say junking it now would be a false economy. Most of the hardware has already been built, so cancelling it, they argue, would mean throwing all that away. And they play on fears that America is in danger of losing its pre-eminence in high-budget "big science", following the closure earlier this year of the Illinois-based Tevatron, the second-most-powerful particle accelerator in the world.

The JWST, if it does eventually fly, would surely do some spectacular science. The size of its mirror-25 square metres, as against Hubble´s 4.5- and the location of its orbit far from the reflected light of Earth will allow it to study some of the earliest (and therefore faintest) events in the universe, including the formation of the first galaxies. It will also help with the search for extrasolar planets.

Hubble, of course, was also late - and around $2 billion over budget. It was lampooned after its launch when a wonky mirror meant that its images were blurred almost to the point of uselessness, and a mission by the Space Shuttle to fix the problem cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Given its subsequent record, few now begrudge the cost. With all that in mind, NASA will press on with the JWST, at least for now. All that remains for America´s astronomers to do is pray that their favourite mission is not one of those delayed, or even cancelled, to keep the new telescope on track.

-- Published 12 November, p.88. The article is at http://www.economist.com/node/21538079

++++++++

For: Observing Space

Letter in reply from Garth Illingworth, University of California, Santa Cruz; former member of the JWST Independent Comprehensive Review Panel.

SIR - Why did you use the headline "Throwing money into space" (November 12th) for your article on NASA´s new James Webb space telescope (JWST)? The JWST will be an even more powerful successor to the game-changing Hubble telescope, and, as you noted, "few now begrudge the cost" of Hubble. Furthermore, NASA is not "regretting" its decision to build a successor to Hubble. The NASA administrator has made it clear in public statements that launching the JWST is one of the agency´s three priorities.

Nor are the majority of astronomers falling on their swords. Nobody is happy to see rising costs and slipping schedules in big missions, but the implication that the JWST is crowding out other, more important missions, and is going ahead against the wishes of the astronomy community, is just wrong. The JWST was the top-ranked project in the 2000 astronomy Decadal Survey, and a cornerstone of the 2010 astronomy Decadal.

Finally, scientists are not playing "on the fears" of loss of leadership in big science. The fears are real. Not going ahead with the JWST would represent a further dramatic withdrawal from American leadership of world- leading science programmes, such as Hubble. There is no replacement, at least until China decides to demonstrate its superiority in space science.

-- published December 3, p.21. Available at http://www.economist.com/node/21540982

--------- For spirited support of the JWST see the essay by Heidi B. Hammel in 'Sky & Telescope', December 2011, p. 86.

16. Two Types of Neutron Stars?

Astronomers at the universities of Southampton and Oxford have found evidence that neutron stars, which are produced when massive stars explode as supernovae, actually come in two distinct varieties. Their finding also suggests that each variety is produced by a different kind of supernova event.

Neutron stars are the last stage in the evolution of many massive stars. They represent the most extreme form of matter: the mass of a single neutron star exceeds that of the entire Sun, but squeezed into a ball whose diameter is smaller than that of London.

In a paper published in Nature, Professors Christian Knigge and Malcolm Coe from the University of Southampton worked with Philipp Podsiadlowski of Oxford University to reveal how they have discovered two distinct populations of neutron stars that appear to have formed via two different supernova channels.

"Theoreticians have speculated before about the possible existence of different types of neutron stars, but there has never been any clear observational evidence that there is really more than one type," said Professor Coe.

The astronomers analyzed data on a large sample of high-mass X-ray binaries, which are double star systems in which a fast-spinning neutron star orbits a massive young companion. The neutron star in these systems also periodically siphons off material from its partner. During such phases, the neutron star becomes an X-ray pulsar: its brightness increases tremendously, but the resulting X-ray radiation is pulsed on the neutron star spin period. Such systems are very useful, because by timing their pulses, astronomers can accurately measure the neutron star spin periods.

The astronomers detected two distinct groupings in a large set of spin periods measured in this way, with one group of neutron stars typically spinning once every 10 seconds, and the other once every 5 minutes. This finding has led them to conclude that the two distinct neutron star populations formed via two different supernova channels.

"These findings take us back to the most fundamental processes of stellar evolution and lead us to question how supernovae actually work," Professor Knigge said. "This opens up numerous new research areas, both on the observational and theoretical fronts."

-- A University of Southampton press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

17. New Map of the Milky Way's Magnetism

Scientists at Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) have made significant progress toward measuring the magnetic field structure of the Milky Way in unprecedented detail. The map shows Faraday depth, which among other things, depends strongly on the magnetic fields along a particular line of sight. To produce the map, data was combined from more than 41,000 individual measurements using a novel image reconstruction technique. The work was a collaboration between scientists at the MPA, who are specialists in the new discipline of information field theory, and a large international team of radio astronomers. The new map not only reveals the structure of the galactic magnetic field on large scales, but also small-scale features that provide information about turbulence in the galactic gas.

All galaxies are permeated by magnetic fields. Despite intensive research, the origin of galactic magnetic fields is still unknown. One assumes, however, that they are built up by dynamo processes in which mechanical energy is converted into magnetic energy. Similar processes occur in the interior of the earth, the Sun, and -- in the broadest sense -- in the gadgets that power bicycle lights through peddling. By revealing the magnetic field structure throughout the Milky Way, the new map provides important insights into the machinery of galactic dynamos.

One way to measure cosmic magnetic fields makes use of an effect known as Faraday rotation. When polarized light passes through a magnetized medium, the plane of polarization rotates. The amount of rotation depends on, among other things, the strength and direction of the magnetic field. Therefore, observing such rotation allows one to investigate the properties of the intervening magnetic fields.

To measure the magnetic field of our own galaxy, radio astronomers observe the polarized 'light' from distant radio sources. Light -- more accurately radio noise -- from each source passes through a different part of the Milky Way on its way to the Earth. The amount of rotation due to the Faraday effect can be deduced by measuring the polarization of the source at several frequencies.

To get a complete picture of the magnetic fields in the Milky Way from Faraday rotation measurements, one must observe many sources distributed across the entire sky. A large international collaboration of radio astronomers have provided data from 26 different projects to give a total of 41,330 individual measurements. On average, the complete catalogue contains approximately one radio source per square degree of sky.

To weed out dud data the MPA group then applied a new algorithm for image reconstruction called the 'extended critical filter'. It was derived from a new discipline known as information field theory.

The result reveals not only the conspicuous horizontal band of the gas disk of the Milky Way, but also that the magnetic field directions seem to be opposite above and below the disk. An analogous change of direction also takes place between the left and right sides of the image, from one side of the centre of the Milky Way to the other.

A particular scenario in galactic dynamo theory predicts such symmetrical structures, which is supported by the newly created map. In this scenario, the magnetic fields are predominantly aligned parallel to the plane of the galactic disk in a circular or spiral configuration. The direction of the spiral is opposite above and below the galactic disk. The observed symmetries in the Faraday map stem from our position within the galactic disk.

In addition to these large-scale structures, several smaller structures are apparent as well. These are associated with turbulent eddies and lumps in the highly dynamic gas of the Milky Way. The new map making algorithm provides, as a by-product, a characterization of the size distribution of these turbulent structures, the so-called power spectrum. Larger structures are more pronounced than smaller, as is typical for turbulent systems. This spectrum can be directly compared with computer simulations of the turbulent gas and magnetic field dynamics in our galaxy, thus allowing for detailed tests of galactic dynamo models.

The new map is not only interesting for the study of our galaxy. Future studies of extragalactic magnetic fields will draw on this map to account for contamination from the Galactic contribution. The next generation of radio telescopes, such as LOFAR, eVLA, ASKAP, Meerkat and the SKA, are expected in the coming years and decades, and with them will come a wealth of new measurements of the Faraday effect. New data will prompt updates to the image of the Faraday sky. Perhaps this map will show the way to the hidden origin of galactic magnetic fields.

For text & images see http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de/mpa/institute/news _archives/news1112_fara/news1112_fara-en.html

-- From a Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics press release forwarded by Karen Pollard

18. Optics for Sale

Nelson Holmes advertises the following items for sale: 1. Leica zoom eyepiece 7mm-22mm with 1.25 barrel adapter; $350. 2. 7x50 binoculars, Apogee, with built-in sky filters for nebular etc; activates with a switch; also has a set of land, sea filters. $125. 3. 7x50 Japan Super Zenith 8-14 x 50mm binoculars with leather case; $100. 4. 80mm spotting scope, Sportsmaster, 20-80x with tall tripod; $295. 5. Brand new 80mm High Plains Vanguard spotting scope, 20-60x, in hardfoam lined case. Fully waterproof. 5 year warranty. Sell $386. 6. Brand new 20x80mm Konus binoculars, 2year warranty; $240. 7. Telescope Meade 60mm x 700mm, with range of eyepieces; tripod; $125. 8. Televue Everbright 2-inch diagonal with 1.25 adapter; $325.

-- Nelson Holmes <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>; ph. 09 2352010; 027 2912684.

19. How to Join the RASNZ

A membership application form and details can be found on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/InfoForm/membform.htm. Please note that the weblink to membership forms is case sensitive. Alternatively please send an email to the membership secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.

The annual subscription rate is $75. For overseas rates please check with the membership secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

20. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

The RASNZ administers the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund to assist Affiliated Societies with travel costs of getting a lecturer or instructor to their meetings. Details are in RASNZ By-Laws Section H.

For an application form contact the Executive Secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

21. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants may be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

All good wishes to our readers for the festive season and 2012.

The next Newsletter will be published about January 20.

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6000 P.O. Box 57 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Lake Tekapo 7945 New Zealand


Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore   Phone: 03 680 6000
P.O. Box 57   Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Lake Tekapo 7945
New Zealand