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. Two Devastating Earthquakes
2. The Solar System in April
3. Notice of Annual General Meeting
4. 2011 Aurora School Cancelled
5. Globe at Night Campaign
6. Global Astronomy Month April 2011
7. RASNZ Conference 2011
8. Host Sought for 2013 RASNZ Conference and AGM
9. Pictures from the Lunar and Planetary Conference
10. Ken Ring's Weather and Earthquake Forecasts
11. MESSENGER Orbits Mercury
12. Solar Mystery Solved
13. How to Join the RASNZ
14. Paraprosdokian (funny) Sentences

1. Two Devastating Earthquakes

Two devastating Earthquakes occurred in the past month. A magnitude 6.3 quake close to Christchurch killed around 180 people in the CBD. A much bigger shake, magnitude 9 and 300 km off the coast of Japan produced a devastating tsunami that destroyed towns and villages along several hundred km of coast, killing thousands. Our thoughts are with friends and colleagues in both places.

Canterbury Earthquake On February 22 a Richter magnitude 6.3 earthquake devastated much of central Christchurch and some surrounding suburbs. Being centred just 10 km southeast of the CBD and only 5 km down the quake produced much more severe shaking than did September 4's magnitude 7.1 earthquake. The earlier quake was centred near Darfield, some 40 km west of Christchurch at a depth of 15 km. [See Newsletter No. 118, Item 2.]

A Wikipedia article forwarded by Philip Barker gave an early analysis: "... the vertical acceleration was far greater than the horizontal acceleration. The intensity felt in Christchurch was MM VIII. [MM is the Modified Mercalli scale. It gives the shaking intensity on the ground. The Richter magnitude gives the total energy release of the earthquake. -- Ed.] The peak ground acceleration (PGA) in the Christchurch area exceeded 1.8g (i.e. 1.8 times the acceleration of gravity), with the highest recording 2.2g, at Heathcote Valley Primary School, a shaking intensity equivalent to MM X+. This is the highest PGA ever recorded in New Zealand; the highest reading during the September 2010 event was 1.26g, recorded near Darfield."

Later analysis indicates that the quake energy was 'aimed' at the Christchurch CBD by the direction of the fault. Bill Fry, a seismologist with Geological and Nuclear Sciences, was reported in the 'The Press' (March 18, p.A4) as saying that the waves from the fault rupture, and the rupture, were moving in the same direction, concentrating the energy.

The historic Townsend Observatory, at the old University of Canterbury site -- now the Arts Centre -- in downtown Christchurch, was destroyed. The observatory tower had been weakened by the September earthquake. Plans were afoot to remove the venerable Townsend Telescope from the observatory once the tower had been stabilized. The telescope was a 6-inch Thomas Cooke & Sons refractor made in 1864. Sadly the February 22nd quake overtook this work. Photos of the observatory and the telescope appear on the cover of the March issue of Southern Stars. On page 9 of the same issue is a photo taken by Mita Brierley of the destroyed tower with, presumably, the telescope in the debris. Mita, a recent Canterbury PhD in astronomy, was part of a search and rescue team working in the CBD after the earthquake.

Canterbury University's Department of Physics and Astronomy is housed in the Rutherford building on the University's Ilam campus west of the CBD. The building is a solid 1960s Ministry of Works design. Early indications are that it has no structural damage, despite several more recent buildings on the campus being 'red stickered'. It is hoped that students and staff can re-occupy Rutherford in mid April.

Japanese Earthquake As far as is known, the shaking from the March 11 Japanese earthquake did little damage to astronomical equipment. Sendai Observatory (E Long. +140° 51.9', Lat. +38° 15.4', altitude 45 metres) is the closest well- known astronomical facility to the epicentre.

The global effects of the earthquake are still being calculated. Some early results have been seen in the news media. The Japanese east coast moved 4 metres east. The oceanic plate (on the other side of the plate boundary) moved 20 metres west. The dipped part of the plate, a slab 400 km wide and 100 km long, moved down about 10 metres.

Earth's axis moved 16.5 cm. This is no big deal. The Earth moves many metres in relation to the axis every year. It's called the Chandler wobble. Earth's rotation rate shortened by 1.8 microseconds. So a day is now 1.8 millionths of a second shorter that it was before. The length of day varies by tens of milliseconds (thousandths of a second) over a year due to northern hemisphere seasons. In both cases it is caused by stuff being moved closer to, or further from, the rotation axis.

-- Alan Gilmore --------- William Tobin notes that there is an article by John Hearnshaw about the Townsend Observatory and telescope at http://cosmicdiary.org/blogs/john_hearnshaw/?p=544 John Field found photos of the destroyed Townsend Observatory posted on Facebook. The pictures, source not given, can be seen at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/nzastronomers/attachments/folder/862331493/item/436459339/view

2. The Solar System in April

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for April 2011 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Apr_11.htm. Notes for May 2011 will be on line in a few days.

A reminder that NZDT ends on the first Sunday of April, that is April 3 at 3 am.

The planets in april

Only two of the five major planets will be readily visible during April. Saturn will be in the sky most of the night. Venus, in the morning, will rise well before the Sun making it readily visible in the dawn sky.

Mars will also be a morning object as will Jupiter and Mercury after their conjunctions with the sun early in April. By the end of the month all three planets are likely to be visible low to the east shortly before sunrise. The grouping of the 3 and Venus in the morning sky is going to lead to a series of planetary conjunctions starting in April but mostly in May.


Saturn is the only evening planet for April. It is at opposition on April 4, so will become visible in the evening from the time the sky darkens, rather low early evening at first but gaining altitude later in the month.

The distance between Spica, alpha Virginis, and Saturn will increase from 11 to 13 degrees during April. In the evening the two will be at about the same level, with Spica to the right of Saturn. The star will be just over half a magnitude fainter than the planet.

On the evening of April 17, the almost full moon will be above the pair and close to equi-distant from them about 9.30 pm. The moon will then be at the apex of a slightly obtuse angled isosceles triangle with Saturn and Spica forming the base. Later in the evening and in the early morning, the moon will get a little closer to Spica.

The north pole of Saturn will be tilted at about 8 degrees towards the Earth during April, the tilt actually decreasing slightly during the month. As a result the rings will be visible in a small telescope as a narrow band either side of the planet.

The morning sky

Venus will be the only planet readily visible in the morning sky throughout April. It will rise at least two and a half hours before the Sun. Even so it will be getting lower in the dawn sky during the month. Viewed through a small telescope, Venus will be seen to be like a small, brilliant gibbous moon. It will be 80% lit at the beginning of April and 87% lit at the end of the month.

The planet starts April in Aquarius, by the 18th its easterly motion will see it in Pisces. A few mornings later Venus will pass close to Uranus. The two planets will be about a degree apart on the mornings of the 23rd and 24th of April. On the 23rd Uranus will be to the lower left of Venus, the following morning Uranus will still be on the left but a little higher than Venus. At magnitude 5.9, Uranus will be an easy binocular target while the sky is still reasonably dark. There will be no stars nearby bright enough to be confused with the planet.

On the morning of the 1st the crescent moon will be 8° below and a little to the left of the Venus. The crescent moon will be back near Venus again on the last morning of the month, some 11° to the upper left of the planet. The two will be a little closer the following morning, May 1.


Mercury, MARS and JUPITER all start April too close to the Sun for observation. On April 1 Mars does rise about an hour before the sun, but is unlikely to be seen in the morning twilight.

Jupiter is in conjunction with the Sun on April 7, after which it becomes a morning object. Mercury is at inferior conjunction three days later marking its return to the morning sky. Neither is likely to be visible until late in April.

During April, Mars moves a little further from the Sun, so that by the end of the month it will rise 90 minutes before our star. The planet´s actual time of rise changes little all month. Mars will remain as a low object in the dawn sky, on April 30 only 7.5° up 45 minutes before sunrise.

Mercury and Jupiter will move away from the Sun into the morning sky more rapidly than Mars. Mercury will catch up with Mars on the morning of April 20 when the two planets will be 37´ apart. Mercury, magnitude 2.4, will be to the left of Mars, magnitude 1.2. They will be very low, barely 6 degrees above the horizon 45 minutes before sunrise. In azimuth, they will be about 12.5 degrees to north of east. The pair will be 15 degrees below Venus and slightly to its right.

Jupiter catches up with Mars at the end of the month. On the last morning of April Mars will be 49' to the upper right of Jupiter. 45 minutes before sunrise they will be some 7.5 degrees above the horizon in a direction 17 to 18 degrees north of east. At magnitude 2.1, Jupiter should be a reasonably easy object to locate. Venus will be 11 degrees above the pair and slightly to their left. Jupiter and Mars will, in fact, be closer the following morning, only 25' apart.

Uranus, in Pisces, also gets higher in the morning sky during April. Mars passes it on the morning of the 4th, when the two will be less than 15´ apart. They will be less than 3 degrees above the horizon 45 minutes before sunrise, making observations difficult. As noticed above, Venus passes Uranus on the morning of the 23rd and 24th.

Neptune, in Aquarius, gets well up into the morning sky during April. On the 1st it is 5.5 degrees above Venus, by the end of the month the distance between the two will have increased to 32 degrees.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is a morning object in Aquarius with a magnitude 9.3 to 9.4. On the 1st it will be 7 degrees to the upper right of Venus. By the 30th Vesta will be 27.5 degrees above the planet

(4) Vesta is also a morning moving from Sagittarius to Capricornus on the morning of April 3. Its magnitude will brighten slightly from 7.6 to 7.4 during the month.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2011.

-- Brian Loader

3. Notice of Annual General Meeting

The 2011 Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand will be held at 4.30pm on Saturday 28 May 2011 at the Napier War Memorial Conference Centre on Marine Parade, Napier. Notices of motion are invited and should reach the Executive Secretary by 1 April 2011.

-- Rory O´Keeffe, Executive Secretary, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd RD 2, TUAKAU 2697. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The AGM and Affiliated Society Minutes for 2010 have been placed on the RASNZ website. Go to <http://www.rasnz.org.nz/minutes/minutes.htm> . You will find links to the minutes for 2008, 2009 and 2010. There are also links to the corresponding Annual Reports, that is the reports for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009.

-- Brian Loader

4. 2011 Aurora School Cancelled

Following the February 22 earthquake Canterbury University's 2011 Aurora School has been cancelled. The lack of teaching areas and extension of term 1 into the Easter break make it impossible for academic staff to take part.

-- from an email from Joan Gladwyn, Outreach Coordinator, College of Science, University of Canterbury.

The Aurora School was advertised in the February 21 Newsletter, Item 4.

5. Globe at Night Campaign

Join the Globe at Night global project.

Awareness of the impacts from wasteful artificial lighting on our out-door environment is growing. Wasted energy, health and ecological impacts and loss of our view of the universe are all part of those impacts. The Globe at Night Project gives a measure of one impact of this wasted resource, the loss of our night sky.

Please take some time between the 24th of March and the 6th April to count some stars. It's easy to do and there are some clear instructions at http://www.globeatnight.org/

Look for the southern hemisphere Family Activity Packets at the bottom of the web page: English, South (Crux), English, South (Leo).

-- Steve Butler, RASNZ Dark Skies Group

6. Global Astronomy Month April 2011

Astronomy Without Borders presents: Global Astronomy Month April 2011. Global Astronomy Month continues the excitement of the unprecedented International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009).

(AWB) Astronomers Without Borders is dedicated to fostering understanding and goodwill across national and cultural boundaries by creating relationships through the universal appeal of astronomy.

Astronomers Without Borders projects promote sharing. Sharing resources. Sharing knowledge. Sharing inspiration. All through a common interest in something basic and universal.

Sharing the sky. A host of events are planned worldwide throughout April 2011 (see list below), all amateur and professional astronomers and in fact anybody is invited to participate, encourage your local astronomy club to run at least one event for the public, giving the public a chance to explore and enjoy our night sky.

If your Astronomy club in New Zealand has events planned please let me know very soon, a Press Release will go out to the New Zealand media organisations on the 25th March, we can advertise your events in this release. March 24 to 6 April Globe at Night - Southern Hemisphere 1 April Online Messier Marathon: Observe all the Messier objects remotely 1 to 8 April International Dark Skies Week 1 to 30 April 30 Nights of StarPeace 2 April Around the Ringed Planet: Observe Saturn remotely 2 to 3 April Beatuy without Borders - Saturn Watch 9 April Global Star Party

Be sure to reserve Saturday, April 9th, for GAM´s ultimate observing event: the Global Star Party. Of course, it´s B.Y.O.T. - Bring Your Own Telescope - but encourage even those who don´t have one to come anyway. All are invited, all will be excited. It is amazing that when we turn our gaze upward all religious, national, cultural and political barriers fade into the darkness. April 9th is the time to come out under the stars, bridge gaps across the seas, and join your brother and sister skywatchers in proving that the world is, in fact, "One People, One Sky."

9 April Stars for All: Observe deepsky objects remotely

  1. to 16 April Lunar Week
  2. April Walking on the Moon: Observe Moon remotely
  3. April Yuri's Night - 50th Anniversary of Human Space Flight
  4. April SunDay 17 April Here Comes the Sun: Observe Sun remotely
  5. to 22 April Meteors without Borders - Lyrids Watch 2011
  6. April, 20:00UT Cosmic Concert - Online Musical Concert
  7. April Write Your Name in the Sky!: Observe asteroids remotely Throughout April One Star at a Time - Fight Light Pollution Throughout April MoonDays Throughout April Astronomy without Barriers - programs for people with disabilities Throughout April Planetarian without Borders Throughout April Astropoetry for Global Astronomy Month

You are also invited to register your event at http://www.astronomerswithoutborders.org/global-astronomy-month-2011.html

You are also invited to join the AWB New Zealand Google group newsletter to keep up to date with the AWB events in New Zealand. http://groups.google.com/group/awb-nz-newsletter?hl=en-GB&pli=1

Here are some ideas to get the public in your area involved in GAM April 2011 Visit a retirement home, or children´s hospital and give those able a chance to see the Universe up close. Have a club member dress up as a famous astronomer from history. Use our resources page to get the materials to accommodate the seeing impaired. Host "How Telescopes Work" demonstrations and put your ATM guys to work with mirror grinding demos and use some of that extra glass to let the public try. Hold events outside of art galleries or musical events. Surround a shopping mall or city park with telescopes at every corner or entrance. Get a local scout or school group to assist at your star party-have the youngsters ask questions, provide information, and even help run the scope. Have an "artists table" set up so that younger observers can make and take their own souvenirs of the event. Work with a local library to have book displays set up near the telescope so that people can learn more. Work with another club in a different country and set up an internet connection so that those attending your event can connect with others doing the same thing at the same time in a different part of the world.

Live-stream your event on Ustream.

All the best with your GAM 2011 events, remember to let us know what you have planned so we can advise New Zealand media organisations in our 25th March 2011 press release.

-- Robert McTague, Astronomy With Out Borders New Zealand Coordinator, 28 Kiwi Drive, Timaru. Ph 03-688 3735. -------------- For web links to the various activities see http://www.astronomerswithoutborders.org/global-astronomy-month-2011.html

The Lyrid radiant is very low from New Zealand; unlikely to be of any public interest here. -- Ed.

7. RASNZ Conference 2011

A further reminder that this year's RASNZ Conference is being held in Napier on 27-29 May 2011. This is little more than 2 months away now. Registrations are coming in, and if you have yet to register we recommend you get onto this fast - late next month the late registration penalty fee will come in. The venue is the Napier War Memorial Convention Centre on the north end of Marine Parade. Conference registration forms were sent out with the December issue of Southern Stars, and are also available on the RASNZ Webpage - see www.rasnz.org.nz There is a wide range of accommodation within easy walking distance of the venue. This ranges from backpackers through to top-notch hotel accommodation. Some suggestions are available by referring to: www.hbastrosoc.org.nz

Although Conference itself will run from the Friday evening till mid Sunday afternoon, many of you will also want to make time for the other two events. Namely, the Fifth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations which will be held on the Thursday, and into Friday morning, and the Photographic Workshop with David Malin to be held on the Monday following Conference. Graham Blow and John Drummond respectively will provide further information on these in due course. Hopefully via the RASNZ Newsletter, also via the RASNZ Webpage.

But back to Conference itself. The Invited Speakers are well known to many of you. Dr David Malin has visited NZ several times in the past, most recently to Stardate South Island in January of this year. David's career has largely been with the Anglo-Australian Observatory (now the Australian Astronomical Observatory). He is also Adjunct Professor of Scientific Photography at RMIT University in Melbourne. David has authored many books on astrophotography, and his images are widely known. As well as presenting a feature paper, David will also be actively involved in the Imaging and Photographic Workshop.

The other Invited Speaker is Dr Fred Watson. Fred is an Englishman by
birth, but has lived in Australia for over 25 years. Fred is Astronomer-
In-Charge of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, and is Project
Leader for the Radial Velocity Experiment. In addition, Fred has been
active in promoting astronomy to the public through, publications, talks
and, more recently overseas tours and theatre shows. In addition to his
feature paper, Fred will be delivering a public lecture later on the
Sunday afternoon following the formal conclusion of Conference.  We look
forward to hearing from these two renowned and respected astronomers. The
titles of their talks will be listed on the RASNZ Webpage in due course.

The Standing Conference Committee has already called for papers. We invite members and prospective attendees to consider giving a paper and/or poster-paper, and expressions of interests can be made with the Standing Conference Committee - please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Or better still - please go to the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz), and complete and email back the appropriate form for consideration by the Committee. We are please to have received a good number of applications to present papers already. There is a final deadline of 1 April when final titles and abstracts need to be submitted, but if you wish to present a paper then please complete the submission form as soon as possible so that we can give it early consideration. Of concern is a lack of papers from the southern parts of NZ. SCC recognises the people of Christchurch and Canterbury in particular have had other major matters to contend with (SCC being coincidentally Canterbury-based personnel-wise at present), but hopefully some of the Canterbury people will be able to come to conference and make presentations.

We hope to see many of you at Conference. Good travel discounts may be harder to come by, by now. But there are still good accommodation deals. The LOC in Napier has already indicated some suggestions - see link above - and I have just checked on the Wotif site (www.wotif.com), and there are good deals available still. Just don't delay - the earlier bookings are done the less they will cost.

Information regarding the Annual General Meeting, and the Affiliated Societies Meeting will be advised separately from this item.

The Local Organising Committee has also some other activities organised - art deco tour, observatory visit, and other activities will be advised to registrants in due course.

We also wish to acknowledge Matariki Wines, Holt Planetaruim, WASP, Easy Print, Graham Palmer Photography and Astronomy Adventures as sponsors to date of the 2011 RASNZ Conference. Also the contributions from the Hawkes Bay Astronomical Society and the RASNZ Conference Fund are acknowledged. As with any Conference of the nature of ours, costs are skyrocketing, GST has increased and we have no control over these added costs. So every little bit of sponsorship helps. Having researched the costs of some other conferences attended by primarily amateurs in their fields, I can say without doubt that the RASNZ Conference delivers outstanding value for money.

Further information about Conference is available on the RASNZ Webpage www.rasnz.org.nz

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

8. Host Sought for 2013 RASNZ Conference and AGM

The RASNZ Standing Conference Committee (SCC) is now calling for applications to host the 2013 RASNZ Conference and AGM.

RASNZ conferences are normally held over a weekend. The Conference generally opens on a Friday evening and continues over the weekend to late Sunday afternoon. The RASNZ rules require the conference and AGM to be held during May unless the RASNZ Council approves an earlier or later date.

Under special circumstances Council may approve that a conference be held outside of May (e.g. second half of April or first half of June) if there are special reasons for doing so. However, because of the requirements of the Charities Commission, the AGM MUST be held prior to the end of June.

Proposals to host the 2013 conference should be in writing (electronic format in Ms Word, or PDF format is acceptable) and addressed to the RASNZ Standing Conference Committee. Proposals should be submitted not later than 15 April 2011 and can either be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or posted to:

Pauline Loader
RASNZ SCC
14 Craigieburn Street
Darfield 7520

When submitting an application, please include a likely location (town/city) and venue. Please make sure you clearly state the name of your Society (or group) and who is the contact person for communications. If you have a special reason for wishing to host the RASNZ conference in 2013 (e.g. special events in your area or for your society in 2013) please include a note of this in your submission.

In general, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) looks after the arranging of the venue, catering, registrations, opening and after dinner speakers etc., as well as preparing the budget in conjunction with the RASNZ Standing Conference Committee. The Standing Conference Committee (SCC) is responsible for the programme, speakers etc., and ensuring the overall smooth operation of the Conference. The SCC will provide full support to the LOC and gives guidance in planning and budgeting if needed.

A full set of guidelines and conference requirements can be obtained from the RASNZ SCC by email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Any queries or questions may be sent by email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

9. Pictures from the Lunar and Planetary Conference

Last month we noted that Maurice Collins had been invited to attend the 42nd Lunar and Planetary Conference in Houston. Maurice has now followed up with photos from the Conference. The notes below are from his posts to the nzastronomers group.

Here are the official photos from the first poster session to give a feel of it (mine was at the second on Thursday). I enjoyed the poster sessions the best as more informal. http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2011/photoGallery/PosterSessions1/ [The photos give a feel for the enormous area that poster panels cover at international conferences. -Ed]

The Kaguya Lunar Atlas shown is Chuck Wood's latest book, which is for sale on Amazon now, and I can highly recommend! (plug-plug). It is non- technical and has some great lunar orbital images of the Moon.

I have uploaded some (there are lots more) of my photos from Johnson Space Center to my website if you want to see what I got to see there: http://moonscience.yolasite.com/houston.php

10. Ken Ring's Weather and Earthquake Forecasts

New Zealand self-publicist Ken Ring has been getting attention from the more gullible news channels with his predictions of earthquakes. These are based on pseudo-science involving the moon. He uses the same theory to predict weather -- with much the same success.

Beliefs in such theories, and the believers, are more a topic for religious studies and psychology than for astronomy. However, readers who field enquiries about Ring and his theories will find useful background at http://www.sillybeliefs.com/ring.html

Analysis of Ring's weather forecasting is found at http://sciblogs.co.nz/open-parachute/2011/03/02/making-sense-of-ring-gate/

An earlier prize-winning series of articles by Bill Keir is held in the Auckland Astronomical Society's archive at http://web.archive.org/web/20071012030258/www.astronomy.org.nz/aas/Journal /Oct2004/PseudoWeather.asp

-- Thanks to Mike McGavin, Rob Beck and others for passing on these links.

11. MESSENGER Orbits Mercury

NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft went into orbit around Mercury on March 17. This is the first time a spacecraft has accomplished this engineering and scientific feat. MESSENGER's main thruster fired for approximately 15 minutes slowing the craft by 3000 kph hour and easing it into the planned orbit about Mercury. The rendezvous took place about 154 million km from Earth.

Getting into orbit around Mercury is the biggest milestone for MESSENGER since its launch more than six and a half years ago. The craft has travelled 7.8 billion km, making encounters with Mercury to reduce its speed and orbit size.

Engineering tests will be made for the next several weeks. These will most particularly ensure that the spacecraft's systems are all working well at the high temperatures one-third of Earth distance from the sun. On April 4 the mission's primary science phase will begin.

"Despite its proximity to Earth, the planet Mercury has for decades been comparatively unexplored," said Sean Solomon, MESSENGER principal investigator of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. "For the first time in history, a scientific observatory is in orbit about our solar system's innermost planet. Mercury's secrets, and the implications they hold for the formation and evolution of Earth-like planets, are about to be revealed."

The craft's name is contrived from MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging. Few readers will need reminding that in Greek and Roman mythology Mercury, aka Hermes, was the messenger of the gods.

-- From a Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory press release forwarded by Karen pollard.

12. Solar Mystery Solved

The Sun has been in the news a lot lately because it's beginning to send out more flares and solar storms. Its recent turmoil is particularly newsworthy because the Sun was very quiet for an unusually long time. Astronomers had a tough time explaining the extended solar minimum. New computer simulations imply that the Sun's long quiet spell resulted from changing flows of hot plasma within it.

"The Sun contains huge rivers of plasma similar to Earth's ocean currents," says Andres Munoz-Jaramillo, a visiting research fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA). "Those plasma rivers affect solar activity in ways we¹re just beginning to understand."

The Sun is made of a fourth state of matter -- plasma, in which negative electrons and positive ions flow freely. Flowing plasma creates magnetic fields, which lie at the core of solar activity like flares, eruptions, and sunspots.

Astronomers have known for decades that the Sun's activity rises and falls in a cycle that lasts 11 years on average. At its most active, called solar maximum, dark sunspots dot the Sun's surface and frequent eruptions send billions of tons of hot plasma into space. If the plasma hits Earth, it can disrupt communications and electrical grids and short out satellites.

During solar minimum, the Sun calms down and both sunspots and eruptions are rare. The effects on Earth, while less dramatic, are still significant. For example, Earth's outer atmosphere shrinks closer to the surface, meaning there is less drag on orbiting space junk. Also, the solar wind that blows through the solar system (and its associated magnetic field) weakens, allowing more cosmic rays to reach us from interstellar space.

The most recent solar minimum had an unusually long number of spotless days: 780 days during 2008-2010. In a typical solar minimum, the Sun goes spot-free for about 300 days, making the last minimum the longest since 1913.

"The last solar minimum had two key characteristics: a long period of no sunspots and a weak polar magnetic field," explains Munoz-Jaramillo. (A polar magnetic field is the magnetic field at the Sun¹s north and south poles.) "We have to explain both factors if we want to understand the solar minimum."

To study the problem, Munoz-Jaramillo used computer simulations to model the Sun¹s behavior over 210 activity cycles spanning some 2,000 years. He specifically looked at the role of the plasma rivers that circulate from the Sun¹s equator to higher latitudes. These currents flow much like Earth¹s ocean currents: rising at the equator, streaming toward the poles, then sinking and flowing back to the equator. At a typical speed of 40 miles per hour, it takes about 11 years to make one loop.

Munoz-Jaramillo and his colleagues discovered that the Sun's plasma rivers speed up and slow down like a malfunctioning conveyor belt. They find that a faster flow during the first half of the solar cycle, followed by a slower flow in the second half of the cycle, can lead to an extended solar minimum. The cause of the speed-up and slowdown likely involves a complicated feedback between the plasma flow and solar magnetic fields.

"It¹s like a production line -- a slowdown puts 'distance' between the end of the last solar cycle and the start of the new one," says Munoz-Jaramillo.

The ultimate goal of studies like this is to predict upcoming solar maxima and minima -- both their strength and timing. The team focused on simulating solar minima, and say that they can't forecast the next solar minimum (which is expected to occur in 2019) just yet.

"We can't predict how the flow of these plasma rivers will change," explains lead author Dibyendu Nandi (Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Kolkata). "Instead, once we see how the flow is changing, we can predict the consequences."

Their findings appeared in the March 3 issue of the journal Nature. The paper is co-authored by Nandi, Munoz-Jaramillo, and Petrus Martens (Montana State University and Center for Astrophysics).

-- A Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

------ For more on this see http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2011/02mar_spotlesssun/

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. Paraprosdokian (funny) Sentences

A paraprosdokian is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect.

If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong. We never really grow up; we only learn how to act in public. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad. The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese. Why does someone believe you when you say there are four billion stars, but check when you say the paint is wet? A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory. The voices in my head may not be real, but they have some good ideas! A diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you will look forward to the trip.

You're never too old to learn something stupid.

-- Thanks to Graeme Murray, among others, for passing this along.

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.

Modeling Radar Returns from Meteoric Plasma to Reveal Meteoroid Parameters.
Jack Baggaley.

A summary is given of the important achievements that lead to progress in our ability to understand radar meteor echo characteristics and the mechanisms controlling the behaviour of meteoric ionization that provided our understanding of the radio reflection processes. The paper covers the key theoretical developments that enabled progress to be achieved in our understanding of the scattering processes from meteoric plasma. The development of meteor echo scattering theory enabled the realisation of the value of specialized meteor-sampling radars as valuable astronomical probes.
Volume 50, number 1. March 2011. Pp

Earthquake Destroys Townsend Observatory.
R W Evans.

After the 2010 September 4th Canterbury earthquake, cracks appeared in the Townsend Observatory. The 2011 February 22nd Christchurch earthquake completely destroyed the observatory.
Volume 50, number 1. March 2011. P

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. Sir Patrick Moore Celebrates 88th year and 700th 'Sky at Night'
2. The Solar System in March
3. 2010 AGM and Affiliated Society Minutes
4. Aurora Astronomy School
5. Globe at Night Campaign
6. Nanosail-D Photography Competition
7. RASNZ Conference 2011
8. 2013 RASNZ Conference Needs Host
9. Arthur Page
10. Maurice Collins Invited to Lunar and Planetary Conference
11. Kepler's Latest Planets
12. Saturn's Ring and Icy Moons Explained?
13. BigBOSS Dark Energy Project
14. Cassini Finds Possible Ice Volcanoes on Titan
15. How to Join the RASNZ
16. Here and There

1. Sir Patrick Moore Celebrates 88th year and 700th 'Sky at Night'

Our Honorary Member Sir Patrick Moore celebrates his 88th birthday and his 700th 'Sky at Night' television programme in March. The BBC TV programme has run continuously since April 1957.

To mark the occasion the BBC is putting on a party at Sir Patrick's home 'Farthings' in Selsey, West Sussex, on March 5. His actual birthday is the day before and the 700th 'Sky at Night' is a little after the date.

For a summary of Sir Patrick's varied life see http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/sir-patrick-moore-in- tune-with-music-of-the-spheres-2198463.html published in the Independent on 30 January 2011.

For those with a GPS, Sir Patrick's invitation helpfully includes 'Farthings' coordinates: Lat N: 50° 43' 51" Long W: 00° 47' 49".

2. The Solar System in March

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for March 2011 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Mar_11.htm. Notes for April 2011 will be on line in a few days.

The equinox occurs on March 21 close to 12 noon, NZDT. The sun will of course be moving to the north, with the hours it is above the horizon set to become less than 12.

The planets in march

Only 2 of the 5 naked eye planets are visible during March, Saturn from later evening through to the morning and Venus in the morning.

Mercury is a nominal evening object through March but will never set more than 30 minutes after the sun.

Mars is a morning object but will be too low in the dawn sky to see. By the end of March it will still rise less than an hour before the sun.

Jupiter remains an evening object, but sets just over an hour after the sun on March 1; it will be only 7 degrees up 20 minutes after sunset. The planet will set about 15 minutes later than the sun on the 31st.


Saturn will rise a little before 10 pm (NZDT) early in March, two hours earlier, only some 20 minutes after sunset, by March 31. Thus it will become easily seen in the late evening especially during the second part of the month. The planet will transit and so be highest at about 4 am at the start of the month, and advance to around 2 am by the month´s end.

At midnight on the 1st Saturn will between 20 degrees and 30 degrees above the horizon (lowest in the south and highest in the north). It will be in a direction between east and northeast. Spica, alpha Virginis, will be about 9 degrees from the planet so forming an obvious pair. In the late evening sky the two will be at almost the same height with Spica to the right of Saturn. Spica will be just over half a magnitude fainter than Saturn.

The time Saturn and Spica reach the altitude will advance by 4 minutes each subsequent night, so by 10 pm on the 31st. Two hours later that night, they will be a good 10 degrees higher and have moved round to the northeast.

Once they rise, Saturn and Spica will, of course, remain visible for the rest of the night. In the morning an hour before sunrise, the sky will have rotated to bring Spica almost directly above Saturn. Reddish Arcturus will be nearly 30 degrees to the right of, and slightly lower than, Saturn. An hour before sunrise Spica and Saturn will be to the northwest on the 1st and nearly round to the west on the 31st and then getting distinctly lower in the sky.

The full moon will be some 9 degrees above and slightly left of Saturn on March 20 as seen in the evening. The following morning at about 6am, the moon will be a little closer to Saturn and to its left. When Saturn and Spica reappear in the evening of the 21st, the moon, now just past full, will be less than 2 degrees to the upper right of Spica.

Venus will rise at least 3 hours before the sun throughout the month. Hence it will be an easy morning object visible to the east about 30 degrees up a short while before sunrise.

On March 1 the crescent moon will be some 4 degrees to the upper left of Venus. The following morning the moon, now a thinner crescent, will be 8 degrees below the planet. Venus starts the month in Sagittarius, but by the morning of the 3rd it will have moved into Capricornus. The planet will be crossing the latter constellation for much of the rest of the month, until it moves into Capricornus on the morning of the 26th.

The following morning, the 27th, Venus will be only 25 arc-minutes - less than the diameter of the full moon - above the planet Neptune. Neptune, at magnitude 8, will be visible in binoculars while the sky is still quite dark, say an hour before sunrise. There will be no star visible in binoculars between Venus and Neptune, so the latter should be quite easy to identify. On the morning of the 28th, Venus will have moved to be 48 arc-minutes below and a little to the right of Neptune. Don't confuse Neptune with two brighter stars more immediately to the left of Venus.

On the last morning of the month, the crescent moon will join the two
planets. Venus will now be just over 4 degrees to the lower right of
Neptune, while the Moon will be just over 5 degrees to Neptune' left.

A chart on the RASNZ web site in solar system notes of the month shows the path of Venus past Neptune.

Uranus is at conjunction with the sun on March 21 so will not be observable during the month.

Neptune was at conjunction with the Sun a month earlier than Uranus, so will be moving up into the morning sky during March. The conjunction with Venus will give an opportunity to locate the planet in binoculars.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres will move up into the morning sky during March. With a magnitude 9.2, it will be about 7 degrees to the right of Neptune. Towards the end of the month, Venus will be a similar distance to the left of Ceres.

(4) Vesta will be a morning object in Sagittarius brightening slightly from magnitude 7.8 to 7.6 during the month. On the morning of the 28th the moon will be about 6 degrees to the upper left of the asteroid, and a similar distance below the asteroid the following night.

(3) Juno and (20) Massalia will be a pair of asteroids only 3 to 4 degrees apart during March. Juno will be to the left of Massalia at 10 pm when the two will be about 20 degrees to the upper left of Saturn. Juno is at opposition on March 12, Massalia 2 nights later. Both will have an opposition magnitude 8.8. They start March at 9.2 and end the month at 9.5

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2011

-- Brian Loader

3. 2010 AGM and Affiliated Society Minutes

The AGM and Affiliated Society Minutes for 2010 have been placed on the RASNZ website. Go to <http://www.rasnz.org.nz/minutes/minutes.htm> . You will find links to the minutes for 2008, 2009 and 2010. There are also links to the corresponding Annual Reports, that is the reports for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009.

-- Brian Loader

4. Aurora Astronomy School

 

2011 Aurora School Cancelled

---------------------------- ************************************************************************** Following the February 22 earthquake Canterbury University's 2011 Aurora School has been cancelled. The lack of teaching areas and extension of term 1 into the Easter break make it impossible for academic staff to take part.

-- from an email from Joan Gladwyn, Outreach Coordinator, College of Science, University of Canterbury. ************************************************************************** The Aurora Astronomy School is a unique opportunity for Year 12 and 13 students, and will take place 26th to 30th April 2011, in the Easter vacation. The free camp will be held at the University of Canterbury, and the observatory at Mt. John near Lake Tekapo. On campus we will talk about the universe past, present and future, the life cycles of stars, planet exploration, extraterrestrial life and more. We will then travel to the Mt John Observatory at Tekapo where we will explore our cosmic neighbourhood with modern astronomical instruments. The programme will contain a mix of seminars and practical work.

The closing date for applications for this camp is Friday 25th March. More details are on the application form at http://www.outreach.canterbury.ac.nz/

-- Joan Gladwyn, Science Outreach Coordinator, University of Canterbury.

5. Globe at Night Campaign

Join the 6th worldwide GLOBE at Night 2011 campaign. With half of the world´s population now living in cities, many urban dwellers have never experienced the wonderment of pristinely dark skies and maybe never will. Light pollution is obscuring people´s long-standing natural heritage to view stars.

Globe at Night encourages citizen-scientists worldwide to record the brightness of the night sky. During 2 winter/spring weeks of moonless evenings, children and adults match the appearance of a constellation (Orion in February/March and Leo and Crux in March/April) with 7 star charts of progressively fainter stars found at www.globeatnight.org. They then submit their choice of star chart on-line with their date, time and location to help create a light pollution map worldwide.

The GLOBE at Night 2011 campaign dates are February 21 - March 6 (worldwide) and March 22 - April 4 (for the Northern Hemisphere) and March 24 - April 6 (for the Southern Hemisphere). 52,000 measurements have been contributed from more than 100 countries over the last 5 years of two-week campaigns, thanks to everyone who participated!

Website: http://www.globeatnight.org/index.html

-- from notes sent by Roland Idaczyk and Steve Butler

6. Nanosail-D Photography Competition

NASA is running a competition to encourage photography of NanoSail-D, the first solar sail to circle Earth in low orbit. Amateur and professional astronomers and even casual sky watchers can participate. The solar sail will occasionally be visible to the naked eye when sunlight glints off the spacecraft's 10 m2 sail, producing a spectacular flash akin to an Iridium Flare. Even novice photographers can capture such a bright event. Advanced astrophotographers, meanwhile, will want to try to image the sail through backyard telescopes. It will be a challenge (the sail is only 1 arcsecond across), but even fuzzy pictures could help NASA monitor the condition of the spacecraft. Cash prizes will be awarded to the first ($500), second ($200), and third ($100) place photos, judged by a NASA-appointed panel on the basis of beauty and technical merit.

The contest begins now and ends when NanoSail-D reenters the atmosphere in April or May 2011.

For details see http://www.nanosail.org/

John Burt, who pointed out this competition, adds that we are better placed at this time of year for satellite observations than those in the northern hemisphere so it could be worth trying.

7. RASNZ Conference 2011

A further reminder that this year's RASNZ Conference is being held in Napier on 27-29 May 2011. The venue is the Napier War Memorial Convention Centre on the north end of Marine Parade. Conference registration forms were sent out with the December issue of Southern Stars, and are also available on the RASNZ Webpage - see www.rasnz.org.nz There is a wide range of accommodation within easy walking distance of the venue. This ranges from backpackers through to top-notch hotel accommodation. Some suggestions are available by referring to: www.hbastrosoc.org.nz

Although Conference itself will run from the Friday evening till sometime on the Sunday afternoon, many of you will also want to make time for the other two events. Namely, the Fifth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations which will be held on the Thursday, and into Friday morning, and the Photographic Workshop with David Malin to be held on the Monday following Conference. Graham Blow and John Drummond respectively will provide further information on these in due course.

But back to Conference itself. The Invited Speakers are well known to many of you. Dr David Malin has visited NZ several times in the past, most recently to Stardate South Island in January of this year. David's career has largely been with the Anglo-Australian Observatory (now the Australian Astronomical Observatory). He is also Adjunct Professor of Scientific Photography at RMIT University in Melbourne. David has authored many books on astrophotography, and his images are widely known. As well as presenting a feature paper, David will also be actively involved in the Imaging and Photographic Workshop.

The other Invited Speaker is Dr Fred Watson. Fred is an Englishman by
birth, but has lived in Australia for over 25 years. Fred is Astronomer-
In-Charge of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, and is Project
Leader for the Radial Velocity Experiment. In addition, Fred has been
active in promoting astronomy to the public through, publications, talks
and, more recently overseas tours and theatre shows. In addition to his
feature paper, Fred will be delivering a public lecture later on the
Sunday afternoon following the formal conclusion of Conference.  We look
forward to hearing from these two renowned and respected astronomers. The
titles of their talks will be listed on the RASNZ Webpage in due course.

The Standing Conference Committee is now calling for papers. We invite members and prospective attendees to consider giving a paper and/or poster-paper, and expressions of interests can be made with the Standing Conference Committee - please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Or better still - please go to the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz), and complete and email back the appropriate form for consideration by the Committee. We are please to have received a number of applications to present papers already. There is a final deadline of 1 April when final titles and abstracts need to be submitted, but if you wish to present a paper then please complete the submission form as soon as possible so that we can give it early consideration.

We hope to see many of you at Conference. Good travel discounts are still available for those using public transport. But it would pay to make early bookings.

We also wish to acknowledge Matariki Wines, Holt Planetarium, WASP, Easy
Print, Graham Palmer Photography and Astronomy Adventures as sponsors to
date of the 2011 RASNZ Conference. Also the contributions from the Hawkes
Bay Astronomical Society and the RASNZ Conference Fund are acknowledged.

As with any Conference of the nature of ours, costs are skyrocketing, GST has increased and we have no control over these added costs. So every little bit of sponsorship helps. Having researched the costs of some other conferences attended by primarily amateurs in their fields, I can say without doubt that the RASNZ Conference delivers outstanding value for money.

Further information about Conference is available on the RASNZ Webpage www.rasnz.org.nz

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

8. 2013 RASNZ Conference Needs Host

The RASNZ Standing Conference Committee (SCC) is now calling for applications to host the 2013 RASNZ Conference and AGM.

RASNZ conferences are normally held over a weekend. The Conference generally opens on a Friday evening and continues over the weekend to late Sunday afternoon. The RASNZ rules require the conference and AGM to be held during May unless the RASNZ Council approves an earlier or later date.

Under special circumstances Council may approve that a conference be held outside of May (e.g. second half of April or first half of June) if there are special reasons for doing so. However, because of the requirements of the Charities Commission, the AGM MUST be held prior to the end of June.

Proposals to host the 2013 conference should be in writing (electronic format in Ms Word, or PDF format is acceptable) and addressed to the RASNZ Standing Conference Committee. Proposals should be submitted not later than 15 April 2011 and can either be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or posted to:

Pauline Loader
RASNZ SCC
14 Craigieburn Street
Darfield 7520

When submitting an application, please include a likely location (town/city) and venue. Please make sure you clearly state the name of your Society (or group) and who is the contact person for communications. If you have a special reason for wishing to host the RASNZ conference in 2013 (e.g. special events in your area or for your society in 2013) please include a note of this in your submission.

In general, the Local Organising Committee (LOC) looks after the arranging of the venue, catering, registrations, opening and after dinner speakers etc., as well as preparing the budget in conjunction with the RASNZ Standing Conference Committee. The Standing Conference Committee (SCC) is responsible for the programme, speakers etc., and ensuring the overall smooth operation of the Conference. The SCC will provide full support to the LOC and gives guidance in planning and budgeting if needed.

A full set of guidelines and conference requirements can be obtained from the RASNZ SCC by email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Any queries or questions may be sent by email to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

9. Arthur Page

Older RASNZ members will recall Arthur Page of Brisbane. He attended several RASNZ Conferences and IAU Regional Meetings in the 1970s and early 1980s. Arthur died on February 1. The following tribute was circulated to the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) by its Secretary, Associate Professor John O´Byrne. --------

I am forwarding the very sad news that Arthur Page, a foundation member of the ASA, died on 1st February.

Arthur will be known to some older ASA members, but is probably only known to most ASA member via the ASA's Berenice Page medal (http://asa.astronomy.org.au/page.html), named in memory of his wife Berenice. The medal honours excellence in amateur astronomy in Australia and its territories, judged on the basis of scientific contributions which have served to advance astronomy.

Both were foundation members of the ASA when it was formed over 40 years ago. Although most ASA members are professional astronomers, the Pages were readily accepted as members because of the indispensable part they both played in collaborating with Bruce Slee and others from the CSIRO Division of Radiophysics in the IAU Flare Star Programme in the 1960's.

Arthur also had a very interesting earlier history, having served as an Australian army interrogator during World War II because of his command of Japanese. This story is told in a recent book 'Between victor and vanquished : an Australian interrogator in the war against Japan'.

10. Maurice Collins Invited to Lunar and Planetary Conference

Maurice Collins of Palmerston North has impressed everyone with stunning images of the moon taken in recent years. A composite of lunar images all at very low illumination angle was particularly striking. It showed up small variations in terrain height and revealed many ripples in mare lava flows. Now Maurice has been invited to attend the 42nd Lunar and Planetary Conference in Houston. We asked him for some background. ------- Maurice writes:

Some of my recent lunar science work has been published in Selenology Today # 21 (ST-21), the journal of the Geologic Lunar Research group (GLR group), released today http://digilander.libero.it/glrgroup/ . There is a paper about how to process the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Wide Angle Camera images using freely downloadable software called Octave and image processing software ImageJ. ST-21 also has acknowledgment of my independent confirmation of some lunar mountain height measurements.

Also, here is the link to a poster abstract Charles Wood and I are presenting a poster on lunar basins at the 42nd Lunar and Planetary Conference http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2011/ in Houston, Texas that I will be attending for the first time from March 7 - 11, 2011. The abstract is titled "New Light on Old Basins" http://www.lpi.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2011/pdf/1314.pdf

The Lunar and Planetary conference has been held every year starting in January 1970, where it was held for the release of the first Moon rock scientific findings. The results were subsequently published in the January 30 1970 issue of Science http://www.sciencemag.org/content/167/3918.toc It has grown since then (and moved several times as it out-grew the facilities) to cover all the solar system topics, but I'm not sure if I will have time for anything other than the Moon sessions as they go all day every day for the week. But it should be fun!

-------- Charles Wood's "The Modern Moon -- A Personal View" (Sky Publishing 2003) is both an observers' guide and a superb account of the moon's geological (selenological?) history. -- Ed.

11. Kepler's Latest Planets

Kepler, America´s planet-hunting space probe, is now really getting into its stride. The craft, which is armed with a telescope that can track more than 100,000 stars simultaneously, looks for slight diminutions of light caused by planetary transits. These transits are mini eclipses-the passage of the planet in question through the line of sight between its parent star and Kepler´s telescope. Transit detection can pick up much smaller planets than previous methods based on gravity-induced wobbles in the stellar parent. The hope is that, soon, it will find one as small as Earth.

On February 2nd America´s space agency, NASA, which controls Kepler, announced the latest results from the probe. So far, it has seen transit- like dips in the light from more than 1,000 stars. In the case of 170 of these the pattern of dips suggests at least two planets; for 45 stars it looks as if there may be at least three planets; in eight cases there may be four planets; in one case, five; and in one other instance, six.

Most of these dips represent only candidate planets at the moment, rather than confirmed ones. Though they have happened often enough to persuade Kepler´s researchers that the dips themselves are real, the way in which the team is conducting its initial search trades quantity of stars for precision of observation. This means that light from a star that Kepler is examining is sometimes "polluted" by light from other stars that appear near to it in the sky. If such a neighbour is a variable star (for example, a double star called an eclipsing binary in which two stars that orbit each other take it in turns to pass in front of one another), that can create the illusion of a transiting planet passing in front of the target star. Each of the candidate systems has therefore to be studied closely, to decide whether there really are planets involved.

In the case of some, that has already been done. As we reported last month [The Economist 15 January, p.77], an object surprisingly similar to an astronomical wild-goose from the 19th century, the mythic planet Vulcan, was found orbiting a star dubbed Kepler 10. And in a paper published by Nature to coincide with NASA´s announcement of its candidates, that discovery was trumped six times over by an analysis of the most populous putative system, Kepler 11, 2,000 light-years from Earth. This shows that the planets in question are, indeed, real.

Jack Lissauer, of NASA´s Ames Research Centre, in California, and his team, have not only confirmed the existence of the six planets, they have worked out their orbital periods, diameters and, in all but one case, their masses. None is quite as small as Earth. They range in diameter from double the Earth´s to 4½ times, and in mass from 2 1/3 times the Earth´s to 13½ times. Nor are any of them orbiting in what astronomers fondly refer to as the "habitable zone" of Kepler 11 - the distance from the star where water on the surface of an Earth-sized planet would be too cool to boil and too hot to freeze. Their orbital periods range from ten to 118 terrestrial days, which would put all but one of them inside the orbit of Mercury, were they going round the sun. The inner two appear, from their densities, to have a lot of water or methane or ammonia in them (or any mixture of the three), along with hydrogen and helium. The other three whose masses are known are less dense, so presumably have more hydrogen. The planet orbiting Kepler 10, by contrast, has an orbital period of a mere 20 hours and is so dense that it is probably made of iron.

None of which sounds all that encouraging for life-hunters. Such optimists, though, need not despair. According to Dr Lissauer, about 50 of the 1,200 or so candidate planets (if planets they be) are orbiting in the habitable zones of their parental stars. These candidates, you may be sure, will be subject to particularly intense scrutiny. The search for a new Earth has now begun in earnest.

-- The Economist, 5 February 2011, p.78.

------ Those who wish to assist with Kepler's searches should register at http://www.planethunters.org/ Thanks to Roland Idaczyk for pointing out this site.

12. Saturn's Ring and Icy Moons Explained?

A new theory for the origin of Saturn's rings explains why they are made almost entirely of ice. It also asserts that the rings are primordial, not the result of a relatively recent encounter. And it accounts for the icy inner moons of Saturn.

Saturn's rings are at present 90 to 95 percent water ice. Because dust and debris from rocky meteoroids have polluted the rings, the rings are believed to have consisted of pure ice when they formed. This composition is unusual compared to the approximately half-ice and half-rock mixture expected for materials in the outer Solar System. Similarly, the low densities of Saturn's inner moons show that they too are, as a group, unusually rich in ice.

The previous leading ring origin theory suggests the rings formed when a small satellite was disrupted by an impacting comet. "This scenario would have likely resulted in rings that were a mixture of rock and ice, rather than the ice-rich rings we see today," says the paper's author, Dr. Robin M. Canup, associate vice president of the Southwest Research Institute Planetary Science Directorate in Boulder, Colorado.

The new theory links the formation of the rings to the formation of Saturn's satellites. While Jupiter has four large satellites, Saturn has only one, Titan. Previous work suggests that multiple Titan-sized satellites originally formed at Saturn, but that those orbiting interior to Titan were lost as their orbits spiralled into the planet.

As the final lost satellite neared Saturn, heating caused by the flexing of its shape by the planet's gravity would cause its ice to melt and its rock to sink to its centre. Canup uses numerical simulations to show that as such a satellite crosses the region of the current B ring, planetary tidal forces strip material from its outer icy layers, while its rocky core remains intact and eventually collides with the planet. This produces an initial ice ring that is much more massive than Saturn's current rings.

Over time, collisions in the ring cause it to spread radially and decrease in mass. Inwardly spreading ring material is lost, while material spreading past the ring's outer edge accumulates into icy moons with estimated masses consistent with the inner moons seen today.

"The new model proposes that the rings are primordial, formed from the same events that left Titan as Saturn's sole large satellite, " says Canup. "The implication is that the rings and the Saturnian moons interior to and including Tethys share a coupled origin, and are the last remnants of a lost companion satellite to Titan."

During its extended mission, the Cassini spacecraft will measure the rings' current mass and will indirectly measure the pollution rate of the rings. This should provide an improved estimate of the rings' age and a test of the new ring origin model.

NASA's Outer Planets Research Program funded this research. The paper, "Origin of Saturn's Rings and Inner Moons by Mass Removal from a Lost Titan-Sized Satellite," by Dr. R.M. Canup, was published in Nature magazine's December 12 Advance Online Publication.

For more see: http://www.swri.org/9what/releases/2010/satrings.htm http://www.swri.org/press/2010/satrings.htm

13. BigBOSS Dark Energy Project

A proposal to use 500 nights of observing time on the 4-meter Mayall telescope on Kitt Peak, Arizona to investigate the mysterious dark energy has been conditionally approved. Called the BigBOSS Collaboration, the programme would make the biggest-ever map of the universe.

This will require construction of a new spectrograph capable of making simultaneous measurements of thousands of astronomical objects. It will also exploit the three degree field of view that the 4-meter telescope was capable of -- much larger than had previously been recognized. This will enable it to obtain measurements of nearly 5,000 galaxies or stars simultaneously. The project will be further assisted by a new astronomical CCD being developed at Berkeley Lab's microsystems laboratory. It will be supersensitive in the red and infrared wavelengths needed to image very distant objects.

"BOSS" stands for Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey. The programme will run for five years. In that time BigBOSS will target 50 million objects and find the precise locations in space for almost 20 million galaxies and quasars. It will reach back 10 billion years to the youthful universe. The BigBOSS map will encompass 10 times the volume of the current best map of the universe, now being assembled by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey III¹s BOSS project. Sloan's BOSS project released its first data in January at http://www.sdss3.org/ .

Baryon acoustic oscillation is cosmology-speak for the way galaxies tend to bunch up at roughly 500-million-light-year intervals. These density oscillations had their origin in the pressure waves that moved through the liquid-like plasma of the early, hot universe. When the growing universe "decoupled" -- cooled down enough so that light and matter could go their separate ways -- the density oscillations were recorded in the cosmic microwave background, where they can still be read today.

Since those regions denser in matter became the seeds of today¹s galaxies and groups of galaxies, the cosmic microwave background provides the starting point for a natural ruler to measure how the universe has expanded since decoupling. The greater the number of galaxies and quasars that can be used to measure density fluctuations accurately over time, the more accurate the cosmic ruler will be. This is the primary purpose of BigBOSS and its new spectrograph.

By measuring baryon acoustic oscillation, BigBOSS will study dark energy and can test whether General Relativity is valid. It will also give the astronomical community an unprecedented opportunity to make millions of observations for projects not connected to the primary programme.

Measuring the redshift of each galaxy reveals how much the universe has expanded since its light left that galaxy. A redshift of 0.5, for example, means the universe has expanded 50 percent since the emission of the light. Comparing how distance varies with redshift for many millions of galaxies at different times in the history of the universe will allow precise calibration of the spacing of density oscillations at different epochs.

Dark energy was discovered as a result of comparing the brightness and redshift of individual Type Ia supernovae, which revealed that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. Dark energy has "negative pressure" -- that is, by stretching space it counteracts the mutual gravitational attraction of all the matter in the universe, which would otherwise slow down expansion. Although dark energy is thought to constitute some 70 percent of the density of the universe, its nature is unknown.

Theories of dark energy fall into two broad camps. Either dark energy is constant and acceleration is steady, or dark energy varies in time, perhaps even in space. A third possibility is even more radical: dark energy is an illusion, brought on because Einstein¹s General Theory of Relativity, the best explanation of gravitation we have, is wrong or incomplete. With a bigger map of the universe and a more precise measurement of its expansion history, BigBOSS will go a long way toward providing the data needed to choose among these possibilities.

Far beyond dark energy and the measurement of baryon acoustic oscillations, the BigBOSS instrument and the publicly available databases BigBOSS creates will have a major scientific impact on astronomy. The biggest-ever galactic survey will provide new data on cosmological questions including the large- and small-scale structure of the universe, neutrino mass, warm dark matter, and the geometry of space. BigBOSS will provide an unparalleled resource for studying the evolution of galaxies, including our own. It will provide a wealth of new data on quasars. And it will be available for studying such topics as galaxy clusters, planetary nebulae, giant stars, binary stars, and a host of other individual observing programs.

For more see: http://newscenter.lbl.gov/news-releases/2011/02/01/bigboss-noao-approval/

-- from a Lawrence Berkeley press release forwarded by Karen Pollard

14. Cassini Finds Possible Ice Volcanoes on Titan

The NASA-ESA Cassini spacecraft has found possible ice volcanoes on Saturn's moon Titan that are similar in shape to those on Earth that spew molten rock.

Scientists have been debating for years whether ice volcanoes, also called cryovolcanoes, exist on ice-rich moons, and if they do, what their characteristics are. The working definition assumes some kind of subterranean geological activity warms the cold environment enough to melt part of the satellite¹s interior and sends slushy ice or other materials through an opening in the surface. Volcanoes on Jupiter¹s moon Io and Earth spew silicate lava.

Some cryovolcanoes bear little resemblance to terrestrial volcanoes, such as the tiger stripes at Saturn's moon Enceladus. There long fissures spray jets of water and icy particles that leave little trace on the surface. At other sites, eruption of denser materials might build up volcanic peaks or finger-like flows. But when such flows were spotted on Titan in the past, theories explained them as non-volcanic processes, such as rivers depositing sediment. At Sotra, however, cryovolcanism is the best explanation for two peaks more than 1000 metres high with deep volcanic craters and finger-like flows.

"When we look at our new 3-D map of Sotra Facula on Titan, we are struck by its resemblance to volcanoes like Mt. Etna in Italy, Laki in Iceland and even some small volcanic cones and flows near my hometown of Flagstaff," said Randolph Kirk. Kirk, a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey, led the Cassini radar 3-D mapping work. Topography and surface composition data also support the idea of an Earth-like volcano landform that erupts in ice.

It is possible the mountains are tectonic in origin, but the interpretation of cryovolcano is a much simpler, more consistent explanation. Cassini's visual and infrared mapping spectrometer revealed the lobed flows had a composition different from the surrounding surface. Scientists have no evidence of current activity at Sotra, but they plan to monitor the area.

Cryovolcanoes help explain the geological forces sculpting some of these exotic places in our solar system. At Titan they explain how methane can be continually replenished in the atmosphere when the Sun is constantly breaking that molecule down.

The results were presented at the December meeting of the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco. More information about the Cassini mission: http://www.nasa.gov/cassini

-- from a NASA JPL press release forwarded by Karen Pollard

15. 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..

16. Here and There

From The Observatory, 2011 February, Vol. 131, No. 1220.

PERHAPS IN NORWAY? The Sky at Night: Patrick Moore, Dr Chris Davis and Professor John Brown discuss the sun. -- Sunday Times, 2010 April 4, TV programmes for BBC1/2.

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. Tinsley and Pickering Honoured with Mountain Names
2. Nancy (Nan) Amelia Thrush (1916 - 2010)
3. The Solar System in February
4. 2011 Yearbook Moon Tables Wrong
5. 2011 Subscriptions Now Due
6. Stardate South Island
7. Earth and Saturn Photos on the Web
8. Astro-Photography Section's Yahoo Group Closing
9. Implications of Earth Observation in New Zealand
10. Royal Society of NZ Award Applications Sought
11. RASNZ Conference 2011
12. Odyssey Orbiter Passes Martian Longevity Record
13. Metals in the Mantle Tell How Planets Formed
14. Cepheid Mass Measured
15. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
16. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
17. How to Join the RASNZ
18. Here and There

1. Tinsley and Pickering Honoured with Mountain Names

The New Zeland Geographic Board has announced that "Mount Pickering" and "Mount Tinsley" are now official geographic names.

Mount Pickering - a prominent mountain, at height 1650 m, located in the Kepler Mountains 20 km west of Te Anau. Topo50 map CD07 - Manapouri, GR 642 635. William Hayward Pickering (1910-2004), born in Wellington, was an engineer supporting rocket science for California´s Jet Propulsion laboratory, working on projects for NASA, including the unmanned space- flight programme.

Mount Tinsley - prominent mountain, at height 1537 m, located in the Kepler Mountains 15 km west of Te Anau. Topo50 map CD07 - Manapouri, GR 703 598. Beatrice Muriel Hill Tinsley (1941-1981), born in England and moved to New Zealand in 1946, was a prominent and highly-respected astronomer and cosmologist whose research in the USA made fundamental contributions to understanding the evolution of galaxies. Her married name was Tinsley, her maiden name was Hill.

The proposal to name these features was supported by RASNZ. We are pleased to see that Pickering and Tinsley have been recognised in this way and note that it is very fitting that these previously un-named mountains are part of the Kepler Mountains, a range named after 17th century astronomer Johannes Kepler.

-- Glen Rowe

William Tobin notes that the names were officially gazetted in http://www.gazette.govt.nz/diawebsite.nsf/wpg_URL/Services-New-Zealand- Gazette-2010-Gazettes?OpenDocument probably issue No. 173 (16 December 2010), a 479 kB file.

On the RASNZ's webpage Brian Loader has put a map and photos of the mountains; http://www.rasnz.org.nz/

2. Nancy (Nan) Amelia Thrush (1916 - 2010)

The end of an era in Wanganui astronomy was reached on 16 November 2010, with the passing of Nan Thrush. Nan, (and Walter who died in 1985); represented six decades of astronomy in Wanganui, helping found the modern (second) Wanganui Astronomical Society and serving in executive positions on its committee for nearly fifty years!

Walter was President of the society and Director of the Ward Observatory from the mid-40s until the mid-70s, and also served on the Council of the RASNZ. Nan was Secretary of the Wanganui Astronomical Society for 48 years, finally retiring in the 1990s. She was elected as Patron of the Society in 1994; an honour as the position is normally held by the City Mayor. Indeed, the very name `Thrush´ is virtually synonymous with `astronomy´ in the River City.

Nan was born "up the river." in 1916, the oldest of five children. Her father was a carrier and ferryman on the river. The family eventually moved to Wanganui around 1920. It is unclear exactly when Nan became interested in astronomy, but her brother Ian believes it stemmed from meeting Walter and discovering a mutual interest.

Nan and Walter who were both committed Methodists, met at The Trinity Methodist Church, and were married there in 1939. They settled in Rata Street, which became a centre for astronomy in its own right. Unable to have children, they became mentors of a long succession of young keen amateur astronomers. Prior to the writer´s introduction to Nan and Walter, astronomers who had entered into the house at Rata St included Garry Nankivell, Norman Rumsey, Frank Andrews, Bill Allen, Stuart Mawson and Tony Messenger. These young men (then!) became affectionately known as `Nan´s Boys´. There have been many more in the intervening years. Most have gone on to make a name for themselves in the field of astronomy, and one or two have gone professional. Over the years, gatherings of young astronomers would spontaneously descend upon Rata Street, and avid discussions would develop, along with some gentle `stirring´ by Walter to keep things moving along.

Nan and Walter also hosted several notable professional astronomers passing through the city to give public lectures. Their commitment to publicising astronomy was very strong, and they spent enormous amounts of time encouraging anyone with even the slightest interest. In 1977 Walter and Nan were awarded the Murray Geddes Memorial Prize in recognition of their long-standing work encouraging interest in astronomy in the Wanganui area.

When I started in my first job at the radio station (then 2XA) in Wanganui in February 1962; being a dedicated amateur, I located the observatory close to where I worked, and joined the crowd at the Public Night. There I met Walter (and Nan the following weekend), became one of `the boys´; starting a long and very happy friendship which has lasted for almost 49 years. Over the years, the gravitational attraction of Rata Street worked its magic, and after leaving Wanganui and joining the RNZAF, based at Ohakea, I often found myself heading back to the city for meetings or to stay with Nan and Walter. They became second family for me. Many times after a meeting, Walter and Nan would either drop me south of the city to hitchhike back to base; or I would stay overnight and catch a bus back if I wasn´t required at work until mid-morning. When I married Lorraine in 1995, Nan naturally stayed with us at our house.

On one occasion in 1977 during my Mt John days, after being caught out in a bad snowstorm in Tekapo and suffering major after effects; I headed north to give a lecture at the Ward Observatory. It was Nan of course who nursed me back into a semblance of health and enabled me to give the talk. About eight years ago, while working on the night shift at the Taranaki Daily News, I came across a recent copy of the Wanganui Chronicle and discovered a picture of Nan looking very wry, and holding a set of car keys. It turned out that Nan had won a nice new car in a draw held by the Wanganui Savings Bank. Nan found the whole business extremely amusing and was vainly trying to keep a straight face for the photographer; the point being that Nan never learned to drive!

Nan and Walter´s association with The Trinity Methodist Church lasted to the very end; and Nan´s funeral service was held in the rebuilt church. Several of `Nan´s Boys´ were in attendance, and I was honoured by being asked by the family to be one of the pallbearers.

-- Rod Austin

3. The Solar System in February

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for February 2011 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Feb_11.htm. Notes for March 2011 will be on line in a few days.

The planets in february

Jupiter is an early evening object low to the west; Saturn becomes a late
evening object to the east.  In the morning Venus rises early all month,
Mercury rises over an hour before the Sun at the beginning of the month.

Mars is at conjunction with the Sun on February 5 (NZ time). The planet will pass about 1 degree to the south of the Sun as seen from the Earth. Consequently Mars will be unobservable throughout the month.

The evening sky, JUPITER, URANUS and SATURN.

Jupiter will be low to the west following sunset during February. It sets about 2 hours after the Sun at the beginning of the month, dropping to just over an hour by the end. It will then be a difficult object in the evening twilight. Jupiter is in Pisces until the 25th when it moves into Cetus. The crescent moon will be 7 degrees to the lower right of Jupiter on the 7th.

As it moves to the east, Jupiter´s distance from Uranus will increase. The latter will set up to 20 minutes before Jupiter.

Saturn, in the opposite part of the sky, will rise before midnight in February, about 11.30 pm early in the month, advancing to a little before 10 pm by the end of February. Thus it will remain best seen in ...

The Morning Sky - SATURN, VENUS and MERCURY

Saturn ... the morning sky by early risers, especially at the beginning of the month.

The planet will be in Virgo, 8 or 9 degrees from Spica. Saturn will be the brighter object by about half a magnitude. In the morning sky, about an hour before sunrise, Saturn will be below Spica. At the beginning of February the two will be almost due north with Spica to the upper right of Saturn. By the end of the month the two will be to the north west with the star directly above the planet.

The moon, 3 days after full and 86% lit, will be 6.5° to the upper right of Saturn late in the evening of February 21 and the next morning 7.5° to the upper left of the planet, with the moon now 84% lit.

Venus will be the most obvious object in the pre-dawn sky, rising about three and a half hours before the Sun. The planet will be moving to the east through Sagittarius, a few degrees from the handle of the "teapot". Venus will be gibbous during February 61% to 71% lit.

At the beginning of February the asteroid (4) Vesta, magnitude 7.8, will be a few degrees to the east of Venus. The two will be moving to the east on close, parallel tracks. Within a few days, the faster moving Venus will catch up with Vesta, the two are closest during the evening of the 9th when they will be 22 arc-minutes apart, three-quarters of the diameter of the full moon. At that time of day they will not be visible from New Zealand.

As seen from NZ, on the morning of the 9th before sunrise, Venus will be 30 arc-minutes directly above Vesta. The following morning the two will be slightly closer with Vesta now to the left of Venus.

Conjunctions of the moon and Venus occur on January 30 and on March 1, there is none in February, although the moon will be 15 degrees above Venus on the last morning of the month.

Mercury will rise over an hour before the Sun during the first part of February, so may be visible low in the dawn sky. Forty minutes before sunrise it will be about 5 degrees up to the east-south-east and fairly bright at magnitude -0.4. Binoculars may show the planet in the morning twilight.

Like Venus, Mercury starts the month in Sagittarius. On the morning of February 1, it will be some 30 degrees to the lower right of the brighter planet, with the 5% lit crescent moon between them. The next morning the moon, now less than 2% lit, will be 4 degrees to the lower left of Mercury. If anything it may be easier to locate Mercury and use it to find the moon!

As the month progresses, Mercury will get closer to the Sun and so become completely unobservable. It is at superior conjunction with the Sun on the 25th when Mercury will pass about 2 degrees south of the Sun. It will also be about 4 degrees from Mars and 3 degrees from Neptune, which is at conjunction on the 17th. A grouping of the planets that will definitely not be observable.

Uranus, in the evening sky, will be lost in the twilight. By the end of the month it sets less than an hour after the Sun.

Neptune is at conjunction with the Sun mid February, so is unobservable.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres was at conjunction with the Sun at the end of January. By the end of February it will rise nearly 2 hours before the Sun, but at magnitude 9.2 is not likely to be readily visible in binoculars.

(4) Vesta, magnitude 7.8, will, as noted above, be in Sagittarius and passed by Venus early in February.

(7) Iris was at opposition on January 24 with a magnitude 7.9. In February it will be best viewed as an evening object. It fades quite rapidly, to magnitude 9 at the end of the month. At first Iris is in Cancer, but its retrograde motion takes it back into the south-east corner of Gemini on February 18.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2011

-- Brian Loader

4. 2011 Yearbook Moon Tables Wrong

Due to a printing error the Moonrise/set tables in the 2011 New Zealand Astronomical Yearbook are wrong. The 2010 tables were repeated. The corrected Moon tables can be downloaded from the Stardome website at http://www.stardome.org.nz/discover-more/Moon%20Rise-Set%20Chart/ or printed copies are available from the Stardome Observatory, phone 09 624 1246.

5. 2011 Subscriptions Now Due

A reminder to all RASNZ members that subscriptions for 2011 are now due. If you have not already paid your subscription you have until 31 January to claim your $5 early payment rebate. Members may pre-order the 2012 yearbook when paying the subscription.

Amount to pay: - New Zealand Members $60, 2012 yearbook add $16.50 - Australian and South Pacific Members $70, 2012 yearbook add $23.00 - Members elsewhere $75, 2012 yearbook add $25.00 Reduce the above amounts by $5 if paying by 31 January

How to pay: - By cheque made out to "RASNZ" and mailed to:

The Treasurer,
Pauline Loader,
14 Craigieburn Street,
Darfield 7510, New Zealand

- By internet banking to the RASNZ account

ASB 123147 0384735-00

- By Credit Card via Paypal. Please visit http://www.rasnz.org.nz/Sales/Subscriptions2011.htmlIf

I have a limited number of the 2011 yearbook for sale - price to NZ members is $15.00 including postage. For overseas members the cost of 2011 yearbooks is $20 to cover additional postage.

If you have any queries about subscriptions or yearbooks please contact Pauline Loader mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

6. Stardate South Island

Euan Mason writes: Registrations for this year's Stardate South Island are going well. It will be held at Staveley between February 4th and 7th 2011. With a strong La Nina there is a high probability of clear skies, and we're featuring Phil Barker's new 17" Dobsonian, among other delights. Euan Mason will hold a hands-on session on solar viewing and Sunspot counts, followed by a guided tour of Peel Forest. If you are going to attend then make sure that you register. Here is the link: http://www.treesandstars.com/stardate/

7. Earth and Saturn Photos on the Web

Julie Wright passed on this link to a stunning collection of photos taken from the International Space Station http://triggerpit.com/2010/11/22/incredible-pics-nasa-astronaut-wheelock/

Phil Barker found this photo of the storm on Saturn. It was taken on Christmas Day through an 8-inch telescope in South Carolina. The link is http://www.buytelescopes.com/PostComments.aspx?id=40889

8. Astro-Photography Section's Yahoo Group Closing

After a recent survey and subsequent discussions with a number of people at Stardate, it would seem that some still want the option of a smaller, more technical astro-imaging Yahoo group.

At the moment there are two NZ groups: the RASNZ Astro-Photography Section (RASNZAPS) group and the NZ-Astrophoto group, besides the nzastronomers group. We decided to close the RASNZAPS Yahoo group -- but not the RASNZAPS itself -- and just have one, the NZ-Astrophoto group. The name NZ-Astrophoto group is easier to find in searches and is more self- explanatory.

So could those who are on the RASNZAPS group please join the NZ-Astrophoto Yahoo group before I close it on February 1.

The address is - http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/NZ-Astrophoto/?yguid=82612893 The email address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Note that most images will be still posted on NZ Astronomers, but the NZ- Astrophoto discussion group is for those who don't want the wider community to see their images, or want to discuss something technical, etc...

-- John Drummond

9. Implications of Earth Observation in New Zealand

"What on Earth: An International Colloquium Exploring Science & Policy Implications of Earth Observation in New Zealand" - Thursday 17 February 2011, Wellington

The Royal Society of New Zealand, in collaboration with the European Space Agency and Venture Southland, is hosting an international event exploring the opportunities for using satellite imagery and improved data and image access. Presentations will be given by organisations including: European Space Agency, German Space Agency, Italian Space Agency, Swedish Space Corporation and Telespazio.

The event is free to attend, with further details of the programme and registration available at: www.royalsociety.org.nz/2011/01/11/what-on- earth/

-- from Royal Society of New Zealand Alert - Issue 652, today.

10. Royal Society of NZ Award Applications Sought

The Royal Society of New Zealand is calling for applications for the following awards:

  • Charles Fleming Fund - Travel Award
  • Charles Fleming Fund - Senior Scientist Award
  • Charles Fleming Fund - Publishing Award

The closing date for applications is 31 March 2011.

Information on these awards, and application forms are available on the Society´s website: http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/programmes/funds/fleming/

All applications will be acknowledged via email, within a fortnight of receipt of the applications.

Judy Lyons Executive Assistant, Academy, Corporate Affairs

11. RASNZ Conference 2011

A further reminder that this year's RASNZ Conference is being held in Napier on 27-29 May 2011. The venue is the Napier War Memorial Convention Centre on the north end of Marine Parade. Conference registration forms were sent out with the December issue of Southern Stars, and are also available on the RASNZ Webpage - see www.rasnz.org.nz There is a wide range of accommodation within easy walking distance of the venue. This ranges from backpackers through to top-notch hotel accommodation. Some suggestions are available by referring to: www.hbastrosoc.org.nz

Although Conference itself will run from the Friday evening till sometime on the Sunday afternoon, many of you will also want to make time for the other two events. Namely, the Fifth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations which will be held on the Thursday, and into Friday morning, and the Photographic Workshop with David Malin to be held on the Monday following Conference. Graham Blow and John Drummond respectively will provide further information on these in due course.

But back to Conference itself. The Invited Speakers are well known to many of you. Dr David Malin has visited NZ several times in the past, most recently to Stardate South Island in January 2010. David's career has largely been with the Anglo-Australian Observatory (now the Australian Astronomical Observatory). He is also Adjunct Professor of Scientific Photography at RMIT University in Melbourne. David has authored many books on astrophotography, and his images are widely known. As well as presenting a feature paper, David will also be actively involved in the Imaging and Photographic Workshop.

The other Invited Speaker is Dr Fred Watson. Fred is an Englishman by
birth, but has lived in Australia for over 25 years. Fred is Astronomer-
In-Charge of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, and is Project
Leader for the Radial Velocity Experiment. In addition, Fred has been
active in promoting astronomy to the public through, publications, talks
and, more recently overseas tours and theatre shows. In addition to his
feature paper, Fred will be delivering a public lecture later on the
Sunday afternoon following the formal conclusion of Conference.  We look
forward to hearing from these two renowned and respected astronomers. The
titles of their talks will be listed on the RASNZ Webpage in due course.

The Standing Conference Committee is now calling for papers. We invite members and prospective attendees to consider giving a paper and/or poster-paper, and expressions of interests can be made with the Standing Conference Committee - please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Or better still - please go to the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz), and complete and email back the appropriate form for consideration by the Committee. We are please to have received a number of applications to present papers already. There is a final deadline of 1 April when final titles and abstracts need to be submitted, but if you wish to present a paper then please complete the submission form as soon as possible so that we can give it early consideration.

We hope to see many of you at Conference. Good travel discounts are still available for those using public transport. But it would pay to make early bookings.

We also wish to acknowledge Matariki Wines, Holt Planetarium, WASP, Easy
Print, Graham Palmer Photography and Astronomy Adventures as sponsors to
date of the 2011 RASNZ Conference. Also the contributions from the Hawkes
Bay Astronomical Society and the RASNZ Conference Fund are acknowledged.

As with any Conference of the nature of ours, costs are skyrocketing, GST has increased and we have no control over these added costs. So every little bit of sponsorship helps. Having researched the costs of some other conferences attended by primarily amateurs in their fields, I can say without doubt that the RASNZ Conference delivers outstanding value for money.

Further information about Conference is available on the RASNZ Webpage www.rasnz.org.nz

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

12. Odyssey Orbiter Passes Martian Longevity Record

NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter has worked longer at Mars than any other spacecraft in history. Odyssey entered orbit around Mars on Oct. 24, 2001. On December 15, the 3,340th day since that arrival, it passed the Martian career longevity record set by its predecessor, Mars Global Surveyor, which operated in orbit from 11 September 1997, to 2 November 2006.

Odyssey made its most famous discovery -- evidence for copious water ice just below the dry surface of Mars -- during its first few months. It finished its radiation-safety check for future astronauts before the end of its prime mission in 2004. The bonus years of extended missions since then have enabled many accomplishments that would not have been possible otherwise.

The extra years have allowed high-resolution mapping of virtually the entire planet. The maps are assemblages of images from the orbiter's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera. To mark the approach to the Mars longevity record, the camera team and NASA prepared a slide show of remarkable images,posted at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/odyssey/images/all-stars.html

The orbiter's longevity has given Odyssey scientists the opportunity to monitor seasonal changes on Mars year-to-year, such as the cycle of carbon-dioxide freezing out of the atmosphere in polar regions during each hemisphere's winter.

Odyssey's performance has benefited other missions, too. When NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, far exceeded their own expected lifetimes, Odyssey remained available as the rover's primary communication relay. Nearly all the science data from the rovers and NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander has reached Earth via Odyssey relay. Odyssey also became the middle segment of continuous observation of Martian weather by a series of NASA orbiters: Mars Global Surveyor, Odyssey, and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which began its science mission in late 2006.

Odyssey's detection of hydrogen just below the surface of Mars throughout the planet's high-latitude regions indicated water there. That prompted the Phoenix mission, which confirmed that fact in 2008.

For more about the Mars Odyssey mission, visit: http://mars.jpl.nasa.gov/odyssey

-- from a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

13. Metals in the Mantle Tell How Planets Formed

New research reveals why we find so-called highly siderophile, or metal- loving, elements like gold and platinum in the mantles of Earth, the Moon and Mars. They were delivered by massive impactors during the final phase of planet formation over 4.5 billion years ago. The predicted sizes of the projectiles are consistent with current planet formation models. All hit within tens of millions of years of the giant impact that produced our Moon.

The sizes are also consistent with physical evidence such as the size distributions of asteroids and ancient Martian impact scars. They predict that the largest of the late impactors on Earth were 2000 to 3000 km in diameter. They could have changed the tilt of Earth's axis by 10 degrees. The moon impactors were 250-300 km in diameter and may have delivered water to its mantle.

The team that conducted this study comprised solar system dynamicists and geophysical-geochemical modellers. Together, they represent three teams within the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI).

A fundamental problem in planetary science is to determine how Earth, the Moon, and other inner solar system planets formed and evolved. This is a difficult question to answer given that billions of years of history have steadily erased evidence for these early events. Despite this, critical clues can still be found to help determine what happened, provided one knows where to look.

For instance, careful study of lunar samples brought back by the Apollo astronauts, combined with numerical modelling work, indicates that the Moon formed as a result of a collision between a Mars-sized body and the early Earth about 4.5 billion years ago. The idea that the Earth-Moon system owes its existence to a single, random event was initially viewed as radical. It is now believed that such large impacts were commonplace during the end stages of planet formation. The giant impact is believed to have led to a final phase of core formation and global magma oceans on both the Earth and Moon.

For the giant impact hypothesis to be correct, one might expect samples from the Earth and Moon's mantle, brought to the surface by volcanic activity, to back it up. In particular, scientists have examined the abundance in these rocks of so-called highly siderophile, or metal-loving, elements: rhenium, osmium, iridium, ruthenium, platinum, rhodium, palladium and gold. These elements should have followed the iron and other metals to the core in the aftermath of the Moon-forming event, leaving the rocky crusts and mantles of these bodies void of these elements. Accordingly, their near-absence from mantle rocks should provide a key test of the giant impact model. However the big problem for the modellers is that these metals are not missing at all, but instead are modestly plentiful.

A proposed solution to this conundrum is that highly siderophile elements were indeed stripped from the mantle by the effects of the giant impact. However, they were then partially replenished by later impacts from planetesimals, the original building blocks of the planets. This is not a surprise -- planet formation models predict such late impacts -- but their nature, numbers, and most especially size of the accreting bodies are unknown. Presumably, they could have represented the accretion of many small bodies or a few large events. To match observations, the late- arriving planetesimals need to deliver 0.5 percent of the Earth's mass to Earth's mantle,equivalent to one-third of the mass of the Moon, and about 1,200 times less mass to the Moon's mantle.

Using numerical models, the team showed that they could reproduce these amounts if the late accretion population was dominated by massive projectiles. Their results indicate the largest Earth impactor was 2500 to 3000 km in diameter, roughly the size of Pluto, while those hitting the Moon were only 250 to 300 km across.

Impactors of these sizes are thought to be large enough to produce the observed enrichments in highly siderophile elements, but not so large that their fragmented cores joined with the planet's core. They probably represent the largest objects to hit those worlds since the giant impact that formed our Moon.

Intriguingly, the predicted distribution of projectile sizes, where most of the mass of the population is found among the largest objects, is consistent with other evidence.

* New models describing how planetesimals form and evolve suggest the biggest ones efficiently gobble up the smaller ones and run away in terms of size, leaving behind a population of enormous objects largely resistant to collisional erosion.

* The last surviving planetesimal populations in the inner solar system are the asteroids. In the inner asteroid belt, the asteroids Ceres, Pallas and Vesta, at 1000, 500 and 500 km across respectively, dwarf the next largest asteroids at 150 miles across. No asteroids with "in-between" sizes are observed in this region.

* The oldest and largest craters on Mars are many thousands of km across. This is consistent with Mars being bombarded by an inner asteroid belt- like population dominated by large bodies early in its history.

These results make it possible to make some interesting predictions about the evolution of the Earth, Mars and the Moon. For example:

* The largest projectiles that struck Earth were capable of modifying its spin axis, on average, by approximately 10 degrees.

* The largest impactor to strike Mars was 1400 to 1800 kms across, according to this work and the abundance of highly siderophile elements found in Martian meteorites. This is approximately the size needed to create the proposed Borealis basin that may have made the difference between Mars's two hemispheres.

* For the Moon, the projectiles would have been large enough to have created the South-Pole-Aitkin basin or perhaps a comparable-sized early basin. Moreover, if they contained even a trace amount of volatiles, then the same processes that brought highly siderophile elements to the Moon's mantle may have also delivered its observed abundance of water.

The article, "Stochastic Late Accretion to the Earth, Moon, and Mars" was published in the December 10 issue of Science.

-- From a press release by the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas forwarded by Karen Pollard.

14. Cepheid Mass Measured

Classical Cepheid variables, usually called just Cepheids, are unstable stars that are larger and much brighter than the Sun. They expand and contract in a regular way, taking anything from a few days to months to complete the cycle. The time taken to brighten and fade is longer for luminous Cepheids than for dimmer ones. This remarkably precise relationship makes the study of Cepheids one of the most effective ways to measure the distances to nearby galaxies. These measures then give the scale of the whole Universe.

Unfortunately, despite their importance, Cepheids are not fully understood. Predictions of their masses derived from the theory of pulsating stars are 20-30% less than predictions from the theory of the evolution of stars. This embarrassing discrepancy has been known since the 1960s.

To resolve this mystery, astronomers needed to find a double star containing a Cepheid where the orbit happened to be seen edge-on from Earth. In these systems, known as eclipsing binaries, the brightness of the combined light dims as one star passes in front of the other. It dims again when the positions are reversed. In such pairs astronomers can determine the masses of the stars to high accuracy. Unfortunately neither Cepheids nor eclipsing binaries are common, so the chance of finding such an unusual pair is very low. None are known in the Milky Way.

Fortunately such a system has been found in the Large Magellanic Cloud. Known as OGLE-LMC-CEP0227, it contains a Cepheid variable star pulsating every 3.8 days. The other star is slightly bigger and cooler. The two stars orbit each other in 310 days. By using the HARPS spectrograph on the 3.6-meter telescope at the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile along with other telescopes, astronomers have measured the mass of the Cepheid to about 1%. The mass agrees exactly with predictions from the theory of stellar pulsation. However, the larger mass predicted by stellar evolution theory was shown to be significantly in error.

The much-improved mass estimate is only one outcome of this work. The team hopes to find other examples of these remarkably useful pairs of stars to exploit the method further. They also believe that from such binary systems they will eventually be able to pin down the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud to 1%, which would mean an extremely important improvement of the cosmic distance scale.

The results appeared in the 25 November 2010 edition of Nature.

-- from a European Southern Observatory press release forwarded by Karen Pollard

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., P.O. Box 3181, Wellington.

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., P.O. Box 3181, Wellington.

17. 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..

18. Here and There

From The Observatory, v. 130, No. 1219, 2010 December.

COLOUR BLIND ...a red dwarf... is so densely packed with matter that a cubic inch would weigh more than 10 tons! -- Daily Telegraph, February Night Sky.

HARDLY SURPRISING Spica, if seen from close up, would be one of the super-bright stars. -- Daily Telegraph, March Night Sky.

THIRSTY WORK, ASTRONOMY Following Sir Arnold's talk there was a welcome break for coffee. -- SHA Bulletin, 2009 June, p.24.

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.

Southern Stars: Volume 49, number 4. December 2010. Pp 1 - 32.
Solar Eclipse 22 July 2009.

John Burt. On Wednesday the 22nd of July 2009 there was a Total Solar Eclipse over India, China, and going across the Pacific. A few of us from New Zealand travelled to China to stand in the Moon's shadow. We attempted to view the eclipse from a private site near the Qiantang River Tidal Bore viewing area, near the town of Haining (about 80km south of Shanghai) on China's East Coast.
Volume 49, number 4. December 2010. Pp

Journey to Supernova 2010jb in Galaxy IC1615.
Stuart Parker.

Working on a project such as supernova hunting as an amateur can take many hundreds of hours of telescope time and processing thousands of images. When you are lucky enough to come across a new supernova, it is fantastic to see your discovery used for science.
Volume 49, number 4. December 2010. Pp

Astronomy in Otago - the Long View.
Lynn Taylor.

As part of the Dunedin Astronomical Society's Centennial Celebrations during the RASNZ's 2010 Annual Conference in Dunedin, the author presented this History.
Volume 49, number 4. December 2010. Pp

Dunedin Astronomical Societys Centennial Celebrations.
Peter Jaquiery.

The Dunedin Astronomical Society Incorporated was formed as the "Otago Astronomical Society" by a meeting held in 'The Chemistry Room' at Otago University on Monday the 27th of September 1910. That makes 2010 the centennial year for the society and an excellent reason to celebrate.
Volume 49, number 4. December 2010. Pp

Recent Successful Asteroidal Occultations in Our Region in the Past Two Years.
John Talbot.

A selection of interesting results from Australia and New Zealand are presented. Examples of measuring shape with some comparisons against other methods, atmosphere on Pluto and double stars, and extremely low magnitude drops are discussed. This paper was presented to the fourth Trans-Tasman Occultation Symposium in Canberra on 2010 April 5th. Minor updates were made in 2010 November.
Volume 49, number 4. December 2010. Pp

Twin Eruptive Prominences!
Harry Roberts.

In 2010 October the author followed in Hydrogen Alpha light simultaneously two eruptive prominences on the Sun's limbs: one in the west and the other in the east. His drawings capture the tortuous motions of these gigantic (by Earth's standards) plumes of plasma.
Volume 49, number 4. December 2010. Page

Meteoroid Radar Signatures.
Jack Baggaley.

An overview is presented of the developments during the key stages in the recognition of the mechanisms governing the behaviour of meteoric ionization. Meteors were the source that provided the enigmatic echoes - the fleeting radio returns seen in early radio soundings of the atmosphere or as interference on communication links. The paper covers the key observations and probing techniques that enabled progress to be achieved in our understanding these echoes. The development of these techniques enabled the realisation of the value of radar meteors as valuable astronomical probes permitting the capture of the important parameters of mass, speed, trajectories and physical structure of meteoroids. Much of the work had close New Zealand connections.
Volume 49, number 4. December 2010. Pp

Book Review:"The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science" by Richard Holmes. reviewed by William Tobin.

Volume 49, number 4. December 2010. Pp

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. Brian Marsden (1937-2010)
2. Total Lunar Eclipse on December 21
3. The Solar System in December
4. Murray Geddes Memorial Prize Nominations
5. Make Submissions on Urban Lighting
6. Stardate North Island
7. Stardate South Island
8. Springer Astronomy Journals - Free in November
9. Dunedin Astronomical Society's Centennial Celebrations
10. Robert H. Koch (1930-2010)
11. The Solar System in January
12. RASNZ Conference 2011
13. Allan Sandage (1926-2010)
14. Really Distant Galaxies
15. Mini Big Bangs Made at CERN
16. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
17. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
18. How to Join the RASNZ
19. Here and There
20. Next Newsletter - January

1. Brian Marsden (1937-2010)

Dan Green, Director of the IAU's Central Bureau made the following announcement in IAU Circular 9186 (2010 November 18):

BRIAN G. MARSDEN (1937-2010) It is with deep regret that we must announce the death today of Brian G. Marsden after a lengthy illness. He will be remembered as contributing much to celestial mechanics and the dynamics and orbits of minor bodies of the solar system and as having an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of astronomy. He was a dedicated servant to the astronomical community for many decades, serving as Director of the Central Bureau from 1968 to 2000 (and as Director Emeritus since then) and as Director of the Minor Planet Center from 1978 to 2006 (and as Director Emeritus since then). He also served extensively within Commissions 6 and 20 of the IAU over the years, being past President of both Commissions. And he was one of the most visible astronomers in the world over the years in terms of his generous availability to the news media on behalf of the astronomical community. -------------

Astronomers all over the world, including several in New Zealand, lost a great friend with the death of Dr Brian Marsden on November 18. As noted above, Brian was Director of the International Astronomical Union's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams (CBAT) from 1968 till 2000, then continued on as Director Emeritus. He was also Director of the Minor Planet Center (MPC) from 1978 till his retirement in 2006.

Brian used his directorships to encourage observers both amateur and professional. Having a lifetime interest in comets, he was particularly concerned at the lack of observers in the southern hemisphere, so greatly assisted anyone who contributed.

In 1973 Brian visited NZ to present, jointly with Dr Elizabeth ('Pat') Roemer, the Comet Medal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific to Albert Jones. At that time Dr Roemer, at the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, ran the only comet astrometry programme on large telesco pes in the world. She recovered several 'lost' comets using Brian's new calculations of their orbits.

When we began our astrometric programme at the Carter Observatory in the early 1970s, tracking southern comets and asteroids, Brian (and Pat) gave us much encouragement. He arranged for Alan to attend the Comet Colloquium at the Goddard Spaceflight Center in 1974. Around the same time he convinced Yale University Observatory's director that we would put one of their old measuring machines to good use.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Carter Observatory received telegrams and telexes from CBET and disseminated the information to astronomers around NZ. In our time at Carter we often sent information back the other way. Thus nova brightness estimates and other urgent variable star results from Albert Jones and others were sent to CBAT from Carter, so a close partnership developed. Graham Blow continued to act as go-between at Carter in the 1980s.

Much later, when Pam was made an IAU member, Brian immediately seconded her onto the Committee for Small Bodies Nomenclature (CSBN), as it is now called; the international panel that approves names for asteroids. Brian continued as Secretary of the CSBN till his death, sending out the last batch of name proposals only three weeks ago.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Carter Observatory received telegrams and cables from CBET and disseminated the information to astronomers around NZ. In our time at Carter we often sent information back the other way. Thus nova brightness estimates and other urgent variable star results from Albert Jones and others were sent to CBAT from Carter, so a close partnership developed. Graham Blow continued to act as go-between at Carter in the 1980s.

In later years Brian was particularly encouraging of the astrometric and other work being done by Auckland observers Grant Christie, Marc Bos, Jennie McCormick and Tim Natusch. He took time out on a tour of NZ with his wife Nancy in 2006 to meet the Auckland group.

-- Alan Gilmore and Pam Kilmartin ----------------

A detailed account of Brian Marsden's life and scientific work written by MPC Associate Director Gareth Williams, who is also Brian's son-in-law, is found at http://www.minorplanetcenter.org/mpec/K10/K10W10.html

We also thank Roland Idaczyk for pointing out a tribute to Brian at http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2010/pr201025.html

2. Total Lunar Eclipse on December 21

A total eclipse of the moon takes place on December 21. For most parts of New Zealand the total stage of the eclipse will have started before moonrise. Only from Auckland northwards will the moon rise just before totality begins. From about Timaru southwards, moonrise is not until after mid-eclipse.

Thus, throughout New Zealand the moon will, at best, be very low during the total stage. The total eclipse ends at 9.53 pm NZDT with the moon leaving the umbral shadow at 11.02 pm and the penumbra just over an hour later.

-- Brian Loader

3. The Solar System in December

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for December 2010 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Dec_10.htm.

The Southern Summer Solstice is on December 22, the Sun being furthest south just after midday, NZDT.

A total eclipse of the moon takes place on December 21, see Item 2.

The planets in december

The evening sky - MERCURY and MARS, JUPITER and URANUS.

Mercury starts December at its greatest elongation, 21 degrees east of the Sun and so is an evening object. Early in the month it will be readily visible low to the west. 45 minutes after sunset the planet will be about 9 degrees up at magnitude -0.4. It will be in a direction just over half way round from west to the southwest. Mars will be to the lower left of Mercury, at half the height.

Mercury remains a reasonably easy object to see for a few evenings. By the 10th it will be only 5 degrees up 45 minutes after sunset and almost a magnitude fainter. After the 10th it will rapidly get lower and dimmer so being lost to view. Mercury is at inferior conjunction with the Sun on December 20 when it overtake the Earth. Following conjunction Mercury will become a morning object, by the end of the year it will rise just over an hour before the Sun, but is likely to be too low in the twilight to observe.

On December 7 the very thin crescent moon, only 3% lit, will be less than 3 degrees to the lower left of Mercury. The planet will be about 8 degrees up 45 minutes after the Sun sets. As a result there will be a considerable amount of sky glow remaining. Binoculars will make locating moon and Mercury easier. Mars will be fainter and so a more difficult object to the left of the moon and a little lower.

Mars still sets after the sun in December but is likely to be too low in the twilight for observation. Early in the month it will be 5 degrees to the lower left of Mercury, so by locating that planet first, Mars should be visible in binoculars. Over subsequent evenings, Mars will get lower in the twilight and become unobservable. The presence of the moon on the 7th, a very thin crescent, may help locate Mars using binoculars. Mars will be to the left of the moon and a little lower.

When Mars and Mercury are at their closest, just over a degree apart, on the 13th, they will almost certainly be too low in the glow from the setting Sun to observe.

Jupiter remains easily visible in the in the evening sky throughout December, visible to the northwest soon after sunset. Uranus will be 3 degrees to the right of Jupiter on December 1, by the end of the month their separation will be less than 1 degree. With a magnitude 5.9, Uranus will be an easy binocular object. There will be a star slightly brighter than Uranus and to the upper left of the planet. Jupiter will pass the star at the end of December, on the 30th they will be less than 5 arc- minutes apart.

The moon, near first quarter, will be about 9 degrees to the lower left of Jupiter on December 9th and a rather similar distance to the lower right of the planet the following night.

The Morning Sky - VENUS and SATURN

Venus will be readily visible to the east in the dawn sky throughout December, at first quite low, but getting higher as the month progresses. It will start December in Virgo, 7 degrees to the lower right of Spica, the brightest star in the constellation. Venus will also be 16 degrees from Saturn, itself some 10 degrees to the left of Spica. Two mornings later, on the 3rd, the crescent moon will be 5 degrees to the upper right of Venus.

During December, Venus will move to the east through the stars taking it away from Spica and Saturn. By the morning of the 13th it will have moved into Libra. 10 days later the planet will be 3 degrees to the lower left of the close pair forming alpha Lib. The brighter star, is an easy naked eye object, magnitude 2.7. Its companion is nearly 4 arc-minutes away, at magnitude 5.2 it is best viewed in binoculars.

A few mornings later, on the 28th, Venus will be 5 degrees to the upper right of beta Lib which at magnitude 2.6 is very slightly brighter than α.

Saturn moves further up into the morning sky during December so becoming easier to see before the sky brightens from the rising Sun. All month it will be 9 to 10 degrees to the left of Spica, magnitude 1.1. Saturn will be slightly brighter at 0.8.

Saturn will rise just over 2 hours before the Sun on December 1 and just over 4 hours before by the 31st. At the beginning of the month, Venus will some 16 degrees to the lower right of Saturn, the brighter planet moving steadily further away during December.

Neptune, magnitude 7.9, is in Capricornus during December, starting the month less than 15 arc-minutes from the 5th magnitude star mu Cap. During the month, Neptune will slowly move to the east away from the star, their separation increasing to 45 arc-minutes by the 31st. Mu Cap is less than 3 degrees from delta Cap, at 2.9 the brightest star in Capricornus.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is in Sagittarius until the end of December with a magnitude 9.2 to 9.3. On December 1 it will be about 2.5 degrees from tau Sgr, magnitude 3.3. During the rest of the month it moves to the east across Sagittarius, crossing the small kite shaped asterism containing omega Sgr, mag 4.7, towards the end of December. On the 31st Ceres crosses into Caprcornus, but by then will set too soon after sunset for observations.

(4) Vesta is a morning object but will be too low in the dawn sky for observation.

(6) Hebe is in Cetus, magnitude fading from 9.1 to 9.5 during December.

(7) Iris brightens from 9.0 to 8.4 during the month. It is a morning object in Cancer, although rising soon after 10 pm on December 31. It will be about 20 degrees from each of the three stars Regulus, Procyon and Gemini.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2010

COMET 103P/Hartley 2 is expected to fade from magnitude 7.2 to 9.9 during December. It starts the month in Puppis some 13 degrees from Sirius rising about 9.30 pm. The comet moves into Canis Major on the 21st and be rising well before sunset. It ends the month 8 degree east of Sirius,

More details and charts are on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to Comets 2010.

-- Brian Loader

4. Murray Geddes Memorial Prize Nominations

Nominations are called for the Murray Geddes Memorial Prize 2011. 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 31January 2011. R O´Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

5. Make Submissions on Urban Lighting

One small step....

During 2008 the previous New Zealand government called for public submissions on a proposed Coastal Policy Statement. After a long period of consideration following the change of government, the New Zealand Coastal Policy Statement 2010 (NZCPS) has now been approved.

Submissions were made by the RASNZ DarkSkies Group and others to call for better protection of the night sky. Policy 13 recognises our concerns.

Policy 13 Preservation of natural character (1) To preserve the natural character of the coastal environment and to protect it from inappropriate subdivision, use, and development: .... (2) Recognise that natural character is not the same as natural features and landscapes or amenity values and may include matters such as: (a) natural elements, processes and patterns; (b) biophysical, ecological, geological and geomorphological aspects; (c) natural landforms such as headlands, peninsulas, cliffs, dunes, wetlands, reefs, freshwater springs and surf breaks; (d) the natural movement of water and sediment; (e) the natural darkness of the night sky; (f) places or areas that are wild or scenic; (g) a range of natural character from pristine to modified; and (h) experiential attributes, including the sounds and smell of the sea; and their context or setting.

A copy of the statement is available from: http://www.doc.govt.nz/upload/documents/conservation/marine-and- coastal/coastal-management/nz-coastal-policy-statement-2010.pdf

This is an important development as, for perhaps the first time, the night environment is recognised in a New Zealand resource management policy. This NZCPS is to be applied as required by the Resource Management Act 1991 ("the Act") by persons exercising functions and powers under the Act. The Act itself should be consulted, but at the time of gazettal of this statement, its requirements in relation to this NZCPS are, in summary, that: * regional policy statements, regional plans and district plans must give effect to this NZCPS * local authorities must amend regional policy statements, proposed regional policy statements, plans, proposed plans, and variations to give effect to NZCPS provisions that affect these documents as soon as practicable, using the process set out in Schedule 1 of the Act except where this NZCPS directs otherwise; * a consent authority, when considering an application for a resource consent and any submissions received, must, subject to Part 2 of the Act, have regard to, amongst other things, any relevant provisions of this NZCPS;

....... leads to another.

The Ministry for Environment is calling for submissions on a new discussion document "Building Competitive Cities".

The Government wants New Zealand´s cities, towns and rural communities to better support the way we live, work and play. This discussion document presents options for improving New Zealand´s resource management regulations and processes. In particular, the options focus on improving the planning system for our urban areas and infrastructure. The discussion document seeks to: * improve our knowledge and understanding of the issues facing planning, urban design and infrastructure development in New Zealand * ensure that the options that have been identified address the right issues * seek input and views on the options for reform and their likely impacts and effectiveness compared to the status quo.

The Government´s final decisions will aim to achieve the following objectives: (amongst others) o provide greater central government direction on resource management o improve economic efficiency of implementation without compromising underlying environmental integrity....

The discussion document and a submission form can be downloaded from: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/rma/building-competitive-cities- discussion-document/index.html

Submissions close at 5:00pm on Friday 17 December 2010.

This is another opportunity to raise the issues of urban outdoor lighting especially the impacts from commercial and street lighting. I am happy to help if required.

-- Steve Butler, RASNZ DarkSkies Group. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

6. Stardate North Island

The following is from The Phoenix Astronomical Society's website: Stardate is an astronomical gathering for people who are interested in observing the stars through a variety of telescopes brought along by participants; people who like listening to interesting talks and participating in workshops; people who like good food and good company; people who are interested in diverse aspects of astronomy. By the way that includes children; Stardate is a family affair.

Where: Tukituki Valley, near Havelock North, Hawkes Bay When: 6th to 11th January 2011 For more see http://www.astronomynz.org.nz/stardate/stardate-2.html

7. Stardate South Island

Euan Mason writes: This year's Stardate South Island will be held at Staveley between February 4th and 7th 2011. We are still sorting out guests, speakers and so on and our website is incomplete, but if you are keen to register then here is the link: http://www.treesandstars.com/stardate/

8. Springer Astronomy Journals - Free in November

Springer is offering free access to its astronomy and astrophysics journals until November 30. For details, visit: http://www.springer.com/?SGWID=0-0-1500-1020703-0&cm_mmc=AD-_-Journal-_- SPR13274_V1-_-0

Of particular interest may be the issue of Experimental Astronomy devoted to the 400-year history of astronomical telescopes: http://springerlink.com/content/0922-6435/25/1-3/

-- William Tobin

9. Dunedin Astronomical Society's Centennial Celebrations

Dunedin Astronomical Society was formed as the Otago Astronomical Society by a meting held in "The Chemistry Room" on Monday the 27th of September 1910. That makes 2010 the centennial year for the society and an excellent reason to celebrate. So we did.

We started by hosting the RASNZ conference. After a deal of work and what seemed like a long period of trepidation (due to wondering if anyone would actually come), we were rewarded with a well-attended and highly successful conference as the first main event on our centennial calendar.

We had hoped if possible to hold a centennial meeting in the same room as the original meeting. We thought we knew where that was, but being certain turned out to be harder than we had anticipated. After a lot of investigative work our original guess proved right: the Quad Four lecture theatre in the Geography block was indeed "The Chemistry Room" referred to in the records of the first meeting. Remember Monday the 27th of September 1910? Well, the 27th of September 2010 was a Monday also. That was just too good to pass up. We had a time and place so, we held a meeting.

The "Inaugural meeting of the second 100 years of the Dunedin Astronomical Society" was held in Quad Four in the Geography block at 8pm on Monday the 27th 2010, 100 years to the day after the meeting that formed the society. A welcome was given, apologies were read, the minutes of the previous meeting (100 years ago) were read and a motion taking them as a true and accurate record was passed.

Following the reading of the previous minutes two motions were put. The first honoured past officers of the society and was moved by Dale Watts, seconded Ash Pennell. The second honoured the relationship between the Otago Institute and DAS and was moved Lyn Taylor, seconded by Mike Broughton. Both motions were passed with acclimation.

David Hutchinson then introduced our guest speaker for the night: Grant Christie of Auckland's Stardome Observatory. Grant's talk concerning of the changes in our understanding of astronomy and the universe during the 100 years since the formation of our society was very well received.

The following weekend was the real focus of centennial activities. A bus excursion during Saturday afternoon visited the original site of Henry Skey's house and observatory, John Turnbull Thompson's (New Zealand's first surveyor general) home and observatory at Caversham (the initial point for surveying New Zealand) and Henry Skey's relocated 1860's wooden two story house in Leith Valley. We toured the house, had afternoon tea hosted by the current owners of the house (who are very much aware of its history), then headed to University of Otago to unveil a plaque commemorating the forming of the society and the construction of the society's first "telescope house". The trip finished back at the Beverly- Begg where people were invited to observe the observatory and view Venus through our new C14.

On Saturday evening we held the Centennial Dinner at the Dunedin Club ("Fernhill") where a grand three course dinner was followed by John Perriam talking of "Star Performances of the Sheep That Came in from the Cold" (Shrek).

Centennial events finished with a Historical and Astrophotography exhibition held over two weeks at the Beverly-Begg Observatory. The exhibition encompassed the Southland Astronomical Society's "An Eye on the Universe" touring exhibition, a collection of DAS members' astrophotography, and a collection of images and articles relating to the history of the society.

DAS to 100 years old and is going from strength to strength! We had hoped to gain 100 members for our centennial year. In the end we had 110! We attracted somewhat over 400 people through the exhibition and signed up even more new members. In all it's been a great centennial year.

-- Peter Jaquiery

10. Robert H. Koch (1930-2010)

It is with sadness that we report the passing of Robert H. Koch, an astronomer at the University of Pennsylvania. Bob Koch (pronounced `Cook´) was a photometric observer who was an expert on eclipsing binary stars. He took a personal interest in the development of Mt John University Observatory after arriving at Pennsylvania in 1967, just after the observatory at Tekapo was founded as a joint Pennsylvania-Canterbury institution.

In April 1981, Bob spent time in our department as an Erskine fellow, and his stimulating lectures on eclipsing binary stars are still remembered. He also interacted with our graduate students, most notably with David Buckley, who wrote an MSc thesis on eclipsing binaries, which Bob eventually examined. He said that at Penn, a thesis like David´s would normally be worth a PhD! He visited Mt John at this time, and schooled Alan Gilmore and Pam Kilmartin on the art of photoelectric photometry of variable stars.

I met Bob first in 1979 at the Montreal IAU General Assembly, and from there I had an invitation to visit the astronomy department at the University of Pennsylvania immediately after the Montreal meeting. I did so with Bob as my host, and had the opportunity to visit his home on the outskirts of Philadelphia and also to see the Flower and Cook Observatory that was then operated by the University.

At that time, Canterbury was in possession of the 18-inch Brashear refractor, formerly installed in Pennsylvania at the Flower Observatory (since 1897), and destined to be one of the first telescopes erected at Mt John after it was sent here in 1963. In the event it has remained in storage in NZ for nearly fifty years, and during much of this time Bob Koch was an enthusiastic supporter of the plan that we should find a permanent home for it in a museum or with an astronomical society, so that this famous old telescope could once again be put to use. My most recent email from him was in February this year, when he expressed pleasure that a solution for the Brashear telescope might at last be within sight. The plan is to erect it on the shores of Lake Tekapo, in a facility to be run by Earth and Sky for public outreach.

Sadly Bob did not live long enough to see our dreams for the Brashear telescope realized. He passed away on 11 October as a result of a brain tumor. He will be missed as a friend, distinguished astronomer and as one of Mt John´s most ardent supporters.

-- John Hearnshaw

11. The Solar System in January

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for January 2011 should be in place on the RASNZ web site shortly: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Jan_11.htm. Notes for February 2011 will be available during December.

The Earth is at perihelion on January 4, NZDT, .983 AU, 147.1 million km from the Sun.

A partial eclipse of the Sun also occurs on January 4, but will not be seen in New Zealand. The eclipse is visible from most of Europe, except the extreme north where the Sun does not rise at this time of year. It is also visible from north Africa and western parts of Asia. At its greatest in north Sweden nearly 86% of the Sun's diameter will be eclipsed.

The central axis of the eclipse misses the Earth's surface by 510km. Not surprisingly, with the Earth at its closest to the Sun, this eclipse would be annular if it made contact with the Earth's surface.

The planets in january

The evening sky - MARS, JUPITER and URANUS.

Mars sets just after the Sun in January, but will be too close to the Sun to observe, 8 degrees distant on the 1st and only 1.5 degrees on the 31st.

Jupiter will set a little after midnight at the beginning of January and nearly an hour before at the end of the month. Hence it will remain easily visible in the early evening, although getting low after sunset by the 31st. The planet will be in Pisces.

The third and last of the series of conjunctions with URANUS takes place on the 4th, the fainter planet will be half a degree below Jupiter in the evening sky. The 5.5 magnitude star, 20 Psc, will be slightly further away to Jupiter´s left. By the end of January, Jupiter will have moved to be nearly 4 degrees from Uranus.

The 31% lit Moon will be 7 degrees below the two planets on the 10th.

The Morning Sky - MERCURY, VENUS and SATURN

Mercury, in the morning sky, is likely to be too low in the dawn sky early in January to see, but by mid month it will rise nearly 100 minutes before the Sun. With a magnitude -0.2, the planet will then be about 9 degrees up, 45 minutes before sunrise in a direction half way between east and southeast. So it should then be fairly easily visible to early risers. During the rest of the month, the planet will get a little lower at the same time before sunrise.

During January, Mercury will be between 25 and 30 degrees to the lower right of Venus as seen in the morning sky. On the 3rd, a very thin crescent moon, just under 3% lit, will be 3.5 degrees to the right of Mercury.

Venus will be 25 to 30 degrees up and almost due east shortly before sunrise during January, making it a very prominent object. On the morning of the 1st the 14% lit moon will be just over 6 degrees to the upper right of Venus: the two will meet again at the end of the month, with the 18% lit moon 5.5 degrees above the planet on the 30th and 7.5 degrees to it lower right the next morning, now 11% lit.

Venus starts the year in Libra, moves across a narrow portion of Scorpius between the 10th and 15th, when it will cross into Ophiuchus.

SATURN will rise about midnight by the end of January, so will be well up
into the morning sky before sunrise.   The planet is in Virgo, about 8.5
degrees to the left of Spica as seen in the morning sky.   The planet is
stationary on January 27, so shows little movement throughout the month.

The moon, 71% lit, will be 10 degrees to the upper left of Saturn on the 25th and the next morning 10 degrees to the upper right of the planet, now 60% lit.

Neptune, magnitude 7.9, will set nearly two and a half hours after the Sun at the beginning of January but only 45 minutes later than the Sun by the end of the month. It is in Capricornus most of January, crossing into Aquarius on the 24th.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is in Capricornus but sets only 90 minutes after the Sun at the beginning of January, the interval getting less through the month. So it is not likely to be observable.

(4) Vesta, magnitude 7.9, is a morning object starting the month close to Mercury. On the morning of the 3rd Vesta will be 7 degrees to the left of the crescent moon and 4 degrees to the upper left of Mercury. By late January, Vesta will be nearer Venus, on the 31st 6 degrees to the lower right of the planet and also just over 2 degrees to the left of the crescent moon.

(7) Iris brightens from magnitude 8.3 on January 1 to an opposition magnitude of 7.9 on January 24. Being at opposition it will be visible most of the night. The asteroid is in Cancer, some 17 degrees from Procyon on January 1 and 11 degrees from the star by January 31.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2011

-- Brian Loader

12. RASNZ Conference 2011

The RASNZ is pleased to remind everyone again that next year's Conference is being held in Napier on 27-29 May 2011. The venue is the Napier War Memorial Convention Centre on the north end of Marine Parade. There is a wide range of accommodation within easy walking distance of the venue. This ranges from backpackers through to top-notch hotel accommodation. Some suggestions are available by referring to: www.hbastrosoc.org.nz

Although Conference itself will run from the Friday evening till sometime on the Sunday afternoon, many of you will also want to make time for the other two events. Namely, the Fifth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations which will be held on the Thursday, and into Friday morning, and the Photographic Workshop with David Malin to be held on the Monday following Conference. Graham Blow and John Drummond respectively will provide further information on these in due course.

But back to Conference itself. The Invited Speakers are well known to many of you. Dr David Malin has visited NZ several times in the past, most recently to Stardate South Island in January of this year. David's career has largely been with the Anglo-Australian Observatory (now the Australian Astronomical Observatory). He is also Adjunct Professor of Scientific Photography at RMIT University in Melbourne. David has authored many books on astrophotgraphy, and his images are widely known. As well as presenting a feature paper, David will also be actively involved in the Imaging and Photographic Workshop.

The other Invited Speaker is Dr Fred Watson. Fred is an Englishman by birth, but has lived in Australia for over 25 years. Fred is Astronomer-In-Charge of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, and is Project Leader for the Radial Velocity Experiment. In addition, Fred has been active in promoting astronomy to the public through, publications, talks and, more recently overseas tours and theatre shows. In addition to his feature paper, Fred will be delivering a public lecture later on the Sunday afternoon following the formal conclusion of Conference. We look forward to hearing from these two renowned and respected astronomers. The titles of their talks will be listed on the RASNZ Webpage in due course.

The Standing Conference Committee is now calling for papers. We invite members and prospective attendees to consider giving a paper and/or poster-paper, and expressions of interests can be made with the Standing Conference Committee - please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Or better still - please go to the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz), and complete and email back the appropriate form for consideration by the Committee.

We hope to see many of you at Conference. This far out, good travel discounts are available for those using public transport. The Conference Registration form will be available late November/early December, both in hard copy form and on the RASNZ Webpage.

We also wish to acknowledge Matariki Wines, Holt Planetaruim and Astronomy Adventures as sponsors to date of the 2011 RASNZ Conference. As with any Conference of the nature of ours, costs are skyrocketing, GST has increased and we have no control over these added costs. So every little bit of sponsorship helps. Having researched the costs of some other conferences attended by primarily amateurs in their fields, I can say without doubt that the RASNZ Conference delivers outstanding value for money.

Further information about Conference is available on the RASNZ Webpage www.rasnz.org.nz

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

13. Allan Sandage (1926-2010)

Allan R. Sandage, Edwin Hubble´s former observing assistant and one of the most prominent astronomers of the last century, died November 13, 2010. Born in Iowa City, Iowa, June 18, 1926, Allan Sandage grew up to define the fields of observational cosmology and extragalactic astronomy.

He received his Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology in 1953, where he was the famous astronomer Walter Baade´s student in stellar evolution. During the early 1950s he served as Edwin Hubble´s observing assistant at the Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories. Hubble, for whom the space telescope is named, discovered that the universe is larger than the Milky Way and that it is expanding.

Sandage joined the staff of the Carnegie Observatories in 1952 and, after Hubble´s death in 1953, Sandage became responsible for the cosmology program using telescopes at Mount Wilson and Palomar. His programmes centred on the recalibration of Hubble's extragalactic distance scale and combining discoveries in stellar evolution with observational cosmology. He continued this research for six decades.

Early discoveries at Palomar showed that Hubble's distances to galaxies
were progressively incorrect, starting with Baade's finding in 1950 that
Hubble's measured distance to the Andromeda Nebula, M31, was too small by
a factor of about two. Sandage, first alone and later with G.A. Tammann
professor of astronomy at the University of Basel, carried the corrections
progressively outward. This work indicated that by the time we reach the
nearest cluster of galaxies in Virgo, the correction to Hubble's scale is
close to a factor of 10. From 1988, Sandage and Tammann led a consortium
using the Hubble Space Telescope to determine distances to parent galaxies
that have produced type Ia supernovae, shown earlier to be one of the best
standard candles in luminosity known.

Sandage's other early research in observational stellar evolution led to a method developed in 1952 with Martin Schwarzschild of age-dating the stars from the luminosity turn-off from the main sequence of evolving stars in the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. This method, improved over the years from theoretical calculations of stellar structure by many astronomers, remains the principal method of age dating.

Sandage´s prolific work yielded many honorary degrees and prestigious awards. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and sons David and John.

-- from a synthesis of http://obs.carnegiescience.edu/news/ and http://obs.carnegiescience.edu/research/asandage/ both kindly pointed out by Roland Idaczyk.

14. Really Distant Galaxies

The following is from a job advertisement for Australian Research Council Super Science Fellows at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy. The research outline was interesting in itself:

As a Super Science Fellow, the focus of your work will be on science revealed with the GNOSIS OH suppression infrared spectrograph that sees first light on the AAT [Australian Astronomical Telescope, formerly the Anglo-Australian Telescope] in early 2011 ahead of being moved to an 8m telescope in 2012-3. This machine will allow the deepest spectroscopic observations of sources out to z~7 and beyond. A related project currently under development is the multi-object integral field spectrograph (FIREBALL) being developed for the AAT prior to being moved to an 8m telescope. Our particular focus will be on how gas gets into galaxies and how feedback processes affect this process over time, although the Super Science Fellow will be at liberty to tailor this project to their own interests. -------------- At red-shift z ~ 7 the universe is around 800 million years old. Light from an object at that distance has been travelling for around 12.9 billion years.

15. Mini Big Bangs Made at CERN

In the past month scientists working on CERN's Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland have been studying a piece of the Universe as it would have been just moments after the Big Bang. This has been done by accelerating and smashing together lead nuclei at the highest possible energies. The collisions make incredibly hot and dense sub-atomic fireballs to recreate the fundamental particles that existed in the first few microseconds after the Big Bang.

The tiny fireballs exist for a fleeting moment (less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second) at temperatures over ten trillion degrees, a million times hotter than the centre of the Sun.

This allows the study a tiny piece of what the universe was made of just a millionth of a second after the Big Bang. At the temperatures generated even protons and neutrons, which make up the nuclei of atoms, melt resulting in a hot dense soup of quarks and gluons known as a Quark-Gluon Plasma. By studying this quark-gluon plasma, physicists hope to learn more about the strong force, one of the four fundamental forces of nature, which not only binds the nuclei of atoms together but is responsible for 98% of their mass.

The 10,000 ton ALICE experiment has been specifically designed to study the extreme conditions produced in these lead collisions. ALICE is one of the four main experiments at the LHC designed to study the physics from ultra-high energy proton-proton and lead-lead interactions.

ALICE utilizes state-of-the-art technology including high precision systems for the detection and tracking of subatomic particles, ultra-miniaturized systems for the processing of electronic signals, and a worldwide distribution network of the computing resources for data analysis (the GRID). Many of these technological developments have direct implications to everyday life such as medical imaging, microelectronics and information technology.

-- adapted from a U.K. Science and Technology Facilities Council press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

16. 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 R. O´Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

17. 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, R. O´Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

18. 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..

19. Here and There

ALL THE PLANETS?! Lostock is the ideal location because it is "very dark" and free from pollution unlike city and suburban areas, Mr Salway said. "In Lostock we will be able to see star clusters, nebulae and all the planets of our galaxy," he said.

-- Newcastle Herald, 8 October 2010, p.5, passed along by Dave Gault.

20. Next Newsletter - January

The next Newsletter will be published around January 20. Seasons greetings to all our readers.

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. Olwen Jones
2. Introducing our New Executive Secretary
3. The Solar System in November
4. Orionid Meteors in Morning Sky
5. SPADES Exoplanet Search Project
6. Lecturer in Astrophysics at Canterbury University
7. Royal Society of New Zealand Amendment Bill
8. Royal Society (U.K) Journals Free on Line, Briefly
9. New Zealand Almanac 2011
10. RASNZ Conference 2011
11. Alien Liaison Officer
12. John Huchra
13. August 2010 AAO Observer
14. Historical Observatories -- Symposium Proceedings
15. Star's Vibes Reveal Starspot Cycle
16. Potentially habitable Exoplanet Found
17. Is Phobos a Chip Off Mars?
18. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
19. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
20. How to Join the RASNZ
21. Here and There

1. Olwen Jones

The RASNZ lost one of its oldest members and greatest supporters with the death of Olwen Jones on October 2. She was 93. Olwen was typist-clerk at the Carter Observatory from 1949 to 1977 but she did much more than her job title implied. For much of her time there the Observatory staff rarely numbered more than three: Director, Assistant and Olwen. They did everything, including chores like cleaning. On Public Nights, initially Friday, later Tuesday, they were assisted by a dedicated band of volunteers of whom the late Peter Read was one. As well as typing all the letters -- no emails then -- Olwen was the receptionist and answered most of the phones enquiries.

One of the Observatory's functions was to produce the annual moonrise and moonset tables for the NZ Nautical Almanac. Now such a table is done in seconds with the right software. Back then it was a mind-numbing job interpolating times listed in the Astronomical Almanac or its forerunners. Olwen did much of this work -- moonrise and moonset for every day in the four main centres -- along with typing up and checking all the numbers for the printer. Even in retirement Olwen had only a brief rest from this chore. After a major muddle with the computer-generated 1979 tables, the Nautical Almanac editor asked her to produce the tables by the pencil-and- paper method, a job she did on contract for several more years.

The RASNZ was based at the Observatory back then -- the Society's original premises having been demolished so the Observatory could use the site -- and staff gave their time freely to the Society. Olwen ran the Gestetner duplicator that printed the newsletters and the machine that printed addresses on envelopes for the mailing. As the RASNZ was also effectively the Wellington astronomical society till a formal division in 1972, most of the RASNZ executive was Wellington based. So Olwen worked closely with a succession of Society secretaries and treasurers.

Sadly Olwen's death notice in the DomPost was missed by most in the astronomical community as her name was given as Margaret Martha Olwen Jones. The editor is very grateful to Sheila Natusch who spotted the notice, attended the funeral, and passed on the details.

Tributes to Olwen can be entered at http://www.tributes.co.nz/ViewMyTribute.aspx?id=5754

2. Introducing our New Executive Secretary

Following the notice in the August Newsletter, we were very pleased to receive several expressions of interest from people interested in being our next Executive Secretary. As a result Council had a vote to decide the preferred candidate, a situation quite probably without precedent (as far as anyone can remember!). I can now announce that Rory O'Keefe is our new Executive Secretary. A secondary school teacher, Rory describes himself as having a background in education management and currently lives in Onewhero. Prior to this, Rory lived in Gisborne where he was associated with the Gisborne Astronomical Society and managed their Junior Section for a time. We welcome Rory to Council and look forward to working with him and the contribution he will make to the running of the Society.

-- Glen Rowe, RASNZ President

3. The Solar System in November

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for November 2010 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Nov_10.htm. Notes for December 2010 will be available in a few days.

The planets in november

Venus moves up from the Sun into the morning sky as does Saturn. Mars will be low in the evening sky after sunset, joined by Mercury in the second part of the month. Jupiter, with Uranus close by, will be visible all evening.

Mercury is in the evening sky during November, but at first sets only a few minutes after the Sun. By mid month it will be easily visible, setting about 90 minutes later than the Sun and have an altitude of 8 degrees 45 minutes after sunset.

On the evening of the 17th, Mercury will be between Antares, to its left, and MARS, to its right, about 3 degrees from each. At magnitude -0.4 Mercury will be the brightest of the three. Mercury and Mars will be closest on the 20th, 100 arc-minutes apart.

This will be just about the last opportunity to spot Mars during its year long evening apparition. With a magnitude 1.4, binoculars will make it easier to see in the twilight sky. By the end of the month Mercury will have climbed slightly higher into the evening sky, but Mars will be getting lower.

On November 8, the 5.5% lit crescent moon will join Mars and Antares, the three forming an inverted triangle about 4.5 degrees on each side. Mars will be at the lower apex and Antares to the left of the moon.

Jupiter will be the dominant evening planet still setting almost two hours after midnight by the end of the month. By then Uranus will be 3 degrees to the right of Jupiter in the evening, easily visible in binoculars. There will be a 5.5 magnitude star 40´ to the upper left of Uranus, but otherwise no star of comparable magnitude between the two planets.

Jupiter is stationary on the 19th, so will show little movement throughout the month. The 75% lit moon will be some 7.5 degrees below the pair on the 16th.

Morning Sky - VENUS and SATURN

Venus, at inferior conjunction on October 29, will emerge into the morning sky in November. It is too close to the Sun to observe at first. By mid month it will rise an hour before the Sun, and 90 minutes earlier by the 30th, making it as easily visible "morning star", low to the east in the dawn sky.

Saturn, was at conjunction with the Sun at the beginning of October, but will emerge from the Sun rather more slowly than Venus. Even so it will be ahead of the brighter planet throughout November. In fact Venus will not catch up with Saturn as the former´s westerly motion comes to an end on November 17 when it is stationary.

The two planets will be about 15 degrees apart during the second part of November. Spica will be some 11 degrees to the right of Saturn, while Venus will be about half this distance to the lower right of the star

Neptune, magnitude 7.9, is in Capricornus; during November it will be about 12 arc-minutes from the 5th magnitude star mu Cap. The planet is stationary on the 7th, resulting in Neptune and mu Cap being at conjunction, for a second time in just over a month, on November 23.

There will be no star of comparable magnitude to Neptune between the planet and mu. Mu Cap is less than 3 degrees from delta Cap, at 2.9 the brightest star in Capricornus.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is in Sagittarius during November with a magnitude 9.2 to 9.3. It is an evening object but sets just after midnight by the 30th. Its path in November takes it through the handle of the "teapot", passing about 1 degree from phi Sgr (3.1) on the 11th, 2 degrees from sigma (2.1) on the 17/18th and 15 arc-minutes from tau (3.3) on the 24th.

(4) Vesta is too close to the Sun to observe in November.

(6) Hebe is in Cetus, magnitude fading from 8.5 to 9.1 during November. It is well south of the equator and in the sky all evening, with a transit just before 11 pm on the 1st and at 9.15 pm on the 30th.

(7) Iris brightens from 9.4 to 9.0 during the month. It is a morning object in Cancer, rising soon after 2 am on November 1 and shortly after midnight by the end of the month.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2010

COMET 103P/Hartley 2 moves further south in November. During the earlier part of the month it is in Monoceros and Canis Minor, about 6.5 degrees from Procyon in the 8th. Towards the end of the month, on the 22nd it moves into Puppis and will be just over 12 degrees from Sirius.

The comet is essentially a morning object, rising soon after midnight on the 1sr but by about 9.30 pm on the 30th. Its expected magnitude fades from 4.9 to 7.1 during the month.

More details and charts are on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to Comets 2010.

-- Brian Loader

4. Orionid Meteors in Morning Sky

Anyone out after 1 a.m. NZDT might notice more than usual bright meteors. The near-full moonlight will hide the faint ones. The Orionid Meteor shower is expected to peak around October 20-25.

According to meteor experts M. Sato and J.-I. Watanabe we will pass through so-called "filament" components of the meteor shower: narrow streams of meteoroids that are kept in their tracks by orbital resonances with Jupiter. The expected meteors were ejected from Comet Halley's nucleus at several returns in times BC. A burst of meteors on Oct. 21 9h UT (10 pm NZDT, too early for us) is from the 1266 BC dust trail. One on Oct. 25 4h UT (5 pm NZDT, much too early) is from the 911 BC trail.

-- based on Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams Electronic Telegram No. 2507, 2010 October 19. ---------- John Drummond of the RASNZ's Comet & Meteor Section notes that the shower's general peak is expected on Saturday 23rd October at 3am NZDT.

5. SPADES Exoplanet Search Project

We are pleased to announce that the SPADES pro-am project (Search for Planets Around Detached Eclipsing Systems) is now up and running. We seek observers immediately to join the team. Basic requirements are a telescope of about 30 cm aperture or more, an astronomical CCD camera with a Johnson V filter, and experience in CCD photometry. Targets are all south of +10 deg declination.

You can find out more on the SPADES web pages, at our website www.variablestarssouth.org. (Please note the change of our website address.) This contains a project description including the science case, observational requirements, contact emails, and initial list of targets.

-- Simon O'Toole (Australian Astronomical Observatory) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Tom Richards (Variable Stars South) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

6. Lecturer in Astrophysics at Canterbury University

Applications are invited for a continuing position of Lecturer in Astrophysics at the University of Canterbury.

Job ID: 1091 Closing date: 26 November 2010

Applicants should have a Ph.D. and post-doctoral or equivalent experience in an area of galactic or extragalactic astronomy with demonstrated potential for excellent teaching and a record of high research productivity. The appointee will be required to teach and co-ordinate undergraduate courses in physics and astronomy, to teach post-graduate courses in astronomy, to contribute to teaching in other core areas as appropriate, and to supervise research students. Research interests that complement existing interests in the astronomy group and take advantage of our research facilities would be advantageous. Observational facilities available include the 10-m Southern African Large Telescope and the 1-m McLellan Telescope at the Mt John University Observatory.

The successful applicant should be able to inspire and motivate students and work within a collegial environment. The appointee will be expected to publish regularly in high-impact journals, to contribute to collaborative research, and to actively seek and obtain funding in support of research.

Enquiries of an academic nature may be made to Dr Michael Albrow, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. <mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.> . Further details about the Department of Physics and Astronomy can be found at www.phys.canterbury.ac.nz <http://www.physics.canterbury.ac.nz> .

This is one of three current academic vacancies available within the Department of Physics and Astronomy, for further information about these vacancies and to apply online visit please visit http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/hr/job_vacancies.shtml <http://www.canterbury.ac.nz/hr/job_vacancies.shtml>

The University of Canterbury is an EEO employer and invites applications from all sectors of the community. Job sharing or other innovative employment practices may be considered.

-- Michael Albrow

7. Royal Society of New Zealand Amendment Bill

A bill to amend the Royal Society of New Zealand Act 1997 has recently been introduced and passed its first reading in the House of Representatives.

The Royal Society of New Zealand Amendment Bill amends the Act to incorporate humanities into the object and functions of the Society, rename the Academy Council, amend the standard for the election of Companions of the Society, and amend the election process for Councillors of the Society. The reasons for the proposed changes to the Act relate to changes that were made to the Society´s rules in 2008 following a 2008 Council resolution, and the Society's decision to incorporate the humanities into the Royal Society of New Zealand from 2010.

The bill, including an explanatory note setting out the reasons for the bill, is available at http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/private/2010/0210/latest/DLM3223802.ht ml. Printed copies can be ordered from Bennetts Government Bookshops at www.bennetts.co.nz/legislation.htm. You can read the current Royal Society of New Zealand Act 1997 at http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/organisation/about/act/. The bill has now been referred to the Education and Science Committee and submissions on the bill are being invited. Any member of the public may make a submission, information about how to make a submission is available at http://www.parliament.nz/en- NZ/PB/SC/MakeSub/3/e/e/49SCES_SCF_00DBHOH_BILL10335_1-Royal-Society-of- New-Zealand-Amendment.htm. The closing date for submissions is 5 November 2010.

-- Glen Rowe, RASNZ President

8. Royal Society (U.K) Journals Free on Line, Briefly

William Tobin passed on this note from Emma Davidson, the Royal Society of London's Information and Promotion Officer: List members may be interested to note that all Royal Society journals (including Notes and Records) will be free to access until November 30th. Please see http://royalsocietypublishing.org/news for further information.

9. New Zealand Almanac 2011

Kay Leather writes: The New Zealand Almanac 2011 is now in production. The Almanac is a beautiful calendar with wonderful photographs taken by New Zealand astronomers. Every year the photographs seem to get better - and this coming years edition is no exception! The Almanac is also packed with information on various astronomical events occurring through out the year that is presented in an easily accessible calendar format. Almanacs make wonderful Christmas presents, so consider giving them as Christmas stocking fillers.

The price is $20 plus $2 p&p. We have succeeded in keeping the price virtually unchanged for the last few years. We will continue to give discounts for members, societies and for bulk orders.

We are now taking orders, so please contact Kay Leather: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to order your 2011 Almanac or post an order to Almanac 2011, P.O. Box 156, Carterton 5743.

10. RASNZ Conference 2011

Just a further, brief, reminder about the 2011 RASNZ Conference. Now is the time for those thinking about presenting a paper or poster-paper to get their thoughts together, and send in an intention to present. Forms are available on the RASNZ Webpage - www.rasnz.org.nz

The budget is currently being worked on. Our hosts at the Hawkes Bay Astronomical Society have already done some preliminary work re accommodation options - their selections can be seen on their webpage - www.hbastrosoc.org.nz (click conference) - and there are plenty of options to choose from.

David Malin and Fred Watson are confirmed as our guest speakers, and you can read about them on the RASNZ Webpage.

Attendees are reminded that the 5th Trans Tasman Symposium on Occultations will take place on the Thursday and Friday, 26 and 27 May, before conference opens on the Friday evening. And on the Monday following Conference is the Photographic/Imaging workshop with David Malin. Registrations for these will be separate from Conference.

Cheap airfares appear readily available at this stage. Between Christchurch and Napier for example, fares are from $102.00 each way.

A full update will appear in the next Newsletter. Any queries - please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

-- Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

11. Alien Liaison Officer

A Malaysian scientist is expected to be appointed as "world leader" with responsibility for dealing with any alien visitors. Dr Mazlan Othman, an astrophysicist, is to be given the task of co-ordinating the response if extra-terrestrials make contact.

Should aliens land on Earth and ask: "Take me to your leader" they should be directed to Othman. She will set out the details of her proposed new role at a Royal Society conference in Buckinghamshire next week.

The 58-year-old is expected to tell delegates that the proposal has been prompted by the recent discovery of hundreds of planets orbiting other stars, which is thought to have raised the probability of discovering extraterrestrial life. Othman is to be appointed head of the UN's Office for Outer Space Affairs.

In a recent talk to fellow scientists, she said: "The continued search for extraterrestrial communication sustains the hope that some day human kind will receive signals from extraterrestrials. When we do, we should have in place a co-ordinated response that takes into account all the sensitivities related to the subject. The UN is ready-made mechanism for such co-ordination."

Professor Richard Crowther, of the UK space agency who leads delegations to the UN, said: "Othman is absolutely the nearest thing we have to a 'take me to your leader' person".

-- Telegraph Group Ltd, passed along by Stan Walker.

Mazlan Othman gained her M.Sc. and PhD degrees at Otago University under the supervision of Professor Paul Edwards in the 1970s. She spoke at the RASNZ Conference in Dunedin in 1975 and maybe at others that the Editor has forgotten.

For more on phoning ET see http://www.economist.com/node/17199376

12. John Huchra

Prominent American astronomer Dr. John Peter Huchra died unexpectedly on October 8 at the age of 61. He was the Robert O. & Holly Thomis Doyle Professor of Cosmology and the Senior Advisor to the Provost for Research Policy at Harvard University.

Huchra received his BS from MIT and his PhD from Caltech before joining Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in 1976 as a CfA Fellow. He was a Smithsonian Astronomer from 1978 to 2005, when he became Harvard's Vice Provost for Research and Policy. He was the director of the Whipple Observatory from 1994 to 1998, and served as the Interim Director of the CfA in 2004.

He recently completed his term as president of the American Astronomical Society, and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also served on the Decadal Survey Committee, which just released its report to help guide future investments by funding agencies in ground and space-based astronomical facilities.

Among his many accomplishments, John Huchra was perhaps best known for his leadership, with his collaborator Margaret Geller, of the CfA Redshift Survey -- a pioneering effort to map the large-scale structure of the universe. The Survey uncovered a 'Great Wall' of galaxies extending across 500 million light-years of space. This survey and others showed that we live in a 'soap bubble' universe with galaxies clustering as though on the surfaces of giant bubbles separated by huge voids.

Huchra made a number of other very important contributions to astronomy, including measurements of the Hubble constant and the discovery of Huchra's Lens, one of the most dramatic early examples of gravitational lensing.

A short autobiography of Huchra is available online: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~huchra/mapmaker.pdf -------- For more on the U.S. Decadal Survey see Sky & Telescope, November 2010, P.14. The survey report can be downloaded from www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12951

13. August 2010 AAO Observer

The August 2010 AAO Observer is now available at: http://www.aao.gov.au/library/news.html

This edition contains articles on the broad range of science undertaken with Australian Astronomical Observatory's facilities and items relevant to the work of the AAO's Instrumentation and Instrument Science groups. For example: - Andrew Hopkins presents The Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA) survey first data release. - Quentin Parker introduces a bipolar Type I planetary nebula in an open cluster. - Richard Lane analyses dark matter content and testing gravity with dynamical mass-to-light ratios of globular clusters. - Nigel Douglas reminds us of the AAO roots of the Planetary Nebula Spectrograph on the William Herschel Telescope. - Rob Sharp introduces PCA sky subtraction for AAOmega data. - Simon Ellis introduces GNOSIS: an OH suppression spectrograph - the new HERMES project scientist, Gayandhi De Silva, updates us on HERMES news - Sarah Brough summarises the recent AAO conference: Celebrating the AAO: past, present, and future 23

We also include regular features such as the AusGO corner and news from Epping and Coonabarabran

-- note from Sarah Brough, AAO Newsletter Editor, circulated via the Astronomical Society of Australia

14. Historical Observatories -- Symposium Proceedings

William Tobin forwarded the following:

Cultural Heritage of Astronomical Observatories - From Classical Astronomy to Modern Astrophysics.

The proceedings of an international symposium devoted to historical observatories and their preservation is available as a free, downloadable PDF file (160 MB). The symposium was held in Hamburg in 2008 and sponsored by ICMOS, the International Council on Monuments and Sites. Observatories discussed include Algiers, Altona, Bucharest, Cape of Good Hope, Christiana, Hamburg, Istanbul, Kandilli, Kodaikanal, Konkoly, La Plata, Lisbon, Marseille, Nice, Ondfejov, Paris, Prague, Pulkovo, Stockholm, Strasbourg, Tartu, U.S. Naval and Vienna. Visit http://www.math.uni-hamburg.de/spag/ign/stw/Icomos09e.pdf

15. Star's Vibes Reveal Starspot Cycle

In a bid to unlock longstanding mysteries of the Sun, including the impacts on Earth of its 11-year cycle, an international team of scientists has successfully probed a distant star. By monitoring the star's sound waves, the team has observed a magnetic cycle analogous to the Sun's solar cycle.

The study, conducted by scientists at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and colleagues in France and Spain, is being published this week as a "Brevia" in Science.

The star is HD 49933, which is located 100 light-years from Earth in the constellation Monoceros, the Unicorn. The team examined the star's acoustic fluctuations, using a technique called "stellar seismology." They detected the signature of "starspots," areas of intense magnetic activity on the surface that are similar to sunspots. While scientists have previously observed these magnetic cycles in other stars, this was the first time they have discovered such a cycle using stellar seismology.

"Essentially, the star is ringing like a bell," says NCAR scientist Travis Metcalfe, a co-author of the new study. "As it moves through its starspot cycle, the tone and volume of the ringing changes in a very specific pattern, moving to higher tones with lower volume at the peak of its magnetic cycle."

The team hopes to assess the potential for other stars in our galaxy to host planets, including some perhaps capable of sustaining life. "Understanding the activity of stars harboring planets is necessary because magnetic conditions on the star's surface could influence the habitable zone, where life could develop," says CEA-Saclay scientist Rafael Garcia, the study's lead author.

Studying many stars with stellar seismology could help scientists better understand how magnetic activity cycles can differ from star to star, as well as the processes behind such cycles. The work could especially shed light on the magnetic processes that go on within the Sun, furthering our understanding of its influence on Earth's climate. It may also lead to better predictions of the solar cycle and resulting geomagnetic storms that can cause major disruption to power grids and communication networks.

The scientists examined 187 days of data captured by the international Convection Rotation and Planetary Transits (CoRoT) space mission. CoRoT is equipped with a 27-centimeter (11-inch) diameter telescope and a 4-CCD camera sensitive to tiny variations in the light intensity from stars.

HD 49933 is much bigger and hotter than the Sun, and its magnetic cycle is much shorter. Whereas past surveys of stars have found cycles similar to the 11-year cycle of the Sun, this star has a cycle of less than a year. The short cycle is important because it may enable observation of an entire cycle more quickly, thereby gleaning more information about magnetic patterns than if they could only observe part of a longer cycle.

It is planned to expand the observations by using other stars observed by CoRoT as well as data from NASA's Kepler mission. Kepler is seeking Earth- sized planets to survey. The mission will provide continuous data over three to five years from hundreds of stars that could be hosting planets. The more stars and complete magnetic cycles that are observed, the more the Sun can be put into context. More such data also allows studies the effect on magnetic activity on possible planets hosted by these stars.

-- from a press release by the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, forwarded by Karen Pollard.

16. Potentially Habitable Exoplanet Found

A relatively nearby habitable planet has been found. It is three times to four the mass of Earth and orbits its star at a distance that places it squarely in the middle of the 'habitable zone', the distance where liquid water could exist on the planet's surface. This discovery was the result of more than a decade of observations using the W. M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii, one of the world's largest optical telescopes.

To astronomers, a potentially habitable planet is one that could sustain life, not necessarily one where humans would thrive. Habitability depends on many factors, but having liquid water and an atmosphere are among the most important.

The new findings are based on 11 years of observations of the nearby red dwarf star Gliese 581 using the HIRES spectrometer on the Keck I Telescope. The spectrometer allows precise measurements of a star's radial velocity (its motion along the line of sight from Earth), which can reveal the presence of planets. The gravitational tug of an orbiting planet causes periodic changes in the radial velocity of the host star. Multiple planets induce complex wobbles in the star's motion, and astronomers use sophisticated analyses to detect planets and determine their orbits and masses.

The new planet designated Gliese 581g orbits its star in just under 37 days. Its mass indicates that it is probably a rocky planet with a definite surface (as compared to a gas giant planet) and enough gravity to hold on to an atmosphere. Gliese 581, located 20 light years away from Earth in the constellation Libra, has two previously detected planets that lie at the edges of the habitable zone, one on the hot side (planet c) and one on the cold side (planet d). While some astronomers still think planet d may be habitable if it has a thick atmosphere with a strong greenhouse effect to warm it up, others are skeptical. The newly-discovered planet g, however, lies right in the middle of the habitable zone.

The planet is tidally locked to the star, meaning that one side is always facing the star and basking in perpetual daylight, while the side facing away from the star is in perpetual darkness. One effect of this is to stabilize the planet's surface climates, according to Vogt. The most habitable zone on the planet's surface would be the line between shadow and light, known as the terminator.

The team's new findings are reported in a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal and posted online at http://arxiv.org.

More information:

-- from a press release forwarded by Karen Pollard

17. Is Phobos a Chip Off Mars?

The origin of Mars's satellites Phobos and Deimos is a long-standing puzzle. It has been suggested that both moons could be asteroids that formed in the main asteroid belt and were then "captured" by Mars's gravity.

The latest evidence supports other scenarios. Material blasted off Mars's surface by a colliding space rock could have clumped together to form the Phobos moon. Alternatively, Phobos could have been formed from the remnants of an earlier moon destroyed by Mars's gravitational forces. However, this moon might itself have originated from material thrown into orbit from the Martian surface.

Previous observations of Phobos at visible and near-infrared wavelengths have been interpreted to suggest the possible presence of carbonaceous chondrites, found in meteorites that have crashed to Earth. This carbon- rich, rocky material, left over from the formation of the Solar System, is thought to originate in asteroids in the main belt between Mars and Jupiter.

But now data from the European Space Agency's Mars Express spacecraft appear to make the asteroid capture scenario look less likely. Recent observations at thermal infrared wavelengths using the Planetary Fourier Spectrometer (PFS) instrument on Mars Express show a poor match between the rocks on Phobos and any class of chondritic meteorite known on Earth. This would seem to support the "re-accretion" models for the formation of Phobos, in which rocks from the surface of the Red Planet are blasted into Martian orbit to later clump and form Phobos.

Mars Express detected for the first time a type of mineral called phyllosilicates on the surface of Phobos, particularly in the areas northeast of Stickney, its largest impact crater. Phyllosilicate rocks are thought to form in the presence of water, and have been found previously on Mars. This implies the interaction of silicate materials with liquid water on the parent body prior to incorporation into Phobos.

Other observations of Phobos appear to match the types of minerals identified on the surface of Mars. Thus, the make-up of Phobos appears more closely related to Mars than to asteroids from the main belt. In addition researchers find that the asteroid-capture scenarios also have difficulties in explaining the current near-circular and near-equatorial orbit of both Martian moons.

The researchers also used Mars Express to obtain the most precise measurement yet of Phobos's density. It is significantly lower than the density of meteoritic material associated with asteroids, implying a sponge-like structure with voids making up 25%-45% in Phobos's interior. A highly porous asteroid would have probably not survived capture by Mars. Alternatively, such a highly porous structure on Phobos could have resulted from the re-accretion of rocky blocks in Mars's orbit.

Russia's robotic mission to Phobos, named Phobos-Grunt (grunt means ground, or earth, in Russian) to be launched in 2011, will investigate the moon's composition in more detail.

The study has been submitted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Planetary and Space Science. It was presented at the 2010 European Planetary Science Congress in Rome.

--- from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11378762 pointed out by Pam Kilmartin.

18. 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., P.O. Box 3181, Wellington.

19. 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., P.O. Box 3181, Wellington.

20. 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..

21. Here and There

Observatory 2010 June, Vol. 130 No. 1216

MIGHT OCCULT CAPELLA Titan revolves around Saturn, whose orbit is inclined at 26°44" to the ecliptic... -- Astronomy and Astrophysics Review vol. 17, 110, 2009

OF COURSE The inner 600 light years of our Galaxy is a harsh realm, drenched in radiation, powerful stellar winds, crashing shock waves and, of course, the 4.3 billion solar mass black hole. -- Astronomy Now, 2009 August, p.13.

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. John Mackie Celebrates 100th Birthday
2. Earthquake Damages Some Canterbury Observatories
3. What's the Use of Astronomy?
4. The Solar System in October
5. Bright Jupiter
6. Play about Beatrice Tinsley to be performed in London
7. New Zealand Almanac 2011
8. RASNZ Conference 2011
9. Dennis Goodman Explains Resignation
10. Black Saturn?
11. Most Massive Star Found (So Far)
12. Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope
13. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
14. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
15. How to Join the RASNZ
16. Here and There

1. John Mackie Celebrates 100th Birthday

Earlier this month our oldest member, and Fellow, Professor John Mackie turned 100 and the occasion was suitably marked with family and friends in Nelson.

A larger celebration, organised by the University of Otago and held two weeks later, attracted nearly ninety former colleagues and students from the Otago School of Mines and the Department of Surveying, both of which featured prominently during John's working life.

John became a member of RASNZ in 1963 and shortly thereafter joined Council, serving as President during the period 1969-71. In 1969 he was also elected as a Fellow of the Society in recognition of "his fundamental contribution to practical astronomical surveying".

John's remarkable and distinguished life story is recounted in his autobiography "Captain Jack" which, amazingly, he completed only three years ago - a great achievement indeed.

We congratulate John on reaching this milestone and wish him all the very best and continuing good health.

-- Glen Rowe, President RASNZ

------------- Professor Mackie was interviewed on Jim Sullivan's NZ history programme Sounds Historical on National Radio on Sunday September 12th. For a programme listing see http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/soundshistorical For the audio go to http://static.radionz.net.nz/assets/audio_item/0019/2403415/history- 20100912-2104-Sounds_Historical_Hour_Two_-_12_September_2010-m048.asx or http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/national/history/2010/09/12/sounds_historic al_hour_two_-_12_september_2010

2. Earthquake Damages Some Canterbury Observatories

As most readers will know, on September 4 New Zealand had its biggest earthquake near a metropolitan area since 1931. It had a Richter magnitude of 7.1 and was centred near Darfield, around 40 km west of Christchurch. It occurred on a previously unknown fault buried under 16 000 year-old ice-age gravels. Thanks to the shake being at 4:35 on a Saturday morning there was no loss of life, despite major damage to old buildings in Christchurch.

What happened to nearby observatories?

---------- Townsend Observatory, situated in a stone tower in the Arts Centre -- the old Canterbury University buildings -- in Christchurch's CBD has been badly damaged. Press reports say that the tower is cracked. Nothing has been said about the state of the telescope, presumably because the tower is unsafe to enter.

---------- Brian and Pauline Loader who live at Darfield reported:

It is really remarkable how little effect the 'quake had. The shaking was fairly alarming, noisy and seemed to go on for a long time, but probably no more than a minute in reality. But seemingly no damage to our house and only two or three ornaments/flower pots broken. Even the books stayed on the book shelves.

As far as we can see, very little damage in our little town. Two or three chimneys toppled, mostly on older houses, and of course stock in shops scattered on the floor. We had power back on just over 12 hours after the main shake.

I did a quick polar alignment check on the 'scope last night, it had barely moved even though it's only on a tripod.

---------- The Canterbury Astronomical Society's observatory is at West Melton, midway between Darfield and Christchurch. Phil Barker reported:

I went to the West Melton Observatory to see if all was well the day of the quake. The roll-off roof of the 16-inch Meade building was in an unnatural position. When I opened the door I found the cover of the telescope had been thrown off and the tube was in unusual position.

The roof had run off and back on and had been held in place with 2 bolts that look to have barely held on. When we went to use the 16-inch RCX last Wednesday it was out of collimation -- it has never needed adjustment since it was put in the shed -- and the polar alignment is well out now. It took quite a while getting it well aligned, mostly by Ashley Marles. It is now back to square one. It doesn't appear damaged, thankfully.

The Cooke 5-inch pier was shaken loose from the grounding bolts around its Base and was about a foot from its original position. No damage and the telescope is fine. (The Cooke has been recalled by Carter Observatory to be no longer used for astronomical viewing, sadly. At least it survived). I was able to move it back with some effort as the pier weighs in the order of 110 kilograms.

No sign of damage in the 5 metre dome that houses the 14.5-inch classical Cassegrain. In the lodge things were strewn all over the place. In the library a bookcase was knocked over and its contents scattered.

Interestingly, a fork-mounted Celestron C11 left standing on its drive base in a storeroom had been toppled by the 'quake. It must have taken amazing force to do this. The C11 will replace the Cooke.

Overall, however, everything survived. As a serving Police officer I have been involved in the Police operation surrounding this event. The way this 'quake seemed to wreak devastation in some areas and virtually leave others alone has amazed me. The ground underneath appears to be a significant contributor to this. Around Avonside, Kingsford Street and Bexley I understand in the order of 2000 houses will need rebuilding. Several houses have split cleanly in two; some quite recently built.

---------- Stu Parker in Oxford, about 30 km north of the epicentre said:

Yes, it was quite a jolt alright. My Observatory had minor damage to the pier and a crack in the concrete. The polar alignment was out and I did another T-Point. The interesting thing was that I was remotely supernova hunting that morning, so the 'scope took a 30 sec image during the earthquake. The images before and after were fine, but the one at 4:35 a.m. rocked and rolled all over the place. I sent the image to a few people and it proved quite popular; more so than most, if not all, of my other images!!!

[Later today Stu's earthquake image will be on http://parkdale-supernova-factory.webs.com/ ]

----------- Mt John Observatory at Lake Tekapo, 150 km from the epicentre, got a very gentle rolling motion not noticed by sleeping persons. As it was the first earthquake we've felt in our 14 years on the hill, we knew it must be a biggy somewhere. Being on rock is a great help. Lake Tekapo village, on glacial sediment, was quite shook up though there was no serious damage. -- Ed

----------- -- thanks to all the contributors who I hope will forgive some re- arrangement of their notes. -Ed

3. What's the Use of Astronomy?

William Tobin writes: Britain's Royal Astronomical Society has just produced a brochure outlining some of the practical spin-offs of astronomical research, such as CCD cameras, WiFi and geographical location systems, and the wide applicability of astronomical training in other walks of life. Useful for when talking to government ministers and prospective students! The brochure is called "A new view of the Universe: Big Science for the Big Society" and can be downloaded from: http://www.ras.org.uk/publications/other-publications/1868-new-view- universe

Example article.....

WHAT´S THE USE OF ASTRONOMY? Humans have always gazed up at the Heavens and wondered what was beyond their everyday world.

Astronomy is the oldest science. The earliest civilizations made astronomical observations that led to the units of time we use today - possibly the first scientific measurements made. Many human activities, particularly navigation, have depended on observations of the Sun, Moon and stars.

Over the past couple of centuries, more detailed astronomical studies have underpinned the formulation of our current understanding of physics: the fundamental forces, in particular gravity as described by Einstein´s General Theory of Relativity; and the building-blocks of matter and the theory describing them, quantum theory. Today, the universe continues to provide a laboratory for testing basic theories that lead to a deeper understanding of nature and our own place in it.

Astronomy now covers a huge range of topics: understanding how the universe got started and how its large scale structure evolved into what we see today; the formation and evolution of galaxies, stars and planetary systems; and, excitingly, the search for planets that might support life. A major mystery recently uncovered is the existence of "dark energy" which is accelerating cosmic expansion. The dynamics of the universe seem to be dominated by this phenomenon, as well as by large amounts of invisible "dark matter". The universe we see directly is only a small component of what is really out there.

Discoveries made via astronomical observations also play a pivotal role in shaping progress in other fields. A major goal of nuclear physics is to understand how the elements are made in stars. Studying the outer layers of the Sun and other stars tells us about the physics of plasmas relevant to clean nuclear-energy generation. Exploring the geology and atmospheres of planetary bodies in the solar system may throw light on climate change on our own planet, while the burgeoning science of astrobiology - exploring the conditions in which life could exist elsewhere in the universe - could explain how life first evolved on Earth. [Read more on page 4 of the brochure].

4. The Solar System in October

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for October 2010 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Oct_10.htm. Notes for November 2010 will be available in a few days.

The planets in october

Venus will disappear from the evening sky during the second part of October, leaving only Mars and Jupiter visible. Saturn and Mercury are both to close to the Sun for observation.

Mercury is at superior conjunction on October 17. Before that date as a morning object it is too close to the Sun to observe. After conjunction it will become an evening object, but still be too close to the Sun for observation.

Venus is still an obvious evening object early in the month setting about 3 hours after the Sun. It is stationary on October 8, after which the planet starts moving back towards the Sun so getting steadily lower and set earlier, by the 20th about 90 minutes after the Sun. A week later, on the 26th and 27th, Venus will be 7 degrees to the left of Mercury, but even Venus will be a difficult object close to the horizon. Two days later on the 29th, Venus is at inferior conjunction prior to moving into the morning sky.

Mars, also in the evening sky, starts October to the lower left of Venus, but after a few days the latter planet slips behind and then below Mars. Mars will continue to move across Libra and into Scorpius on October 27. It will end the month 2 degrees below delta Scorpii, which at magnitude 2.3 will be nearly a magnitude fainter than Mars. Antares will be some 9 degrees above Mars and slightly brighter than the planet. The two, of course, have a similar colour.

Early in October, Mars passes the wide double alpha Librae. The pair of stars and Mars are at their closest on the 7th, 40 arc-minutes apart.

Unlike Venus, the time at which Mars sets will change little during the month, near to 10pm NZDT in most parts of New Zealand. But as sunset gets later, the time when the sky darkens also gets later resulting in Mars first appearing lower in the sky.

Jupiter and URANUS will continue to be a close pair of planets during October, although the faster moving Jupiter will draw slightly further away to the west of Uranus. Their separation will increase from 1.4 to 3.2 degrees during the month.

Jupiter will be at its best in the evening sky during October, rising well before sunset and not setting until several hours after midnight. With a magnitude 5.7 to 5.8, Uranus will be an easy binocular object, slightly fainter than Callisto the least bright of Jupiter´s Galilean satellites. Uranus will be to the lower left of Jupiter in the evening sky. Apart from the satellites, it will be the closest bright object near Jupiter.

At the beginning of October Uranus will be almost directly below Jupiter at 10 pm, by the end of the month, Uranus will be to the lower right of Jupiter with a magnitude 5.5 star almost directly between them, twice as far from Jupiter as from Uranus.

Saturn is at conjunction with the Sun on October 1, following which it will move into the morning sky. By the end of the month it will rise nearly an hour before the Sun but is likely to be too low in the dawn sky for any observation.

Neptune, magnitude 7.8 to 7.9, is in Capricornus and spends the month close to the 5th magnitude star mu Cap. Staring just over 20 arc-minutes apart, the two will be less than 12 arc-minutes apart when closest on the 21st. Mu Cap is less than 3 degrees from delta Cap, at 2.9 the brightest star in Capricornus.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is in Sagittarius during October with a magnitude 9.1 to 9.3. It is an evening object setting after midnight throughout the month. Its path to the east takes it towards the handle of the teapot, passing about 1.3 degrees from delta Sgr on the 25th.

(4) Vesta will be very low to the west after sunset and is not likely to be observable.

(6) Hebe is in Cetus with a magnitude 7.8 at the beginning of the month, making it then the brightest asteroid. By the end of the month it will have faded to 8.4, but still be the brightest visible asteroid. It is well south of the equator and in the sky all night, setting close to sunrise by the end of October.

(8) Flora´s magnitude ranges from 8.5 to 9.2 during October. It is Aquarius and will be slow moving about 4 degrees from the 3.3 magnitude star delta Aqr.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2010

COMET 103P/Hartley 2 moves south during October. During the first half of the month it is too far north to observe from New Zealand. By late October it will be in the morning sky in Gemini, rising soon after midnight and is predicted to reach magnitude 4.5 by about the last week on the month.

More details and charts are on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to Comets 2010.

-- Brian Loader

5. Bright Jupiter

Jupiter is a few percent brighter than usual around now, as this extract from a Sky & Telescope note explains:

Jupiter is making its closest pass by Earth for the year. And this year's pass is a little closer than any other between 1963 and 2022. Jupiter is nearest to Earth on the night of Monday, September 20th: 592 million km away. But it remains nearly this close and bright throughout the second half of September.

At the closest point of its previous swing-by, in August 2009, Jupiter was 2% farther than this time. That translated into 8% dimmer, all things considered. At its next pass, in October 2011, it will be a little less than 1% more distant than now.

In addition, Jupiter is an additional 4% brighter than usual because one of its brown cloud belts has gone missing. For nearly a year the giant planet's South Equatorial Belt, usually plain to see in a small telescope, has been hidden under a layer of bright white ammonia clouds.

-- original forwarded by Karen Pollard.

6. Play about Beatrice Tinsley to be Performed in London

Beatrice Tinsley is well known as the New Zealand astrophysicist who thirty years ago was tragically struck down by skin cancer at the age of only 40. In 2005 the Circa Theatre in Wellington presented "Bright Star", a play about her by Stuart Hoar.

Readers who will be in London in November will have a second opportunity to see "Bright Star". The play will be performed at the Tabard Theatre in western London November 9-27, though the exact dates should be checked.

Links: Tabard Theatre: http://www.tabardweb.co.uk/ NBR review of the Circa Theatre production: http://web.archive.org/web/20051216123158/http://nbr.co.nz/smythe/2005/09/ beatrice-tinsley-superstar.html

-- William Tobin

7. New Zealand Almanac 2011

Kay Leather writes: The New Zealand Almanac 2011 is now in production. The Almanac is a beautiful calendar with wonderful photographs taken by New Zealand astronomers. Every year the photographs seem to get better - and this coming year's edition is no exception! The Almanac is also packed with information on various astronomical events occurring through out the year that is presented in an easily accessible calendar format. Almanacs make wonderful Christmas presents, so consider giving them as Christmas stocking fillers.

The price is $20 plus $2 p&p. We have succeeded in keeping the price virtually unchanged for the last few years. We will continue to give discounts for members, societies and for bulk orders.

We are now taking orders, so please contact Kay Leather: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to order your 2011 Almanac or post an order to Almanac 2011, P.O. Box 156, Carterton 5743.

8. RASNZ Conference 2011

The RASNZ is pleased to remind everyone that next year's Conference is being held in Napier on 27-29 May 2011. The venue is the Napier War Memorial Convention Centre on the north end of Marine Parade. There is a wide range of accommodation within easy walking distance of the venue.

Although Conference itself will run from the Friday evening till sometime on the Sunday afternoon, many of you will also want to make time for the other two events. Namely the Fifth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations which will be held on the Friday daytime (and possibly the Thursday as well - to be confirmed), and the Imaging/Photographic Workshop to be held on the Monday following Conference. Graham Blow and John Drummond respectively will provide further information on these in due course.

But back to Conference itself. The Invited Speakers are well known to many of you. Dr David Malin has visited NZ several times in the past, most recently to Stardate South Island in January of this year. David's career has largely been with the Anglo-Australian Observatory (now the Australian Astronomical Observatory). He is also Adjunct Professor of Scientific Photography at RMIT University in Melbourne. David has authored many books on astrophotgraphy, and his images are widely known. As well as presenting a feature paper, David will also be actively involved in the Imaging and Photographic Workshop. The other Invited Speaker is Dr Fred Watson. Fred is an Englishman by birth, but has lived in Australia for over 25 years. Fred is Astronomer-In-Charge of the Australian Astronomical Observatory, and is Project Leader for the Radial Velocity Experiment. In addition, Fred has been active in promoting astronomy to the public through, publications, talks and, more recently overseas tours and theatre shows. In addition to his feature paper, Fred will be delivering a public lecture later on the Sunday afternoon following the formal conclusion of Conference. We look forward to hearing from these two renowned and respected astronomers.

An official Call for Papers will be made shortly. In the meantime, however, we invite members and prospective attendees to consider giving a paper and/or poster-paper, and initial expressions of interests can be made with the Standing Conference Committee - please email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

We hope to see many of you at Conference. This far out, good travel discounts are bound to be available for those using public transport. The Conference Registration form will be available late November/early December.

We also wish to acknowledge Matariki Wines as the initial sponsor of the 2011 RASNZ Conference.

Further information about Conference is available on the RASNZ Webpage - www.rasnz.org.nz

Further announcements will be made in future newsletters.

-- Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

9. Dennis Goodman Explains Resignation

At the May Conference Dennis Goodman was appointed RASNZ Executive Secretary but resigned soon afterwards. Here Dennis explains why. ------------------- Hi everyone,

I thought it appropriate to explain my reasons for resigning from the position of Executive Secretary so soon after the AGM.

As many of you know, I suffered a serious accident back in 2006, which ultimately resulted in my taking early retirement from my insurance career. Although I had suffered some bruising to the brain, and severe concussion, I had largely made a complete recovery. And, as time passed I continued with, or had taken on, some voluntary positions without any noticeable side effects.

I guess taking on the role of Executive Secretary proved to be one step too far. Following the resurfacing of some side effects I had suffered following the accident, when getting into the role of Executive Secretary, I took medical advice. It was strongly recommended to me to give up the position, and that it is not the sort of role I should contemplate doing in future. In hindsight, I should have sought advice before agreeing to stand for the position.

However, I have been cleared to take an active role in discussion forums etc, and will continue to serve on the RASNZ Standing Conference Committee.

I am sorry I found it necessary to resign from the Executive Secretary's position, but given the problems I encountered felt it wise to act on professional medical advice.

-- Dennis Goodman.

10. Black Saturn?

From 'The Observatory' Correspondence 2010 April p.89.

Saturn's Phoebe Ring and Ancient Babylonian Observations

The Spitzer Space Telescope recently discovered an enormous 'ghost' ring (also known as the Phoebe Ring) around Saturn [Reference 1]. With a radius of between 128 and 207 times that of Saturn, a vertical thickness 40 times Saturn's radius, and an inclination of about 17 degrees with respect to the main ring plane, it incorporates Saturn's moon Phoebe, from which the dust is thought to derive through impacts. Some 100 times the diameter of the nearest rings inside it, at opposition it is estimated [2] to "span the width of two full moons' worth of the sky, one on either side of Saturn". At present the ring is visible only in the infrared, yet we wonder whether its discovery might shed some light on an unsolved problem in archaeoastronomy.

Ancient astronomers assigned specific colours to each of the traditional seven (naked eye) planets. The earliest documented examples come from the Cuneiform texts of the Babylonians and Assyrians, dating to the 8th-7th Centuries BC. In an on-going project we have been studying the rational behind the colours assigned to each planet and in most cases there is a straightforward naturalistic explanation. For example, the Babylonians systematically described the Sun as gold, the Moon is silver, Mars is red, and Jupiter as white, just as they appear. The 'green' colour ascribed to Venus can be read as green or blue, as there was no distinction between the colours in the Sumerian and Akkadian languages used by the Babylonians. While Venus generally appears white, this could shift to a greenish-blue tinge to the unaided eye, as confirmed by ethnographic parallels outside Babylonia. Though less clear from the sources, our understanding is that Mercury was associated with pale red (brown, according to the medieval scholars of Harran in northwestern Mesopotamia), and the planet can appear orange-brown in colour [3].

The colour assigned to Saturn remains a distinct problem. The Babylonians regularly described it as 'black'[4], as did ancient Indian and Graeco- Roman and medieval Jewish writers [5] (working within traditions influenced by the Babylonians). Saturn is indeed a dim planet (compared with Venus, Jupiter, and Mars), but nonetheless its visibility led to its observation, a circumstance which hardly prompts association with black! Besides, comparison with the other planets suggested that the Babylonian 'planet colours' were not based on degrees of brightness, but on actual colouration. If anything, Saturn appears yellowish in colour, yet only one of the ancient sources we have examined (Plato, "Republic", 10.14) suggests a yellow colour.

We have experimented with astrological and cosmological explanations (in
Babylonian terms) for the widespread choice of black for Saturn. For
example, the Babylonians commonly distinguished between planets thought to
be 'benefic' (Jupiter and Venus) and 'malefic' (Saturn and Mars, Mercury
being ambiguous) [Ref.6].  As the most auspicious planets were also the
two brightest, one might suspect a correlation between relative brightness
and beneficence, with the 'malefic' planet Saturn being assigned the
darkest colour possible. Yet this does not seem satisfactory, as it flouts
the underlying logic that can be seen in the colour choice of all the
other planets, where, clearly, natural appearance has dictated the choice.

The reconstruction offered of the newly-discovered Phoebe ring is thus of immense interest, not only to modern astronomers, but for those studying the thought processes of their ancient counterparts. As visualized [7], a ring of light surrounds a gigantic black space, within which the planet itself appears only as a small dot of brightness at the centre. Though the ring is presently invisible from a terrestrial standpoint, were anything like this to have been visible from the Earth in the ancient past, an explanation would readily have offered itself as to why ancient observers regarded Saturn as black: perceiving the ring as the perimeter of the planet, the 'body' of the object would appear to be black. Could the amount of dust in the Phoebe ring have been considerably larger in the recent past due to an episode of cometary or asteroidal impact activity? If so, could sunlight have reflected off the particles on a process akin to the zodiacal light, producing a ring, at least partially, as seen from the Earth? The optical form of the ring might have varied between an arc and an oval if only a part of the ring was illuminated, due to different perspectives on the ring as seen from earth.

Not only would this successfully account for the Babylonian characterization of Saturn as 'black', it might also shed light on some other curious traditions. The Greek historian, Diodorus of Sicily (1st Century BC; "Bibliotheca, 2.30.3) stated that the ancient Babylonian astrologers deemed Saturn epiphanéstatos or 'the most conspicuous' of planets -- a qualification that has remained elusive. Babylonian astrologers linked the planet to the Sun, a puzzling fact that has exercised scholars' minds for a century. Saturn was called the planet of the Sun-god Shamash by the Babylonians, followed by the writers in the Greek world ('the star of Helios') and in India ('son of the Sun')[8]. The ring, greater than the Moon if visible, could have prompted the Babylonian perception of Saturn both as a nocturnal Sun and black. Another puzzling tradition associated with Saturn comes from Hellenistic Egypt; it concerns a type of comet called the 'discus', described as round and golden, with rays around its circumference, and named after the planet Kronos (Saturn) because of its similarity in appearance [9]. Could this association have originated at a time when Saturn was still envisioned in terms of the ring?

The overriding question is whether such a ring could once have been seen by terrestrial observers? What mass of dust would be required, distributed around Phoebe's orbit, to scatter sufficient sunlight to produce a visible ring? It is beyond our ken, as historians, to guess at what kind of analysis would be involved or to do the maths. Our apologies if our naïve questions are several orders of magnitude out of bounds.

Yours faithfully Peter James Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Philadelphia 2009 November 16.

------ To save space (and his time) the Editor has not transcribed the reference list. However he is happy to forward a scan of it as a PDF to anyone interested. ------ See Newsletter No. 109, 2009 November, Item 11, for discovery details of the Phoebe ring.

11. Most Massive Star Found (So Far)

The most massive star yet found is 265 times the mass of the sun and millions of times brighter. The discovery has astonished scientists, who thought it was impossible for stars to exceed more than 150 times the mass of the sun. When the star was born it could have been more than twice as massive.

The star is in the cluster RMC 136a. The cluster appears as a star-like point (in most telescopes) at the centre of the Tarantula nebula, 165,000 light-years away in the Large Cloud of Magellan. RMC 136a is a clutch of monster stars, including several that are tens of times larger than the sun and several million times brighter. Some have surface temperatures of more than 40,000C ­ seven times hotter than our own sun.

A team led by Paul Crowther, an astrophysicist at Sheffield University, used the Very Large Telescope (VLT) in the Atacama desert of northern Chile and archival material from the Hubble space telescope to study the young clusters NGC 3603 and RMC 136a. NGC 3603 is about 22,000 light-years away

These enormous stars churn out vast quantities of material, and, close up, would look fuzzy compared with the sun. They are extremely rare, forming only within the densest star clusters. Distinguishing the individual stars was made possible by the use of infra-red instruments on the telescope.

"Owing to the rarity of these monsters I think it is unlikely that this new record will be broken any time soon," said Crowther. R136a1 has now overtaken the likes of Eta Carinae and the Pistol Star as the most massive and luminous known star in existence. Like these other giants it has a large radius for its mass and surface temperature.

Lightweight stars, such as our sun, live a long and quiet life. Massive stars, on the other hand, are very rare, and have a short but intense existence before exploding as supernovae.

For more see http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/jul/21/monster-bright-star-r136a1- as

-- from an article in the Guardian on line, forwarded by Karen Pollard. [P.S. This mass claim is disputed. See Sky & Telescope Oct. 2010, p.14.]

12. Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope

The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is a proposed infrared space observatory which was selected by U.S. National Research Council committee as the top priority for the next decade of astronomy. The design of WFIRST is based on one of the proposed designs for the Joint Dark Energy Mission (JDEM) between NASA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). WFIRST adds some extra capabilities to the original JDEM proposal, including a search for extra-solar planets using gravitational microlensing.

Its key science objectives are: search for dark energy; baryon acoustic oscillations; observing distant supernovae; weak gravitational lensing; exoplanet statistics; gravitational microlensing. It will also have a guest investigator mode enabling survey investigations of nearby galaxies to answer key questions about their formation and structure.

The proposed telescope will be a three-mirror design with the primary mirror being 1.5 metres in diameter. The telescope would be parked at the Lagrangian L2 point, 1.5 million km from Earth. The mission would last three years, beginning around 2020. The current cost estimate is US$1.6 billion.

-- from a Wikipedia article forwarded by Phil Yock.

--------- In cosmology, baryon acoustic oscillations (BAO) refers to an overdensity or clustering of baryonic matter at certain length scales due to acoustic waves which propagated in the early universe. In the same way that supernova experiments provide a "standard candle" for astronomical observations, BAO matter clustering provides a "standard ruler" for length scale in cosmology. The length of this standard ruler (~150 Mpc in today's universe) can be measured by looking at the large scale structure of matter using astronomical surveys. BAO measurements help cosmologists understand more about the nature of dark energy (the acceleration of the universe) by constraining cosmological parameters. For more see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baryon_acoustic_oscillations

13. 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., P.O. Box 3181, Wellington.

14. 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., P.O. Box 3181, Wellington.

15. 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..

16. Here and There

More typos and bloopers noted in The Observatory 2010 April, Vol. 130, No. 1215.

SUPERINFLATION Submillimetre galaxies at redshifts... are thought to be precursors of the giant elliptical galaxies in the present-day Universe... -- Nature, vol. 458, 673, 2009.

THE LONG VIEW ...the Solar Orbiter... will circle the Sun every 150 years. -- The Sunday Telegraph, 2009 April 26, p.14.

HARDLY SURPRISING Accelerating the craft to 38,624 kilometres per second, the six-minute TLI burn exhausted what was left of the fuel in the third stage,... -- Astronomy Now, 2009 July, p.25.

IF ONLY WE COULD ALL HAVE ONE A stunning modern property... powered by a state of the art solar system and just 15 minutes from the nearest town. -- The Week, 2009 April 11, p.32.

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.

Southern Stars: Volume 49, number 3. September 2010. Pp 1 - 20.
A Fellow's Birthday Celebration.

Glen Rowe. Council and members of the Society congratulate Fellow John Mackie on achieving his centenary. His recent birthday party is reported here.
Volume 49, number 3. September 2010. Page

Analysis of GSC 5740-02196 and GSC 5802-00929.
David Higgins.

During Asteroid Lightcurve observations, two field stars that were used as comparison stars were found to be variable over the duration of the observation run. GSC 0574-02196 was first observed 08 July 2006 and this was followed by GSC 5802-00929 first observed on 26 July 2006. Follow-up filtered observations over several nights were taken and analysis shows that both targets are likely Eclipsing Binary Stars with periods of 0.34730 ± 0.00002 day and 0.34260 ± 0.00002 day respectively.
Volume 49, number 3. September 2010. Pp

An Astronomical Journey to the Roof of the World.
John Hearnshaw.

An astronomical journey to Tajikistan in Central Asia over two weeks in June 2010 is described in this article. The visit was hosted by the Insitute of Astrophysics of the Tajik Academy of Sciences in Dushanbe, the capital city, and it was sponsored by Commission 46 (Astronomy Teaching and Development) of the International Astronomical Union. During my visit I lectured at three universities in Tajikistan and visited three astronomical observatories, all belonging to the Institute of Astrophysics. These included the Pamir Observatory in the Pamir Mountains of eastern Tajikistan, which at 4350 m is one of the world's highest astronomical sites.
Volume 49, number 3. September 2010. Pp

Mutual Events of the Satellites of Jupiter and of Saturn, 2009.
Brian Loader.

The 2009 series of mutual events of satellites both of Jupiter and Saturn were observed on a worldwide basis. This paper describes some of the events observed from Darfield, New Zealand.
Volume 49, number 3. September 2010. Pp

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. Situation Vacant - Executive Secretary
2. Stuart Parker's 10th Supernova
3. Albert Jones's 90th Year
4. Whakatane's 50th Anniversary
5. The Solar System in September
6. Waharau and Herbert Dark-Sky Weekends in September
7. International Observe the Moon Night
8. AAS Astrophotography Competition
9. Mackenzie Starlight Heritage Reserve Progress
10. Conference Survey Results
11. Apollo Guidance Computer and DSKY Emulator
12. Government Seeks Advice on Energy/Lighting Efficiency
13. Rare Red Aurora Seen From Mt John
14. Ultra-bright Supernovae Confirmed
15. We Probably Live in an Inflating Brane-World
16. Large Binocular Telescope Tests Adaptive Optics
17. RASNZ in Wikipedia
18. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
19. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
20. How to Join the RASNZ
21. Here & There

1. Situation Vacant - Executive Secretary

Recently an e-mail was sent out asking members to consider putting their name forward to become the Society's new Executive Secretary.

To date that call has gone unanswered. Perhaps you were a little bit interested but thought "someone else is sure to volunteer". Well, guess what? "Someone else" hasn't so I would encourage you to come forward and offer your services.

This is a key position in the Society and it is important that it is filled as soon as possible. This will enable the Society to continue to function fully and support and expand the services that are available to members and the astronomical community in New Zealand.

As the e-mail said, support will be available from myself, the Treasurer and previous Executive Secretary. A laptop computer is provided for the Secretary to use for Society business.

Most of Council's business is carried out via e-mail on a regular on-going basis throughout the year. Face to face meetings held once a year in conjunction with the RASNZ Conference. If you think you could undertake the secretarial duties during the year, but would find it difficult to attend the meetings at Conference time I would still like to hear from you as we may be able to make alternative arrangements for those meetings.

Job Description The Executive Secretary is responsible for carrying out all administrative tasks except those relating to the financial affairs of the Society. The Executive Secretary is largely responsible for the smooth running of the Society.

General requirements - Ensuring that minutes are kept of all RASNZ General, Special and Council meetings, including the recording of Council matters dealt with by email. - Dealing with official correspondence and recording the details. This includes email correspondence when appropriate. - Ensuring that annual returns are filed with the Charities Commission. - Making sure that resolutions of Council are carried out by the designated persons in a timely manner. - Bring to the attention of the President and Council any matters that need to be dealt with.

If you are interested in this position, or have any questions regarding this role, I would be pleased to hear from you as soon as possible by sending an e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Thanking you,

Glen Rowe President

2. Stuart Parker's 10th Supernova

As well as calving and doing all the other chores that dairy farmers have to do, Stuart Parker has had the time and energy to discover his 10th supernova. He found supernova 2010gw in the southern galaxy IC 4992 on August 10.61 UT. Stu, based in Oxford, Canterbury, uses a 35-cm Celestron C14 reflector and SBIG ST10 camera for his searches. The supernova was confirmed by Australian members of the Backyard Observatory Supernova Search team and reported in IAU Central Bureau Electronic Telegram (CBET) 2410.

The new object is at R.A.20h23m25s.31, Dec -71d34'04".9 (equinox 2000.0) and was red magnitude 16.6 at discovery. Images of it can be seen at http://parkdale-supernova-factory.webs.com/latestdiscoverynews.htm

3. Albert Jones's 90th Year

New Zealand's most famous amateur astronomer Dr Albert Jones celebrated his 90th birthday on August 9. Albert's wife Carolyn arranged a special morning tea for him at The Honest Lawyer, a local hotel. Fifty friends attended, some reciting "astro" type poems in his honour.

Albert is still recovering from a broken hip after he slipped on a dewy path some weeks back. He is making a good recovery and champing at the bit wanting to get back to his beloved variable stars.

In the meantime, Albert says " ...while there are no fresh observations to enter on computer, there are heaps of old estimates that have yet to be entered and sent to AAVSO as well as observations made without comparison star magnitudes - I can now get the mags through ASAS3. So that keeps me off the streets."

Would that we could all look forward being that active and technologically savvy at 90!

4. Whakatane's 50th Anniversary

The Whakatane Astronomical Society celebrated its 50th Anniversary this month. Norman Izett reports that "...our 50th celebrations grew somewhat, with calls from the local media, thirsting for information. In the end I gave a live interview to one of the radio reporters, and another extended one in the radio station studio with the host announcer at 11-30 a.m. on the day." There was also a newspaper article.

At the celebration Norman gave an illustrated talk on the evolution of Whakatane's observatory, followed by a video of the removal of the former meeting room, a WW2 Army Hut! Then it was time to do the symbolic cut of the beautiful cake that WAS Secretary Diana Watson had made and had professionally iced. This was followed by a toast with Riccadonna Sparkling by the remaining 12 or so after all the public had left. This was considered a very appropriate gesture to fit the achievement of this very important milestone. Photos of the celebration will appear in the next Affiliated Societies Newsletter.

Sadly neither the local mayor nor the Society's patron was able to attend.

--------- Another significant birthday celebration in Whakatane on the August 8th was that of Audrey Duthie and her twin sister Alison Hunt who lives in Auckland; both of them reaching the magic 100 years. Audrey is the widow of Jim Duthie who was president of, and a leading light in the Whakatane Astronomical Society for many years. Jim was also RASNZ president in the 1970s.

-- from notes supplied by Norman Izett and the Ed's memory.

5. The Solar System in September

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for September 2010 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Aug_10.htm. Notes for October 2010 will be available in a few days.

The equinox is on September 23 with the Sun on the celestial equator at about 3pm NZST. NZ Daylight Saving then starts on the 26th with 2am NZST becoming 3am NZDT .

The planets in september

Venus and Mars remain close to one another during September and are visible during the first part of the evening. Saturn, below them, gets lost in the evening twilight after the first few days. Jupiter, accompanied by Uranus, is prominent later in the evening, reaching opposition on the 21st. Mercury is not observable.

Mercury is at inferior conjunction on the night of September 3, after which it becomes a morning object. At best the planet will rise only 40 minutes before the sun, making observation virtually impossible.

Mercury is stationary on September 12 and at its greatest elongation 18° west of the sun on the 18th.

Venus and MARS will form a pair of planets throughout September. Both will be crossing Virgo on nearly parallel paths, just diverging slightly. On the 25th Venus will move into Libra, followed by Mars 2 days later.

Venus will set a little before 10 pm in the north of NZ, three-quarters of an hour or more later at Invercargill (read 11 pm after the start of Daylight Saving on September 26). Being lower, Mars will set 20 to 30 minutes before Venus.

At the beginning of the month Venus will be a degree from Spica with Mars just over 3.5 degrees below the star. On the 11th the three will be joined by the crescent moon which will be just over 4 degrees from each of them.

Saturn will drop behind Venus and Mars during September, becoming lower to the west following sunset. It will set about 2 hours after the sun at the beginning of the month. Each subsequent night it will get lower to become lost in the evening twilight by about mid month. The planet will be at conjunction with the Sun on October 1.

On September 10, the thin crescent moon will be about 10 degrees above Saturn. This may provide a last chance to spot the planet before conjunction. But 45 minutes after sunset Saturn will be only some 6 degrees above the horizon.

Jupiter and URANUS will be close throughout September. Both are at opposition on the night of 21/22 September having been in conjunction two days earlier for the second time this year. At their closet, the two will be 48´ apart, just over one and a half moon diameters. They are within a degree of one another from September 13 to 25.

At magnitude 5.7, Uranus will be an easy binocular object, slightly fainter than Callisto the least bright of Jupiter´s Galilean satellites. Uranus will be to the lower left of Jupiter in the evening sky. Apart from the satellites, it will be the closest bright object near Jupiter.

This is the second conjunction of Jupiter and Uranus this year. Both will be moving in a retrograde sense. Jupiter being closer to the Earth will appear to be moving more rapidly even while moving backwards. The third and final conjunction of the present series will take place on 4 January 2011.

On September 23, the day of the equinox, the two planets will be joined by the full moon, just over 7 degrees from Jupiter. Uranus will be between the two, so slightly closer to the moon.

Neptune, magnitude 7.8, is in Capricornus, and will be a degree from the 5th magnitude star mu Cap on the 1st. By the end of the month the distance between the two will have dropped to 21´. In the mid evening, Neptune will be below the star as seen from NZ.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is in Ophiuchus until September 25 when it moves into Sagittarius. It will dim slightly during the month from magnitude 8.7 to 9.1. At the end of September it will be about 4 degrees below the pair gamm1 and 2 Sgr.

(4) Vesta remains close to magnitude 8.0 during September. By the end of the month it will set around 8 pm (9 pm NZDT). It will then be about 7 degrees from Spica but very low to the west by the time the sky darkens following sunset.

(6) Hebe is at opposition on September 19 with a magnitude 7.7, so a little brighter than Vesta. It will be in Cetus about 4 degrees from the 2nd magnitude star beta Cet. It will be best observed in the latter part of the evening.

(8) Flora is at opposition on September 10 with a magnitude 8.2. It will be in Aquarius, a couple of degrees from the pair omega 1 and 2 Cet. It will also be about 14 degrees from Hebe.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2010

COMET 10P/Tempel is in Cetus some 16 degrees to the lower right of Hebe mid evening. Its magnitude is expected to be around 9 in the first part of the month, fading to 10 by the end.

More details and charts are on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to Comets 2010.

-- Brian Loader

6. Waharau and Herbert Dark-Sky Weekends in September

Two dark-sky weekends happen soon: the Waharau gathering south of Auckland and the Herbert weekend south of Oamaru.

----------- The Waharau dark sky weekend is the 10th to 12th of September, just after new moon. All are welcome. If you would like more information go to http://www.astronomy.org.nz/pages/waharau/waharau.aspx or contact Andrew Buckingham at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., phone 09 473 5877.

----------- This year's Herbert event in on September 10-13 at Camp Iona about 20 km south of Oamaru. Everyone welcome. Cost is $11 for 1 night; $22 for 2; and $25 for three nights. Bring your observing equipment, sleeping bag (there are bunkrooms aplenty), cutlery and food. Contact Phil Barker at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 03 383 3683; or Ross Dickie at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; or Euan Mason at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Last year's event was great with over 60 attending. Tell Phil Barker or Euan Mason if you want to give a talk. Peter Aldous of Geraldine will be talking about hunting supernovae with his C14 from home.

7. International Observe the Moon Night

Just letting you know that Sept 18, 2010 is International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN). Astronomers Without Borders (AWB) is partnering with NASA missions and centres, along with other institutions, to bring the excitement of observing and learning about Earth's closest neighbour in space to the worldwide public.

I encourage you to get your local astronomy clubs and societies involved and plan some great public lunar events. Please visit http://www.astronomerswithoutborders.org/projects/intl-observe-moon-night.html for more details and resources, as well as registering your events for the world to see.

-- Mike White, Levin Stargazers Coordinator, AWB NZ National Coordinator. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Ph: +64 21 100 7170 / (021)100-7170

8. AAS Astrophotography Competition

The Auckland Astronomical Society 2010 Harry William's Astrophotography Competition is open to all New Zealand Astronomical Societies, clubs and groups. Competition entries are due by Friday 19th September 2010. Winners will be announced at the Burbidge Dinner in Auckland on Saturday October 9th, 2010.

Send entries by email (max 2MB per email) or copied onto CDROM/USB memory stick and posted with accompanying Entry Forms to; 2010 Harry William's Astrophotography Competition Postal Delivery Address: 2/24 Rapallo Place, Farm Cove, Pakuranga, Auckland 2012 Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Header: 2010 HW Astrophotography Competition

-- Jennie McCormick

9. Mackenzie Starlight Heritage Reserve Progress

New Zealand is right on track to create one of the world´s first world heritage starlight reserve above the South Island´s Mackenzie country after a key meeting in Brasilia in early August. Former Cabinet minister Margaret Austin said the UNESCO world heritage committee approved support for monuments and sites, landscapes and cultural landscapes associated with astronomy to be recognised as part of human heritage.

The NZ delegation, including two Department of Conservation staff, helped persuade the committee to approve a thematic study which argued stars and planets were part of natural heritage and the sky was a cultural resource common to natural heritage. However, Austin said from Brasilia today there was still a long road before protecting the world´s starry nights with dark sky reserves.

She said New Zealand´s contribution from the Royal Society of NZ, the Royal Astronomical Society of NZ and UNESCO NZ was acknowledged at the Brasilia meeting. "The thematic study was regarded as a cornerstone project of UNESCO´s International Year of Astronomy 2009. As a member of the New Zealand observer team I was able to make a brief intervention in support of the study."

"The World Heritage Committee has adopted a decision covering the astronomy and world heritage thematic study to disseminate the study among the member states. Consequently the first step on the long road to nomination is achieved. Now New Zealand must prepare a detailed document, providing the evidence of outstanding universal value, its integrity and authenticity for the site, obtain the approval of all the parties concerned and adoption by the New Zealand Government in order to eventually present the case for the Lake Tekapo Aoraki/Mt Cook initiative as a `window to the universe´."

The New Zealand project proposes that the landscape and the skies above Lake Tekapo and Aoraki Mt Cook in the Mackenzie district become a starlight reserve. Few places remain in the world where people can enjoy the stars pollution free. Fifty percent of the world's people no longer see the stars, those places that do, had a responsibility to preserve them as the world was fast losing opportunities to observe the night sky, Austin said.

-- a media release from Word of Mouth Media NZ.

10. Conference Survey Results

Those who attended this year's RASNZ Conference held in Dunedin at the end of May may recall that a feedback form was included in the Conference pack. The RASNZ Conference Committee would like to thank those who responded by returning the completed forms. Your comments were particularly appreciated and we will try to take into account your suggestions for improvements when planning future conferences.

The survey forms included five topics; the most frequent comments and suggestions are summarised below under the same topic headings.

1 Type of Venue

--------------- Some respondents liked having the venue and accommodation on the same site as this enabled more social interaction. However all were agreed that the conference should have good facilities (i.e. meeting room, AV equipment etc) and that there should be a range of accommodation nearby to suit various budgets.

2 Overall Format of Conference

------------------------------ There was a wide range of comments on this question. The most frequent comments suggested were a) That some speakers should be given more time and b) That speakers MUST keep to their allotted time. When a speaker's allotted time is up, the chairperson should be very firm in stopping the speaker from running over time.

3 Extra Associated Events

------------------------- Most of those responding indicated they liked extra activities and workshops to run in conjunction with the Conference. Workshops on observing techniques, CCD use, Occultations, Variable Star Observing, and Astrophotography were frequently listed as desirable. Many commented that they enjoyed the Taieri Gorge Train trip (in spite of the weather causing a delayed return) and some indicated they do like to visit places of local interest as well.

4 Post Conference CD's

---------------------- Of the 38 who indicated they had attended previous conferences 31 said they liked receiving the CD. One person indicated he/she had not viewed a conference CD, and 6 did not comment. A few respondents said they would also like to receive a hard copy of the conference photo.

5 General Comments

------------------ * A large number commented that they thought the recent Conference in Dunedin was excellent.

* There were a number of requests to move the Conference to a different time of year hoping for better weather.

* We were also asked to encourage people to present more posters about their own (astronomy) activities.

* There were a number of requests that technical presentations include a brief introduction for those who may be unfamiliar with the topic.

* The cost of attending a conference is a major factor, particularly for those on fixed incomes.

Your comments have given the Conference Committee a great deal to take into account for future conferences. If you would like to add anything more there is now a Conference Bulletin Board on the RASNZ website where everyone is invited to add further comments, requests etc. for consideration by the Conference Committee. Please visit http://www.rasnz.org.nz/smf/ and select the "Conference" link. We would particularly like to hear from non-attendees what we could do to encourage you to attend future conferences.

-- Pauline Loader, Treasurer, Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand

11. Apollo Guidance Computer and DSKY Emulator

Maurice Collins reported to nzastronomers:

I stumbled upon this site on the weekend http://www.ibiblio.org/apollo/index.html where you can download a full working emulator of the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) DSKY (Dis Key - Display and Keyboard) for the Apollo command module and lunar module. For those unfamiliar with the DSKY, this is what the real AGC DSKY looks like from Apollo 11 clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UshIJbbDFH0 the emulator can do this lamp test also, Verb 35 Enter(V35E) and the "Goto POO" (V37E00E) at the end which puts the computer back in idle.

The AGC emulator runs fine on Win XP and Vista (with no modification I found). Also there are versions for linux and Mac too. The site also has a wealth of documents for the engineering of the Apollo Command and Lunar Module hardware (with blueprints) as well as docs on the AGC itself. There is also a page http://www.ibiblio.org/apollo/Pultorak.html where some people have built real working replicas of it! There is a pdf on Scribd too on the details of the Block1 AGC the first guy built.

There is a clip on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWcITjqZtpU on how the AGC was made or rather woven. Yes, the Apollo computer was woven like a quilt! I have a DVD on films from MIT Science Reporter series that shows it in more detail but in BW.

So if you like the Moon, computers and Apollo hopefully you will find this fascinating too!

Maurice later noted that he found it can simulate the Lunar module simulator with the 8-ball attitude indicator and all! There is also a LM flight simulator that you can fly from http://eaglelander3d.com/ that is very easy to fly and good graphics.

12. Government Seeks Advice on Energy/Lighting Efficiency

Steve Butler, RASNZ DarkSkies Group, sees an important opportunity for folks to make a contribution to New Zealand's energy/lighting efficiency future in the following release from the Ministry of Economic Development.

------- The Minister of Energy and Resources has released the Draft New Zealand Energy Strategy and Draft New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy for public consultation. Minister Brownlee´s media release is below.

The two drafts are presented together in one document. They are available through the Ministry of Economic Development´s website in both html and PDF formats at www.med.govt.nz/energystrategy .

We encourage everyone interested in New Zealand´s energy future to provide feedback on the drafts. Details of how to submit are on the website and in the document. Submissions must be received by 5pm, Thursday 2 September 2010.

We encourage you to forward this message to your networks. I apologise for any cross-postings.

-- Lisa McDonald, Ministry of Economic Development, DD 04 474 2975

13. Rare Red Aurora Seen From Mt John

Scientists from Boston University´s (BU) Center for Space Physics (CSP) have reported sub-visual evidence of the onset of a new cycle of solar- terrestrial activity. The key fact is that recent auroral displays at high latitudes -- the ones visible to the naked eye -- were accompanied by far less luminous glows in the atmosphere at lower latitudes.

What has fascinated space scientists in recent years is the delayed onset of such effects. Typically, the Sun has an activity cycle of about 11 years, with flares and ejections of electrically charged particles (called the solar wind). These cause changes in the Earth´s magnetic field that produce luminous emissions in the atmosphere. Such effects are subdued during solar minimum years (e.g. in 1996-1997) and very prominent in solar maximum years (e.g. 2001-2002). The onset of a new wave of such activity had been expected to be well underway by 2009, but the Sun remained surprisingly quiet. Now, in 2010 there are finally signs of the cycle re- appearing.

The observations were made by the BU team using an all-sky CCD camera located at the Mt. John Observatory, Lake Tekapo. NZ-born Steve Smith, now a Senior Research Scientist in the BU Center for Space Physics, explained "The emissions we study come from regions ranging from 200-400 km above the surface. These gases are caused to glow by energy input from above, energy that flows downward along the Earth´s magnetic field lines."

The curtains of glowing gasses visible to the eye have long been called the aurora borealis and the aurora australis when they are near polar regions. The faint glows BU's camera sees come from regions more distant from the poles than the classic aurora. They are too faint to be seen by eye.

The feature captured on the Mt John camera was not a classical curtain aurora, but a glow far more diffuse in space. Such glows are caused by a steady influx of electrons that hit oxygen atoms and make them to glow with a characteristic red light. Separated from this diffuse glow was an even fainter arc that extended from east to west just south of New Zealand, again captured in the red glow of oxygen atoms. This emission is due to collisions between hot electrons and oxygen atoms in the Earth´s ionosphere. Such features are called Stable Auroral Red (SAR) arcs and form an active topic of current research in space physics. "This image of a SAR arc from New Zealand is perhaps the first-ever case of imaging an unambiguous SAR arc in the southern hemisphere," said Michael Mendillo, Professor of Astronomy at BU.

SAR arcs show where energy from the Van Allen Radiation Belts of electrically charged particles trapped in the Earth´s magnetosphere deposits heat into the ionosphere. The narrow dimension of a SAR arc shows that the energy input is confined to a small extent (100 km) in latitude, but in bands that can extend completely around the globe in longitude.

"We fully expect that a similar SAR arc occurred in the northern hemisphere, but it was cloudy at our observatory in Boston that night, and so one was not seen," Smith explained. "We hope in the years ahead to have many cases of SAR arcs in our data from both hemispheres, and then examine the full global distribution of such effects," he added. "Looking to see if the energy input is simultaneously the same or different in each hemisphere is a forefront topic in the study of solar-induced storms in our upper atmosphere."

-- from a Boston University press release.

14. Ultra-bright Supernovae Confirmed

A 'luminous optical transient' -- a bright star-like point -- discovered in a distant galaxy in March has evolved into a type Ic supernova. The object was independently discovered by three search teams around March 13 when it was at red magnitude 18.6. Its position was R.A. = 11h25m46s.71, Decl. = -8d49'41".4 (equinox 2000.0). Early spectra all showed a blue continuum with broad O II features and a host-galaxy (SDSS J112546.72- 084942.0) at redshift of z = 0.23. (A redshift of 0.23 implies a distance of around three billion light years away. But calculating cosmological distances, light travel times and luminosity distances from the red shift are complicated. For more on this see http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~wright/CosmoCalc.html .)

The brightness and red shift indicates that the transient had an absolute magnitude around -21. Type Ia supernovae, the brightest commonly seen, reach absolute magnitude -19. This object was six times brighter again.

Further detailed spectroscopic monitoring by several observatories shows that -- 25 days after discovery -- the transient (here designated supernova 2010gx) evolved unambiguously into a type-Ic event with the characteristic broad Fe II, Si II, Mg II, and Ca II features. The spectra at +25 days are most similar to those of SN 1994I six days before its peak and SN 2003jd at its peak. This indicates a link between the "ultra- bright" optical transients and type-Ic supernovae. Further details are reported by Pastorello et al. (2010, Astrophysial Journal, submitted).

-- from IAU Central Bureau Electronic Telegram CBET 2413, 2010 August 16.

15. We Probably Live in an Inflating Brane-World

The following is the abstract of a seminar given to Canterbury University's Department of Physics and Astronomy by Ishwaree Neupane, Royal Society University Fellow.

The universe endows with a number of cosmological mysteries but the one that most vex physicists is the discovery made over a decade ago from observations of distant supernovae that the expansion of the universe is currently accelerating. This cosmological conundrum has so far defied an elegant and forthright explanation.

There is a large gamut of gravitational theories that can explain a period of accelerated expansion of the universe with certain modification of the standard Einstein gravity in four dimensions. The issue of cosmic acceleration (attributed to dark energy) is, however, not about the difficulty of finding a particular cosmological model which could mimic as the Lambda-CDM model, described by Einstein gravity with a positive cosmological constant and minimally coupled to both the luminous (baryonic) and non-luminous (cold dark) matter. The challenge is to come up with a fully consistent theory of four-dimensional cosmology that explains the origin of the cosmological constant and/or the source of cosmic acceleration, while providing insights into some other major problems in physics, including the mass hierarchy problem in particle physics and the origin of the three large physical dimensions.

Brane-world models, where observers are restricted to a brane in a higher- dimensional spacetime, offer a novel perspective on cosmology. In this talk, I would argue that the problem of cosmological constant is well explained within the framework of a four-dimensional de Sitter universe embedded in a five-dimensional de Sitter spacetime.

[As I understand it, a brane is a sort-of surface in a higher dimensional space. Think of a two-dimensional insect moving over a three-dimensional surface. -- Ed.]

16. Large Binocular Telescope Tests Adaptive Optics

The next generation of adaptive optics has arrived at the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) in Arizona, providing astronomers with a new level of image sharpness never before seen.

Until relatively recently, ground-based telescopes had to live with wavefront distortion caused by the Earth´s atmosphere that significantly blurred the images of distant objects. This is why stars appear to twinkle to the human eye. While there have been advancements in adaptive optics technology to correct atmospheric blurring, the LBT´s innovative system takes this concept to a whole new level.

The LBT´s adaptive optics system, called the First Light Adaptive Optics system (FLAO), immediately outperformed all other comparable systems, delivering an image quality greater than three times sharper than the Hubble Space Telescope using just one of the LBT´s two 8.4 meter mirrors. When the adaptive optics are in place for both mirrors and their light is combined appropriately, it is expected that the LBT will achieve image sharpness ten times that of the Hubble.

The unit of measure for perfection of image quality is known as the Strehl Ratio. A Strehl Ratio ratio of 100% is equivalent to an absolutely perfect image. Without adaptive optics, the ratio for ground-based telescopes is less than 1 percent. The adaptive optics systems on other major telescopes today improve image quality up to about 30 percent to 50 percent in the near-infrared wavelengths where the testing was conducted.

In the initial testing phase, the LBT´s adaptive optics system has been able to achieve unprecedented Strehl Ratios of 60 to 80 percent, a nearly two-thirds improvement in image sharpness over other existing systems.

This is achieved by the secondary mirror, which was designed from the start to be a main component of the LBT rather than an additional element as on other telescopes. The concave secondary is 0.91 meters in diameter and only 1.6 millimeters thick. The mirror is so thin and pliable that it can easily be manipulated by actuators pushing on 672 tiny magnets glued to the back of the mirror, a configuration which offers far greater flexibility and accuracy than previous systems on other telescopes. An innovative "pyramid" sensor detects atmospheric distortions and manipulates the mirror in real time to cancel out the blurring, allowing the telescope to literally see as clearly as if there were no atmosphere. The mirror is capable of making adjustments every one thousandth of a second, with accuracy to better than ten nanometres. A nanometre is one millionth of a millimetre.

The $120 million LBT on Mount Graham has two giant 8.4 metre mirrors. With the new adaptive optics the telescope will achieve the resolution of a 22.8-metre telescope. The LBT is an international collaboration among institutions in the United States, Italy and Germany.

Images from the adaptive optics system are available at www.lbto.org.

-- from a LBT press release forwarded by Andrew Rakich. Andrew gave a talk about the LBT's adaptive optics at the 2009 RASNZ Conference in Wellington.

18. 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., P.O. Box 3181, Wellington.

19. 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., P.O. Box 3181, Wellington.

20. 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..

21. Here & There

TAKE THAT, CLIMATE-CHANGE SCEPTICS! Trend continues with second hottest July on record Worldwide, the average temperature in July was 61.5 degC - National Climatic Data Center. -- from Royal Society of NZ's "Science in the news" Monday 16 August 2010

AND THE U.S. STILL INCHES TOWARD THE METRIC SYSTEM Then [1970s] U.S. Surveyor-General, on the possibility of the USA going metric; "We can't go metric, we would have to resurvey the whole country." -- forwarded by Howard Barnes who insists it is true.

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