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Contents

1. RASNZ 2009 Conference
2. The Solar System in June
3. June Fireballs?
4. Eyepieces for Spectacle Wearers
5. 'The Portal to the Universe' Opens
6. She Is An Astronomer
7. Anglo-Australian Telescope Funding Secure
8. Spitzer Space Telescope Warms to New Carrier
9. Lightest Exoplanet Yet Discovered
10. Cosmological Equivalence Principle
11. Most Distant Explosion So Far Seen
12. Mystery Blob in Early Universe
13. How to Join the RASNZ
14. Here and There

1. RASNZ 2009 Conference

Conference is but days away now. After a slow start, registrations picked up so, in spite of people understandable watching their pockets, numbers will be comparable to those of the last few years. It is still possible to register, however, except we may not be able to guarantee meals can be provided for late registrants.

The Registration Desk will be attended late Friday afternoon and up till the opening, and again prior to the commencement of the Saturday programme.

The Variable Star Symposium and Trans-Tasman Occultation Symposium have also attracted plenty of interest. Please note the Variable Star Colloquium gets underway at 10am on the Friday, and the Occultation Symposium at 9am on both days it is being held. Registration desks will be attended prior to the commencement of both.

The programme is full - and if you check the programme on the webpage you will see how exciting and interesting it is. The programme runs till 5pm on the Sunday. There are also several poster papers, and the winners of the RASNZ Photographic competition will also be on display.

Don't forget the Conference Dinner has a theme - please come dressed as your favourite astronomer. For those of you who are not able to bring attire, Marilyn tells us it is possible to hire it from the Costume Cave in Courtenay Place for a small fee. There has been a change in the Dinner programme - and Dr Ilana Feain from the CSIRO (Australia) will deliver an address on ASKAP.

The RASNZ Annual General Meeting is on in the final Saturday session - please bring your annual report (March Southern Stars), and the agenda etc that have been sent out by email to members.

The RASNZ wishes to acknowledge the support of the United States Embassy in enabling us to bring Dr Fulvio Melia to New Zealand as a Feature Speaker. And also the Australian High Commission for their sponsorship of our other Feature Speaker, Dr Chris Fluke.

Look forward to seeing you all in Wellington later this week - it's going to a great Conference, I'm sure. And thanks to the hard yards put in by the Local Organising Committee in Wellington.

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

Conference speakers are, in order of appearance:

Saturday

Dr. Helen Anderson, CEO MORST, Conference opening.

Dr Tom Richards: Introducing Variable Stars South.
Alan Plummer and Mati Morel: The VSS RASNZ legacy and the evolving BV Centauri.
Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt: Understanding cluster dynamics with next generation
radio telescopes.
Glen Rowe: Tides and the real world.

Veronica Miller: A search for variable stars and transiting extrasolar planets in the

Galactic Plane.
Steve Butler: Activities of Dark Sky Section 2008/09.
Graeme Murray: New Zealand´s Starlight Observatory.
Steve Butler: Measuring up.
Dr. Chris Fluke: 3D Astronomy Visualisation: From Data to Documentary.
Dr Fluke's visit to New Zealand has been sponsored by the Australian High Commission.

Yvette Perrott: Parallax Effects in Gravitational Microlensing.

Professor Phil Yock: Gravitational Microlensing, New Zealand´s Contribution.
Dr Denis Sullivan: A Physical Description of Gravitational Microlensing Events.
Professor Fulvio Melia: Supermassive Black Holes.
Professor Melia's visit to New Zealand is supported by the US Embassy.

After Dinner Speaker: Dr Ilana Feain (CSIRO) Topic ASKAP

Sunday

David Herald: Video Astrometry.

Brian Loader: Lunar Occultations of Double Stars.
Owen Moore: Building an Amateur Observatory in your own home.
David MacLennan: Recent Revelations from Mars.
Bill Allen: Constructing the new GRB 0.6 m robotic telescope in Marlborough.

Dr Grant Christie: Science Objectives for the new BOOTES-3 Observatory.

Dimitri Douchin: Analysis of HST images of MOA microlensing event MB07379.
Graham Blow: Occultation Section Activities in 2008/09.
David Herald: Results of Asteroidal Occultations, 2007 and 2008.
Bob Evans: Aurora Section Activities 2008/09.
Gavin Milne: Education Section Activities 2008/09.

Jennie McCormick : "100 Hours of Astronomy"- Making History - A Global Astronomy.

Bob Evans: The next Aurora Season.
Gavin Milne: Secondary School Astronomy Education.
Rachel Soja: Dynamics of Resonant Meteoroids.
Professor Sergei Gulaev and Tim Natusch: The AUT Radio Telescope: current status and plans.
Dr Andrew Rakich: Status of the Large Binocular Telescope.

Poster Papers

Dr Edwin Budding et al: "Absolute Parameters of Young Stars: V831 Centauri".
Steve Butler, Poster: "Dark Skies".
Alan Plummer, Poster: "Visual Observation of Variable Stars".
Erik Vermaat, Poster: "Nga Whetu Resources; Supporting Astronomy Education"
Haritina Mogasanu: "Society for Maori Astronomy, Research and Tourism Trust dedicated to
astronomy education"

2. The Solar System in June

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for June 2009 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Jun_09.htm. Notes for July 2009 will be in place in a few days.

The mid winter solstice is on June 21, with the Sun furthest north at 5:46 pm. The earliest sunset is a few days earlier in mid June, while the date of latest sunrise as at the end of the month.

The planets in june

The evening sky - saturn

Saturn will become an early evening object during June. It is at its highest at about 7pm at the start of the month, and nearly 2 hours earlier by the end. Thus the best time for viewing the planet will be the early evening once the sky has darkened. By the end of the month the planet will set before 11 pm.

During June the rings will start closing again as the Earth moves towards their plane. The planet remains in Leo with Regulus some 16 degrees away - to the lower left of Saturn early evening.

The 37% lit waxing Moon will be some 7.5 degrees above Saturn on the night of June 28. The previous night a thinner Moon will be rather further away to the left of the planet.

Saturn's brightest satellite Titan will be eclipsed by the planet twice during the month on June 8 and June 24. The first eclipse starts soon after sunset at 5:40 while the second starts before sunset. The eclipses end at 11:30 and 10:50 respectively, by which times the planet will be low in the sky making observation difficult.

There is also a transit of Titan's shadow across Saturn on June 16. The transit starts before sunset and ends at about 9:20pm.

All the inner Moons of Saturn are now being eclipsed. Reappearances from eclipse of Rhea, the second brightest satellite, occur on May 31 at 7:56pm, Jun 9 at 8:53pm and June 18 at 9:50. Saturn will be low by the time of the reappearance on June 18.

More details on observing these events and a table of the times of all the eclipses can be found on the page of eclipses of Titan and Rhea on the web site. Moderate sized telescopes are needed to see these events.

Jupiter, close to NEPTUNE, will be visible late evening and in the morning. It rises about 11 pm on June 1 and 2 hours earlier by the end of the Month. Fomalhaut, at magnitude 1.2 the brightest star in Piscis Austrinus, will be 20 degrees to the right of Jupiter and at about the same altitude.

Jupiter will remain in Capricornus throughout June. It is stationary on June 16, so will be slow moving all month. It passed close to Neptune at the end of May, and will be three-quarters of degree from it when stationary. After June 16 Jupiter will start moving back towards Neptune and the distance between the two will decrease again.

Neptune at magnitude 7.9 will be a rather faint object in binoculars, but should be detectable on a dark night. Late in the evening Neptune will be to the upper left of Jupiter and about half a degree below the 5th magnitude star mu Cap. There will be no other stars as bright as Neptune between the 3 objects. By the morning with the planets much higher, the sky will have rotated so that Neptune is to the lower left of Jupiter, with mu Cap to the left of Neptune and slightly higher.

On June 13 the waning Moon, 76% lit, joins Jupiter and Neptune. At midnight it will be some 3.5 degrees to the left of Jupiter. By the morning before sunrise, the Moon will have moved a little further from Jupiter and now appear below and to the right of the planet.

The morning sky - venus, mars and mercury

Venus will be the obvious brilliant object in the morning sky. At the beginning of June it will rise before 4am in most parts of New Zealand, a little after 4am in the south. That will be about half an hour before MARS. By the end of June, Venus will rise 35 minutes later, while Mars will continue to rise at the same time throughout June.

Venus starts June about 5 degrees above Mars. It passes the latter some three weeks later, with the two closest on the morning of June 22 when Venus will be just under 2 degrees to the right of Mars. They are only just over 2 degrees apart from June 20 to 24. On June 20 the crescent Moon will be just over 7 degrees below Mars.

The two planets end the month about 3.5 degrees apart with Mars to the left of, and a little higher than Venus. Mars, with a magnitude 1.1, will be more than 5 magnitudes fainter than Venus.

Mercury rises about 100 minutes before the Sun at the beginning of June and 2 hours before it mid June. By the end of June the planet will have moved back towards the Sun and be rising about 1 hour earlier. During the month the planet brightens from magnitude 2 to magnitude -0.9. As a result mid June is likely to be the best time for making a morning observation of the planet when it will have an altitude of about 10 degrees 50 minutes before sunrise.

Mercury will be in Taurus throughout June more than 20 degrees to the lower right of Venus. On the mornings of June 20 and 21 it will lie between the Pleiades and Aldebaran, considerably nearer the star than the cluster.

URANUS is in Pisces between Jupiter and Venus. On June 1 it will be about
midway between the two planets, 30 degrees from each.  While the distance
of Uranus from Jupiter stays about the same throughout June, its distance
from Venus and Mars will increase to 56 degrees by the end of the month.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is an evening object setting about 11:30pm on June 1 and 10:30pm on June 30 with a magnitude ranging from 8.5 to 8.8. It is in Leo, its distance from Saturn decreasing from 11 degrees to 7 degrees during the month. It passes just under a quarter degree from the star theta Leo, magnitude 3.3, on June 20.

(2) Pallas starts June in Canis Minor 2.5 degrees from Procyon, and setting about 9 pm. Pallas moves into Hydra on June 12 and ends the month among the small group of 3rd and 4th magnitude stars, epsilon, rho and zeta Hya. Its magnitude is close to 9 throughout June.

(4) Vesta is in conjunction with the Sun on June 22, and is too close to it for observing throughout the month.

(7) Iris brightens to magnitude 8.9 by the end of June as it approaches opposition. It will then be in Sagittarius, 7 degrees from sigma Sgr, magnitude 2.1, and half that distance from pi Sgr, magnitude 2.9. Being near opposition it will be in the sky most of the night.

-- Brian Loader

3. June Fireballs?

Astronomers are encouraged to spend a few more minutes under the stars from the 1st-13th June this (and following) year.

Some New Zealand astronomers who are researching fireballs have discovered what could perhaps be a trend - more fireballs in early June than usual. This initial prediction is based on over 13 years of fireball reports by the NZ public and astronomers. The International Meteor Organisation (IMO) states that a meteor has to be brighter than magnitude -3 to be deemed a fireball.

The main direction to look - upwards naturally, but perhaps to the west as this is where the possible majority are seen. If you see any in the first two weeks of June (and at other times) contact RASNZ Comet and Meteor Section director John Drummond at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Fireball report forms (prepared by Jennie McCormick) are available from www.cometeor.co.nz

-- John Drummond

4. Eyepieces for Spectacle Wearers

The nzastropnomers group had an interesting discussion on eyepieces suitable for spectacle wearers. Also why some of us need to wear specs when observing.

The short answer from David Moorhouse was: The only reason to use glasses when observing is astigmatism. Being short or long sighted just requires a refocus. That said eyepieces like the Naglers and Panoptics are known for good eye relief. Try one out at the next Waharau star party or one close to you. (Eye relief is the distance the eye should be from the eyepiece lens to receive all the light from the eyepiece.)

As a general rule you will need 15-17 mm eye relief if you use glasses to observe, Most common Plossl eyepieces have about 0.8X their focal length in eye relief. So a 25 mm Plossl should have 20 mm eye relief and allow eyeglass use.

Kevin Barker provided more detail: As Dave pointed out astigmatism is the main reason why one would wear glasses. For near and long sighted folks focusing can allow sharp images.

Astigmatism however is another issue. We all have it to a smaller or greater degree. Astigmatism greatly reduces with smaller exit pupil diameter in the scope you are using.

To calculate the exit pupil diameter, divides the telescopes aperture by the magnification produces by the eyepiece. Magnification is given by focal length of telescope divided by eyepiece focal length. Example: Consider a 203 mm, f/6 scope with a 9 mm eyepiece. Magnification will be 203 X 6 divided by 9 = 135 X. Exit pupil will be 203/135 = 1.5 mm.

Astigmatism in a 2 mm or less exit pupil is going to be quite small. So wearing glasses may well not be necessary unless you suffer severe astigmatism.

Now with the same scope and a 25 mm Plossl, 203X6/25 = 49 X. Exit pupil is now 4.1 mm. So if you have significant astigmatism you can still wear glasses and see the full apparent field of view. If your astigmatism is low then no need for glasses.

Some of the more expensive higher quality eyepieces made by Tele-vue, Pentax, etc, have long eye relief for eyeglass users. Often at 3-4 times the cost of a basic plossl eyepiece.

5. 'The Portal to the Universe' Opens

The International Astronomical Union announces that a one-stop-shop astronomical information website has been set up. It is dubbed The Portal to the Universe. It opened for business on April 23, during the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (JENAM 2009), at the University of Hertfordshire, UK.

The site features news, blogs, video podcasts, audio podcasts, images, videos and more. Web 2.0 collaborative tools, such as the ranking of different services according to popularity, help the user to sift constructively through the wealth of information available. It is hoped that it will promote interactions within the astronomy multimedia community. A range of "widgets" (small applications) have also been developed to tap into all sorts of existing live data, such as near-live pictures of the Sun, live positions of spacecraft or live observations from telescopes.

The Portal to the Universe can be accessed at http://www.portaltotheuniverse.org/

From an IAU press release forwarded by Karen Pollard. The full text of this press release is available on http://www.iau.org/public_press/news/release/iau0910/

6. She Is An Astronomer

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 Cornerstone project, She Is An Astronomer, was launched on April 21. She Is An Astronomer aims to help achieve several of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, including promoting gender equality and empowering women.

Gender equality is a priority concern for the whole scientific community, regardless of its field, cultural background or geographic location. In astronomy only approximately one quarter of all professionals are women. In some countries there are no female astronomers, whilst in others more than half the professional astronomers are female. These numbers drop towards more senior levels, suggesting that scientific careers are heavily affected by social and cultural factors and are not determined solely by ability. She Is An Astronomer (SIAA), has been established to address these issues and tackle the main problems.

The SIAA program was announced during the European Week of Astronomy & Space Science at the University of Hertfordshire, UK. It is a mixture of international, national and local events ranging from conferences, meetings and workshops to address gender issues, events targeted at teenagers, and the central SIAA website, the variety is designed to appeal to a wide cross-section of the professional and public communities.

The official SIAA website, www.sheisanastronomer.org, provides a one-stop-shop for gender issues in astronomy and science. The site has five sections: profiles of living and historic astronomers; resources for female astronomers; events taking place during IYA2009; an SIAA Ambassadors¹ Area; and a forum where issues, lessons and challenges can be discussed, including the opportunity to question experts. The website provides neutral, informative and accessible information and will be used to advertise new events, keeping interested parties at the forefront of developments. Examples of best practices and relevant statistics will be pooled, making them accessible to the wider community. Content will be regularly added during 2009, resulting in a vast depository that will remain online long into the future, acting as an ongoing legacy.

Several of the international and national meetings arranged for 2009 feature a SIAA presence. These include the IAU General Assembly, meetings in the US and Egypt, a book launch in Australia, an exhibition in Germany and many local events. Spain is conducting its first ever survey of women in astronomy and has also produced a calendar featuring historic female astronomers.

IYA2009 encourages us to discuss magnificent and complex topics, from black holes to the mysteries of our Sun, but without losing sight of the core human aspects. SIAA will play its part in ensuring that the Year¹s impact is definitely felt here on Earth.

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

7. Anglo-Australian Telescope Funding Secure

In a note to Astronomical Society of Australia members Professor Warrick Couch, Chairman of the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board announced:

I am delighted to relay to you that future funding for the Anglo- Australian Observatory (AAO) beyond the expiration of the current bi- national agreement (and hence total withdrawal by the UK) on 30 June next year, was announced in Tuesday night's Federal Budget. Moreover, we have been advised by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (DIISR) that this funding has been secured for the next 10 years, through to 2018/19.

The specific funding details announced in the Budget are as follows: A total of $20.9M of new funding has been allocated for the next 4 years. In this period, total Australian Government funding for the AAO (excluding NCRIS and other grants) will be $36.5M. In fact, DIISR is forecasting that after the Australian Government takes sole ownership of the AAO on 1 July 2010, the AAO will have stable recurrent funding of about $11M p.a. through to 2018/19.

This commitment puts the AAO's financial future on a secure footing, so that it will be able to continue to provide users of the AAT with excellent instruments and high-quality service to the end of the decade, while maintaining its renowned instrumentation program in support of Australia's national and international optical telescope facilities. With AAO's funding secured, DIISR is now moving to resolve the future governance of the AAO.

On behalf of the AAT Board, I would like to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts and perseverance of the AAO's Director, Matthew Colless, and Executive Officer, Neville Legg, in securing this excellent funding outcome for the AAO. The Board also very much appreciates the patience and continued commitment and dedication of AAO staff through what has been a long and drawn-out period of uncertainty over the AAO's future.


Warrick Couch, originally from Lower Hutt, was recently elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. Warrick is also President of the Astronomical Society of Australia.

8. Spitzer Space Telescope Warms to New Career

The primary mission of NASA¹s Spitzer Space Telescope is about to end after more than five and a half years of probing the cosmos with its keen infrared eye. Within about a week of May 12, the telescope is expected to run out of the liquid helium needed to chill some of its instruments to operating temperatures.

The end of the coolant will begin a new era for Spitzer. The telescope will start its "warm" mission with two channels of one instrument still working at full capacity. Some of the science explored by a warm Spitzer will be the same, and some will be entirely new.

Spitzer is the last of NASA¹s Great Observatories, a suite of telescopes designed to see the visible and invisible colours of the universe. The suite also includes NASA¹s Hubble and Chandra space telescopes. Spitzer has explored, with unprecedented sensitivity, the infrared side of the cosmos, where dark, dusty and distant objects hide.

For a telescope to detect infrared light, heat, from cool cosmic objects, it must have very little heat of its own. During the past five years, liquid helium has kept Spitzer's three instruments chilled to -271 C, or less than 3 degrees above absolute zero. The coolant was planned to last as little as two and a half years, but Spitzer¹s efficient design and careful operations enabled it to last more than five and a half years.

Spitzer¹s new "warm" temperature is still quite chilly at -242 C. This temperature rise means two of Spitzer¹s instruments, the longer wavelength multiband imaging photometer and the infrared spectrograph, will no longer be cold enough to detect cool objects in space. However, the telescope¹s two shortest-wavelength detectors in its infrared array camera will continue to function perfectly. They will still pick up the glow from a range of objects: asteroids in our solar system, dusty stars, planet- forming disks, gas-giant planets and distant galaxies. In addition, Spitzer still will be able to see through the dust that permeates our galaxy and blocks visible-light views.

Since its launch in 2003, Spitzer has made countless breakthroughs in astronomy. Observations of comets both near and far have established that the stuff of comets and planets is similar throughout the galaxy. Breathtaking photos of dusty stellar nests have led to new insights into how stars are born. And Spitzer¹s eye on the very distant universe, billions of light-years away, has revealed hundreds of massive black holes lurking in the dark.

Perhaps the most revolutionary and surprising Spitzer finds involve planets around other stars, called exoplanets. Exoplanets are, in almost all cases, too close to their parent stars to be seen from our Earthly point of view. Nevertheless, planet hunters continue to uncover them by looking for changes in the parent stars. Before Spitzer, everything we knew about exoplanets came from indirect observations such as these.

In 2005, Spitzer detected the first actual photons from an exoplanet. In a clever technique, now referred to as the secondary-eclipse method, Spitzer was able to collect the light of a hot, gaseous exoplanet and learn about its temperature. Further detailed spectroscopic studies later revealed more about the atmospheres, or "weather" on similar planets. More recently, Spitzer witnessed changes in the weather on a wildly eccentric gas exoplanet -- a storm of colossal proportions brewing up in a matter of hours before quickly settling down.

Some of Spitzer¹s new pursuits include refining estimates of Hubble¹s constant, or the rate at which our universe is stretching apart; searching for galaxies at the edge of the universe; assessing how often potentially hazardous asteroids might impact Earth by measuring the sizes of asteroids; and characterizing the atmospheres of gas-giant planets expected to be discovered soon by NASA¹s Kepler mission. As was true during the cold Spitzer mission, these and the other programs are selected through a competition in which scientists from around the world are invited to participate.

For more information about Spitzer, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer http://www.spitzer.caltech.edu/spitzer

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

9. Lightest Exoplanet Yet Discovered

The lightest exoplanet so far discovered, one only about twice the mass of our Earth, was announced on April 21st. The planet is the fourth discovered in the system around the star Gliese 581.

The planet, labelled Gliese 581 e orbits its host star in just 3.15 days. Being only 1.9 Earth-masses it is the least massive exoplanet ever detected and is, very likely, a rocky planet. Being so close to its host star, the planet is not in the habitable zone.

Gliese 581 is a low-mass red dwarf star located 20.5 light-years away in the constellation Libra. With the discovery of Gliese 581 e, its planetary system now has four known planets. The masses are about 1.9 (planet e), 16 (planet b), 5 (planet c), and 7 Earth-masses (planet d).

The planet furthest out, Gliese 581 d, orbits its host star in 66.8 days. Planet d is probably too massive to be made only of rocky material. It is suggested that it is an icy planet that has migrated closer to the star. If so then, since it is in the habitable zone, where liquid water could exist. 'd' could even be covered by a large and deep ocean making it the first serious 'water world' candidate.

The Gliese 581 planets have been found over the past two years by a large team using the HARPS spectrograph attached to the 3.6-metre ESO telescope at La Silla, Chile.

For more see http://www.eso.org/public/outreach/press-rel/pr-2009/pr-15-09.html

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

10. Cosmological Equivalence Principle

University of Canterbury cosmologist David Wiltshire's ideas continue to evolve as the following seminar abstract show:

Cosmological Equivalence Principle Through a series of thought experiments, I will tackle foundational questions which follow naturally from the questions Einstein asked when he first thought about the Equivalence Principle 100 years ago. I argue that Einstein overlooked an important aspect of the relativity of time in never quite realizing his quest to embody Mach's principle in his theory of gravity. As a step towards that goal, I broaden the Strong Equivalence Principle to a new principle of physics, the Cosmological Equivalence Principle, to account for the role of the evolving average regional density of the universe in the synchronization of clocks and the relative calibration of inertial frames. I apply the principle quantitatively to deduce the relative deceleration of observers in expanding regions of different density, which empirically accounts for the phenomenon we call "dark energy". This will be a conceptual talk, with some historical context; technical baggage will be kept to a minimum.

----- According the Einstein's equivalence principle all local, non- gravitational laws take the same mathematical form at the origin of a local inertial coordinate system. ----- For a MP3 download of David's interview on dark energy with National Radio's Kim Hill see http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday/20080209/20080209

11. Most Distant Explosion So Far Seen

On 2009 April 23 NASA¹s Swift satellite discovered the most distant object so far observed in the universe: a spectacular stellar explosion known as a gamma-ray burst located about 13 billion light years away.

The satellite detected a ten-second-long gamma-ray burst of modest brightness. It quickly pointed its ultraviolet/optical and X-Ray telescopes at the burst location. Swift saw a fading X-ray afterglow but none in visible light.

That alone suggested this could be a very distant object. Beyond a certain distance, the expansion of the universe shifts all optical emission into longer infrared wavelengths. Ultraviolet light should be similarly shifted into the visible region. However, UV-absorbing hydrogen gas was denser at earlier times preventing any UV being red-shifted into optical wavelengths.

Ground-based imaging of the afterglow using the Gemini North Telescope on Mauna Kea showed the source in longer-wavelength images, but it was absent in an image taken at the shortest wavelength (1 micron). This "drop out" corresponded to a distance of about 13 billion light-years. By dissecting the infrared light of the afterglow into a spectrum, astronomers confirmed the burst¹s red-shift to be 8.2; the highest ever measured. This corresponds to a distance of 13.035 billion light-years.

The previous record holder was a burst seen in September 2008. It showed a red-shift of 6.7, which places it 190 million light-years closer than GRB 090423.

Gamma-ray bursts are the universe¹s most luminous explosions. Most occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel. As their cores collapse into a black hole or neutron star, gas jets - driven by processes not fully understood - punch through the star and blast into space. There, they strike gas previously shed by the star and heat it, which generates short- lived afterglows in other wavelengths.

For more see: http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/news/2009/pr200911_images.html

-- from a multi-institutional press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

12. Mystery Blob in Early Universe

Using information from a suite of telescopes ground-based and satellite- borne, astronomers have discovered a mysterious, giant object that existed at a time when the universe was only about 800 million years old. Objects such as this one are dubbed extended Lyman-Alpha blobs; they are huge bodies of gas that may be precursors to galaxies. This blob was named Himiko for a legendary, mysterious Japanese queen. It stretches for 55 thousand light years, a record for that early point in time. That length is comparable to the radius of the Milky Way¹s disk.

The researchers are puzzled by the object. Even with superb data from the world¹s best telescopes, they are not sure what it is. Because it is one of the most distant objects ever found, its faintness does not allow the researchers to understand its physical origins. It could be ionized gas powered by a super-massive black hole; a primordial galaxy with large gas accretion; a collision of two large young galaxies; super wind from intensive star formation; or a single giant galaxy with a large mass of about 40 billion Suns. Because this mysterious and remarkable object was discovered early in the history of the universe in a Japanese Subaru field, the researchers named the object after the legendary mysterious queen in ancient Japan.

According to the Big Bang cosmology model, small objects form first and then merge to produce larger systems. This blob had a size of typical present-day galaxies when the age of the universe was about 800 million years old, only 6% of the age of today¹s universe.

Extended blobs discovered thus far have mostly been seen at a distance when the universe was 2 to 3 billion years old. No extended blobs have previously been found when the universe was younger. Himiko is located at a transition point in the evolution of the universe called the re-ionization epoch -- it¹s as far back as we can see to date. And at 55 thousand light years, Himiko is a big blob for that time.

This re-ionizing chapter in the universe was at the cosmic dawn, the epoch between about 200 million and one billion years after the Big Bang. During this period, neutral hydrogen began to form quasars, stars, and the first galaxies. Astronomers probe this era by searching for characteristic hydrogen signatures from the scattering of photons created by ionized gas clouds.

One of the puzzling things about Himiko is that it is so exceptional. If this was the discovery of a class of objects that are ancestors of today¹s galaxies, there should be many more smaller ones already found -- a continuous distribution. Because this object is, to this point, one-of-a-kind, it makes it very hard to fit it into the prevailing model of how normal galaxies were assembled. On the other hand, that¹s what makes it interesting!

The research is published in the May 10, 2009, issue of The Astrophysical Journal. An image of Himiko is at http://www.ciw.edu/http_www_ciw_edu_prouchihimikoimage4_6_09_jpg

-- from a press release forwarded by Karen Pollard

13. How to Join the RASNZ

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

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

14. Here and There

From The Observatory, v.129 p.108, April 2009.

ANTHROPIC PRINCIPLES IN THE MILKY WAY The 'Cosmic Diary' aims to put a human face on astronomy. -- IAU Information Bulletin 101, p.55.

THE LAST LAUGH Cosmic impacts teach lessons about science. -- Nature, v.453, contents page, 'Editorials'.

THE TRANSIENT NATURE OF CHARM AND BEAUTY A simulated Higgs bosom production and decay event. -- University of Cambridge 800 Years; 1209-2009 (Cambridge University Press), 2008, p.15.

CAREER ADVICE ...anyone who takes a university position will get no research support or time on telescopes,... --Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics, v.45, 41, 2007.

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. RASNZ 2009 Conference
2. The Solar System in March
3. RASNZ Annual General Meeting
4. Land & Sky Getaway - April 24-26
5. June Fireballs?
6. C/2009 G1 (STEREO)
7. Galileoscopes
8. IYA 100 Hours Very Popular
9. Boötes-3 Scores Its First GRB
10. Meteorites Found From Asteroid Impact
11. Into the Eye of the Helix
12. Search for Pulsars at Home
13. Most Detailed Map of Nearby Universe Completed
14. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
15. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
16. How to Join the RASNZ
17. Aircraft Maintenance Problems and Solutions

1. RASNZ 2009 Conference

This years RASNZ Conference is but a month away. Conference is on 22-24 May, at the Wellington Quality Inn, in Upper Cuba Street, Wellington. Plus of course there is the Variable Star South Colloquium on 22 May, and the Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations on 25-26 May.

It is most important registrations are now made urgently - firstly so registrants avoid the late fee which comes in at the end of April, and secondly so you are ensured of being fed - the venue have asked us to supply numbers for catering purposes by the end of April.

The feature Speakers for Conference are Professor Fulvio Melia of the University of Arizona, and Dr Chris Fluke of the Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing. For the large majority of you, this will be your only opportunity to hear and meet our guests.

The programme is full - right up until 5pm on the Sunday!! So you will appreciate we have a fantastic line up of speakers and topics - something for everyone. For a full list of speakers - and indeed everything you wanted to know about Conference, please go to the RASNZ-Webpage - www.rasnz.org.nz

For the Conference Dinner on the Saturday night - don't forget to come dressed as your favourite astronomer. This is bound to be a fun night - and of course we have Danny Mulheron to speak to and entertain us in the After Dinner Speakers slot.

OK - let's see you all at Conference. It's going to be a great weekend - and a great way to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy.

-- Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

The speakers include: Dr Helen Anderson, CEO MoRST, Conference Opening Steve Butler: "Measuring Up". Bill Allen: "Constructing the new GRB 0.6m Robotic Telescope in Marlborough". Dr Grant Christie: "Science Objectives for the new BOOTES-3 Observatory". Bob Evans: "The Next Aurora Season". Dr Chris Fluke: "3-d Astronomy Visualization: From Data to Documentary". Sergei Gulyaev and Tim Natusch: "AUT Radio Telescope: current status and plans" David Herald: "Results of Asteroid Occultations 2007 and 2008" David Herald: "Video Astrometry" Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt: "Understanding cluster dynamics with next generation radio telescopes". Dr Warwick Kissling: "Zernike Polynomials and their applications in optics and astronomy". Brian Loader: "Lunar Occultations of Double Stars". David MacLennan: "Recent revelations from Mars". Jennie McCormick: "100 Hours of Astronomy, - Making History A Global Astronomy Celebration" Professor Fulvio Melia: "Supermassive Black Holes". Biographical note. Veronica Miller: "A search for variable stars and transiting extrasolar planets in the Galactic Plane". Gavin Milne: "Secondary School Astronomy Education" Owen Moore: "Building an Amateur Observatory in your Own Home". Danny Mulheron, after dinner speaker. Graeme Murray: "New Zealand's Starlight Reserve initiative" Yvette Perrot: "Parallax effects in gravitational microlensing" Alan Plummer: "The VSS RASNZ legacy and the evolving BV Centauri". Dr Andrew Rakich: "Status of the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT)" Dr Tom Richards: "Introducing Variable Star South". Friday night launch of the renewed VSS. Glen Rowe: "Tides and the Real World". Rachel Soja: "Dynamics of Resonant Meteoroids". Dr Denis Sullivan: "A physical description of gravitational microlensing events". Dr Phil Yock: "Gravitational Microlensing, and New Zealand's Contribution".

Poster Papers Steve Butler "Dark Skies". Alan Plummer "Visual Observation of Variable Stars". Erik Vermaat "Nga Whetu Resources; Supporting Astronomy Education".

2. The Solar System in May

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for May 2009 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/May_09.htm. Notes for June 2009 will be in place in a few days.

The planets in may

The evening sky - saturn (and mercury early may)

Saturn remains in Leo, and will be well placed for evening viewing during May. At the end of the month it will set a short time after midnight. Transit is at about 9pm on May 1 and 7 pm on May 31. Being stationary in mid May, Saturn will show little change in position during the month about 15° from Regulus, magnitude 1.4. The two will be nearly level mid evening, with the brighter Saturn to the right of the star.

The 76% lit waxing Moon will be a little less than 5° from Saturn on the night of May 4. They are closest early evening, with the Moon moving a little further away from Saturn during the evening. The Moon joins Saturn again on the last day of the month, this time it will be 53% lit with the two being closest about midnight close to the time they set in New Zealand. They are about 5.5° apart at 10 pm.

Saturn's brightest satellite Titan will be eclipsed by the planet twice during May. On the night of May 7 Titan will move into Saturn's shadow at about 7:22pm (NZST) and emerge again at about 12:41am NZST. On May 23 the disappearance into eclipse will be an hour earlier at 6:29pm with the reappearance at 12:07am. This eclipse, which occurs during the RASNZ conference, will be one of the most favourable in terms of the distance Titan is from Saturn when the eclipses occurs. It is also the last at which the eclipse disappearance occurs during the hours of darkness in New Zealand.

More details on observing these events and a table of the times of all the eclipses can be found on the RASNZ web page - click on eclipses of Titan and Rhea. There are also details of two shadow transits of Titan across Saturn which take place on May 15 and May 31. Both are partly observable from New Zealand with the start of the transits occurring before sunset.

Mercury also starts the month as an evening object, but setting only 40 minutes after the Sun on May 1 will make observation virtually impossible. The planet is stationary on May 8, after which it will be moving in a westerly sense through the stars, in the opposite direction to the Sun, so rapidly closes in on it.

The morning sky - all major planets except saturn

Mercury (continued): is at inferior conjunction on May 19, after which it moves up into the morning sky quite quickly. It is stationary for a second time on the morning of May 31 when it will start moving to the east again. By then Mercury will rise a good hour and a half before the Sun, reaching an altitude of 7°;, 50 minutes before sunrise.

At magnitude 2.3 it is likely to be a difficult object in the brightening sky, although readily visible in binoculars, nearly 30°; round to the north from due east. Mercury will also be nearly 30°; to the lower right of Venus.

Venus has been a brilliant object in the dawn sky since early April. By May it will be high, bright and obvious in the morning sky before sunrise. In the north of New Zealand it rises a little before 4 am throughout the month and about half an hour later in the south.

On May 1 Venus will be some 7.5°; below Uranus (magnitude 5.9) but its easterly movement through the stars will pull away from the latter planet during the rest of the month. Venus is also a few degrees above Mars throughout May.

On the morning of May 21 the Moon, a 17% lit crescent will be 7.5°; to the left of Venus.

Mars continues to rise at about the same time throughout May as in April, ranging from just after 4 am at Auckland to about 4.40 am at Invercargill. The effect is that Mars will stay at close to the same altitude at the same time of morning throughout the month.

Both Mars and Venus are moving to the east during May, and at about the same apparent rate. As a result Mars will remain 5 or 6 degrees below and a little to the right of Venus in the morning sky all month. At magnitude 1.2 Mars has less than 1% of the brightness of Venus, and will be lost in the twilight sky about 40 minutes before sunrise. It will remain visible in binoculars for about another 20 minutes.

The Moon, 10% lit, will be some 7 degrees to the lower left of Mars on the morning of May 22.

Jupiter will be much higher than the other morning sky planets in the hour before dawn. By the end of the month it will rise about an hour before midnight so beginning to move into the evening sky.

It will be in Capricornus, close to NEPTUNE throughout May. At the beginning of May, Jupiter will be just over 2 degrees above Neptune as seen in the pre-dawn morning sky. During May it closes in on Neptune, in the process passing the 5th magnitude star, mu Cap at a distance of 4 arc- minutes on the morning of March 21.

On the morning of May 28, the two planets will be just under 24 arc- minutes apart with Neptune, magnitude 7.9, to the lower left of Jupiter. Mu Cap will be half a degree to the upper left of the planets a little further away forming a small triangle with the two planets. The pattern should make locating Neptune fairly easy in binoculars and with no Moon.

There are two other conjunctions of Neptune and Jupiter during 2009, the May one is the closest.

There are a number of mutual occultations of Jupiter's satellites visible from New Zealand during May. Most of them are partial, but in all cases the two satellites will be seen, in a small telescope, to merge and separate over a time span of a few minutes

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is an evening object setting about an hour after midnight on May 1 and shortly before midnight by May 31. It will be in Leo about 16 degrees from Saturn early in May, reducing to 11 degrees by the end of the month. Its magnitude ranges from 8.1 to 8.4.

(2) Pallas starts May in Monoceros but moves into Canis Minor on May 12. By the end of May it will be 2 degrees from Procyon. It is an early evening object, setting before 11 pm on May 1 and about 9.30 pm on May 31. Pallas's magnitude varies from 8.4 at the beginning of May to 9.0 at the end.

(4) Vesta spends May in Taurus with a magnitude 8.5, starting the month some 3.5 degrees directly below Aldebaran and less than half a degree below the 3.5 magnitude star epsilon Tau in the Hyades. It will then set about 7 pm.

During the rest of May, Vesta moves to the east away from the Hyades but also sets earlier, to become lost in the evening twilight by the end of May.

-- Brian Loader

3. RASNZ Annual General Meeting

As usual the Annual General Meeting of the RASNZ will be held on the Saturday afternoon of conference following the end of the speaking session. The formal notice for the meeting is below.

If any member or society has any item of business they wish to raise under general business, please let the secretary know. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Notices of motion cannot be accepted at this date.

-- Brian Loader, Executive Secretary.

------------ Annual General Meeting

The 86th Annual General Meeting will be held on Saturday 23 May, 2009 at the Quality Inn, Cuba Street, Wellington, at approximately 4:15pm. This meeting will start following the close of the Saturday afternoon session of the Conference.

Agenda:

Apologies.
Respect for Deceased Members.
Greetings to Absent Members.
Minutes of the 85th AGM held in Tekapo.
Matters arising from the Minutes.
Annual report of council for 2008
Annual accounts for 2008
Election of Auditor.
Election of Honorary Solicitor.
General Business as allowed for in the rules.

Minutes of the 85th AGM (2008) are available on the RASNZ web site at 2008 AGM Minutes

The Annual Report of Council and the Annual Accounts for the year 2008 have been printed in the March 2009 issue of Southern Stars.

Brian Loader, Executive Secretary, 18 April 2009 ----------------- A rich-text version of the Notice of Meeting and Agenda will be attached RASNZ members' copies of the Newsletter. - Ed.

4. Land & Sky Getaway - April 24-26

Chris Picking writes: This may be of interest to people in the lower North Island. It will be a relaxed event for observing as well as presentations during the afternoon or evening depending.

Land & Sky Getaway ------------------ Friday 24 - Sunday 26 April 2009, Akitio, 75kms east of Dannevirke http://www.tararua.net/akitio/index.html

A weekend of relaxing, nature & observing. This is a getaway weekend to relax in an idyllic setting by a beach and bush with dark skies at night to observe deep sky objects. Accommodation is available in either the hall or dorms and a bbq-style dinner will be provided on the Saturday evening. You will have to provide your own meals for breakfast and lunch. Kitchen facilities are available. The cost for the weekend is $40 which includes the dinner on Saturday. Children are half-price. For more information please visit the following web page http://www.astronomynz.org.nz/iya-events/land-sky-getaway.html

5. June Fireballs?

Astronomers are encouraged to spend a few more minutes under the stars from the 1st-13th June this (and following) year.

Some New Zealand astronomers who are researching fireballs have discovered what could perhaps be a trend - more fireballs in early June than usual. This initial prediction is based on over 13 years of fireball reports by the NZ public and astronomers. The International Meteor Organisation (IMO) states that a meteor has to be brighter than magnitude -3 to be deemed a fireball.

The main direction to look - upwards naturally, but perhaps to the west as this is where the possible majority are seen. If you see any in the first two weeks of June (and at other times) contact RASNZ Comet and Meteor Section director John Drummond at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Fireball report forms (prepared by Jennie McCormick) are available from www.cometeor.co.nz

-- John Drummond

6. C/2009 G1 (STEREO)

This comet was discovered on Stereo spacecraft images. It was closest to the sun on April 16 and is now moving into our morning sky. It should be visible in medium sized telescopes. The following orbital elements and ephemeris by Brian G. Marsden are from Minor Planet Electronic Circular 2009-H14.

Orbital elements: C/2009 G1 (STEREO) T 2009 Apr. 16.477 TT MPC q 1.12951 (2000.0) P Q Peri. 175.412 +0.530032 -0.228044 Node 120.670 -0.805091 +0.167099 e 1.0 Incl. 108.275 -0.266263 -0.959205 From 33 observations 2009 Apr. 9-17.

Ephemeris: Date TT R. A. (2000) Decl. Delta r Elong. m1

  1. 04 19 22 51.21 -06 02.9 1.541 1.130 47.1 10.5
  2. 04 24 23 01.71 -09 30.9 1.458 1.136 51.0 10.4
  3. 04 29 23 13.48 -13 24.5 1.375 1.147 55.0 10.3
  4. 05 04 23 26.87 -17 47.6 1.295 1.164 59.2 10.2
  5. 05 09 23 42.40 -22 42.8 1.221 1.186 63.4 10.2
  6. 05 14 00 00.73 -28 10.9 1.156 1.213 67.7 10.2
  7. 05 19 00 22.80 -34 07.7 1.104 1.244 71.9 10.2
  8. 05 24 00 49.80 -40 22.4 1.067 1.279 75.9 10.2
  9. 05 29 01 23.24 -46 34.9 1.049 1.318 79.4 10.3
  10. 06 03 02 04.63 -52 16.7 1.052 1.359 82.2 10.4
  11. 06 08 02 54.67 -56 55.8 1.075 1.403 84.3 10.6
  12. 06 13 03 51.68 -60 06.3 1.118 1.450 85.5 10.9

To get predictions for a particular date and time use the Minor Planet Center's Ephemeris generating service http://scully.cfa.harvard.edu/~cgi/MPEph2 Enter object as C/2009 G1 The date is in UT, so date 2009 05 02.7 = May 2 1648 UT = May 3 04:48 a.m. NZST. One must also enter the number of lines of ephemeris required, the time interval, etc. For Observatory code enter 500 (Geocentric); the comet is distant.

7. Galileoscopes

Following on from last month's note about the Galileoscopes, Margret Munroe of Earth & Sky Ltd advises that the telescopes have been ordered. No price has been received from the manufacturer yet. She will be contacting all those who have placed orders as soon as the information is received.

8. IYA 100 Hours Very Popular

The International Year of Astronomy's 100 Hours was a great success locally. Jennie McCormick wrote in the RASNZ Affiliated Societies Newsletter: "New Zealand astronomical societies, groups, clubs and Universities registered 70 events, making NZ the 5th country behind the USA, Brazil, Iran and India with the most events world wide. I am sure the people who looked through our telescopes will never forget their first view of Saturn or of seeing the craters on the Moon up close for the first time. Thank you to all the NZ societies who took part in this event, your hard work paid off."

Several hundred people visited Mt John for a look through the Observatory's big telescopes and several smaller ones set up by Earth and Sky Ltd. The weather obliged magnificently.

Reports from other places would be welcomed. -- Ed.

9. Boötes-3 Scores Its First GRB

Last moth we reported the opening of the BOOTES-3 telescope in Bill Allen's Blenheim vineyard. Just two days after commissioning its first observations of a gamma ray burst source were reported in GCN 9058:

"Following the detection by Fermi LAT and GBM of GRB 090328 (McEnery et al. GCNC 9044), follow-up observations were performed by the 0.6-m Yock-Allen robotic telescope at the new BOOTES-3 astronomical station in Blenheim (New Zealand). A co-added 1500s unfiltered image, obtained on 29 Mar (22:12-22:41 UT, i.e. 36.8 hr after the onset of the event) shows a rather bright optical afterglow at the UVOT position reported by Kennea et al. (GCNC 9046). We measure R~19.7+/-0.3 (clear filter), calibrated against USNO-B1.0 stars. Additional observations are encouraged."

10. Meteorites Found From Asteroid Impact

Fortunately, it wasn¹t large enough to require intervention by Bruce Willis, but asteroid 2008 TC3 is the first space rock to have been spotted before it crashed to Earth. It streaked into the skies over northern Sudan in the early morning of 7 October 2008, and then exploded 37 km above the Nubian Desert, before the atmosphere could slow it appreciably. It was believed that the asteroid had fully disintegrated into dust.

A meteor astronomer with the SETI Institute¹s Carl Sagan Center, Peter Jenniskens, thought otherwise. After establishing a collaboration with Mauwia Shaddad of the Physics Department and Faculty of Sciences of the University of Khartoum, he travelled to the Sudan. The two researchers, together with students and staff from the university, collected nearly 280 pieces of the asteroid, strewn over 29 km of the Nubian Desert. Never before had meteorites been collected from such a high altitude explosion. As it turns out, the assembled remnants are unlike anything in our meteorite collections, and may be an important clue in unravelling the early history of the solar system.

Picked up by Arizona¹s Catalina Sky Survey telescope on 6 October 2008, the truck-sized asteroid hit the atmosphere only 20 hours after discovery. The incoming asteroid was tracked by several groups of astronomers, including a team at the La Palma Observatory in the Canary Islands that was able to measure sunlight reflected by the object.

Studying the reflected sunlight gives clues to the minerals at the surface of these objects. Astronomers group the asteroids into classes, and attempt to assign meteorite types to each class. But their ability to do this is often frustrated by layers of dust on the asteroid surfaces that scatter light in unpredictable ways.

Jenniskens teamed with planetary spectroscopist Janice Bishop of the SETI Institute to measure the reflection properties of the meteorite. They discovered that both the asteroid and its meteoritic remains reflected light in much the same way -- similar to the known behaviour of so-called F-class asteroids. "F-class asteroids were long a mystery," Bishop notes. "Astronomers have measured their unique spectral properties with telescopes, but prior to 2008 TC3 there was no corresponding meteorite class, no rocks we could look at in the lab."

The good correspondence between telescopic and laboratory measurements for 2008 TC3 suggests that small asteroids don¹t have the troublesome dust layers, and may therefore be more suitable objects for establishing the link between asteroid type and meteorite properties. That would allow us to characterize asteroids from afar.

2008 TC3 was made of material that was heated and partially melted early

in the solar system's formation, making it a polymict ureilite meteorite. The meteorites from 2008 TC3, now called Almahata Sitta are anomalous ureilites: very dark, porous, and rich in highly cooked carbon. This new material may serve to rule out many theories about the origin of ureilites.
In addition, knowing the nature of F-class asteroids could conceivably
pay off in protecting Earth from dangerous impactors. The explosion of
2008 TC3 at high altitude indicates that it was of highly fragile
construction. Its estimated mass was about 80 tons, of which only some
5 kg has been recovered on the ground. If at some future time we
discover an F-class asteroid that¹s, say, several kilometres in size
-- one that could wipe out entire species -- then we¹ll know its
composition and can devise appropriate strategies to ward it off.
Hitting such a fragile asteroid with an atomic bomb, as Bruce Willis
might do, would merely turn it into a deadly swarm of shotgun pellets.

As efforts such as the Pan-STARRS project uncover smaller near-Earth asteroids, Jenniskens expects more incidents similar to 2008 TC3. With luck these will provide other fragile materials not yet in meteorite collections.

-- from a SETI Institute press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

11. Into the Eye of the Helix

A deep new image of the magnificent Helix planetary nebula has been obtained using the Wide Field Imager at ESO¹s La Silla Observatory. The image shows a rich background of distant galaxies, usually not seen in other images of this object.

The Helix Nebula, NGC 7293, lies about 700 light-years away in the constellation of Aquarius the Water Bearer. It is one of the closest and most spectacular examples of a planetary nebula. These exotic objects have nothing to do with planets, but are the final blooming of Sun-like stars before their retirement as white dwarfs. Shells of gas are blown off from a star¹s surface, often in intricate and beautiful patterns, and shine under the harsh ultraviolet radiation from the faint, but very hot, central star. The main ring of the Helix Nebula is about two light-years across or half the distance between the Sun and its closest stellar neighbour.

Despite being photographically very spectacular the Helix is hard to see visually as its light is thinly spread over a large area of sky and the history of its discovery is rather obscure. It first appears in a list of new objects compiled by the German astronomer Karl Ludwig Harding in 1824. The name Helix comes from the rough corkscrew shape seen in photographs.

Although the Helix looks very much like a doughnut, studies have shown that it possibly consists of at least two separate discs with outer rings and filaments. The brighter inner disc seems to be expanding at about 100 000 km/h and to have taken about 12,000 years to have formed.

Because the Helix is relatively close -- it covers an area of the sky about a quarter of the full Moon -- it can be studied in much greater detail than most other planetary nebulae and has been found to have an unexpected and complex structure. All around the inside of the ring are small blobs, known as ³cometary knots², with faint tails extending away from the central star. They look remarkably like droplets of liquid running down a sheet of glass. Although they look tiny, each knot is about as large as our Solar System. These knots have been extensively studied, both with the ESO Very Large Telescope and with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, but remain only partially understood. A careful look at the central part of this object reveals not only the knots, but also many remote galaxies seen right through the thinly spread glowing gas. Some of these seem to be gathered in separate galaxy groups scattered over various parts of the image.

For more see http://www.eso.org/public/outreach/press-rel/pr-2009/pr-07-09.html http://www.spacetelescope.org/images/archive/freesearch/helix/viewall/1

-- European Southern Observatory Press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

12. Search for Pulsars at Home

Einstein@Home, based at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) and the Albert Einstein Institute (AEI) in Germany, is one of the world¹s largest public volunteer distributed computing projects. More than 200,000 people have signed up for the project and donated time on their computers to search gravitational wave data for signals from unknown pulsars.

The Einstein@Home project analyses data from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The Arecibo Observatory is the largest single-aperture radio telescope on the planet and is used for studies of pulsars, galaxies, solar system objects, and the Earth¹s atmosphere. Using new methods developed at the AEI, Einstein@Home will search Arecibo radio data to find binary systems consisting of the most extreme objects in the universe: a spinning neutron star orbiting another neutron star or a black hole. Current searches of radio data lose sensitivity for orbital periods shorter than about 50 minutes. But the enormous computational capabilities of the Einstein@Home project (equivalent to tens of thousands of computers) make it possible to detect pulsars in binary systems with orbital periods as short as 11 minutes.

Discovery of a pulsar orbiting a neutron star or black hole, with a sub- hour orbital period, would provide opportunities to test General Relativity and to estimate how often such binaries merge. The mergers of such systems are among the rarest and most spectacular events in the universe. They emit bursts of gravitational waves that current detectors might be able to detect, and they are also thought to emit bursts of gamma rays just before the merged stars collapse to form a black hole.

For more see Einstein@Home: http://einstein.phys.uwm.edu/

-- from a Cornell University press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

13. Most Detailed Map of Nearby Universe Completed

Researchers from Australia, the UK and the USA have just completed the most detailed survey of galaxies in the nearby Universe, which will reveal not only where the galaxies are but also where they are heading, how fast, and why.

Galaxies are tugged around by each other's gravity. By measuring the galaxies movements, the researchers can map the gravitational forces at work in the local Universe, and so show how matter, seen and unseen, is distributed. "Light can be obscured, but you can't hide gravity", said Dr. Heath Jones, lead scientist for the Six-Degree Field Galaxy Survey (6dFGS).

The 6dFGS was carried out with the 1.2-m UK Schmidt Telescope at Siding Spring in central New South Wales, operated by the Anglo-Australian Observatory. Broader and shallower than previous comparable surveys -- it covered twice as much as sky as the Sloan Digital Sky Survey -- it has recorded the positions of more than 110,000 galaxies over more than 80% of the Southern sky, out to about two thousand million light-years from Earth (a redshift of 0.15).

The survey shows strings and clusters of nearby galaxies on large scales in unprecedented detail, and has revealed more than 500 voids, apparently empty areas of space with no galaxies.

The special aspect of this survey is that it will let the researchers disentangle two causes of galaxy movements. As well as being pulled on by gravity, galaxies also ride along with the overall expansion of the Universe. For about 10% of their galaxies, the 6dFGS researchers will tease apart these two velocity components: the one associated with the Universe's expansion, and the one representing a galaxy's individual, or "peculiar", motion.

There have been previous dedicated peculiar-velocity surveys, but 6dFGS will provide more than five times more peculiar velocities that the largest of these surveys.

Calculating peculiar velocities is done by comparing a galaxy's distance predicted by its redshift with its distance measured using the internal properties of the galaxy. The technique depends on measuring the width of spectral lines in a galaxy, and doing this accurately needs a high-resolution spectrograph, such as the one purpose-built for this survey.

From conception to delivery, the 6dFGS has taken almost a decade. It was made possible by a purpose-built spectrograph and robotic fibre positioner, the Six-Degree Field (6dF) instrument, which allowed 150 spectra to be taken simultaneously. The survey also took advantage of the UK Schmidt Telescope's wide field of view -- 5.7 degrees, or 11 times the width of the full Moon -- which was key to the survey being able to cover 80% of the Southern sky in a reasonable time.

The sample of galaxies was drawn mainly from the 2MASS Extended Source Catalogue: that is, they were selected by their infrared light rather than optically selected. Selecting galaxies by their near-infrared (K band) magnitudes avoids bias against galaxies that are currently forming few stars, and instead selects by total stellar mass. [2MASS was the 2-micron All Sky Survey. - Ed]

For pictures see http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/~cfluke/6dF/0001.tga.jpg http://www.aao.gov.au/press/6dfgs/schmidt_small.jpg http://www.aao.gov.au/press/6dfgs/schmidt_large.jpg

-- from an Anglo-Australian Observatory press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

14. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

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

For an application form contact the Executive Secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 14 Craigieburn Street, Darfield 7510.

15. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

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

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 14 Craigieburn Street, Darfield 7510.

16. How to Join the RASNZ

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

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

17. Aircraft Maintenance Problems and Solutions

Never let it be said that ground crews and engineers lack a sense of humour. Here are some actual logged maintenance complaints and problems, known as "squawks," submitted by QANTAS pilots and the solution recorded by maintenance engineers.

P = The problem logged by the pilot. S = The solution and action taken by the engineers.

P: Left inside main tyre almost needs replacement. S: Almost replaced left inside main tyre.

P: Test flight OK, except autoland very rough. S: Autoland not installed on this aircraft.

P: No. 2 propeller seeping prop fluid. S: No. 2 propeller seepage normal. Nos. 1, 3 and 4 propellers lack normal seepage.

P: Something loose in cockpit. S: Something tightened in cockpit.

P: Dead bugs on windshield. S: Live bugs on backorder.

P: Autopilot in altitude-hold mode produces a 200-fpm descent. S: Cannot reproduce problem on ground.

P: Evidence of leak on right main landing gear. S: Evidence removed.

P: DME volume unbelievably loud. S: DME volume set to more believable level.

P: Friction locks cause throttle levers to stick. S: That's what they're there for!

P: IFF inoperative. S: IFF always inoperative in OFF mode.

P: Number 3 engine missing. S: Engine found on right wing after brief search.

P: Aircraft handles funny. S: Aircraft warned to straighten up, fly right, and be serious.

P: Target radar hums. S: Reprogrammed target radar with words.

P: Mouse in cockpit. S: Cat installed.

-- forwarded by Orlon Petterson.

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. RASNZ 2009 Conference
2. The Solar System in April
3. Waharau Events in March and September
4. The Herbert Star-party in September
5. Boötes-3: A New Robotic Telescope in New Zealand
6. IYA2009 Opening Ceremonies at UNESCO, Paris
7. Order Your Galileoscopes Now
8. Biographies, please
9. Variable Stars South Newsletter Available
10. The Lonely Planet Guide
11. 2-inch thick Pyrex Scarce
12. Postgraduate Scholarships in Astronomy & Radio Astronomy
13. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
14. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
15. How to Join the RASNZ
16. Here and There

1. RASNZ 2009 Conference

It's hard to believe Conference is barely two months away. We have an excellent line up of speakers for Conference, and you can see the full list of speakers and abstracts on the RASNZ Webpage. We have been fortunate to secure two guest speakers this year. We have Professor Fulvio Melia from the University of Arizona - and he will speak on "Supermassive Black Holes". His visit is being supported by the Cultural Affairs of the US Embassy. We also have Dr Chris Fluke from the Swinburne Centre from Astrophysics and Computing. He will talk about the process of creating 3-D movies from science to screen. Dr Fluke's visit is being supported by the Australian High Commission.

At this point we still have a few time slots available for those wishing to present papers. But, you need to be in quick - and certainly by the end of March - if you wish to present a paper. The appropriate form can be found on the RASNZ Webpage - please complete and forward.

Opening conference will be Dr Helen Anderson, CEO of MoRST. We look forward to her address.

The After Dinner address will be given by Danny Mulheron, well known in television and acting. We are sure his address will be entertaining and informative.

Conference will also see the 're-launch of the RASNZ Variable Star` Section - to be known as Variable Star South. Director Dr Tom Richards will do the launch as part of the Friday night programme. Preceding that on the Friday will be the colloquium on 'Studying Southern Variables'. And the Monday and Tuesday following Conference see the 3rd Trans-Tasman Occultation Symposium.

Registrations - attendees should complete and forward registration forms as soon as possible - and certainly by the end of April to avoid the late fee - and also to be guaranteed meals. The venue has asked us to confirm numbers for meals by 30 April.

There are still some excellent airfares available, but in order to secure these, attendees should book as soon as possible.

We look forward to seeing everyone at Conference, in the International Year of Astronomy.

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

More on the Conference from Pauline Loader

This year's RASNZ Conference to be held May 22-24 in Wellington is shaping up to be another great conference.

On the Friday evening after the formal opening of the Conference Dr Tom Richards will be presenting the launch of Variable Stars South, the new look former Variable Stars Section. Tom has been working very hard behind the scenes to put together a great team to help provide observers of all interests and abilities to make a valuable contribution to Astronomy.

Danny Mulheron, Comedian, Actor, Director and Television personality has been booked as the after dinner speaker for Saturday evening. See http://www.nzonscreen.com/person/danny-mulheron.

We also have a great line up of other speakers from both New Zealand and Australia. These include: Dr Helen Anderson, CEO MoRST, Conference Opening Dr Grant Christie on the new GRB telescope in Marlborough. Title to be announced. Bob Evans: "The Next Aurora Season". Dr Chris Fluke: "3-d Astronomy Visualization: From Data to Documentary". David Herald on the results of Minor Planet occultation observations. Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt: "Understanding cluster dynamics with next generation radio telescopes". Dr Warwick Kissling: title to be announced Brian Loader: "Lunar Occultations of Double Stars". Professor Fulvio Melia: "Supermassive Black Holes". Biographical note. Owen Moore: "Building an Amateur Observatory in your Own Home". Graeme Murray: "New Zealand's Starlight Reserve initiative" Yvette Perrot. Title to be announced. Alan Plummer: "The VSS RASNZ legacy and the evolving BV Centauri". Dr Tom Richards: "Introducing Variable Star South". Friday night launch of the renewed VSS. Glen Rowe: "Tides and the Real World". Dr Denis Sullivan: "A physical description of gravitational microlensing events". Dr Phil Yock: "Gravitational Microlensing, and New Zealand's contribution".

Associated with the conference is the "Observing Southern Variables Colloquium" on May 22nd. This will provide participants to present and hear about the variable star work that is being done in the southern hemisphere.

The Trans-Tasman Occultation Symposium to be held May 25-26 will include workshops on the latest observing techniques software and recent results of lunar and minor planet events.

Full details of these events are obtainable on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/Conference/09Conference.htm which also provides links to registration details.

All registrations are being acknowledged. If you have not yet registered please do so by April 30 to avoid paying the late registration fee.

If you have any queries about the conference, the Variable Star Colloquium or Occultation Symposium please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will make sure your query is directed to the right person.

2. The Solar System in April

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for April 2009 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Mar_09.htm. Notes for May 2009 will be in place in a few days.

The planets in april

The evening sky - saturn (and mercury)

Saturn will transit as about 12 midnight (NZDT) on April 1 and about 9pm (NZST) on April 30. So it will be readily visible all evening. By April 30 it will set about 2.30am. The planet is in Leo with the somewhat fainter star Regulus some 15 degrees to its left.

Saturn's rings, and equator, are currently close to edge on as seen from the Earth and Sun. In effect Saturn is approaching an equinox.

The orbits of most of the visible satellites are virtually equatorial so these too are almost edge on. As a result a series of eclipses, occultations, transits and shadow transits of Saturn's satellites are taking place. Eclipses and shadow transits of Titan should be fairly easy to observe through a small telescope.

Titan is eclipsed by Saturn's shadow on April 5, starting at 9.18pm ending at 1.40am. The emergence from eclipse will be the easiest to observe, as it takes place a little further from Saturn than the disappearance into eclipse. Another eclipse takes place on April 21, 8.18pm to 1.12am. Shadow transits take place on April 13 between 7.22 pm and 11.56pm and again on April 29 between 6.23pm and 11.20pm. At present the shadow moves across the northern hemisphere of Saturn, that is below the rings as seen from the southern hemisphere.

Some more details on some of these events can be found on the RASNZ web site.

Mercury following conjunction on March 31 sets after the Sun. At its best only some 40 minutes later towards the end of April, so the planet is virtually unobservable from New Zealand during the current evening apparition.

THE MORNING SKY - Venus, Mars and Uranus; Jupiter and Neptune

Venus will rapidly emerge into the morning sky following its conjunction on March 28. By April 6 it will rise almost an hour before the Sun, so be visible low and to the north of east in the morning twilight.

On April 15 Venus is stationary, so its westerly movement through the stars comes to an end. As it starts moving to the east the rate at which its distance from the Sun increases will slow but continue. As a result it will rise more than 3 hours before the Sun by the end of April.

Mars will rise at close to the same time throughout April (except the clock time will change an hour as NZDT changes to NZST on April 5). The times Mars rises range from about 4.15am (NZST) at Auckland to about 4.35am (NZST) at Invercargill. The effect is that Mars will stay at close to the same altitude at the same time throughout he month.

Mars has a couple of planetary encounters during the month. In mid April it passes URANUS, the two are closest on the morning of April 16 when they are just over half a degree apart, with Uranus to the left of Mars. At magnitude 5.9 Uranus will be an easy binocular object. On the previous morning they will be less than 40 arc minutes apart but are in different constellation: Mars in Aquarius above Uranus in Pisces. By the 15th Mars will have moved into Pisces.

At the same time Venus will be about 7 degrees below the pair. Over the next few mornings Venus and Mars will close up, at the minimum they are just over 4 degrees apart on the mornings of April 24, 25 and 26 and only a little more for a day or two either side of these dates.

To add to the party the planets are joined by the waning crescent Moon on the mornings of April 22, when it will be about 9.5 degrees to the upper left of Venus, and April 23 when it will be just under 4 degrees below Venus.

Jupiter will be in Capricornus and rise shortly before 1 am by the end of April. NEPTUNE is also in Capricornus, the two are 6.5 degrees apart on April 1 reducing to less than 2.5 degrees by April 30 as Jupiter closes in on the outer planet. Neptune will then be below and to the right of Jupiter. Neptune, at magnitude 7.9 should be a binocular object. At the end of April it is also within half a degree of mu Cap, magnitude 5.1.

Like Saturn, Jupiter is at an equinox during 2009. As a result a series of mutual events of the Galilean satellites will occur. These involve either an occultation of one satellite by another or an eclipse as a satellite moves through the shadow of a second. Eclipses are usually only partial, pr oducing only a slight light change, so are not detectable visually. Occultations can be observed, the two satellites will be seen to merge and then separate again after a few minutes.

Only one occultation occurs which is visible from New Zealand during April. On the morning of April 16, Callisto will move in front of Ganymede, with the two centres closest just before 3:03am. The moons first contact at about 2:57am and separate again at about 3:08:30am. They are likely to appear single for a few minutes either side of that.

An occultation on April 6 of Callisto by Io, takes place too close to sunrise to view.

BRIGHTER ASTEROIDS: (1) Ceres is an evening object with a transit at about 11:30pm (NZDT) on April 1 and 8.30pm (NZST) on April 30. It fades from magnitude 7.5 to 8.1 during the month. Ceres is in Leo nearly 15 degrees lower than Saturn.

(2) Pallas starts April in Orion moving into Monoceros on the 18th. It is an evening object, setting about an hour after midnight on April 1 and by 10.45pm on April 30. Its magnitude varies from 8.7 to 8.9.

(4) Vesta spends April in Taurus with a magnitude 8.5. By the time the sky darkens it will only few degrees up throughout the month. At the end of April, Vesta will be about 3.5 degrees directly below Aldebaran and less than half a degree below the 3.5 magnitude star epsilon Tau.

(14) Irene brightens slightly from magnitude 9.2 to 9.0 during April. It rises at about 9.30pm (NZDT) on April 1 and about 6pm on April 30. Irene will be in Virgo some 20 to 16 degrees below Spica (mid to late evening). Throughout April the asteroid (8) Flora will be 4 or 5 degrees above Irene and about a magnitude fainter.

-- Brian Loader

3. Waharau Events in March and September

The first Waharau dark sky weekend, south of Auckland, runs from Friday March 27th to Sunday 29th. Any time after about 4pm on the Friday is fine to arrive. It is still the same cheap price of $15 for one night or $25 for both. It's getting chilly at night now so don't forget those warm hats and do wn jackets. For details contact David Moorhouse at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The next Waharau weekend will be Friday September 18th to Sunday 20th.

4. The Herbert Star-party in September

The Herbert Star-party 2009 will be held at Camp Iona, Herbert, North Otago, 20 minutes drive south of Oamaru, on 18-20 September. Ross Dickie and Phil Barker are the prime organisers of the event. More details later.

5. Boötes-3: A New Robotic Telescope in New Zealand

The following report was written by John Hearnshaw on March 3rd and first appeared in Canterbury University's Physics & Astronomy Newsletter.

I have just been to the opening ceremony of Boötes-3, which is a fully robotic 60-cm telescope installed by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Granada, Spain and located in Blenheim, New Zealand. The whole project is under the guidance of Dr Alberto Castro-Tirado and it marks a new level of collaboration between astronomers in Spain and New Zealand. The opening was on 27 February.

The telescope is especially designed for detecting the optical transients of gamma-ray bursters, which are known to be highly energetic explosions of massive stars at the edges of the detectable universe. The gamma-ray bursters themselves are detected by satellites such as SWIFT, and the optical transients can then in principle be found using ground-based telescopes, provided they respond rapidly. The new telescope Boötes-3 is one of the fastest moving telescopes in the world. It can set in a few seconds once it receives the coordinates of a gamma-ray burst. Its slewing speed is as high as 50 degrees per second, so it can go from horizon to horizon through the zenith in just 3 or 4 seconds!

This amazing instrument was made by Astelco in Germany. The telescope mounting is a traditional off-axis equatorial and the optics is an f/8 Cassegrain. But the telescope structure is a light carbon-fibre material, allowing for the very fast accelerations and slew rates. In addition, there are no gears but a direct stepper motor drive, which certainly leads to a very smooth error-free setting capability. Boötes-3 has a 1024 by 1024 pixel CCD camera, so that images of the sky around detected gamma-ray bursters can be recorded within a few seconds of the event´s detection by satellite.

The telescope is located in the heart of the wine-growing region of Marlborough in the South Island of New Zealand. In fact, it has been installed at the Vintage Lane Observatory, which is the private observatory of Bill Allen, a well- known amateur astronomer in this country. Bill provided the land for the new Spanish telescope and will provide occasional maintenance of the new telescope as well as give it the necessary security.

The opening ceremony was a splendid occasion attended by some 30 or 40 people, including many of New Zealand´s astronomers and a team of astronomers from Granada, Spain, which of course included Alberto Castro-Tirado. There were about 8 speeches, including one by His Excellency the Spanish Ambassad or to New Zealand, Senor Marcos Gomez. We then enjoyed some excellent Spanish wine and wonderful eats in a delightful garden setting surrounded by the vineyard.

The project has the support from several New Zealand universities, notably from Professor Phil Yock at the University of Auckland. At the opening ceremony it was named the Yock-Allen telescope, to acknowledge the assistance from these two New Zealand astronomers for the project. The instrument will be part of a network of three 60-cm robotic telescopes operated from Spain. It is the first in the southern hemisphere dedicated to GRB observations in the optical region.

------ John Hearnshaw is one of about two dozen astronomers from different countries around the world who will write a weekly blog about their activities and the life of an astronomer. John's Cosmic Diary blog is at www.cosmicdiary.org/blogs/john_hearnshaw

6. IYA2009 Opening Ceremonies at UNESCO, Paris

William Tobin sent this report to Canterbury University's Physics & Astronomy Newsletter.

On January 15 & 16 I was in Paris as part of the Kiwi delegation at the opening ceremonies of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009).

In declaring 2009 International Year of Astronomy, the UN General Assembly designated UNESCO as the responsible UN agency, so the celebrations took place in the vast meeting hall at UNESCO's trifid headquarters adjacent to the Eiffel Tower.

There were over 900 invitees from some 99 countries, including the ever-smiling Hans Zinnecker (Erskine Visitor to the Department in 2005). A touching feature was that each country could send two students whose expenses in Paris were covered by the IYA2009 organisers. So the astronomical part of the New Zealand delegation comprised Stacey Kalinnikova, who is about to start tertiary studies at Massey University, Yvette Perrott, who is entering Honours year at Auckland University and who has worked with the MOA project, and myself. We were complemented by Margaret Austin in her role as former chair of the New Zealand Commission for UNESCO, but who of course has been an MP and Minister of Research Science and Technology, and is a prime mover in the campaign for Starlight Reserves, including one around Mt John.

After declarations by various science ministers, most of which were delivered by acolytes, we were treated to a variety of talks by well-known personalities including the English Astronomer Royal Lord Rees, the Nobel laureate Bob Wilson (co-discoverer of the cosmic microwave background) and the Canadian-born nuclear astrophysicist and science populariser Hubert Reeves. (It was the first time I'd heard Reeves speak in person: his talk was admirably simple and clear.) It was most unlike a typical scientific meeting in that many speakers spoke of their aspirations, many emphasizing astronomy's potential as a vector for peace. (In this respect, the '100 hours of astronomy' on 2-5 April will be particularly inspiring if widely taken up by the world's media.)

Kevin Govender from the SALT Collateral Benefits Programme gave an especially moving talk in which he said that what he hoped most was that IYA2009 would encourage people to think. He shocked most of the westerners present by recounting how as a child on a sugar-cane farm under a glorious southern sky he was prohibited from looking up because of the local belief that looking at the stars caused warts. There were films, remote observing sessions and no less than two receptions! Holland's University of Groningen had a 40-tonne truck present which is used as a travelling science centre for school kids in the same way as the Science Roadshow. The ceremonies closed with San Francisco's Kronos Quartet and the UNESCO Choir performing "Sun rings", a surprisingly melodic musical piece inspired by audiofrequency natural phenomena such as whistlers and other sounds from space.

For more on the Opening Ceremonies, consult http://ama09.obspm.fr/ama09/open.php I shall also be writing a fuller report for Southern Stars. The IYA2009 international web site is http://www.astronomy2009.org while for the 100 hours of astronomy, see http://www.100hoursofastronomy.org . For the New Zealand programme, visit http://www.astronomy2009.nz.org

--------- The fuller report mentioned by William, lavishly illustrated, is in the March issue of Southern Stars. It will also appear on the New Zealand IYA website at www.astronomy2009.org.nz

7. Order Your Galileoscopes Now

RASNZ Publicity Officer Marilyn Head reports:

It looks like the Galileoscopes will be around NZ $30.00 plus postage and packing. Unfortunately last week the Royal Society of NZ pulled out of their plan to purchase 100 and are looking at sourcing different funding. In the meantime Earth and Sky Ltd (Margaret Munro <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>) has kindly picked up the ball and will include our orders with their bulk order and get the discount.

As they now have an online service Earth & Sky will offer them on that as well, but will continue to give members of astronomical societies the discount. They will also do the posting and packing. I am sure this is the cheapest way of doing it. Postage from the US is horrendous if you order the telescopes individually.

Earth and Sky's postal address is PO Box 112, Lake Tekapo 7945, New Zealand. Telephone: 03 680-6960. Fax: 03 680-6950 http://www.earthandsky.co.nz/

------- GalileoscopeTM information from their website:

The GalileoscopeTM is a refracting telescope, or refractor: a long tube with a big lens (the objective) at the front end and a small lens (the eyepiece) at the back end. The great Italian scientist Galileo's telescopes were refractors, too, but the Galileoscope improves upon his 400-year-old design in several important ways.

The Galileoscope comes in a cardboard box measuring 50½ by 36½ by 8½ cm with a shipping weight of 0.7 kg. Here are the instrument's key optical characteristics: Objective diameter: 50 mm. Objective focal length: 500 mm (f/10) Eyepiece focal length: 20 mm. Magnification: 25x (50x with Barlow) Field of view: 1½° (¾° with Barlow) Eyepiece eye relief: 16 mm (22 mm with Barlow) Eyepiece barrel diameter: 1¼ inches (31¾ mm)

The ¼-20 mounting nut, made of zinc-coated low-carbon steel, enables the Galileoscope to be affixed to a standard photo tripod or any other mount with a ¼-20 threaded post. [That is, that the telescope doesn't come with a stand.]

For more see https://www.galileoscope.org/gs/products

8. Biographies, please

Marilyn Head writes: This is another call for listings for NZ astronomers on our IYA site http://www.astronomy2009.org.nz . There are so many prominent people missing and many who are named but have nothing written about them. We envisage it being a 'who's who' of NZ astronomy and an historical record of people who have been (and are) active and held positions in local astronomical societies and, for those who want, contacts.

Send your biography to Christopher Henderson, Webmaster, IYA 2009 NZ. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . See www.astronomy2009.org.nz

9. Variable Stars South Newsletter Available

Tom Richards, Director, Variable Stars South, writes:

The first 2009 issue of the Newsletter of Variable Stars South, RASNZ, is now available for download (2 MB) from http://www.rasnz.org.nz/vss/Newsletters/VSS%20Newsletter%202009-1.pdf

This issue includes articles about VSS and its directions, about the first research projects VSS is setting up (in which it hopes you will participate), currently well-placed variables needing attention, using DSLRs for variable star photometry, and some intriguing stars. There is also a notice about the "Studying Southern Variables" Colloquium in Wellington in May, and a VSS membership application form.

Future numbers of the Newsletter, which is available for free to anybody, will appear in the new website of VSS, www.varstars.org. The next issue is planned for May. Please note this website is not yet operational. Until it is keep an eye on http://www.rasnz.org.nz/vss/vss.htm. To keep abreast of variable star news (a fast-moving part of astronomy) and the doings of VSS, join Austral Variable Stars Observers Network at http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/AVSON/.

If you have any questions or comments about VSS and the Newsletter, please contact me at <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.> .

10. The Lonely Planet Guide

Attempts to find alien life on Earth and elsewhere

In a book called "Life, the Universe and Everything", Douglas Adams imagined a planet called Krikkit that was enrobed in a dust cloud so thick that its inhabitants could not see the universe beyond. They lived in happy isolation under an ink-black sky until, one day, an alien space ship crashed into their world and they discovered they were not alone. This, they decided, was unacceptable, so they set out to destroy the rest of lifekind.

Humanity´s problem is the opposite of the Krikkiters´. Earthlings know that the universe is vast but, paradoxically, they do not know whether they are alone in it. It is not merely the lack of abandoned flying saucers. There is no unequivocal sign of even the most humble bacterial life on any astronomical body within the range of human telescopes. That bothers a lot of people. At the AAAS meeting in Chicago, astronomers therefore discussed how planets form and the chances of finding alien life thereon.

Some 340 planets have now been found orbiting stars other than the sun and, earlier this month, a French spacecraft called COROT (illustrated) discovered the smallest yet. Most such exoplanets are gaseous giants bigger than Jupiter. These are incapable of supporting life-as-we-know-it. However CORO T-Exo-7b, as the newly located orb is known, is only slightly larger than Earth and is thought to have a rocky surface.

Sadly for those people seeking extraterrestrial life, COROT-Exo-7b lies so close to its parent star that it is far too hot for organisms of the terrestrial sort to survive. Yet astronomers are confident they will soon detect many more rocky exoplanets by using COROT and later an American craft called Kepler, that is due to be launched on March 5th. Some of these exoplanets will surely orbit their stars at a distance that allows their water to be liquid.

An exoplanet that had a large moon would be of particular interest. The moon´s presence creates tides on Earth and many exobiologists, as those hopeful scientists who aspire to study organisms on other planets are known, think these may be important for the origin and maintenance of life. Tides churn the oceans. That is reckoned to be good for life as it mixes up chemicals and organisms, encouraging small ones to grow, which provides food for large ones.

If a tide-causing moon does enhance the chance of life flourishing on a planet, then aliens may be abundant. That is because such moons should be quite common around Earth-like planets, according to Robin Canup of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Dr Canup has deduced this by using a computer to simulate the process by which the Earth acquired its moon.

The favoured story to explain where the moon came from is of an iron-rich object the size of Mars hitting the Earth while it was forming. Much of the iron in the smaller planet ended up as the Earth´s core, whereas the cloud of dust that was ejected by the impact consolidated into the body now known as the moon. The impact may even have triggered plate-tectonic activity, which causes the continents to move around. Many biologists think this, too, is good for life, because it mixes up the crustal rocks rather as the tides mix the oceans, albeit far more slowly. Dr Canup´s models of developing solar systems suggest that in any system there is about a 15% chance of the type of collision which created the Earth and moon.

It is one thing, though, to have the right conditions for life. It is another for life to form. At the moment, no one has any idea how easy it is for living organisms to come into existence, and no one has got close to replicating the process in a laboratory. Steven Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, a private educational organisation based in Gainesville, Florida, may, however, have taken the first step. He announced to the meeting that he had made a biochemical "soup" capable of Darwinian evolution.

He did it by adding two synthetic nucleotides to the four natural ones that act as the letters of the genetic code in DNA. The result is a substance that is no longer DNA, but which behaves somewhat like it. Using a commonplace technique called the polymerase chain reaction, Dr Benner was able to persuade his new molecule to reproduce. Although it is not self-replicating, so cannot be considered alive, it may point to the creation of simple, artificial biological systems.

Dr Benner reckons that developing such synthetic biologies would broaden the vision of exobiologists by giving them alternatives to compare with the only natural system now available for examination. That may help them distinguish what is essential for life from the accidents of life on Earth.

This is not an idle distinction. The results of experiments by the Viking missions to Mars in 1976 initially met the mission scientists´ criteria for the detection of life. These days, though, they are interpreted as having been caused by non-biological chemical reactions. More recently, some students of Mars have concluded that plumes of methane emerging from the planet´s surface are geological rather than biological in origin, whereas others argue the opposite.

Nor, according to Paul Davies of Arizona State University, may it be necessary to look to far-distant planets to find aliens. He thinks that living things with an origin (and, therefore, biochemistry) independent of the one that resulted in humans may exist in a "shadow biosphere" on Earth itself.

Most organisms, Dr Davies points out, can be seen only under a microscope, and only an infinitesimal fraction of such microbes have been investigated by researchers. Dr Davies speculates that some microbes may use different nucleotides to the familiar four of DNA and he is urging biologists to scour inhospitable-looking places such as hydrothermal ocean vents and contaminated lakes to see whether some of the life that exists there takes such an unfamiliar form.

It will be a tricky task. Even species of bacteria that belong to the "normal" tree of life are often difficult to culture in the laboratory, which is one reason their study has been neglected. But that does not mean it is not worth looking, for if such a shadow biosphere does exist, it means life has got going on Earth more than once. That would suggest the process is easy, and encourage the hunt for aliens elsewhere. It is to be hoped, though, that if such aliens do turn up they do not spend their lives composing moving poetry and waging war on the rest of the universe.

-- From The Economist 2009 February 21, p.78-9

11. 2-inch thick Pyrex Scarce

The following has been gleaned from discussions in the nzastronomers group:

Corning stopped making rolled Pyrex sheet about 2 years ago. The rolled sheets were the source of the 2-inch (50 mm) thick disks used to make the larger Dobsonian mirrors. It is understood that Corning used to make the rolled sheet in the US, in England and in France. The French plant was the last to shut down. The equipment they use to make the material was worn out and they decided not to invest in refurbishing it. In addition to the cost of refurbishing the equipment Corning also cited competition from other sources of low expansion borosilicate (Pyrex like) glass. Unfortunately the other suppliers of borosilicate use a process that lends itself only to making sheets up to about 1 inch thick.

At least one telescope manufacturer foresees switching to zero expansion glasses such as Schott Zerodur, Corning ULE or Russian Astro Sitall. All of these materials are zero-expansion and hence excellent for telescope mirror production but they cost upwards of US$80/lb (US$180/kg) for generated blanks. Big price increases will result.

An example: A 20 inch (50 cm) mirror weighs 51 pounds (23 kg). The cost is over US$4000 plus shipping just for the Zerodur blank from Schott. This is before the optician even touches it. Pyrex was about US$1000 for a 20-inch blank. That's a US$3000 plus price increase on the raw material.

-- from comments relayed to nzastronomers from James Mulherin of Obsession Telescopes and Dave Kriege.

12. Postgraduate Scholarships in Astronomy & Radio Astronomy

Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) has recently established a radio astronomy group to expand its existing astrophysical research team. It is seeking high quality applicants to undertake PhD & MSc projects in radio astronomy.

Interested students are encouraged to contact Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, in advance of the application deadlines, to discuss the full range of projects available: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Further information available at: http://www.wellingtonnz.com/

-------- A PhD scholarship is available at the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy (CIRA), a research institute of the Curtin University of Technology (Perth, Australia), under the supervision of Prof. Steven Tingay.

Applications are sought from high quality candidates who wish to pursue a PhD in radio astronomy using Australian and international radio astronomy facilities. Further information regarding particular projects or areas of research strength on offer can be obtained via email from Prof. Tingay (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). WWW: http://astronomy.curtin.edu.au

--------- The Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing (CAS) at Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne, Australia) invites applications for its PhD program and scholarships.

For details about postgraduate study at CAS, including available supervisors, PhD topics and how to apply, see http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/study/postgradstudy.html

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., 14 Craigieburn Street, Darfield 7510.

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., 14 Craigieburn Street, Darfield 7510.

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' vol. 129, p.44

IT STILL IS The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory was established in 1918. Its 1085 metre telescope was the largest in the world at the time. -- Victoria Times- Colonist, 2008 March 30, p.8.

ONE HECK-OF-AN-ACRE ...will be an area ten kilometres square, or one hectare. -- Astronomy Now, 2008 April, p.62.

STRETCHING THE TRUTH But this outburst [of GRB 080319B] took place 7.5 billion light years away, some seven times further away than the Andromeda galaxy, ... -- Astronomy and Geophysics, vol. 49, 3.6, 2008. [The Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years away.]

COULD GET BORING 1 August 2008. Total eclipse of the Sun. Maximum duration of totality 22m 27s - - Royal Astronomical Society Diary for 2008, Eclipse section.

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.

IYA2009 Opening Ceremonies in Paris.
Stacey Kalinnikova, Yvette Perrott and William Tobin.

An account of the International Year of Astronomy Opening Ceremonies held at UNESCO headquarters, Paris, January 15 & 16, 2009.
Volume 48, number 1. March 2009. Pp

The Crows Nest Observatory.
Roland Idaczyk

Planets orbiting other stars (exoplanets) are at present the focus of one of the high-priority research efforts in astronomy. The privately owned Crows Nest Observatory (CNO) in Wellington was designed and equipped to allow participation in exoplanet research programmes. This article introduces the observatory and its instrumentation and discusses the requirements of exoplanet research via the transit method.
Volume 48, number 1. March 2009. Pp

The RASNZ revives its Variable Star Section.
Tom Richards

Dr Tom Richards introduces the revamped variable star section of the society, named "Variable Stars South".
Volume 48, number 1. March 2009. Page

Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand Annual Report of Council for 2008.
President's Remarks, Treasurer's Report, Membership Report, RASNZ Publications, RASNZ Section Reports.

RASNZ Council Volume 48, number 1. March 2009. Pp 13-25 Book Review - "The Awa Book of NZ Science" edited by Rebecca Priestley." reviewed by William Tobin.
Volume 48, number 1. March 2009. Page

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. RASNZ 2009 Conference
2. Colloquium on Studying Southern Variables
3. Third Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations
4. The Solar System in March
5. Preliminary Notice of 2009 Annual General Meeting
6. 'Killer Asteroids' in Oamaru
7. Waharau Events in March and September
8. Herbert Star-party September 18-20
9. RASNZ Groups in LinkedIn and Facebook
10. Levin Stargazers 'Telescope Amnesty'
11. Biographies, please
12. Thomas Bruce Tregaskis
13. Lake Tekapo's Dark Sky on Yahoo
14. Earth Satellites Collide
15. Space Robots Only
16. Centaurus A Viewed at Submillimetre Wavelengths
17. Astronomical Spectrographs and Their History
18. Book & Movie Celebrates the Telescope
19. 16-inch Mirrors for Sale
20. Union Optics
21. How to Join the RASNZ
22. Lightbulbs.Yahoo

1. RASNZ 2009 Conference

Registrations for the RASNZ 2009 Conference to be held in Wellington in May are now being accepted. This year's invited speaker will be Prof. Fulvio Melia giving us the latest updates on Supermassive Blackholes.

Also during the conference the launch of the new VSS section -- Variable Stars South -- will be an important event for Southern Hemisphere Astronomy. Don't miss this!

Dates: Friday 22 May 2009 to Sunday 24 May 2009 Venue: Quality Inn, Cuba Street, Wellington

The Studying Southern Variables Colloquium will be held immediately prior to the Conference on Friday 22 May. The Third Trans-Tasman Occultation Symposium will be held immediately following the conference on Monday 25 May and Tuesday 26 May.

Details about the speakers and programmes are regularly updated on the RASNZ website - use this link http://www.rasnz.org.nz/Conference/09Conference.htm to see the latest information.

By Cheque: Please use the registration form from the conference links on the RASNZ web page http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ and post with your cheque to my home address: 2009 RASNZ Conference, C/- Pauline Loader, 14 Craigieburn Street, Darfield 7510.

By Direct Credit or Internet Banking: Payment can be made to the RASNZ Conference bank account National Bank, Wellington, Account Number 060501 0065021- 01. Please use the registration form from the conference links on the RASNZ web page http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ to calculate your registration total and then email the form to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. when you have paid.

On-Line Registration and Credit Card Payment: Either use the links from the above conference web page or go direct to the RASNZ payments page http://www.rasnz.org.nz/Sales/Conference2009.html.

If booking accommodation at the Quality Inn or the Budget Hotel immediately next door please mention that you are attending the RASNZ conference to obtain special rates. A number of rooms have been reserved until the end of April for conference attendees.

The Conference organisers look forward to seeing many of you there in May.

Call for Papers --------------- The organisers have a number papers already lined up for this year's RASNZ Conference in May, see the RASNZ conference webpages. If you wish to present a paper to the conference please send a Conference Submission form as soon as possible. Forms are available from http://www.rasnz.org.nz/Conference/09Conference.htm#papers and completed forms can be emailed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Your abstract needs to be in the hands of the organisers by 1 April 2009 so that it can be included on the RASNZ website and in the printed programme. We also would like a written copy of your paper by 1 May for inclusion in Southern Stars.

A copy of Power Point presentations should be made available at the conference for inclusion in the CD distributed to all attendees following the conference.

-- Pauline Loader

2. Colloquium on Studying Southern Variables

A colloquium on "Studying Southern Variables" will be held prior to the 2009 RASNZ Annual Conference in Wellington on Friday the 22nd May 2009 commencing at 10:30am and concluding at 5:30pm. The colloquium will consider the science of observing variable stars visually, photoelectrically and with CCD cameras.

The colloquium will be organised by Dr Tom Richards, Woodridge Observatory, Melbourne; Bill Allen, Vintage Lane Observatory, Blenheim; and Stan Walker, Wharemaru Observatory, Awanui; who are experienced variable star observers.

While we expect many very interesting presentations from the CCD and PEP fields, one of our objectives is to encourage visual observations, a field which is very important over the long term.

The colloquium will consist of 20 minute papers and posters on any topic concerning variable stars and their observation including observing projects, equipment and techniques. Proposals for presentations should be submitted to any of the organisers.

The venue for the colloquium and the RASNZ conference is the Quality Inn, Cuba Street, Central Wellington - see http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ for more information and future announcements. We look forward to seeing you there.

Tom Richards This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Bill Allen This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Stan Walker This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

3. Third Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations

The Third Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations will be held in Wellington over May 25 and 26, 2009, immediately following the 2009 RASNZ Conference. The meeting will follow in the footsteps of the first two very successful Symposia held in July 2007 in Auckland, and Easter 2008 in Penrith, New South Wales.

The Symposium will bring together occultation observers and others from Australia and New Zealand to share results and experiences, and to build on the increasing interest being shown in these events (as evidenced by the 45 minor planet occultations successfully observed so far this year).

Speakers at the Symposium will include David Herald, author of the definitive occultation prediction and reduction software OCCULT and Hristo Pavlov whose OccultWatcher software is being widely used to alert observers to updated predictions for forthcoming events.

The Symposium is also seeking papers and presentations from others who would like to share their experiences in the field. To book a presentation please send your details, a short abstract, and the amount of time you are requesting to co-convenor Murray Forbes at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A feature of the two previous Symposia was the emphasis given to the "hands-on" aspects of occultation work. The Third Symposium will build on that with expanded workshops in which participants can individually follow through the whole process of preparing for, observing, and then reducing data from occultation events. Participants will be encouraged to bring their own laptops, and all necessary software will be provided. The various equipment options for occultation work will also be extensively discussed.

The Third Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations will be an important meeting and all those with an interest in the field are urged to register without delay.

Graham Blow RASNZ Occultation Section

4. The Solar System in March

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for March 2009 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Mar_09.htm. Notes for April 2009 will be in place in a few days.

COMET C/2007 N3 LULIN is expected to be a 6th magnitude object at the beginning of March. On the 1st it will be a few degrees from Regulus and rise shortly before sunset. On the 6th it will be in Cancer magnitude about 7 and less than 1 degree from the 3.9 magnitude star delta Cnc. A few days later Lulin will have moved into Gemini, being just over 7 degrees above Pollux on March 13. During the rest of March Lulin will become slow moving in Gemini and fade as it recedes from the Sun and Earth. It will be 9th magnitude by the end of the month.

Some charts showing the comet's path up to early April are on the RASNZ web site.

The planets in march

At the end of March both Mercury and Venus are at a conjunction with the Sun, so both will become lost in the morning and evening twilight respectively during the month. Saturn, at opposition in March, will be left the only evening planet.

The evening sky - venus and saturn

Venus will be very low at the beginning of March, only about 5 degrees up a few minutes after sunset. It will also be over 30 degrees to the north of the setting Sun, which may make locating it a little easier. On March 1 the planet will set about 40 minutes after the Sun, the interval getting steadily less during the next 2 weeks. By mid March it will be set at the same time as the Sun. However Venus is not at inferior conjunction until the morning of March 28. It will not rise before the Sun until the last day of March, so there will be a period of about 2 weeks when Venus sets before the Sun and rises after it.

Saturn reaches opposition on the morning of March 9, so will be observable from mid evening at the beginning of the month and throughout the evening by the end. Saturn is in Leo and will be just over half a degree from the 4th magnitude star sigma on March 1. They will be no more than a degree apart until March 13.

The dawn sky - mercury, mars and jupiter

Mercury will be visible in the morning sky at the beginning of March, when it rises almost 2 hours before the Sun. On March 1, it will be about 12 degrees above the horizon 45 minutes before sunrise. At magnitude -0.2 it will be a fairly easy object.

Over the next week or two Mercury will brighten a little but steadily get lower so becoming a more difficult object in the morning twilight. It is at superior conjunction with the Sun on the last day of the month.

Mars will rise at about the same time throughout March, a little less than 2 hours earlier than the Sun at the beginning of the month and a little over 2 hours earlier at the end. It starts March close to Mercury; the two are less than a degree apart on the mornings of March 2 and 3. Mars, nearly 1.5 magnitudes fainter than Mercury, will be to the lower left of the brighter planet on the 2nd and slightly higher on the 3rd.

Jupiter starts March some 6 degrees above and a little to the left of Mercury and Mars. Unlike Mars it will steadily rise earlier as the month progresses and so get higher in the dawn sky. By the end of March, Jupiter will rise a little after 3 am NZDT.

Jupiter is in Capricornus and is 4.5 arc minutes from the 4th magnitude star theta Cap on the morning of March 7. The brightness of the planet is likely to make the star difficult with the unaided eye.

Outer planets

Neptune moves up into the morning sky during March. On the morning of March 6 it will be level with Mercury and a degree and two-thirds to its left. 3 morning later Neptune will have moved up to be level with Mars and only 45 minutes to its left.

Uranus is at conjunction with the Sun on March 13, so is virtually unobservable all month.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is at its brightest at the beginning of March at magnitude 6.9, fading to 7.5 by the end of the month. It is due north at local midnight on March 2, so is observable all evening throughout the month. It starts March in Leo on it border with Leo Minor. It crosses a narrow southerly part of Leo Minor to cross back into Leo on March 29.

(2) Pallas starts March in Lepus crossing into Orion, 4 degrees from Rigel, on March 16. Its magnitude changes from 8.5 to 8.7 during the month. It is principally an evening object, setting soon after midnight by March 31.

(4) Vesta is in Aries for the first 3 weeks of March after which it moves into Taurus. It sets about 11pm NZDT on March 1 and about 9.30pm on March 31. Vesta's magnitude changes only slightly during March, from 8.4 to 8.5.

-- Brian Loader

5. Preliminary Notice of 2009 Annual General Meeting

The Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand will be held on Saturday 23 May 2009 at the Quality Inn, Cuba Street, Wellington. The meeting will start at about 4.30 pm, following the end of the afternoon session of the conference.

The business of the meeting will include the items as laid down by rule 65 and any other business placed on the agenda by council.

2009 being an odd numbered year, there will be no elections to council. The

term of the present council runs until 2010.

A formal notice of the AGM will be issued nearer the date of the meeting.

Notices of Motion

Any notices of motion for the Annual General Meeting need to be in writing and must be in the hand of the executive secretary at least six weeks before the date of the meeting, that is by or before Saturday 11 April 2009.

-- Brian Loader, Executive Secretary, 15 February 2009

6. 'Killer Asteroids' in Oamaru

Kahren Thompson advises that Dr Robert Jedicke, Astronomer at the University of Hawaii, is giving a talk entitled "Killer Asteroids" at Waiatki Boys' High School Auditorium, Oamaru, on March 12 at 6.30pm. Admission free.

(Sadly this is a one-off. Dr Jedicke is visiting friends. -- Ed.)

7. Waharau Events in March and September

David Moorhouse advises the dates for this year's Waharau events; dark sky gatherings south of Auckland: Friday March 27th to Sunday 29th Friday September 18th to Sunday 20th. For details contact Dave at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

8. Herbert Star-party September 18-20

The Herbert Star-party 2009 will be held at Camp Iona, Herbert, North Otago, 20 minutes drive south of Oamaru, on 18-20 September. Ross Dickie and Phil Barker are the prime organisers of the event. More details later.

-- from a note by Dennis Goodman

9. RASNZ Groups in LinkedIn and Facebook

Duncan Hall emails that he has set up RASNZ groups in LinkedIn [ http://www.linkedin.com/ ] and Facebook [ http://www.facebook.com/ ] making RASNZ an Organisation -- Club and Society.

The group are set up with overseas and other lone members particularly in mind. So far Duncan is the only member of these online community groups.

-- message passed on by Pauline Loader.

10. Levin Stargazers 'Telescope Amnesty'

The Levin Stargazers hosted a 'telescope amnesty' event in Levin on February 6th. This gave the public a chance to bring out their telescopes and have astronomers give tips on how to get the best out of them. Members of the Wellington Astronomical Society were in attendance alongside astronomers from far and wide. It was a fantastic turn-out from both public and astronomers. There must have been over 100 people, which isn't bad for a cloudy night. A big thank you to all of those who helped out.

Gordon Hudson gave a great beginners talk on types of telescopes. Then we ran an astro quiz for the kids. To top it off Gordon gifted a C8 to the Stargazers on loan! Clouds covered the sky from sunset until Toa Waaka said a karakia. Then at least Te Marama - the Moon -- became visible. Some people even managed to sneak views of M42 and the Jewel Box.

It was great matching up astronomers with telescopes. One young guy asked me to look at his 'wobbly' telescope and straight away Michael White came over and said it was almost the same as his. Michael proceeded to help out with tightening nuts and bolts. Then someone asked me about putting a motor on his telescope and I quickly matched him up with John Talbot and Steven Chadwick. Then a mum and her 7 year old, who is a young Einstein, came over and said they were leaving and would continue to struggle with his grandfather's old refractor. I saw straight away that it was perfect for Roland Id aczyk to look at. Roland still uses his first refractor, one that he has kept since he was young.

I can honestly say that it was the most telescopes that I've seen in one place. I can't say they were as big and expensive as the ones at Stardate but there were definitely as many.

-- adapted from notes by Ron Fisher

11. Biographies, please

Marilyn Head writes: This is another call for listings for NZ astronomers on our IYA site http://www.astronomy2009.org.nz . There are so many prominent people missing and many who are named but have nothing written about them. We envisage it being a 'who's who' of NZ astronomy and an historical record of people who have been (and are) active and held positions in local astronomical societies and, for those who want, contacts.

Send your biography to Christopher Henderson, Webmaster, IYA 2009 NZ. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . See www.astronomy2009.org.nz

12. Thomas Bruce Tregaskis

This obituary is from the February/March 2009 issue of 'Crux', the Newsletter of the Astronomical Society of Victoria.

Our honorary life member Bruce Tregaskis passed away on 16 November 2008. Bruce joined the Astronomical Society of Victoria in January 1948, thus starting an association with the ASV that saw him become section director of the Variable Star Section and the Auroral Section and an honorary life member of our Society. Bruce was president of the ASV in 1971-72 and again in 1976.

Bruce worked for the State Electricity Commission (SEC) in the LaTrobe Valley during the 1960s and he was one of the founding members of the Yallourn Astronomical Society (now the LaTrobe Valley Astronomical Society). He was also one of the founding members of the Astronomical Society of Frankston (now the Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society).

Bruce was also a telescope maker. I first met Bruce in the LaTrobe Valley in 1963 when I had a vacation job with the SEC and my brother John also worked in that location. There was a total eclipse of the Moon in January 1964 and we went to Bruce's house to view the event. At the time Bruce had made a special 6 inch f/20 Newtonian reflector with an uncoated primary mirror for the special purpose of observing the planet Venus. The telescope had an open wooden tube and a simple alt-azimuth mounting. To observe Venus the telescope does not have to assume an altitude greater than about 45 degrees. That was typical of the man's ingenuity.

His other telescopes were a very portable 4 inch Newtonian reflector that he transported in a suitcase on eclipse expeditions, a 6 inch and a 12 inch Newtonian reflector. The latter was permanently assembled on an equatorial mounting using a truck rear differential and axle for a polar axis.

Bruce was a prolific observer. His contribution to the scientific study of variable stars was invaluable. He made 15,648 observations of 393 different variable stars. The observations were acknowledged and published by the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ) and the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) as well as our own Society. Bruce received the W. G. H. Tregear Award for his variable star work.

Bruce was also an alert observer, always on the lookout for anything unusual. He observed many auroral events and was the confirmation observer together with the late Jim Trainor for many comets and novae. Bruce made some detailed observations of deep sky objects and the records were recognised with a medal and referred to in a French publication.

Bruce was a loyal supporter of the VASTROC and NACAA conferences. He contributed many papers to these conferences and he presented lectures to ASV meetings on numerous occasions. Bruce was a supporter of the Great Melbourne Telescope restoration project. Only two weeks before his passing Bruce nominated himself to the list of volunteers to work on the reconstruction of the instrument.

Bruce Tregaskis will be remembered with deep respect and will be sadly missed by amateur astronomers throughout Australia.

-- Barry Adcock

13. Lake Tekapo's Dark Sky on Yahoo

See http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/as_new_zealand_embracing_the_dark -- Thanks to John Hearnshaw who passed along a note from Barry Welsh.

14. Earth Satellites Collide

In an unprecedented space collision, an operational commercial Iridium communications satellite and a defunct Russian satellite ran into each other on February 10, creating a cloud of wreckage. The satellites were at an altitude of 790 km over northern Siberia at the time. Initial radar tracking de tected some 600 pieces of debris. It was expected that the larger the debris would stay near the original orbits. The Russian spacecraft was Cosmos 2251, a communications relay station launched in June 1993 that stopped working 10 years ago.

Iridium Satellite LLC operates a constellation of some 66 satellites, along with orbital spares, to support satellite telephone operations around the world. Their satellites, which weigh about 675 kg when fully fuelled, circle in orbits tilted 86.4 degrees to the equator at an altitude of about 785 km. Ninety-five Iridium satellites were launched between 1997 and 2002. Several have failed over the years.

The U.S. STRATCOM routinely tracks about 18,000 objects in space, including satellites and debris, that are 10 cm across or larger. Three other accidental collisions have been seen, all between small objects. The International Space Station is not at any immediate danger from the collision debris. It is at an altitude of about 350 km in an orbit tilted 51.6 degrees to the equator. However, other satellites might be at risk as the debris clouds spread in area and altitude.

-- adapted from an on-line note by 'Spaceflight Now' who got it from CBS News 'Space Place'. See also http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/02/12/us.russia.satellite.crash/index.html

For more on the problem of space debris see http://www.economist.com/opinion/displayStory.cfm?story_id=13144943&source=hptext feature [Note line wrapping]

15. Space Robots Only

As long as people have looked up at the night sky, they have wondered whether humanity is alone in the universe. Of places close enough for people to visit, Mars is the only one that anybody seriously thinks might support life. The recent confirmation of a five-year-old finding that there is methane in the Martian atmosphere has therefore excited the hopes of exobiologists - particularly as the sources of three large plumes of the gas now seem to have been located. These sources are probably geological but they might, just, prove to be biological.

The possibility of life on Mars is too thrilling for mankind to ignore. But how should we explore such questions - with men, or machines? Since America is the biggest spender in space, its approach will heavily influence the world´s. George Bush´s administration strongly supported manned exploratio n, but the new administration is likely to have different priorities - and so it should.

Michael Griffin, the boss of American´s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a physicist and aerospace engineer who supported Mr Bush´s plan to return to the moon and then push on to Mars, has gone. Mr Obama´s transition team had already been asking difficult questions of NASA, in particular about the cost of scrapping parts of the successor to the ageing and obsolete space shuttles that now form America´s manned space programme. That successor system is also designed to return humans to the moon by 2020, as a stepping stone to visiting Mars. Meanwhile, Mr Obama´s administration is wondering about spending more money on lots of new satellites designed to look down at the Earth, rather than outward into space.

These are sensible priorities. In space travel, as in politics, domestic policy should usually trump grandiose foreign adventures. Moreover, cash is short and space travel costly. Yet it would be a shame if man were to give up exploring celestial bodies, especially if there is a possibility of meeting life forms -- even ones as lowly as microbes -- as a result.

Luckily, technology means that man can explore both the moon and Mars more fully without going there himself. Robots are better and cheaper than they have ever been. They can work tirelessly for years, beaming back data and images, and returning samples to Earth. They can also be made sterile, which germ-infested humans, who risk spreading disease around the solar system, cannot.

Humanity, some will argue, is driven by a yearning to boldly go to places far beyond its crowded corner of the universe. If so, private efforts will surely carry people into space (though whether they should be allowed to, given the risk of contaminating distant ecosystems, is worth considering). I n the meantime, Mr Obama´s promise in his inauguration speech to "restore science to its rightful place" sounds like good news for the sort of curiosity- driven research that will allow us to find out whether those plumes of gas are signs of life.

-- From The Economist 22 January 2009, p.12.

16. Centaurus A Viewed at Submillimetre Wavelengths

Astronomers have a new insight into the active galaxy Centaurus A (NGC 5128), as the jets and lobes emanating from the central black hole have been imaged at submillimetre wavelengths for the first time. The new data, from the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile, has been combined with visible and X-ray images to produce a striking new image.

Centaurus A (NGC 5128) is the nearest giant elliptical galaxy, about 13 million light-years away. It is currently merging with a companion spiral galaxy, resulting in areas of intense star formation. This makes it one of the most spectacular objects in the sky. Cen A has a very active and highly luminous central region, caused by the presence of a super-massive black hole, and is the source of strong radio and X-ray emission.

In the image, the dust ring encircles the giant galaxy. Also seen are the fast- moving jets of electrons ejected from the galaxy centre by the super-massive black hole. In submillimetre 'light', we see not only the heat glow from the central dust disc, but also the emission from the central radio so urce. For the first time in the submillimetre range the inner radio lobes north and south of the disc are seen. Measurements of this emission from fast-moving electrons spiralling in a magnetic field, show that the jets are travelling at approximately half the speed of light. In the X-ray emission, we see the jets emerging from the centre of Cen A and, to the lower right of the galaxy, the glow where the expanding lobe collides with the surrounding gas, creating a shockwave.

APEX is a 12-metre diameter submillimetre-wavelength telescope located on the 5000 m high plateau of Chajnantor in the Chilean Atacama region. It is a collaboration between the Max-Planck-Institute for Radio Astronomy, the Onsala Space Observatory and the European Southern Observatory. The telescope is based on a prototype antenna constructed for the next generation Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) project.

Text and high-resolution images: http://www.eso.org/public/outreach/press-rel/pr-2009/pr-03-09.html

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

17. Astronomical Spectrographs and Their History

Cambridge University Press this month published "Astronomical Spectrographs and Their History" by John Hearnshaw.

This book is the third in an excellent series tracing the historical development of photometry and spectroscopy, closely referenced to original material. The first two books The Analysis of Starlight, (1986) and The Measurement of Starlight (1996) are comprehensive, authoritative and elegantly written. They are a wonderful resource for both amateur and professional and, like all good reference books, are packed with such fascinating detail, that a minor check leads to the loss of several hours! The first book is out of print and now sold on Amazon for vast sums when a second hand copy becomes available. Don't miss out on this one!!

http://www.cambridge.org/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521882576 ISBN-13: 9780521882576

-- Marilyn Head

18. Book & Movie Celebrates the Telescope

One of the International Astronomical Union's contributions to the International Year of Astronomy 2009 is the new book and movie "Eyes on the Skies - 400 Years of Telescopic Discovery", telling the fascinating story of the telescope from its invention to the modern day.

Undoubtedly the telescope has done the most to change the way we think about our Universe. Yet it is now so familiar that we take it for granted. However, four hundred years ago when Galileo first turned his homemade arrangement of magnifying glasses to the skies, and realised that Earth was not unique as had been thought, his discovery rocked the scientific world and changed our understanding of the Universe forever.

With the aim of bringing astronomy to the homes of people around the globe, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), in collaboration with Wiley VCH, The European Southern Observatory and the European Space Agency/Hubble, has produced the Eyes on the Skies - 400 Years of Telescopic Discovery book and 60-minute DVD documentary. The movie is presented by Dr. J (aka Dr. Joe Liske) from the European Southern Observatory, host of the popular Hubblecast and ESOcast video podcasts. The book and movie is written by Dutch science journalist Govert Schilling and astronomer Lars Lindberg Christensen.

Through words and a wealth of stunning photographs, computer animations and illustrations, they tell the fascinating story of the telescope from its invention in the early 1600s to the high-tech telescopes of the near future with "eyes as large as swimming pools". We discover how humanity's curiosity and knowledge has led to the production of larger and better telescopes allowing astronomers to uncover a host of planets and galaxies while reminding us that our view of the Universe and our place in it is still, to some extent, a mystery.

-- condensed from IAU release http://www.iau.org/public_press/news/release/iau0903/ forwarded by Karen Pollard.

19. 16-inch Mirrors for Sale

Matthew Lovell of Telescopes and Astronomy writes: We are gathering numbers for those who wish to purchase a completed 16-inch BK7 F4.5 Mirror. Great for those who want to build a 16-inch Binocular Telescope! At the current exchange rate the price will be $1900AUD plus any postage. These mirrors test up quite accurately, and are used in many pop ular telescopes of their size. Please email for more information. Matthew Lovell, Telescopes and Astronomy, PO Box 292, O'Halloran Hill, SA 5158, Australia. Phone: +61 8 8381 3188; Fax: +61 8 8381 3588; Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Website: http://www.telescopes-astronomy.com.au

20. Union Optics

This is adapted from a spam email: Union Optics is a large optical company in China. We mainly produce all kinds of high quality optical components such as prisms, achromatic lenses, spherical lenses, cylindrical lenses, windows, filters, aspherical mirrors, etc. And of crystals such as MgF2, CaF2, BaF2, ZnSe, Sapphire, YAG, etc.

We usually make them according to the requests from customers. If you want high quality, low price and on-time delivery then contact Angus at the Sales Department of Union Optics Co., Ltd. Tel: +86 371 6111 0195 Fax: +86 371 6606 9128; Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Website: www.unionoptics.com or www.unionoptics.net

21. 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..

22. Lightbulbs.Yahoo

David Brock passed this along to the nzastronomers group.

This has nothing to do with the subject at hand, but it's the way most yahoo groups work. I first saw this on the Allen Organ group, just cross out lightbulb and replace it with Meade, tripod, lens, your favourite and start posting.

How many list members does it take to change a lightbulb? One to change the light bulb and to post that the lightbulb has been changed. Fourteen to share similar experiences of changing lightbulbs and how the light bulb could have been changed differently. Seven to caution about the dangers of changing light bulbs. Seven more to point out spelling/grammar errors in posts about changing light bulbs. Five to flame the spell checkers. Three to correct spelling/grammar of flames. Six to argue over whether it's "lightbulb" or "light bulb" ... Another six to condemn those six as stupid. Fifteen to claim experience in the lighting industry and give the correct spelling. Nineteen to post that this group is not about light bulbs and to please take this discussion to a lightbulb (or light bulb) forum. Eleven to defend the posting to the group saying that we all use light bulbs and therefore the posts are relevant to this group. Thirty six to debate which method of changing light bulbs is superior, where to buy the best light bulbs, what brand of light bulbs work best for this technique and what brands are faulty. Seven to post URLs where one can see examples of different light bulbs. Four to post that the URLs were posted incorrectly and then post the corrected URL. Three to post about links they found from the URLs that are relevant to this group which makes light bulbs relevant to this group. Thirteen to link all posts to date, quote them in their entirety including all headers & signatures, and add "Me too." Five to post to the group that they will no longer post because they cannot handle the light bulb controversy. Four to say "didn't we go through this already a short time ago?" Thirteen to say "do a Google search on light bulbs before posting questions about light bulbs." Three to tell a funny story about their cat and a light bulb. AND One group lurker to respond to the original post 6 months from now with something unrelated they found at snopes.com and start it all over again!

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. RASNZ 2009 Conference
2. Colloquium on Studying Southern Variables
3. Third Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations
4. The Solar System in February
5. Two Southland Astronomical Society Members Honoured
6. New Director for the Variable Star Section
7. Biographies, please
8. Bringing the World Back Into the Black
9. Notes from Variable Star South Director
10. MoRST Cool On SKA
11. Internet Talks by Leading Astronomers
12. Methane Shows Mars Is Not a Dead Planet
13. Faintest Brown Dwarfs So Far
14. More on Our Galaxy's Central Black Hole
15. Most Distant Water in the Universe Found
16. The Cosmic Boogie-box
17. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
18. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
19. How to Join the RASNZ
20. Your Stars for February

1. RASNZ 2009 Conference

Just a further update on Conference. As you know, the 2009 Conference is being held at the Quality Inn Wellington, which is in Upper Cuba Street, Wellington. The dates of Conference itself are 22-24 May 2009.

Our guest at the conference is Profesor Fulvio Melia. Fulvio authored the book "Black Hole at the Center of the Galaxy", and has also authored a book (to be published shortly) about New Zealander Roy Kerr. Fulvio Melia's current position is Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Arizona. He is no stranger to New Zealand, having recently been a visiting Professor at the University of Canterbury. We look forward to having Fulvio as our guest at the Conference.

We now issue a further call for papers and poster papers. Papers will be of 20 minutes duration, including question time. If you would like to give a paper, please complete the appropriate form on the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz) and forward it accordingly. Orlon Petterson and Warwick Kissling have the responsibility for bringing the programme together. Abstracts need to be available by 1 April 2009, and the final version of the paper suitable for publication in Southern Stars needs to be available by 1 May 2009.

We also advise registrations are now open. Forms were distributed with the December issue of 'Southern Stars'. Registrations can also be made on line, by going to the RASNZ Webpage. We encourage intending attendees to register early. Also, there are plenty of discounted airfares available at the moment around the dates of Conference. (Council members - please note the Council meeting may be on the Thursday pm).

Accommodation is available at the Quality Inn, and the adjacent Comfort Hotel. The Comfort is the budget arm of Quality, but the writer of this update has stayed there, and it is perfectly comfortable. Twin/double rates at the Quality Inn are $160 a night, and $95 at the Comfort - when booking please make sure you advise them that you are with the RASNZ Conference so you get these discounted rates. There are links from the webpage to the Quality Inn and the Comfort.

There are two other activities associated with conference which you may also be interested in. On Friday 22 May there is a full day Colloquium "Studying Southern Variables" and on Monday and Tuesday 25-26 May there is the "Third Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations".

Full details of Conference, the Colloquium and the Symposium can be found on the RASNZ Webpage. Look forward to seeing everyone there.

Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee.

Further details of the conference and the symposia will be placed on the RASNZ web site http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ as they become available.

2. Colloquium on Studying Southern Variables

A colloquium on "Studying Southern Variables" will be held prior to the 2009 RASNZ Annual Conference in Wellington on Friday the 22nd May 2009 commencing at 10:30am and concluding at 5:30pm. The colloquium will consider the science of observing variable stars visually, photoelectrically and with CCD cameras.

The colloquium will be organised by Dr Tom Richards, Woodridge Observatory, Melbourne; Bill Allen, Vintage Lane Observatory, Blenheim; and Stan Walker, Wharemaru Observatory, Awanui; who are experienced variable star observers.

While we expect many very interesting presentations from the CCD and PEP fields, one of our objectives is to encourage visual observations, a field which is very important over the long term.

The colloquium will consist of 20 minute papers and posters on any topic concerning variable stars and their observation including observing projects, equipment and techniques. Proposals for presentations should be submitted to any of the organisers.

The venue for the colloquium and the RASNZ conference is the Quality Inn, Cuba Street, Central Wellington - see http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ for more information and future announcements. We look forward to seeing you there.

Tom Richards This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Bill Allen This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Stan Walker This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

3. Third Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations

The Third Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations will be held in Wellington over May 25 and 26, 2009, immediately following the 2009 RASNZ Conference. The meeting will follow in the footsteps of the first two very successful Symposia held in July 2007 in Auckland, and Easter 2008 in Penrith, New South Wales.

The Symposium will bring together occultation observers and others from Australia and New Zealand to share results and experiences, and to build on the increasing interest being shown in these events (as evidenced by the 45 minor planet occultations successfully observed so far this year).

Speakers at the Symposium will include David Herald, author of the definitive occultation prediction and reduction software OCCULT, Hristo Pavlov whose OccultWatcher software is being widely used to alert observers to updated predictions for forthcoming events, Dave Gault who is a recognised pioneer in the use of video techniques in this work, and Steve Russell, one of the driving forces behind Australia´s "Team Occultation".

The Symposium is also seeking papers and presentations from others who would like to share their experiences in the field. To book a presentation please send your details, a short abstract, and the amount of time you are requesting to co-convenor Murray Forbes at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

A feature of the two previous Symposia was the emphasis given to the "hands-on" aspects of occultation work. The Third Symposium will build on that with expanded workshops in which participants can individually follow through the whole process of preparing for, observing, and then reducing data from occultation events. Participants will be encouraged to bring their own laptops, and all necessary software will be provided. The various equipment options for occultation work will also be extensively discussed.

The Third Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations will be an important meeting and all those with an interest in the field are urged to register without delay.

Graham Blow, RASNZ Occultation Section

4. The Solar System in February

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for February 2009 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Feb_09.htm. Notes for March 2009 will be in place in a few days.

COMET C/2007 N3 LULIN is expected to brighten to magnitude 6 during February, so being a binocular object. At the beginning of the month it should be a 7th magnitude object and will be in Libra rising half an hour or so after midnight.

By the morning of February 12 it will be in Virgo close to lambda Vir, magnitude 4.5. The two will be less than half a degree apart as they rise. On the evenings of February 16 and 17 Lulin will be about 2.5 degrees from Spica and rise soon after 10.30 pm NZDT.

The comet will move rapidly across Virgo and on into Leo on February 23 when it should be at its brightest with an expected magnitude 6.0. That night and the next it will be about 3 degrees from Saturn and rising close to 9 pm. At the end of the month Lulin will pass Regulus being about 2.5 degrees from the star on February 27 and 28. It will then rise just before the time of sunset and have started to fade.

Some charts showing the comet's path are on the RASNZ web site.

THE DAWN SKY - Mercury, Mars and Jupiter During February the dawn sky will host a series of groupings of three of the major planets. Sunrise ranges from about 6.30 am NZDT at the beginning of the month to about 7 am at the end.

Mercury will be quite well paced for viewing throughout February, rising about 90 minutes earlier than the Sun on the 1st. From about the 10th on, it will rise at least 2 hours before the Sun. During the month its magnitude will brighten from 0.6 to -0.1.

Mars will rise about the same time throughout February, a little after 5 a.m. This is some 75 minutes before sunrise on February 1, increasing to 2 hours before at the month's end.

Throughout February, Mercury will be a few degrees above and to the left of Mars. At first Mercury will move away from Mars, but later in the month the two will get closer again, being less than 2° apart on the last morning of the month. Mars will be much the fainter, at magnitude 1.3 to 1.2.

Jupiter will emerge from the morning twilight during the first part of the month, climbing towards Mars which it will pass on the morning of February 18 and 19 when the two will be less than a degree apart. Jupiter will be to the left of Mars.

Jupiter will carry on to pass Mercury on the mornings of 24 and 25 when
again they will be less than a degree apart with Jupiter to the left of
Mercury.  The two will then be a little less than 4 degrees above Mars.

Just prior to this, on the morning of February 23, the three planets will be joined by a thin crescent Moon, only 5% lit, 1.5 degrees to the left of Mercury, with Jupiter and then Mars below them. An hour before sunrise Mercury will have an altitude of about 11° and be in a direction 15° to the south of east. Jupiter will be some 1.8° from Mercury with Mars 2.8° from Jupiter. The grouping is illustrated by a diagram on the RASNZ web site.

Venus will meanwhile remain in the evening sky. On the 1st it will set about 100 minutes after the Sun, but by the end of February only 45 minutes later. So by then it will be a low object only visible briefly after sunset. On February 28 the planet is joined by the crescent Moon, only 11% lit. The Moon will be 3.6° to the right of Venus and slightly higher.

Saturn will be visible from late evening at the beginning of February and from mid evening by the end of the month. The ring system will appear nearly edge on early in the month, so being very narrow. During February the rings will open slightly as seen from the Earth which will be overtaking Saturn so making it appear to move backwards, that is to the west, through the stars.

Saturn is in the constellation Leo during February nearly 20 degrees from Regulus and slowly moving towards the 4th magnitude star s Leo. The two are closest at the end of February and beginning of March, when they will be just over half a degree apart. The Moon, just a little past full and 95% lit, will be 5° above the planet on the night of February 11/12. They are closest in the early morning about 3am NZDT.

OUTER PLANETS Neptune is at conjunction with the Sun on February 12 so will be too close to it for observations through the month.

Uranus, in Aquarius, sets about 90 minutes after the Sun on February 1 and only some 30 minutes after on February 28. As a result it will become lost in the evening twilight.

BRIGHTER ASTEROIDS: (1) Ceres is in Leo during February, staring the month just over a degree from delta Leo, magnitude 2.5. Its distance from the star increases to a little over 5 degrees during the month. Ceres rises a little before midnight at the beginning of February and about 2 hours earlier by the end.

(2) Pallas moves from Eridanus into Lepus on February 16. It magnitude is 8.3 to 8.4 throughout the month. It is an evening object, with a transit time about 9 pm NZDT on February 28.

(4) Vesta starts the month in Cetus between the two 4th magnitude stars xi1 and xi2 Cet. Vesta itself will have a magnitude 8.1 and will set shortly after midnight, NZDT. It crosses into Aries on February 16, where it will set at about 11 pm NZDT at the end of the month. Its magnitude drops from 8.1 to 8.3 during the month.

(27) Euterpe is at opposition on February 4 with a magnitude 8.8. It is brighter than 9th magnitude for about a week either side of opposition. The asteroid is in Cancer, but the nearest bright star is Regulus some 15 degrees distant.

-- Brian Loader

5. Two Southland Astronomical Society Members Honoured

Congratulations to Lloyd Esler who received the Queen's Service Medal for services to the community in the New Year Honours. Lloyd has long been associated with the Southland Museum and is current Secretary of the Southland Astronomical Society. On the lighter side he was the delightfully witty after-dinner speaker at the 2002 RASNZ Conference in Invercargill. There he introduced us to Madam X's prognostications, occasionally reprinted at the end of this newsletter. (See below.)

Also honoured was Christine Henderson of Lumsden who was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to conservation. Christine's son Christopher is webmaster of the NZ IYA2009 website.

6. New Director for the Variable Star Section

I am pleased to be able to announce that the RASNZ Council has recently approved the appointment of Dr Tom Richards as director of the RASNZ Variable Star Section.

In his proposal to Council Tom indicated far reaching plans for the revitalisation of the section. Some of these are outlined in a separate bulletin (copied below) which gives some initial information on his plans for the future of the Section. In keeping with the change of outlook the Section has changed its name to Variable Stars South.

I hope many of you will give your support to Tom, either by offering your assistance as he builds up his teams of co-ordinators or by joining observing programs as they are set up.

I look forward to working with Tom and seeing the section grow in the future.

-- Pauline Loader [See Tom notes in Item 9.]

7. Biographies, please

Marilyn Head writes: This is another call for listings for NZ astronomers on our IYA site http://www.astronomy2009.org.nz . There are so many prominent people missing and many who are named but have nothing written about them. We envisage it being a 'who's who' of NZ astronomy and an historical record of people who have been (and are) active and held positions in local astronomical societies and, for those who want, contacts.

Marilyn's email address is on www.writerfind.com/mhead.htm

8. Bringing the World Back Into the Black

This article by Rebecca Greatrex was in the New Zealand Herald on Jan 9. ---- The article on light pollution ("Las Vegas steals the stars") in last week's Weekend Herald highlights a strange anomaly in today's energy- and environmentally-conscious society.

It's quite simple - why is the developed world continuing to waste so much money and energy on beaming light into outer space? Sure, all the glittering lights make the planet look pretty if you happen to be in orbit or on a commercial flight. But, alas, not many of us get the chance to visit the International Space Station. In reality, light pollution is a total waste of energy and money and creates unnecessary carbon emissions.

I'd much rather conserve the energy by directing light down on to the streets where it's needed and reduce carbon emissions and my ratepayer bills at the same time. And, as the article so clearly pointed out, if we reduce light pollution there's a massive free bonus - the stars come out again and give us genuine sparkly lights in our velvety night skies. The design of traditional street lights means they tend to waste energy by scattering light generously in all directions. They enable light to escape upwards (creating an orange glow in the sky) and sideways (generating glare - which is particularly annoying if it is shining through your bedroom window all night).

In contrast, modern, environmentally friendly street lights tend to use full cut-off fixtures that target the light only where it's needed - downwards - meaning they use smaller wattage bulbs, therefore consuming less power and costing less to run.

About four out of five New Zealanders live in an urban environment so it's a bit ironic that we have the Southern Cross on our national flag when most of us are hard-pressed to see it from our backyards. The orange haze of light pollution that hangs over our cities obscures all but a handful of the brightest stars. Viewing the night sky isn't an option any more, even if you're interested.

The UN estimates over 3.3 billion people (half of the world's population) already live in cities and this could become as many as 5 billion by 2030. All these city-dwellers who never get out of town, either through choice or circumstances, are missing out on one of nature's free treats - a truly spectacular starry night sky. Even worse, we're paying good money to generate and waste the energy that obliterates this visual treasure with light pollution. Most people want to do their bit to save the environment but it has to be made simple and convenient - and preferably cheap - to get everyone behind it. A good example was the call a few years ago to boycott aerosol cans containing CFCs that were destroying the ozone hole - they were gone before lunchtime.

But enforced legislation that directly affects our lifestyle can produce the opposite effect, as demonstrated by the recent proposals around energy-saving household light bulbs and low-pressure shower heads which probably cost the previous Government the election.

So rather than trying to use something as difficult and remote as the Emissions Trading Scheme to set an environmental world precedent, maybe we should look at something a bit less complex in 2009. Something as simple as smartening up our country's street lighting systems over the next decade or so could reduce the cost and amount of our national energy consumption and save on our carbon emissions as well. Now that would be an environmental world precedent. One that could be understood and literally seen by everyone.

This year is a particularly appropriate year for action because Unesco and the International Astronomical Union have declared 2009 to be the International Year of Astronomy and 135 countries around the world are participating - including New Zealand. There will be a huge global focus on dark night skies and light pollution because one of the specific global projects is Dark Skies Awareness. More people around the world are becoming aware of light pollution and its destructive effect on the environment, with organisations such as the International Dark-Sky Association working to raise awareness and protect our natural night skies.

Here in New Zealand, the Waitakere City Council and Modus Lighting recently hosted a forum entitled Advancing New Zealand's Street Lighting Technologies, which was funded by the Electricity Commission. More than 120 people attended from the Electricity Commission, Energy Efficiency Conservation Authority, several local authorities, tertiary institutions and the NZ Standards Association as well as the lighting industry, consultants and installers.

Valiant efforts are also being made to have the MacKenzie Basin declared a starlight reserve, one that Unesco will recognise as a World Heritage Dark Sky Park. The Queenstown Lakes District Council recently won an award from the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand for its "Wanaka Waterfront" lighting system. The Ports of Auckland has already changed its lighting system, resulting in an estimated 15 per cent reduction in energy consumption and a huge reduction in glare.

Curbing light pollution is a win-win-win situation as it improves the environment, conserves energy and reduces costs. Will New Zealand seize the opportunity to set a new kind of environmental world precedent in 2009 and lead the world back to the black?

For the original see: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/environment/news /article.cfm?c_id=39&objectid=10551035

9. Notes from Variable Star South Director

The following is abridged from a posting on Avson by Tom Richards This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. on January 15, forwarded by Pauline Loader.

I said last week, in response to the announcement that the RASNZ has appointed me Director of their Variable Star Section (and renamed Variable Stars South), that I'd keep information flowing on AVSON about the development of VSS.

It will take a while to develop an organisational base for VSS. he organisational base of the VSS as was, being a private company owned by the late Frank Bateson, is defunct. So we're effectively starting again. We plan to launch VSS at the Variable Star Colloquium being held in conjunction with the RASNZ Conference in Wellington on May 22nd. Be there! See www.rasnz.org.nz for details.

First I'd like to thank very sincerely Pauline Loader of the RASNZ for acting as coordinator of the Section, keeping it alive for the four years since Frank resigned. There was much going on in the background in that time, and we have a lot to be grateful to Pauline for. I'd also like to thank Ranald McIntosh and Mati Morel for their continuing behind-the- scenes work, respectively maintaining the observations database and producing all those vital comparison star sequences.

Role of VSS. The VSS-RASNZ has had responsibility for the best part of a century for southern hemisphere variable star work. However the nature of this role will be changing sharply, reflecting the nature of modern astronomical research and communications.

In years past, all southern hemisphere observations were sent to VSS-RASNZ and electronically recorded by Ranald McIntosh. This has tailed off to almost nothing in the last few years as most observers submitted data to the AAVSO International Variable Star Database. VSS will no longer be maintaining a separate observations database. All VSS's electronic observational records have already been transferred to the AAVSO, and we are considering ways of entering the older paper records.

Instead of the archival collection of data, VSS will be concentrating on developing and hosting research projects. Modern communications make this feasible as never before. Both globally and in terms of expertise, collaboration is the name of the game. We will be dividing VSS into a number of "Programme" areas for the running of research projects, and already are beginning to set these up.

VSS willcontinue to be inclusive across the entire Southern Hemisphere, and of course with Northerners who wish to involve themselves with southern stars. It will take time to set up these relationships, and I hope as many people as possible from all over will contact me about involvement in VSS. (Membership in a formal sense will come soon.)

In addition to appointing Coordinators to run the various Programmes, of which two are effectively under way, we will be setting up a small advisory panel of experts, and inviting professionals and leading amateurs to join this panel.

Membership. Financial aspects of the Section are, as required by the Rules of Incorporation of the RASNZ, totally separate from RASNZ finances. We will be setting up a bank account for online transactions, then we can think about membership. There will be dues, of course - we will need to pay for the Internet domain, web hosting, etc, at the very least.

Members will be the people who organise and take part in the VSS projects and other VSS activities. Our approach is to create exciting projects and activities at all levels, eyeball to advanced robotic CCD.

Projects will have clear aims, clearly stated methods (so you can decide if they are for you), and clearly stated goals including publication. Project members will work closely together, supporting each other. Members will always receive training and mentoring in their projects. Members will receive the quarterly electronic Newsletter (see below) though for now we'll distribute to everyone on our email list. Members will have read- write access to online resources as we develop them. And only members will be able to partake in our research programmes (though non-members may propose and lead them).

Officers I'm very pleased to announce that Stan Walker of Waitarara has kindly agreed to edit the quarterly online Newsletter (email me your email address if you don't already receive this) and also to act as Coordinator of the Long Period Variables Programme. You can contact Stan at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

I believe the core of at least amateur variable star work is visual observing. I expect to be able to announce very shortly a Coordinator for the VSS Visual Research Programme.

We urgently need a webmaster, web designers, and communications coordinators to develop and maintain our website and all other online resources. It's more than I can handle , and beyond my skills anyway if it is to be well done. We probably need a team approach to this - not all on one pair of shoulders. Please, if you're interested and capable, get in touch with me - even if it's only for a particular role in a team.

10. MoRST Cool On SKA

The Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (MoRST) write in their Briefing to the Incoming Minister of Research, Science and Technology:

"Other projects A group of senior officials is considering how New Zealand can best participate in the design and establishment of a radio telescope - the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) - a major international science project Australia is seeking to host. There may be economic advantages to New Zealand participating in the project given the high level of technology, spillover opportunities and bilateral relations with Australia. However, we see relatively little merit for New Zealand in the project from a research perspective."

See it at http://www.beehive.govt.nz/sites/all/files/MoRST_BIM_0.pdf on page 12.

-- Thanks to Roland Idaczyk for passing this along.

11. Internet Talks by Leading Astronomers

International Year of Astronomy Speaker Series at Penn State Broadcast on the Web. "Our Universe: From the Big Bang to Life" is the theme of the 2009 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, an event that will be broadcast on the web during the 2009 International Year of Astronomy. The series of six free public lectures on consecutive Saturday mornings begins on 24 January. Each lecture begins at 11:00 a.m., U.S. Eastern time.

The lectures are designed as a free minicourse for the enjoyment of the general public and will be viewable on the web at http://live.libraries.psu.edu/

The recommended browser is Internet Explorer, plus Windows Media Player must be installed on the computer prior to viewing the live presentation. Windows Media Player is a free media player available for download to both Windows and Mac users at: http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia/player/11/default.aspx

The events in the 2009 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science include: 24 January: "Exploring the Dark Side of the Universe". Speaker: Tony Tyson, University of California-Davis. 31 January: "Extasolar Planets and the Search for Habitable Worlds" Speaker: Sara Seager, Massachusetts Institute of Technology 7 February: "Telescope Adventures in the Antarctic Icecap". Speaker: Fancis Halzen, University of Wisconsin-Madison 14 February: "Galaxies and Their Supermassive Black Holes". Speaker: Michael Eacleous, Penn State 21 February: "Chaos in Our Solar System". Speaker: Peter Goldreich, Institute for Advanced Study 28 February: "The Search for Life on Other Planets". Speaker: James Kasting, Penn State

-- abridged from a note forwarded by Karen Pollard.

12. Methane Shows Mars Is Not a Dead Planet

Methane has been found in Mars's atmosphere indicating that the planet is either biologically or geologically active.

It was found by observing the planet throughout several Mars years with NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility and the W.M. Keck telescope, both at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Spectrometers on the telescopes showed three absorption lines of methane.

Methane is quickly destroyed in the Martian atmosphere in a variety of ways, so discovery of substantial plumes of methane in the northern hemisphere of Mars in 2003 indicated that some ongoing process is releasing the gas.

Methane, four atoms of hydrogen bound to a carbon atom, is the main component of natural gas on Earth. Astrobiologists are interested in this data because organisms release much of Earth's methane as they digest nutrients. However, other purely geological processes, like oxidation of iron, also release methane. If microscopic Martian life is producing the methane, it likely resides far below the surface where it is warm enough for liquid water to exist. Liquid water is necessary for all known forms of life, as are energy sources and a supply of carbon.

On Earth, microorganisms thrive about 1.9 to 3.0 km beneath the Witwatersrand basin of South Africa, where natural radioactivity splits water molecules into molecular hydrogen and oxygen. The organisms use the hydrogen for energy. Possibly similar organisms survived for billions of years below the permafrost layer on Mars, where water is liquid, radiation supplies energy, and carbon dioxide provides carbon. Gases, like methane, accumulated in such underground zones might be released into the atmosphere if pores or fissures open during the warm seasons, connecting the deep zones to the atmosphere at crater walls or canyons.

It is possible that a geologic process produced the Martian methane, either now or eons ago. On Earth, the conversion of iron oxide into the serpentine group of minerals creates methane. On Mars this process could proceed using water, carbon dioxide and the planet's internal heat. Although there is no evidence of active volcanism on Mars today, ancient methane trapped in ice cages called clathrates might be released now.

The plumes were seen over areas that show evidence of ancient ground ice or flowing water. Plumes appeared over the Martian northern hemisphere regions such as east of Arabia Terra, the Nili Fossae region, and the south-east quadrant of Syrtis Major, an ancient volcano about 1200 km across. The plumes were emitted during the warmer seasons, spring and summer, perhaps because ice blocking cracks and fissures vaporized, allowing methane to seep into the Martian air. One released about 19,000 metric tons of methane.

One method of testing whether life produced the methane is by measuring isotope ratios: life prefers to use the lighter isotopes. Methane and water released on Mars should show distinctive ratios for isotopes of hydrogen and carbon if life was responsible for methane production. It will take future missions, like NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, to discover the origin of the Martian methane.

For images related to this finding visit: http://www.nasa.gov/mars

-- condensed from a NASA press release, forwarded by Karen Pollard.

13. Faintest Brown Dwarfs So Far

The two faintest star-like objects ever found are a pair of brown dwarfs each just a millionth as bright as the sun.

Brown dwarfs are compact balls of gas floating freely in space, too cool and lightweight to be stars -- no thermo-nuclear processes heating their cores -- but too warm and massive to be planets. The name brown dwarf comes from the fact that these small star-like bodies change colour over time as they cool, and thus have no definitive colour. In reality, most brown dwarfs would appear reddish if they could be seen with the naked eye.

The Spitzer infra-red space telescope revealed a warm atmospheric temperature of 565 to 635 Kelvin (290 to 360 degrees Celsius). While this is hundreds of degrees hotter than Jupiter, it's still very cold for stars. In fact, the brown dwarfs, called 2MASS J09393548-2448279, or 2M 0939 for short, are among the coldest brown dwarfs measured so far.

Spitzer's measures also showed that the brown dwarfs, initially taken as one star, were a pair in binary orbit. Each has a mass of 30 to 40 times that of Jupiter. Both bodies are one million times fainter than the sun in total light, and at least one billion times fainter in visible light.

Three years of precise measurements at the Anglo-Australian Observatory showed that the pair are 17 light-years away. That makes 2M 0939 the fifth closest brown dwarf so far found.

The discovery team was led by Adam Burgasser and the results published the Astrophysical Journal Letters on 2008 Dec. 10.

-- condensed from a MIT and JPL press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

14. More on Our Galaxy's Central Black Hole

A 16-year study team of German astronomers has provided more information about the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. Using telescopes at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) in Chile, the team watched 28 stars orbiting the black hole. One of the stars has now completed a full orbit.

The interstellar dust that fills the Galaxy blocks our direct view of the Milky Way's central region in visible light. So astronomers used infrared wavelengths that can penetrate the dust to probe the region. Work started in 1992 with a camera attached to ESO's 3.5-metre New Technology Telescope. Since 2002 one of the 8.2 metre Very Large Telescopes (VLT) has been used. Adaptive optics removed the blurring by our atmosphere allowing a precision of 300 microarcseconds in the star positions. This is the width of a one euro coin seen from 10 000 km. (A euro is the same size as a NZ one dollar or an Aussy two dollar coin.)

The orbiting stars show that the central object is four million times the mass of the sun. Thus it must be a black hole, beyond any reasonable doubt. The observations also put the distance to the galactic centre at 27 000 light-years. The new study also showed that at least 95% of the mass sensed by the stars has to be in the black hole. There is thus little room left for other dark matter.

The number of star orbits is now large enough to look for common properties among them. It was found that the stars in the innermost region -- the central light-month -- are in random orbits, like a swarm of bees. Further out, six of the 28 stars orbit the black hole in a disc. It remains a mystery how these young stars came to be in these orbits. They are much too young to have migrated far, but it seems even more improbable that they formed in their current orbits where the tidal forces of the black hole act. Future observations are already being planned to test several theoretical models that try to solve this riddle.

The next major advance will be to combine the light from the four 8.2- metre VLT telescopes - a technique known as interferometry. This will improve the accuracy of the observations by a factor 10 to 100 over what is currently possible. This combination has the potential to directly test Einstein's general relativity in the presently unexplored region close to a black hole.

For more see http://www.eso.org/public/outreach/press-rel/pr-2008/pr-46-08.html

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

15. Most Distant Water in the Universe Found

Water has been detected in a galaxy more than 11 billion light-years from Earth. Previously, the most distant water had been seen in a galaxy less than 7 billion light-years from Earth.

The radio telescope in Effelsberg, Germany, and the Very Large Array (VLA) in New Mexico detected a telltale radio "fingerprint" of water molecules in the distant galaxy. The radio frequency emitted by the water molecules was Doppler shifted by the expansion of the Universe from 22.2 GHz to 6.1 GHz.

The soggy galaxy, dubbed MG J0414+0534, harbours a quasar -- a super- massive black hole powering bright emission -- at its core. In the region near the core, the water molecules are acting as masers, the radio equivalent of lasers, to amplify radio waves at a specific frequency. The discovery indicates that such giant water masers were more common in the early Universe than they are today. MG J0414+0534 is seen as it was when the Universe was roughly one-sixth of its current age.

The very weak radio signal was amplified by gravitational lensing. A galaxy nearly 8 billion light-years away, on the line of sight from MG J0414+0534, focused the radio noise making it detectable.

For more see http://www.nrao.edu/pr/2008/farwater/

-- condensed from a U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

16. The Cosmic Boogie-box

Whisper it not, but doing science can sometimes be a bit tedious. Traditionally, a researcher postulates an idea, devises an experiment to test it and then reports the results. Sometimes those results confirm the postulate; sometimes they confound it. Occasionally, though, something unexpected happens, and that is when the tedious gets exciting.

One such shock was the discovery in 1964 of the cosmic microwave background, by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson, a pair of radio astronomers who were testing a receiver they planned to use to search the sky for localised sources of microwaves. The hiss they found at one particular frequency turned out to be evidence for the then-controversial idea that the universe had been born in a Big Bang. A similarly strange result was reported this week by stargazers gathered at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, California. Some of them reckon that, besides microwaves, the sky reverberates with the din of radio waves as well. If they are right, something very odd indeed is going on in the universe.

The astronomers in question work for NASA, America´s space agency. Michael Seiffert is based at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and Alan Kogut at the Goddard Space Flight Centre in Maryland. The postulate they had planned to test was that the first stars to form after the Big Bang would have left some signs of themselves in the form of radio waves. Their experiment was designed to find these signs. Their search used radio telescopes launched to the edge of the atmosphere on special balloons from a site in Palestine, Texas. The result they got was not, however, what they were looking for.

The microwave background is the earliest snapshot of the universe, taken a mere 300,000 years after the Big Bang and almost 700,000 years before the first stars are thought to have coalesced. It reveals the newborn universe to have been a remarkably uniform fireball. Dr Seiffert and Dr Kogut wanted to identify the point at which things stopped being so smooth and the universe started to develop the structures-galaxies, stars, planets and dust-that fill it today. It was for this reason that they were searching for signs of stars.

What they found, however, was a background hiss of radio noise, reminiscent of the hiss noticed by Dr Penzias and Dr Wilson. After ruling out nearby sources of radio waves, they concluded that their own hiss also comes from beyond the Milky Way and thus constitutes a cosmic radio background. Four papers describing the telescopes, the observations and their possible interpretation have been submitted to the Astrophysical Journal.

Why a cosmic radio background should be there remains a mystery. It does not appear to be coming from the primordial stars sought by the astronomers - indeed, it completely drowns out any signs of the early stars that were the object of the original quest. Nor are there enough radio galaxies around to account for it. It looks, therefore, like the sign of a previously unknown phenomenon.

Of course, some as-yet unidentified error could have been made. In that case, it will be back to the tedium. But Dr Seiffert, Dr Kogut and their colleagues are hoping that will not be the case, and that their discovery really will turn out to be worth making a noise about.

-- From The Economist 8 January 2009

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, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 14 Craigieburn Street, Darfield 7510.

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., 14 Craigieburn Street, Darfield 7510.

19. How to Join the RASNZ

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

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

20. Your Stars for February

More of Madam X's horrorscopes relayed by Lloyd Esler: You get put on a pedestal by your peers - and a warning plaque attached. Your dream of being lionised come true - during your next visit to the zoo. You confuse the recipe book and the receipt book and issue your customers with rice puddings by mistake. You buy a clock guaranteed to last your lifetime. This means that when you go to rewind it, it explodes. You get a tough nut to crack. It´s off one of those bolts they use to hold pylons together. The dental bill is enormous. You answer the telephone while ironing and get a burnt ear. Norman Bates the plumber comes to fix the shower. `Should be OK,´ he says, `but can you give it a test?´ Two men in suits will call and persuade you to become a Frisbyterian. Frisbyterians believe that when you die your soul goes up onto the roof and nobody can get it down.

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.

Heliacal Leo - Obnubilated Draco.
Ed Budding.

A personal, descriptive account of the 10th Asian Pacific IAU Regional Meeting, Kunming, China. August 3-6, 2008.
Volume 47, number 4. December 2008. P3

Mt John University Observatory: the past, the present and the future.
John Hearnshaw.

A Conference paper presented at the Annual RASNZ Conference, Lake Tekapo, May 2008.
Volume 47, number 4. December 2008. P6

An Eye on the Universe.
R W Evans.

"An Eye on the Universe" is the name given to the astrophotography exhibition that is to tour New Zealand during the International Year of Astronomy 2009.
Volume 47, number 4. December 2008. P11

Observatory Automation - is it for you?.
Tom Richards.

In an effort to get a good night's sleep and a good night's observing, the author decided to automate his observatory and instruments. He describes his mount, dome including rain protection, instruments and computing.
Volume 47, number 4. December 2008. P12

Introducing the AUT 12m Radio Telescope.
Sergei Gulyaev and Tim Natusch.

A 12m radio telescope was launched in New Zealand, 70 km North of Auckland. It is a fully steerable fast slewing antenna of Cassegrain design. The radio telescope is equipped with a dual-band (S/X) dual-polarization (LCP/RCP) feed system designed for astrophysical and geodetic research. Equipped with a Hydrogen maser clock and Gbps fibre optic data links it will allow New Zealand to contribute to international VLBI and eVLBI research and service. The launch of the radio astronomical observatory and the corresponding educational program at AUT University are important steps for New Zealand towards its participation in an Australasian SKA.
Volume 47, number 4. December 2008. P15

Astronomy at the University of Canterbury Department of Physics and Astronomy and Mt John University Observatory.
John Hearnshaw.

The Annual Report of the Department for 2007.
Volume 47, number 4. December 2008. P18

A .pdf for this issue is not currently available.

Beverly-Begg Observatory's New Telescope.
Robin Gledhill.

It is always exciting being near the moment of birth when a new creation is set adrift to achieve a dream. So it was at the dedication of the newest telescope at the edge of the Robin Hood ground where Dunedin's Beverly-Begg Observatory lives.
Volume 47, number 3. September 2008. P3

Anomalous Flaring in Cycle 23?
Harry Roberts.

Wolf's Relative sunspot number or index (Ri) is the most venerable and simplest of all measures of solar activity. There are, however, some other activity measures available that may lead to interesting conclusions.
Volume 47, number 3. September 2008. P5

Nighttime - Our Environment.
Steve Butler.

This presentation at the 2008 Annual Conference held in Tekapo is intended to provide an extended view of the issue of light pollution from that provided by the guest speaker Mr Bryan King. Light pollution has a real impact on a wide range of our environment. Mr King's talk is from the lighting industry point of view and provides much hope of improvements in New Zealand's outdoor lighting.
Volume 47, number 3. September 2008. P7

Patrick Moore honoured.
compiled by R W Evans.

One of our society's two Honorary members is Sir Patrick Moore. On July 9th this year he was further honoured for his life's work in astronomy by the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom with the award of Distinguished Honorary Fellow.
Volume 47, number 3. September 2008. P9

A .pdf for this issue is not currently available.

Harry Williams (1911-2008).
Grant Christie.

The well known Auckland astronomical entity Harry Williams died peacefully on 2008 May 3rd. This obituary is based on the one the author wrote for the Journal of the Auckland Astronomical Society.
Volume 47, number 2. June 2008. P3

Graham Blow FRASNZ.
At the 2008 AGM, Graham Blow was elected Fellow of the Society. Here is the supporting statement for the nomination of Graham Lindsay Blow as Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand.

Volume 47, number 2. June 2008. P5

Observations of Lunar Occultations of Double Stars.
Brian Loader.

Accurate times of lunar occultations of both components of a double star by two or more well dispersed observers will enable useful determinations of the separation and position angles of the pair to be made. Lunar occultations observations can also detect hitherto unknown double stars, or confirm or reject suspected close doubles. Results for observations of three double stars are presented.
Volume 47, number 2. June 2008. P6

Protecting a most Valuable Heritage - the Starlight Reserve Initiative.
Graeme Murray.

This is the text of Graeme Murray's After-dinner Speech at the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand's 2008 Conference at Lake Tekapo.
Volume 47, number 2. June 2008. P10

Book Review - "America in Space: NASA's first fifty years." Edited by S.J. Dick (NASA chief historian), R. Jacobs, C. Moore, A.M. Springer and B. Ulrich reviewed by William Tobin.

Volume 47, number 2. June 2008. P14

A .pdf for this issue is not currently available.

Awarua Tracking Station.
R W Evans.

Followers of the launch of the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) Jules Verne on 2008 March 9 will have noticed the prominent part that the Awarua Tracking Station played in the spaceship's orbital insertion. Members of the Southland Astronomical Society have followed with particularly keen interest and excitement the establishment of the European Space Agency (ESA) tracking station on our doorstep.
Volume 47, number 1. March 2008. P3

Radio Astronomy for the Masses: Radio Jove.
Stuart Weston, Tim Natusch

The NASA Radio Jove project presents opportunities for schools and the amateur to become involved with an international Radio Astronomy project. Some first hand experience is provided to assist perspective participants to this field. The establishment of a collaboration between NZ installations and The Swinburne RadioJove Solar/Ionospheric Observation, Education and Outreach program (SUT Melbourne Australia) and the suitability of Radio Jove as a tool for introducing Radio Astronomy and related technologies to Schools will be discussed.
Volume 47, number 1. March 2008. P5

Radio Astronomy for the Masses: Sudden Ionospheric Disturbances.
Stuart Weston

We present an indirect method of recording Solar Activity through Sudden Ionic Disturbances (SID) and possibly Gamma Ray Bursts (GRB) by the monitoring of Very Low Frequency (VLF) transmissions. Also the establishment of collaboration between New Zealand and the Stanford Solar Center, Stanford University, USA who provided a SID VLF Monitor and software. It is felt that this is another excellent tool and project for Schools to introduce pupils to Radio Wave Propagation, Solar Activity and Atmospheric Properties.
Volume 47, number 1. March 2008. P9

The Development of the Astronomy Curriculum for New Zealand Secondary Schools.
Robert Shaw

On 26 February 2004, the New Zealand Qualifications Authority extended the secondary school science curriculum. They set out what would be assessed for three unit standards in a new Domain called Astronomy. This paper records the intention behind those standards, the mechanics of the process that established the standards, and how the Carter Observatory established an e-learning platform to make the standards available to every secondary school student in the country.
Volume 47, number 1. March 2008. P13

The Hα: Long Lived Prominences in January and February 2008.
Harry Roberts

In January 2008 we had the first Cycle 24 sunspot group (see page 9). It caused some excitement but lasted only about 24 hours and wasn't seen by many astronomers. More spectacular events occurred in the H-alpha band in which was seen a burst of prominence activity in the mid to high latitudes.
Volume 47, number 1. March 2008. P16

Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand Annual Report of Council for 2007.
President's Remarks, Treasurer's Report, Membership Report, RASNZ Publications, RASNZ Section Reports.

RASNZ Council Volume 47, number 1. March 2008. Pp 19-30 Book Review - "Astronomy Aotearoa - NCEA Level 1." by Robert Shaw reviewed by R W Evans.
Volume 47, number 1. March 2008. P12