RASNZ Electronic Newsletter July 2015

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. The latest issue is below.

Email Newsletter Number 175

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.


1. New Horizons Passes Pluto
2. John Hearnshaw Elected IAU Division C President
3. StellarFest at Foxton Beach, 14th-16th August
4. The Solar System in August
5. Pluto Occultation - Local Successes
6. Southern Eclipsing Binaries Programme
7. 'Maunder Minimum' Predicted by New Solar Model
8. Asteroid Day - Sceptics Reply
9. Astro-Converted Camera for Sale
10. How to Join the RASNZ
11. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
12. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
13. Quote

1. New Horizons Passes Pluto

Icy mountains on Pluto and a new, crisp view of its largest moon, Charon, are among the several discoveries announced Wednesday by NASA's New Horizons team, just one day after the spacecraft´s first ever Pluto flyby.

A new close-up image of an equatorial region near the base of Pluto´s bright heart-shaped feature shows a mountain range with peaks jutting as high as 3,500 metres above the surface of the icy body.

The mountains on Pluto likely formed no more than 100 million years ago -- mere youngsters in a 4.56-billion-year-old solar system. This suggests the close-up region, which covers about one percent of Pluto´s surface, may still be geologically active today.

"This is one of the youngest surfaces we´ve ever seen in the solar system," said Jeff Moore of the New Horizons Geology, Geophysics and Imaging Team (GGI) at NASA´s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

Unlike the icy moons of giant planets, Pluto cannot be heated by gravitational interactions with a much larger planetary body. Some other process must be generating the mountainous landscape. "This may cause us to rethink what powers geological activity on many other icy worlds," says GGI deputy team leader John Spencer at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI).

The new view of Charon reveals a youthful and varied terrain. Scientists are surprised by the apparent lack of craters. A swath of cliffs and troughs stretching about 1000 km suggests widespread fracturing of Charon´s crust, likely the result of internal geological processes. The image also shows a canyon estimated to be 7 to 9 km deep. In Charon´s north polar region, the dark surface markings have a diffuse boundary, suggesting a thin deposit or stain on the surface.

New Horizons also observed the smaller members of the Pluto system, which includes four other moons: Nix, Hydra, Styx and Kerberos. A new sneak-peak image of Hydra is the first to reveal its apparent irregular shape and its size, estimated to be about 43 by 33 km.

The observations also indicate Hydra's surface is probably coated with water ice. Future images will reveal more clues about the formation of this and the other moon billions of years ago. Spectroscopic data from New Horizons´ Ralph instruments reveal an abundance of methane ice, but with striking differences among regions across the frozen surface of Pluto.

Follow the New Horizons mission on Twitter and use the hashtag #PlutoFlyby to join the conversation. Live updates also will be available on the mission Facebook page.

For more information on the New Horizons mission, including fact sheets, schedules, video and all the new images, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons and http://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/plutotoolkit.cfm

-- From a NASA press release. See the original at https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/from-mountains-to-moons-multiple- discoveries-from-nasa-s-new-horizons-pluto-mission

-------- For an almost-local take on the Pluto images hear New Zealander Dr Michele Bannister of the University of Victoria in British Columbia at http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/thiswayup/audio/201762806/pluto-mission

-------- Other Pluto-related links New Horizons (NASA) http://1.usa.gov/1HvMiKE Last, Best Look at Pluto's Far Side and Four Perplexing Spots: 2 Days Out from Flyby (Universe Today) http://bit.ly/1GgjWjB NASA's New Horizons Zooms by Pluto, Solar Systems Last Planet - King of The Kuiper Belt (Universe Today) http://bit.ly/1Mv2VY3 The Inside Story of New Horizons' 'Apollo 13' Moment on its Way to Pluto (Washington Post) http://wapo.st/1DaRsI0 The Man Who (Almost) Discovered Pluto...and Also (Almost) Discovered the Expanding Universe (Discover Magazine: Out There) http://bit.ly/1O4btpT

On the lighter side... Pluto (xkcd) http://bit.ly/1K8IQti New Horizons (What If?) http://bit.ly/1LjK7fK Stuff in Space [3D map of earth-orbiting objects] http://bit.ly/1NWQVQ9

-- Links passed on by John Arnold, University of Canterbury's Engineering and Physical Sciences Library.

2. John Hearnshaw Elected IAU Division C President

RASNZ President Professor John Hearnshaw has been elected as the new President of the International Astronomical Union´s Division for Education, Outreach and Heritage (Division C) for a three-year term from August 2015.

The IAU has been completely restructured this year into nine divisions, and Division C covers four commissions, Education and Development, History of Astronomy, Communicating Astronomy to the Public, and Astronomy and World Heritage. Of course these are all the non- scientific activities of the IAU, but all are areas John has been active in over the last few years.

The elections for new presidents, vice-presidents and steering committees were held electronically by the IAU (based in Paris) during June, and the results announced June 30. The IAU has over 11,000 members in about 100 countries world-wide.

3. StellarFest at Foxton Beach, 14th-16th August

The Horowhenua Astronomical Society is holding the fourth annual StellarFest at Foxton Beach Bible Camp, Foxton Beach, Horowhenua, in the Lower North Island on 14th-16th August.

The overall theme of the weekend will be the Winter Milky Way. The venue is situated at a dark site so this wondrous area of the night sky will be easily visible and riding high in the sky.

The weekend will include: hydrogen-alpha solar viewing and photography; interesting talks by both professional and amateur astronomers; night- time observing, through a variety of telescopes (feel free to bring your own telescopes - the more the merrier!); a telescope trail.

The talks, on a wide variety of astronomical topics, will be held throughout the day and, in the event of bad weather, during the evening.

The programme of talks is yet to be finalised but speakers that are already confirmed include: Brian Crump (Radio New Zealand), Professor Paul Delaney (York University, Toronto) via Skype, Professor Bill Williams (Massey University), Dr Peter Eisenhardt (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) via Skype, Frank Andrews, Carl Knight, Gary Sparks, Professor Euan Mason (University of Canterbury), Stephen Chadwick. All talks shall all be accessible to a general audience.

If you have your own telescope/binoculars/camera please bring them along. If you would like some advice about getting the most out of your equipment there will be experts on hand to assist. Don't be shy!

For cost and booking details see http://www.horoastronomy.org.nz/upcoming-events/stellarfest

-- From the above website. Thanks to Alan Baldwin for pointing this out.

4. The Solar System in August

Dates and times are NZST (UT + 12 hours) unless otherwise specified. Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in august

                  August  1  NZST               August 31  NZST
                 morning    evening              morning  evening
            rise:  7.27am,  set: 5.27pm    rise:  6.46am, set:  5.57pm
 Civil:    starts: 7.00am, ends: 5.55pm   starts: 6.21am, ends: 6.23pm
 Nautical: starts: 6.27am, ends: 6.28pm   starts: 5.49am, ends: 6.55pm 
 Astro:    starts: 5.54am, ends: 7.01pm   starts: 5.17am, ends: 7.22pm

August PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)

  Last quarter:  August  7 at  2.03 pm (02:03 UT)
  New moon:      August 15 at  2.53 am (Aug 14, 14:53 UT)
  First quarter: August 23 at  7.31 am (Aug 22, 19:31 UT) 
  Full moon:     August 30 at  6.35 am (Aug 29, 18:35 UT)

The planets in august

Both Venus and Jupiter are at conjunction with the Sun during August, marking their return to the morning sky. Mercury will become well placed for evening viewing during the month. Mars moves up a little in the pre-dawn sky. Saturn, in the evening sky, will set before midnight.

MERCURY will set some 40 minutes after the Sun on August 1 making it a very difficult object to see despite its -1.1 magnitude. On the evening of the 7th Mercury, Jupiter and the star Regulus will form a cluster in the western sky. Mercury will be half a degree to the lower right of Jupiter which itself will be a degree below Regulus. The group will be very low in the sky before it is dark enough to see them.

As a marker Venus will be about 7.5° to the left of the group only slightly higher than Regulus. Obviously finding Venus will be a guide. Binoculars will help show the other objects.

As the month progresses, Mercury will set increasingly later than the Sun, by the 16th 95 minutes later and on the 31st a good two and a quarter hours later. At the end of nautical twilight the planet at magnitude 0.2 will be 15° up and slightly to the north of west making it an easy visual object. Around this date will provide the best opportunity of the year to see the elusive innermost planet. Mercury starts the month in Leo crossing into Virgo on the 23rd.

VENUS, unlike Mercury, will be heading back towards the Sun. It sets 2 hours after the Sun on August 1, so will be readily visible for a while after sunset. The distance between the planet and the Sun will decrease over the next couple of weeks until Venus is at inferior conjunction between the Sun and Earth on the morning of the 16th (NZST).

At this conjunction Venus will pass the Sun at an angular distance of 7.5° south of the Sun as seen from the Earth. Also as seen from the Earth the planet will be barely 1% lit, yet despite that it will be at magnitude -3.9.

As a result of its southerly elongation it may be visible at conjunction shortly before sunrise on the morning of the 16th. That morning Venus will rise at 6.33 am, the Sun 35 minutes later. So the planet should be in view very low a little to the north of east. The time of conjunction is about 7 a.m.

By August 31, Venus will rise into the morning sky more than 90 minutes before the Sun so will readily be visible before sunrise some way round towards the northeast.

JUPITER is also heading towards the Sun during August. Although it starts the month closer to the Sun than Venus, the faster-moving inner planet overtakes the gas giant and get there first. Jupiter is at conjunction on the 27th (NZST). It will of course be beyond the Sun as seen from the Earth passing less than a degree south of the Sun. No hope of seeing Jupiter at conjunction!

At conjunction the planet will be 806 million km (5.388 AU) beyond the Sun and 957 million km (6.398 AU) from the Earth. After conjunction Jupiter becomes a morning object in early September.

On the other hand at the beginning of August Jupiter will set nearly 100 minutes after the Sun, so is likely to be briefly visible for the first few evenings of August with Venus a few degrees to its upper left. On the evening of the 11th, Jupiter will be less than half a degree from Regulus, but the two will be only 11.5° from the Sun so very difficult to see.

SATURN is very much an evening object in August, but only as an early evening object by the end of the month. It sets just after midnight on the 1st, and before 10.30 pm on the 31st. The planet will be in Libra moving slowly to the east towards beta Scorpii in the head of Scorpius.

On the evening of August 22, the moon will be some 6° degrees below Saturn. The moon will be nearly half lit, just before first quarter.

MARS will slowly move a little further up into the morning sky before sunrise. It rises 40 minutes earlier than the Sun on the 1st, just over an hour earlier on the 31st. But it will remain low in the dawn sky and at magnitude 1.8 very difficult to see in the twilight. The planet starts August in Gemini but crosses into Cancer on August 6.

Outer planets

URANUS is in Pisces all August. It rises around 11.20 pm on the 1st and 2 hours earlier on the 31st. The planet will be at magnitude 5.8 so readily seen in binoculars. The 67% lit moon will be 3° from Uranus on the night of 5/6 August.

NEPTUNE rises just before 8 pm on August 1 with its rise time advancing to just before 6 pm on the 31st. The planet remains in Aquarius at magnitude 7.8, so is quite easily seen in binoculars. The moon passes Neptune twice in August. The first occasion is on the night of August 2/3, the second at the time of full moon on the 30th.

PLUTO continues to be in Sagittarius all August with a magnitude 14.3.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is in Sagittarius during August fading a little from magnitude 7.6 to 8.2 following its opposition late July. During August the asteroid moves further into Sagittarius; by the end of the month it will be between the kite-shaped asterism containing omega Sgr and the wide pair of stars theta 1 and 2 Sgr.

(4) Vesta is in Cetus throughout August brightening from magnitude 7.2 to 6.7. The asteroid rises at 10.25 pm on the 1st and 8.20 pm on the 31st. It is stationary mid month.

(9) Metis starts the month at magnitude 10.0 but brightens to 9.2 by the 31st. The asteroid is in Aquarius about 11° from Neptune at the end of August.

(15) Eunomia starts August in Pisces at magnitude 9.7, rising at 11.10 pm. It is well north of the equator and moving further north. On the 25th it swings into Andromeda. By the end of August it will rise at 9.30 pm and be at magnitude 8.5, only slight fainter than Ceres.

-- Brian Loader

5. Pluto Occultation Local Successes

Pluto passed in front of a magnitude 12 star on the morning on June 30th NZST. The star was ten times brighter than the planet so provided a high-signal probe for measuring the depth and transparency of Pluto's atmosphere. New Zealand and Tasmania were on the centreline of the occultation thus attracting several international teams and inspiring much local effort. Kelly Beatty of Sky & Telescope made an early summary of their reports, here slightly edited for Australasian readers. ----------

During a stellar occultation by an airless body, such as an asteroid, the star's disappearance and reappearance are very abrupt. But Pluto's extremely tenuous atmosphere creates a more gradual decline and rise, along with nuances that reveal the pressure and temperature of the gas and the presence (or not) of haze layers. This is especially true when the star is bright enough to record its changing light at high speed with a good signal-to-noise ratio.

The effort involved several teams of observers on the ground and a large contingent aboard the SOFIA flying observatory. All of the teams, contacted by Sky & Telescope, report good results. An especially detailed record came from Mount John Observatory on New Zealand's South Island, where Jay Pasachoff and Bryce Babcock (Williams College) led a team that included resident observers Alan Gilmore and Pam Kilmartin and Williams undergraduates Christina Seeger and Rebecca Durst.

The facility and its 1-meter McLellan Telescope were positioned almost exactly on the occultation's centreline. So the Mount John observers hoped to see a strong central flash, created when the thin atmosphere acts like a lens to refract a concentrated beam of light toward Earth. For this event, it could only occur if the centre of Pluto's disk and the star were almost perfectly aligned.

Success was in doubt just one night before, when fierce winds whipped the observatory and the deep snow cover around it at speeds up to 85 km per hour. But the wind abated and the clouds parted when it mattered most. "Yes, we have a central flash! We are oh so pleased," Pasachoff reported afterward. The nearly 2-minute-long event was also captured by Mount John's two 0.6-m telescopes, one operated by Stephen Levine (MIT) and the other by Nagoya University observers led by Fumio Abe.

Meanwhile, veteran occultation-chaser Bruno Sicardy (Paris Observatory) had established two observing stations. One was the brand-new, just- opened 1.3-m telescope at John Greenhill Observatory in Hobart, Tasmania, where he'd assisted the staff in recording the event. The other, a robotic 0.6-m telescope at Lauder, New Zealand, recorded a central flash.

>From Brian Loader's location in Canterbury the occultation lasted about 90 seconds. There's even a hint of a central flash during the event's midpoint - an indication that Loader's telescope was near the centreline.

Two groups went to great lengths to make sure the occultation would be seen. John Talbot provided coordination for the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, and more than two dozen amateur observers fanned out for the event - some observing an occultation for the first time. "Many observers had cloud, and many had equipment problems of some sort," he tells Sky & Telescope. Despite those issues - and interference from a nearly full Moon only 30° away - Talbot concludes, "I would rate this as a very successful campaign and an excellent demonstration of pro-am cooperation."

Not shy about mounting a big observing effort for such an important occultation, Eliot Young (Southwest Research Institute) dispatched seven teams from the United States to New Zealand, Tasmania, and southeastern Australia. Most of these paired a professional observer with an undergraduate student. Some got to use an existing telescope, but others lugged "portable" 14-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes to desirable locations. And often the original plan didn't work out as anticipated.

For example, Amherst College student Jason Mackie and Lowell Observatory's Larry Wasserman got as far as a cattle farm in Napier, only to find that their scope wouldn't track (stripped gears). So they scrambled to join local amateur John Drummond at his observatory in Gisborne, a 3-hour drive up the coast. "We'd gotten up at 2 a.m. for the event, but it was cold and completely overcast," recalls Mackie. It cleared just in time for the event, which lasted 105 seconds, and they were very lucky: "It completely clouded over just a few minutes later."

Under cold but mostly clear skies in Timaru Matt Nelson and Aaron Resnick use a 14-inch Meade telescope to record Pluto's passage in front of the 12th-magnitude star.

Carol Carriazo, also from Amherst, headed with Anne Verbischer (University of Virginia) to Greenhill Observatory outside of Hobart. They piggybacked on the visual-band observations that Sicardy and the facility's staff had planned by adding a dichroic beamsplitter. This allowed them to obtain a near-infrared light curve simultaneously.

-- See the original article, with Brian Loader's light-curve, at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/observing-news/down-under-observers-capture-pluto-occultation/#sthash.2VnCe3ZT.dpuf ------- Further comment by Jay Pasachoff can be seen at http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/14/opinion/pluto-comes-into-focus.html?ref=opinion&_r=0

6. Southern Eclipsing Binaries Programme

Firstly, a correction to an item published in the June RASNZ Newsletter. We publicised the publication of a paper (ejaavso292) by a number of VSS members on the light elements of 78 southern eclipsing binaries, and stated that the paper could be downloaded from the JAAVSO website. However, now that the AAVSO Journal has been published, this may not work. You should try eJAAVSO and if this does not work contact the lead author, Margaret Streamer, for a copy (snail mail address given in the author list).

The Southern Eclipsing Binary Programme is described on the VSS website (http://www.variablestarssouth.org/). Go to Research Areas\Eclipsing Binaries\Southern Eclipsing Binaries. If you have instrumentation - CCD or DSLR - and wish to get involved, get in touch with one of the contacts.

Visit of AAVSO Director Stella Kafka visited Auckland and Wellington on her way south to the Mt John Symposium and RASNZ Conference. Two Palmerston North folk - Carl Knight and Alan Baldwin - caught up with her in Wellington, firstly for an informal chat over coffee, and then at the Wellington Astronomical Society meeting.

Stella gave a talk about the different types of variable stars with the title - The Good, The Bad, The Explosive and The Weirdos. The good (well behaved) were eclipsing binaries and regular pulsating stars; the bad were spotted stars, and stars that carry on at minimum and then have a cataclysmic event. Explosive stars were supernova and the importance of these as standard candles. Her favourite variables were the Weirdos, and amongst these were the R Coronae Borealis stars, e.g. S Apodis, very large stars e.g. Betelgeuse and Proto stars e.g. T Orionis.

For more details and a photo access the VSS July Newsletter due for publication on the VSS web-site towards the end of the month.

-- Alan Baldwin

7. 'Maunder Minimum' Predicted by New Solar Model

A new model of the Sun's solar cycle is producing unprecedentedly accurate predictions of irregularities within the Sun's 11-year heartbeat. The model draws on dynamo effects in two layers of the Sun, one close to the surface and one deep within its convection zone. Predictions from the model suggest that solar activity will fall by 60 percent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the 'mini ice age' that began in 1645. Results were presented by Professor Valentina Zharkova on July 5 at the Royal Astronomical Society's [UK] National Astronomy Meeting in Llandudno.

It is 172 years since a scientist first spotted that the Sun's activity varies over a cycle lasting around 10 to 12 years. But every cycle is a little different and none of the models of causes to date have fully explained fluctuations. Many solar physicists have put the cause of the solar cycle down to a dynamo caused by convecting fluid deep within the Sun. Now, Zharkova and her colleagues have found that adding a second dynamo, close to the surface, completes the picture with surprising accuracy.

"We found magnetic wave components appearing in pairs, originating in two different layers in the Sun's interior. They both have a frequency of approximately 11 years, although this frequency is slightly different, and they are offset in time. Over the cycle, the waves fluctuate between the northern and southern hemispheres of the Sun. Combining both waves together and comparing to real data for the current solar cycle, we found that our predictions showed an accuracy of 97%," said Zharkova.

Zharkova and her colleagues derived their model using a technique called 'principal component analysis' of the magnetic field observations from the Wilcox Solar Observatory in California. They examined three solar cycles-worth of magnetic field activity, covering the period from 1976 to 2008. In addition, they compared their predictions to average sunspot numbers, another strong marker of solar activity. All the predictions and observations were closely matched.

Looking ahead to the next solar cycles, the model predicts that the pair of waves become increasingly offset during Cycle 25, which peaks in 2022. During Cycle 26, which covers the decade from 2030 to 2040, the two waves will become exactly out of synch and this will cause a significant reduction in solar activity.

"In Cycle 26, the two waves exactly mirror each other -- peaking at the same time but in opposite hemispheres of the Sun. Their interaction will be disruptive, or they will nearly cancel each other. We predict that this will lead to the properties of a 'Maunder minimum,'" said Zharkova. "Effectively, when the waves are approximately in phase, they can show strong interaction, or resonance, and we have strong solar activity. When they are out of phase, we have solar minimums. When there is full phase separation, we have the conditions last seen during the Maunder minimum, 370 years ago."

See text and images: http://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/2680-irregular-heartbeat-of-the-sun-driven-by-double-dynamo

-- A Royal Astronomical Society press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

8. Asteroid Day - Sceptics Reply

The June Newsletter, Item 3, described the motivations behind Asteroid Day on June 30th. An article by Jan Hattenbach on Sky & Telescope's website presented some contrary opinions. ----------

Asteroid Day's 100X Declaration, an online petition, does not include details on the means or cost of the proposed goal - or about who should pay the bill. Eric Christensen, who leads the NASA-financed Catalina Sky Survey, is already bothered by its premise that "millions" of asteroids potentially threaten our cities. "The vast majority of these objects have essentially zero chance of impacting our planet within our lifetime," he explains, "and if one were to impact, there is only about a 3% chance that it would impact over a populated area."

"The most likely effect would be a spectacular light show that nobody sees, and a few meteorites that get dropped into the ocean," Christensen adds. He sees the B612 Foundation as one of the driving forces behind Asteroid Day. Established by former astronauts Ed Lu and Rusty Schweickart, this organization is trying to raise funds to build and launch a space-based infrared survey telescope to search for NEOs. "The B612 foundation has provided a steady stream of fear-based press releases over the last few years in order to scare up funding for their project," says Christensen. This tone is also found in Asteroid Day's declaration, he adds. "It is full of language that turns asteroids into menacing killers, injecting an inordinate amount of fear into what could be a reasoned discussion about the asteroid-impact threat."

Timothy Spahr, former director of the IAU's Minor Planet Center, concurs: "Much of the B612 Foundation commentary on smaller objects is fear-mongering. Yet its proposed Sentinel space-based telescope, Spahr notes, is designed to discover larger objects - not the 30- to 50-m "city killers" that are being spotlighted. "In my opinion there is no need for an Asteroid Day," Spahr states flatly, "and if there is to be an Asteroid Day, then including other scientists such as experts in the NEO field would make sense."

Signatories of the 100X Declaration disagree, of course. Schweickart disputes that the initiative is just a fundraising stunt for Sentinel: "Asteroid Day does not propose any particular system or project. It is an event to help educate the general public about the asteroid impact threat that recognizes the current low rate of asteroid discovery and calls for a significant acceleration."

The actual risk of a small asteroid hitting a city might be small, but investing in asteroid research is like investing in car insurance, Schweickart explains: you might never need it, but you probably would not take the risk and do nothing. "And this 'insurance' can preclude the accident itself, not just mitigate the cost of it should it occur," he says.

Thanks to NASA's Spaceguard search effort, started in the 1990s, we know the orbits of 95% of all NEOs at least 1 km across. Not one of them is on collision course with Earth - for now there's no danger of a mass-extinction event. But our knowledge of the smaller ones is still fragmentary, a fact beyond dispute among experts. And even small ones locally can cause severe harm.

Had the space rock that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 2014 been a little larger than 20 m, instead of 1,500 injured there might easily have been thousands of fatalities, says Alan Harris, coordinator of the NEOShield project financed by the European Union. "If we want to take the risk, then we can sit back and just carry on as most of the NEOs will eventually be discovered by ongoing search programs, but the smaller you go, the longer it takes."

For Chelybinsk-type objects, at the present rate and with present telescopes Harris estimates it will take probably hundreds of years. "Pay less, wait longer, is an option", Harris says. "Pay more" would mean spending a lot more, however. Spahr estimates that to meet the 100× goal within 10 years, the goal of Asteroid Day's proponents, billions of extra dollars would be needed. As part of the existing, "pay less" approach, astronomers are building the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile. When it begins observations, perhaps by 2019, LSST is expected to provide a sharp jump in NEO discoveries - but maybe not to the extent Asteroid Day proposes.

The 100× goal might be unrealistic or economically unsound, as some critics argue. But it wouldn't hurt to do a little more, says Harris, who has not signed the declaration: "Worldwide we are currently looking at probably $50 or $60 million a year [spent on the NEO threat], which, let's face it, is really a trivially small amount of money for a worldwide effort." More should be spent on follow-up and characterization studies of known asteroids, he says, useful details were one of them come too close.

Ed Beshore, principal investigator of the OSIRIS-REx, NASA's forthcoming asteroid sample-return mission, recommends focusing on intermediate-size asteroids, those massive enough to do considerably more damage than the Barringer-size objects that could wipe out a single city. "Concerning the estimates of the consequences of such small objects impacting the Earth, I think the risk to lives may be overstated," says Beshore. "But I fully support the search for larger objects of a couple of hundred meters and larger, because the consequences of those impacts are very large, even if the likelihood is low." There is no doubt that asteroids pose a threat for our planet, he affirms. But dramatization does not help: "At the risk of being ignored, science must work very hard to paint an accurate picture of the risks that mankind faces."

For a quick snapshot of the current known threats from potentially hazardous asteroids, check out the risk pages maintained by NASA's NEO office and by the University of Pisa's NEODyS-2 effort. http://neo.jpl.nasa.gov/risk/ http://newton.dm.unipi.it/neodys/index.php?pc=4.1

See Jan Hattenbach's full article with pictures and diagrams at: http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/do-we-need-asteroid-day-062620151/?et_mid=763537&rid=246399573#sthash.8DtFZ6sk.dpuf

9. Astro-Converted Camera for Sale

Astro-converted Canon camera, 5D Mk III. It has a visible-H-alpha filter, heat reduction system by Spencers Camera & Photo USA, extra battery, 240 volt mains supply, T-adapters 2 inch, battery charger. Frame count 1957. Price $3,200 plus p&p. If interested please contact Peter Aldous: phone 03-6937337; email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

10. How to Join the RASNZ

RASNZ membership is open to all individuals with an interest in astronomy in New Zealand. Information about the society and its objects can be found at http://rasnz.org.nz/rasnz/membership-benefits A membership form can be either obtained from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by completing the online application form found at http://rasnz.org.nz/rasnz/membership-application Basic membership for the 2015 year starts at $40 for an ordinary member, which includes an electronic subscription to our journal 'Southern Stars'.

11. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

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

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

12. 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. Applications are now invited for grants from the Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund. The application should reach the Secretary by 1 May 2015. There will be a secondary round of applications later in the year. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

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

13. Quote

"I honestly think it is better to be failure at something you love than be a success at something you hate." -- George Burns.

"The unreal is more powerful than the real, because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it, because it's only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles, wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on." -- Chuck Palahniuk.

"Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer." -- Dave Barry

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817
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

June 2015

Log in or become an RASNZ member to access this Southern Stars issue.

My Father Dr Frank Bateson, and Mt John
Audrey Walsh
In this paper I give you some ‘non astronomical’ insights to the work and life of my father, Dr Frank Bateson, leading to the establishment of our now internationally recognised Mt John Observatory
Volume 54, number 2. June 2015. p3


Recent Successful Asteroidal Occultations in our Region in the Past Year
John Talbot
A selection of interesting minor planet occultation results observed from Australia and New Zealand during 2014 is presented. A TTOS9 and 2015 RASNZ conference paper.
Volume 54, number 2. June 2015. p7


Brian Loader - FRASNZ
At the Annual General Meeting of the RASNZ held on 9th May 2015, during the annual conference at Tekapo, Brian Loader was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand. Brian has held several offices of the society and is a long term, active member of the Occultation Section. The citation accompanying his appointment as Fellow is below.
Volume 54, number 2. June 2015. p10


Book Review - Features of the Near Side Moon
Maurice Collins
Volume 54, number 2. June 2015. p12


Thomas Richards - Honorary Member
At the RASNZ AGM held on 9th May 2015, during the annual conference at Tekapo, Tom Richards was elected as an Honorary Member of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand. The citation accompanying his appointment as Honorary Member is below.
Volume 54, number 2. June 2015. p13


Book Review - Mt John: the First 50 Years
R W Evans
Volume 54, number 2. June 2015. p14


Students With a Passion for Astronomy
John Hearnshaw
For some time it has been clear, to me at least, that not only does our Society need to increase its overall membership, but also more young astronomers need to be recruited to our ranks. Younger members bring enthusiasm and vitality to the Society’s activities. I also believe that the enjoyment and benefit any participant at a RASNZ conference gains from attending goes something like the square of the number of people.
Volume 54, number 2. June 2015. p15


Murray Geddes Prize - Graeme Kershaw
At the RASNZ conference banquet held on 9th May 2015, during the annual conference at Tekapo, Graeme Kershaw was awarded the 2015 Murray Geddes Prize.
Volume 54, number 2. June 2015. p18


Prepointing for Occultations
John Talbot
Prepoint: verb. - to point a telescope at a point in the sky where an event is predicted to occur at some time in the future. A technique that is particularly suited to observing with mounts that are not perfectly aligned or do not have accurate pointing or tracking ability (eg Dobsonian, mobile observation). It helps to have a driven RA axis.
Volume 54, number 2. June 2015. p20


Aurora Australis Public Events
Steve Butler
Take one global idea; the International Year of Light 2015, and mix it with local passion, a Facebook group of aurora watchers, and you have an idea that grew beyond expectation.
Volume 54, number 2. June 2015. p22

RASNZ Electronic Newsletter June 2015

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. The latest issue is below.

Email Newsletter Number 174

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.


1. Graeme Murray MNZM
2. Murray Geddes Prize to Graeme Kershaw
3. Asteroid Day - June 30
4. The Solar System in July
5. Study of Eclipsing Binaries
6. Reports from Gerry Gilmore's Lecture Tour
7. Galaxy Mergers Fuel Quasars
8. Philae Phones Home
9. International Astro Photo Winners
10. IAU Outreach Newsletter
11. Did the K-T Impact Re-ignite Massive Volcanism?
12. How to Join the RASNZ
13. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
14. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

1. Graeme Murray MNZM

The Queen's Birthday Honours for 2015 included the Membership of the NZ Order of Merit (MNZM) to Graeme Douglas Murray of Lake Tekapo for services to tourism. In 2004 Graeme, along with Hide Ozawa, established Earth & Sky Ltd. The company runs night-time astronomy tours on Mt John where clients are shown the naked-eye night sky and can look through a variety of telescopes. The company also has an observatory east of Lake Tekapo village at Cowans Hill.

Earth and Sky's Astrocafé on Mt John is now a fixture on the daytime tourist map. Together, these ventures have greatly increased tourism in the Mackenzie region. The astro-tourism has shown locals that dark skies can bring many commercial opportunities. In 2013 Earth & Sky won the Champion Canterbury Business Award for a Large Tourism Enterprise. Also the following year it was one of three finalists in this category.

As well as investing much in Earth & Sky, Graeme has also been active in promoting the protection of the night sky. In 2007 Graeme and his wife Carolyn attended the Starlight Conference in La Palma, Canary Islands, where an international legal framework for protecting dark sky regions was discussed and UNESCO's Starlight Declaration was issued.

Graeme has long been associated with tourism in the Mackenzie generally, chairing the region's tourism promotion board, and being a principal in Lake Tekapo's Air Safaris for many years before he launched Earth & Sky.

2. Murray Geddes Prize to Graeme Kershaw

At the RASNZ's 2015 Conference at Lake Tekapo, the Murray Geddes Memorial Prize was awarded to Graeme Kershaw. The citation for Graham's award follows. -----

Graeme Kershaw has made extensive contributions to New Zealand astronomy over nearly 50 years in his role as Technician - Mechanical Workshop for the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Canterbury. Graeme´s commitment and passion for his work has contributed to the achievements of many professional research astronomers and their projects.

Mt John University Observatory and others have benefitted from Graeme´s design and manufacturing skills. He built Canterbury´s Cassegrain échelle spectrograph in the mid-1970s, using Harvard-Smithsonian designs. It was the first astronomical spectrograph in NZ. Graeme was the mechanical designer of the 1-metre McLellan telescope at Mt John University Observatory contributing to the telescope´s mechanical structure, and assisting with the design and fabrication of many other aspects of the telescope. This telescope was the largest in the country and built entirely within New Zealand and greatly increased the range and importance of the research projects that could be undertaken at Mt John.

Graeme has continued to perfect the 1-metre. Several years ago he rebuilt the hour-angle encoding system. About three years ago he installed a completely new mirror cell on the 1-metre. This has noticeably improved the seeing, presumably by reducing the warm air layer around the mirror.

He was also responsible for the mechanical construction of the Hercules (High Efficiency and Resolution Canterbury University Large Echelle Spectrograph). Other instruments he designed and built were the CCD photometer head and the medium-resolution spectrograph.

His skills in mechanical design, assembly and testing were called on for the Critical Design Review and Recommendations for the South African Large Telescope (SALT) High resolution Spectrograph. Graeme has also been involved with maintenance of Christchurch´s Townsend telescope for nearly as long as he has worked for Canterbury University. This includes a restoration of the telescope in the 1970´s. The historic telescope, a 6-inch refractor made by Thomas Cooke and Sons of York, England in 1864, was recovered from the rubble of the Christchurch Arts Centre tower which collapsed on February 22, 2011 in the most damaging of the Christchurch earthquakes. Following the tower's collapse, Graeme has looked after the telescope remains that had been retrieved by the Arts Centre staff and is closely involved in a restoration project to rebuild the Townsend Telescope and restore it to the Arts Centre.

He was a strong supporter of the telescope restoration project with a mission to raise $100,000 for the telescope´s restoration. Another historic Christchurch telescope, the Tripp Telescope belonging to Christ's College, was also damaged in the September 2010 earthquake. The College contacted Graeme in 2014 to assess, repair and upgrade the telescope.

He has now fully restored the tube, the mount, including repairs to damaged parts, and has designed, manufactured and fitted a drive motor assembly. The telescope is due for return to Christ´s College early in 2015.

Graeme´s work has received recognition over the years with acknowledgements in a number of papers and articles.

3. Asteroid Day - June 30

Asteroid Day, a global day of education and awareness about asteroids, is being held on June 30, the anniversary of the largest asteroid impact on Earth in recent history, the 1908 Siberian Tunguska asteroid Impact.

A full listing of Asteroid Day events can be found on the AsteroidDay.org website, including activities for the two premiere events in London and San Francisco. The film "51 Degrees North," about a futuristic asteroid impact and its human ramifications, will premiere at London´s Science Museum IMAX Theatre. At the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, the B612 Foundation and CalAcademy are hosting a full day of activities dedicated to education about asteroids. Regional events have been locally organized in many countries. Live webcasts from San Francisco, London and other locations will also be available online throughout the day at AsteroidDay.org.

Last December, astrophysicist Dr Brian May joined Lord Martin Rees, UK Astronomer Royal, Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and Astronauts Rusty Schweickart, Ed Lu, and Tom Jones to announce Asteroid Day and the 100x Declaration. It calls for a 100-fold increase in the detection and monitoring of asteroids. Lord Rees read the declaration, which resolves to "solve humanity´s greatest challenges to safeguard our families and quality of life on Earth in the future." Signed by more than 100 highly respected scientists, physicists, entertainment and business leaders, and Nobel Laureates from 30 countries, the 100x Declaration will be available for public signature beginning in June at AsteroidDay.org. For a full listing of signatories, see http://www.asteroidday.org/signatories-list

The panel notes that the current rate of discovery of 20-meter NEOs and larger is about 1,000/year. At that rate it will take more than 1,000 years to find one million NEOs that potentially threaten Earth. Even then we´d have found only 10% or so of the Chelyabinsk-size objects that potentially threaten impact. The panel is calling for an increasing our asteroid discovery rate to 100,000 (or 100x) per year within the next 10 years.

Additional information on Asteroid Day, the 100x Asteroid Declaration, as well as photos and video and live webcasts are available at http://www.asteroidday.org and http://change.org

-- From a B612 Foundation press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

While on the subject of asteroids, there is a release of a Ceres video from the Dawn spacecraft at http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4614

See also Item 11.

4. The Solar System in July

Dates and times are NZST (UT + 12 hours) unless otherwise specified. Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

The Earth is at aphelion on July 7 at about 4 am. It will then be 1.0167 AU, 152 million km from the Sun.

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in july

                    July  1  NZST                July 30  NZST
                 morning     evening            morning  evening
             rise: 7.45am,  set: 5.04pm     rise: 7.28am, set:  5.26pm
 Civil:    starts: 7.16am, ends: 5.33pm   starts: 7.01am, ends: 5.54pm
 Nautical: starts: 6.42am, ends: 6.08pm   starts: 6.28am, ends: 6.27pm 
 Astro:    starts: 6.08am, ends: 6.41pm   starts: 5.55am, ends: 7.00pm

July PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)

  Full moon:     July  2 at  2.20 pm (02:20 UT)
  Last quarter:  July  9 at  8.24 am (June  8, 20:24 UT)
  New moon:      July 16 at  1.24 pm (01:24 UT)
  First quarter: July 24 at  4.04 pm (04:04 UT) 
  Full moon:     July 31 at 10.43 pm (10:43 UT)

The planets in july

Venus and Jupiter will be a spectacular pair the first few evenings of July, closest on the 1st, gradually separating during the rest of the month. Mercury may be briefly visible in the morning before sunrise early in July, and possibly just visible in the evening at the end of July.

Saturn is easily visible all evening, setting well after midnight. Mars remain too close to the Sun for observation.

MERCURY may be briefly visible in the morning sky shortly before sunrise early in the month. On the morning of the 1st, 45 minutes before sunrise the planet will a low 8° above the horizon in a direction a little east of northeast. The planet's magnitude will be - 0.1. A week later Mercury will be half a magnitude brighter, but less than 5° up at the same time.

The planet closes in on the Sun until it is at superior conjunction on the morning of July 24. At conjunction its angular distance from the Sun as seen from the Earth will be about 1.5°. It will actually be 200 million km from the Earth, 48 million km beyond the Sun.

After conjunction Mercury will become an evening object. By the end of July it will set just over half an hour after the Sun. On the 31st the planet will be very low almost directly below Venus. Its magnitude will be -1.2, but it is not likely to be visible in the bright twilit sky.

Mercury starts July in Taurus, it enters Gemini on the 9th and moves on into Cancer on the 23rd.

VENUS and JUPITER start July as a close pair just under 20 arc-minutes apart (two-thirds the diameter of the full moon) on the 1st. Venus will, of course, be much brighter than Jupiter. The spectacular conjunction is likely to be a little subdued due to the full moon but the latter will be on the opposite side of the evening sky to the pair of planets.

Both planets spend the month in Leo. In the evenings following their conjunction Jupiter will rapidly fall behind and get lower than Venus. At first Venus will look to be moving towards Regulus but will turn away from the star, being stationary on the 23rd. Jupiter will move much more slowly but steadily towards the star. It will be August before they are at their closest.

On the July 18 the moon as a very thin crescent will be just over 6° to the left of and slightly lower than Jupiter. The following evening will find the moon close to Venus with the two about 1.6° apart. Regulus will be about 3° from them.

On the 19th the moon will occult Venus, an event visible in daylight from Queensland. The path of the occultation passes to the north of New Zealand.

MARS will be a nominal morning object during July. On the 1st it rises only 6 minutes before the Sun. So the planet will be far too close to the Sun to see. Things are little better at the end of July. Mars will then rise about 45 minutes before the Sun, but be so low in the morning twilight that at magnitude 1.7 it will not be visible.

SATURN will be well placed in the evening sky throughout July. It will be moving slowly to the west in Libra, not moving very close to any bright stars. It is joined by the 71% lit, gibbous moon on the 26th. The latter will be about 2.5° to the lower right of Saturn mid evening.

Saturn's north pole will be tilted 24° towards the Earth so that the ring system is well open for viewing.

Titan, Saturn's largest moon, at magnitude 8.6, should be visible as a faint object in binoculars given a dark sky. It is best observed when Titan is at is greatest distance from Saturn, about 3 arc-minutes. Its greatest elongations to the east (left) of the planet are on the July 3 and 18, to the west (right) of Saturn on July 11 and 26. On the first and last dates moonlight may make Titan difficult to see in binoculars. July 3 is only a day beyond full moon, on the 26th our moon is close to Saturn.

Outer planets

URANUS is in Pisces all July. It rises shortly after midnight on the 1st and some 90 minutes before midnight of the 31st. At magnitude 5.8 it is readily seen in binoculars. The planet is stationary on the morning of July 27 after which it will start moving in a retrograde sense to the west.

NEPTUNE rises just before 10 pm on July 1 with its rise time advancing to just before 8 pm on the 31st. The planet remains in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9 to 7.8, so is quite easily seen in binoculars.

PLUTO is in Sagittarius all July and at opposition on the 6th. It will then be nearly 32 astronomical units from the Earth and near 33 from the Sun with a magnitude 14.3.

BRIGHTER ASTEROIDS: (1) Ceres is in Microscopium much of July, but moves into Sagittarius in the 25th. It rises an hour and a half after sunset on the 1st and nearly as much before sunset on the 31st. It does not pass close to any bright stars during the month. The asteroid is at opposition on July 25 and brightens to magnitude 7.5 for a few nights near that date.

(4) Vesta is essentially a morning object in Cetus throughout July. It rises just after midnight on the 1st and at 10.30 on the 31st. Its magnitude brightens from 7.6 to 7.2 during the month.

(15) Eunomia starts July on the border of Pegasus and Pisces at magnitude 9.7. The asteroid rises half an hour after midnight on the 1st and at 11.15pm on the 31st.It is in Pisces for the rest of the month within a few degrees of the magnitude 2.8 star gamma Peg. At their closest on the 14 the two are 1.5° apart. By July 31 Eunomia will have brightened to magnitude 9.1

-- Brian Loader

5. Study of Eclipsing Binaries

Variable Stars South has been working on a project to measure the light elements of southern eclipsing binary (EB) stars. The work has been undertaken by a large number of observers using CCD or DSLR equipment and a number of analysts. The results for 78 stars have been published by lead author Margaret Streamer in JAAVSO 43 (1) 2015, the current issue of which has now become available.

Visit the main JAAVSO site http://www.aavso.org/apps/jaavso/ and look well down the list under the heading Variable Star Data. The paper is in pdf format, available for download.

Abstract: Revised Light Elements of 78 Southern Eclipsing Binary Systems JAAVSO 43 (1) (2015) Since 2011, members of Variable Stars South have undertaken intensive time series observations and analysis of eclipsing binary systems, most of which are south of declination -40°. Many of them have not been observed in detail since their discovery 50 to 80 years ago. New or revised light elements are presented here for 60 systems and revised O-C values for a further 18 systems. A pulsating component has been discovered in four of the binary systems: RZ Mic, V632 Sco, V638 Sco, and LT Her.

Author List: Margaret Streamer, Jeff Byron, David J. W. Moriarty, Tom Richards, Bill Allen, Roy Axelsen, Col Bembrick Mark Blackford ,Terry Bohlsen, David Herald, Roland Idaczyk, Stephen Kerr, Ranald McIntosh, Yenal Ogmen, Jonathan Powles, Peter Starr, George Stockham.

-- Alan Baldwin

6. Reports from Gerry Gilmore's Lecture Tour

The Beatrice Hill Tinsley lecture series by Professor Gerry Gilmore of Cambridge University was very successful. Edited reports from the involved centres follow. -------

Auckland The Auckland Astronomical Society hosted the talk at the University of Auckland and co-promoted with the Physics department. We had an audience of 225 to 250 people. A mixture of society members, student and general public. We also had people come from Whangarei (Northland Astronomical Society) and the Waikato Astronomical Society. The talk went down very well with the audience and the speaker pitched it at the right level. I also had good feedback from Gerry Gilmore that he enjoyed his visit to Auckland.

Nelson We had a full house; about 110 people: we had to send out for extra chairs. People's expectations were very high for the talk, and were exceeded. Professor Gilmore spoke really well, and kept everyone engaged. The audience had plenty of questions for the speaker afterwards. Clearly they were interested in the topic. We had a good mix of people and ages. Nelson has plenty of people who are interested in science, and I get the impression that there is more demand than supply.

Whanganui The midweek lecture in the Davis Lecture Theatre of the Whanganui Regional Museum attracted an audience 52, with two from the Palmerston North Astronomical Society. Professor Gilmore's lecture covered some of the differences in method that astronomy has from other scientific fields, the state of our knowledge now, where we are likely to progress our understanding of the Universe, and touched on the possible limits of Cosmological understanding for humans. Gerry's presentation was very well received by a scientifically-oriented and rational audience with plenty of sensible questions to follow, and we got a quick rundown on Gaia as well.

>From one of the audience: "Professor Gilmore gave a galloping, humorous, informative and fascinating talk. I don't know how he managed to pull all that scope and history together but he managed it brilliantly. The talk was somehow deep and beautifully simple at the same time. You could sense that underneath the overview for laypeople was some awfully complicated physics."

Coffee at the Ward Observatory after the lecture for about half of the attendees gave an opportunity to chat, and also for Gerry to mentor an interested senior secondary student.

We would like to thank the RASNZ Lecture Trust for the opportunity to host a lecture from such an eminent astronomer and gifted communicator.

Gisborne The Gisborne Astronomical Society, ran a very successful public lecture whereby Professor Gerry Gilmore spoke to us about, "Astronomy, Cosmology and the Big Questions in Nature". About 220 people packed the Lawson Field Theatre. Gerry´s talk was very well received and copious questions covering a diverse range of topics followed - lasting about 45 minutes. The meeting began at 7:00pm and concluded at 9:00pm. Many people personally thanked Gerry for an excellent presentation afterwards.

Wellington The turnout was a little disappointing due to the 100-year storm the previous day. It took out all public transport and many roads were under water and impassable. This put many people off attending the lecture. Nevertheless we ended up with 70 people.

The Chairman of the RASNZ Lecture Trust Glen Rowe introduced Gerry but first he gave a very good introduction of the Beatrice Hill Tinsley lectures and how it came about.

Gerry's talk was the same as that he presented at the RASNZ conference at Lake Tekapo but went on much longer and there was a lot of feedback.

Glen also did the final thank you on behalf of the Trust and presented Gerry with a gift. Marilyn Head gave a special thank you on behalf of the Wellington Astronomical Society.

-- From a report by Bob Evans, Treasurer, RASNZ Lecture Trust Inc.

7. Galaxy Mergers Fuel Quasars

Using the Hubble Space Telescope´s infrared vision, astronomers have unveiled some of the previously hidden origins of quasars, the brightest objects in the universe. A new study finds that quasars are born when galaxies crash into each other and fuel supermassive, central black holes.

"The Hubble images confirm that the most luminous quasars in the universe result from violent mergers between galaxies, which fuels black hole growth and transforms the host galaxies," said C. Megan Urry, the Israel Munson Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Yale University, and co-author of the study published online June 18 in The Astrophysical Journal.

Quasars emit a light as bright as that of one trillion stars. Over the past two decades, researchers have concluded that the energy for quasars comes from supermassive black holes inside the cores of distant galaxies.

But where do the supermassive black holes get their fuel? It had been theorized previously that such energy could come from the merger of two galaxies. The new study confirms it by using Hubble´s sensitivity at near-infrared wavelengths of light to see past the intense glow of the quasar, to the host galaxies themselves.

The Hubble observations show that the peak of quasar activity in the early universe was driven by galaxies colliding and then merging together. Those studied were "dust reddened quasars" found in several ground-based infrared and radio sky surveys. These quasars are enveloped in dust, dimming their visible light.

Eilat Glikman of Middlebury College in Vermont, lead author of the study, used Hubble´s Wide Field Camera 3 to look at 11 such quasars from the peak of the universe´s star-formation era, 12 billion years ago. "The new images capture the dust-clearing transitional phase of the merger-driven black hole scenario," Glikman said. "The Hubble images are both beautiful and descriptive."

For text and images see http://news.yale.edu/2015/06/18/galactic-crashes-fuel-quasars-study-finds

8. Philae Phones Home

After seven months of electronic hibernation, Philae has awakened on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and resumed relaying its data to Earth.

When scientists at the European Space Agency last heard from Philae, early on November 15th, the washing-machine-size lander had survived an unexpectedly rough-and-tumble arrival on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and managed to relay a substantial amount of data to Earth before exhausting its onboard batteries. The transmissions ended sooner than expected, after only 57 hours, because Philae had wedged itself in a heavily shadowed location that offered little direct sunlight to recharge its batteries.

Ever optimistic, ESA's engineering and science teams never stopped believing that the comet's changing solar geometry would eventually provide enough sunlight to bring the lander out of its electronic hibernation. That's now happened, as a joyful ESA press release announced on June 14. About 85 seconds of telemetry had reached Earth late yesterday, relayed via the comet-orbiting mother ship Rosetta.

Philae appears to be in good shape despite seven months of inactivity, reporting that its internal temperature is -35ºC and that it has 24 watts of electricity available. Apparently the lander revived sometime before yesterday as some historical data was also received.

ESA engineers are awaiting further transmissions from the lander, which can only occur when Rosetta is within view. So far 300 packets of data have been received, but more than 8,000 data packets are stored in Philae´s mass memory. Those data should reveal details about the comet's activity over the past few days.

Ever since it fell silent, efforts to figure out exactly where Philae landed on the comet's very irregularly shaped nucleus. Using visual and radio tracking after the landing last year, combined with a radio beacon from the CONSERT radar experiment aboard Philae, searchers had recently narrowed the possible landing sites to a few areas. Close-ups taken after the landing in mid-December even revealed a tantalizing bright spot that, perhaps, revealed Philae amid a rubble field. Presumably, now that it's transmitting again, a firm location can be quickly established.

More importantly, a healthy Philae can potentially add important ground-zero measurements as the nucleus of Comet 67P becomes more active en route to its perihelion on August 10th.

-- By Kelley Beatty of Sky & Telescope Magazine, June 14. See the original article at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/spacecraft-and-space-missions/comet-lander-philae-phones-home/?et_mid=761616&rid=246399573

9. International Astro Photo Winners

For a superb collection of night sky photos with interesting scenery see the 2015 International Earth & Sky Photo Contest Winners at http://twanight.org/newTWAN/news.asp?newsID=6101

-- Pointed out by Jennie McCormick.

10. IAU Outreach Newsletter

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) Office for Astronomy Outreach has released its Newsletter 2015 #7. It can be seen online at http://www.iau.org/public/publications/newsletter/2015_07/

The editorial notes that light pollution is one of the major focus areas for the International Year of Light. A conference in Quebec "Artificial Light at Night" discussed topics such as finding solutions to the problem of blue-rich LEDs by using amber LEDs and PC-amber LEDs. Recent progress in setting up international dark sky parks and reserves was demonstrated to participants during a visit to a state-of-the-art dark sky park.

Some of theNewsletter's topics are:

CosmicLight IYL2015: Support "Measuring the Speed of Light" Citizen Science Project. This project aims to combine multiple observations with small telescopes around the world to recreate Roemer's famous measurement of the speed of light. See http://speedoflight2015.co.uk/

UNAWE Universe in a Box Honoured with Best Science Education Resource Award. Universe in a Box is the low-cost, inquiry-based astronomy education resource of Universe Awareness (UNAWE). On 22 May, Universe in a Box was awarded the Scientix Resources Award for "STEM Teaching Material Addressed to Teachers".See http://www.unawe.org/updates/unawe-update-1534/

Planetary maps for children. This project features a series of detailed, hand-drawn lunar and planetary maps created for children. The six Solar System bodies mapped by planetary scientists and graphic artists are now available in 11 different languages. These maps are developed according to the latest data from space probes and supported by a website where the user can find background information. Details: https://childrensmaps.wordpress.com/

Night-sky measurement with a digital camera: Campaign Observation 2015. This campaign of night-sky brightness observation with a digital camera, by the Japanese astronomy group Hoshizora Kodan, will start this [northern] summer. This campaign aims to make a night-sky brightness map of East Asia, and anyone who has a digital camera can join. You can find details on capturing images and uploading your data in a "4 Steps for Measurement" guide outlined at http://dcdock.kodan.jp/?lang=en

astroEPO Shorts. astroEPO Shorts is a series of weekly selected news from the astroEDU team. All topic are related to astronomy communication and astronomy education. astroEDU is a platform that allows educators to discover, review, distribute, improve and remix astronomy education activities and offers a free peer-review service by professionals in education and science. See https://medium.com/@iauastroedu

-- From the IAU Office for Astronomy Outreach, forwarded by Karen Pollard.

11. Did the K-T Impact Re-ignite Massive Volcanism?

It has long been known that some mass extinction in the geological record are associated with episodes of prolonged volcanic activity. These happen when plumes of hot rock rise through Earth´s mantle and generate huge lava flows, called flood basalts, like the Deccan Traps in India.

Since the 1980s it has been established that the asteroid impact that made the Chicxulub crater off the Yucatán coast of Mexico also wiped out the dinosaurs and around 90% of other species. This is known as the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) mass extinction. Muddying this hypothesis, though, has been the improbable coincidence of the impact with the vast and prolonged volcanic activity that made the Deccan Traps in India.

One proposal was that seismic energy from the Chicxulub impact was focused on the opposite side of the Earth and caused the volcanism. This theory was abandoned after continental drift calculations showed that the Deccan Traps were 5000 km from the antipodal point of the impact.

Recent work by a group at the University of California Berkeley suggests a solution. They confirm that the Deccan volcanism was occurring well before the impact. However, their field work has determined that the volcanism had stopped some time before the impact. It was re-ignited about 100,000 years after the impact when it produced most of the magma.

The coincidence of the new volcanism with the impact is highly improbable. To explain the connection the team suggest that the earthquake made by the impact -- around magnitude 9 globally! -- restarted the magma plume toward the surface. The Deccan lava flows erupted for several hundred thousand years after the re-ignition probably spewing immense amounts of carbon dioxide and other noxious, climate-modifying gases into the atmosphere. How much these worsened the mass-extinction is a matter of debate.

-- A summary of a long press release from the University of California Berkeley, forwarded by Karen Pollard. See the original and much more at http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2015/04/30/did-dinosaur-killing-asteroid-trigger-largest-lava-flows-on-earth/

12. How to Join the RASNZ

RASNZ membership is open to all individuals with an interest in astronomy in New Zealand. Information about the society and its objects can be found at http://rasnz.org.nz/rasnz/membership-benefits A membership form can be either obtained from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by completing the online application form found at http://rasnz.org.nz/rasnz/membership-application Basic membership for the 2015 year starts at $40 for an ordinary member, which includes an electronic subscription to our journal 'Southern Stars'.

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., R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

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. Applications are now invited for grants from the Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund. The application should reach the Secretary by 1 May 2015. There will be a secondary round of applications later in the year. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

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

15. Quote

"Can we actually `know´ the universe? My God, it´s hard enough finding your way around in Chinatown." - Woody Allen.

"Computers can figure out all kinds of problems, except the things in the world that just don't add up." - James Magary.

"To have doubted one's own first principles is the mark of a civilized man." - Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817
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 conference is annually hosted by an RASNZ Affiliated Society over a weekend in May or June. The conference generally features a RASNZ Fellows Lecture during the opening on the Friday night of the conference followed by a full day of presentations on Saturday, the conference dinner during Saturday evening, and a further day of presentations on Sunday.

RASNZ invites an international featured speaker to the conference. Other papers are presented by professional and amateur astronomers and astronomy students from around Australasia and often from further afield.

Often a symposium is held by one of the RASNZ sections or groups immediately preceding or following the conference.

The Affiliated Societies AGM is held in conjunction with the conference and the RASNZ Council takes to opportunity to hold a council meeting, split over two days - before and after the conference, face to face (during the rest of the year council business is conducted by email).

Affiliated Societies interested in hosting a conference should contact the Standing Conference Committee by email (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). The SCC provides guidance and and oversight of conference organisation by the Local Organising Committee formed by the hosting Affiliated Society. Societies considering hosting a RASNZ conference should download and read the SCC's Guide for Intending Host Societies .PDF document.

Click here for details of the next conference as they come to hand.


RASNZ Electronic Newsletter May 2015

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. The latest issue is below.

Email Newsletter Number 173

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.


1. Graham Loftus
2. Brian Loader Elected a Fellow of the RASNZ
3. Tom Richards Made Honorary Member
4. RASNZ Supports the International Year of Light
5. The Solar System in June
6. Mt John's 50th Anniversary Symposium
7. RASNZ Conference
8. Young Star Clusters at High Galactic Latitudes
9. Mercury Mission Ends

1. Graham Loftus

Graham Loftus died on Saturday May 16. Graham was famous among the older New Zealand astronomers. He had a great passion for astronomy, great abilities as a telescope mirror maker, and was an all-round nice bloke. Tributes and memories followed the news of Graham's passing.

Bob Evans first knew Graham when he lived in Christchurch and was an active member of the Canterbury Astronomical Society. Bob recalled: "My vision of his driving his one cylinder Lantz tractor through 3 or 4 metre high old-man gorse at the newly acquired West Melton observatory site has never left me. His demonstration of cratering on the Moon using plaster of Paris meteoroids at a CAS meeting is another memory. Then when Stefan Mochnacki and I visited Auckland in early January 1969 to bring Clive Rowe's photometer, it was Graham that put us up. Like his telescopes, he was bigger than life."

Rod Austin recalled Graham as "One of the truly great characters of NZ astronomy. I had quite a bit to do with him when the Taranaki Active Astronomers Group was up and running, and he wrote several articles for the newsletter. Also of course in the days of Tikorangi Observatory and later the Cape Egmont Observatory. He made the mirrors for their big telescopes."

Stephen Hovell recalled that he and Graham "... used to see a lot of each other in the late 60s before I moved away from Auckland. I remember cherry brandies with Grant Christie at 1am while looking through his monster 20-inch."

The Editor's favourite memory of Graham's gentle humour is a note he wrote about testing one of his monster telescopes. Graham compared his view of a galaxy with its photo in an astronomy book but commented that "the galaxy seemed to have been photographed from the other side." Printing photos back to front was a common error, particularly with astronomical pictures.

2. Brian Loader Elected a Fellow of the RASNZ

At the May 9 AGM Brian Loader was elected a Fellow of the RASNZ on the nomination of Bob Evans, John Hearnshaw and Alan Gilmore. The citation follows. ---------

Brian Loader moved to New Zealand from the United Kingdom in the 1970s. He taught mathematics at Marlborough College and then worked at the USNO´s Astrometric Station on Black Birch as a programmer from the mid- 1980s until it closed in the 1990s. Brian moved to Christchurch in the late 1980s after Pauline got an IT job there.

Brian joined RASNZ in 1980 and was elected onto the council in 1986, remaining in that position until 1992. He was then elected Treasurer, retaining this position until 2004. He became RASNZ President for 2004-06, Vice-President 2006-08 and then Secretary 2008-10. Brian served as Chairperson on the RASNZ Standing Conference Committee until 2014.

Brian was awarded the 2014 Homer F. DaBoll award by the International Occultation Timing Association (IOTA). The award is presented to an individual who has made a significant contribution to occultation science, or to the work of IOTA. The DaBoll award to Brian reads: "For Total and Grazing lunar occultations, the Jovian Satellite eclipse program, lunar double star co-ordination, publications, and nurturing new occultation observers worldwide."

Brian joined the RASNZ Occultation Section in 1980 and immediately adopted a prominent role as a prolific observer of total and grazing occultations. From 1980 to the present he has timed over 6000 lunar occultations (averaging 183 per year) making him one of the top observers worldwide. Between 1980 and the end of 2013 he also observed 83 positive minor planet occultations. (His tenacity is illustrated by the fact that it took him until 1989 to see his first positive event.)

Also in 1980 Brian instituted the Jovian Satellite Eclipse programme which he co-ordinated for more than 20 years. This programme provided data to Dr Jay Lieske at JPL for use in updating the ephemerides of the Galilean satellites, a result of direct benefit to the Galileo mission. Starting about 1985, Brian also instituted and co-ordinated observations of the mutual events of the Galilean satellites across multiple seasons. In more recent times he has initiated and continues to co-ordinate the double star programme for the determination of true separations and position angles from occultation observations made at different locations. Observers from around the globe contribute to this programme, which has resulted in a string of publications, including a number in the Journal of Double Star Observations.

Brian has acted as a regional co-ordinator and reducer for total occultations for many years, a role which has required him to interact with and provide advice to almost every new observer in this part of the world. Together with his wife Pauline, Brian has for many years prepared and published annual summaries of upcoming bright total and grazing occultations for all of Australasia. These have materially assisted in attracting new observers to these events.

Brian's role in nurturing observers worldwide is also significant, especially in the field of double star occultations. He has acted as a mentor for many new observers, and has frequently presented on occultation matters at RASNZ, NACAA and TTSO meetings over more than three decades. Brian has also been Assistant Director of the RASNZ Occultation Section for almost 30 years.

3. Tom Richards Made Honorary Member

At the RASNZ's AGM on Saturday, May 9, members approved a motion that Tom Richards be made an Honorary Member of the RASNZ. The citation by Stan Walker and Alan Baldwin follows. -----

We wish to propose Thomas Richards, MA Hons, VUW, DPhil, Oxon, recently retired Director of Variable Stars South, as an Honorary Member of this Society. His successful resurrection of the almost defunct Variable Star Section of The Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand in 2009, and the transformation of this into a thriving organisation with about 100 members, many engaged in serious observational and theoretical research, is an outstanding effort, deserving of high recognition. He has also arranged three symposia in conjunction with RASNZ Annual Conferences, initially at Tekapo in 2007, then VSSS2 at Wellington, 2009 and VSSS3 at Whakatane, 2014, which last event saw 33 participants from both Australia and New Zealand

In building up Variable Stars South he changed its approach by encouraging members to engage in projects with specific goals rather than just make observations to be stored in a database - often not to be used for decades. At this time there are five or six active groups, with other members making measures which are lodged directly with the AAVSO. Another success has been the development of a quarterly Newsletter, now edited by Phil Evans, which averages hundreds, occasionally thousands, of separate downloads each issue. Tom encouraged David O'Driscoll to develop this very informative and much consulted website which also contains many of the presentations at the Symposia, or at other venues such as the RASNZ Annual Conferences. Apart from this, members have published papers in refereed journals and collaborated with professional astronomers on specific projects, such as delta Scuti stars in eclipsing binaries or a major ongoing project involving QZ Carinae, a massive multiple star system.

Tom began his astronomical interest with solar observing at Wellington College Observatory and received the Murray Geddes prize in 1957. Around 1970, whilst lecturing at the University of Auckland, he set up a planetary group using the Edith Winstone Blackwell Telescope at Auckland Observatory. He also organised several highly successful grazing occultation expeditions and edited the AAS Newsletter. After accepting a position at La Trobe University in Melbourne he initially taught philosophy and, while there with his wife Lynn, he developed the Nvivo software that was the basis for the very successful QSR company QSR International. He became an Associate Professor in Computer Science.

Tom has retained his membership of our society through the years and in the last decade or so has presented papers at the Annual Conferences. He has been President of the Astronomical Society of Victoria and was a recipient of the Astronomical Society of Australia's Berenice Page Medal in 2006 for extensive and ongoing CCD photometry observations of light curves of variable stars and minor planets. Tom is now observing eclipsing binaries, mainly EWs and EBs but some EAs, analysing the data and updating the light elements of many of these. He has authored or been co-author of several refereed papers in this area.

4. RASNZ Supports the International Year of Light

The following press release has been circulated by the RASNZ. -----

The Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ) is pleased to announce its support for the International Year of Light and Light Based Technologies.

The New Zealand Committee for the IYL2015 programme have approved the RASNZ as a Designated Activity. Astronomy is included as one of the programme streams for the IYL2015, with the programme "Cosmic Light" containing a range of activities that RASNZ will support and promote.

Light is at the core of astronomical study. Through major scientific discoveries and technological advancements, light has helped us to see and better understand the universe. The object of the RASNZ is the promotion and extension of knowledge of astronomy and related branches of science. It encourages interest in astronomy, and is an association of observers and others for mutual help and advancement of science. The society includes 23 Affiliated Societies based in communities around New Zealand and has several special interest sections and groups.

Wasteful artificial light at night obscures the night sky so careful application of new lighting technologies is needed to protect the night sky and the night environment.

The RASNZ will celebrate the International Year of Light through sharing events and experiences with the public, inviting senior students to attend the RASNZ annual conference, and extending knowledge of the universe at every opportunity.

The RASNZ will also continue work to raise concerns about unintended side effects of outdoor lighting.

-- Thanks to Steve Butler of the RASNZ Dark Skies group for passing this along.

5. The Solar System in June

Dates and times are NZST (UT + 12 hours) unless otherwise specified. Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

The southern winter solstice is on the morning of June 22. The Sun will be furthest north at 4.38 am (June 21, 16:38 UT).

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in june

                               June  1  NZST                June 30  NZST
                   morning   evening          morning      evening
           rise:   7.33am, set:  5.03pm.    rise: 7.45am, set:  5.03pm
 Civil:    starts: 7.06am, ends: 5.31pm.  starts: 7.16am, ends: 5.32pm
 Nautical: starts: 6.31am, ends: 6.06pm.  starts: 6.42am, ends: 6.07pm 
 Astro:    starts: 5.58am, ends: 6.39pm.  starts: 6.08am, ends: 6.41pm

June PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)

          Full moon:     June  3 at  4.19 am (Jun  2, 16:19 UT)
  Last quarter:  June 10 at  3.42 am (Jun  9, 15:42 UT)
  New moon:      June 17 at  2.05 am (Jun 16, 14:05 UT)
  First quarter: June 24 at 11.03 pm (11:03 UT)

The planets in june

Mercury becomes visible in the dawn sky by the end of June. Venus gets a little higher in the evening sky and almost catches up with Jupiter at the end of the month. Saturn is easily visible all evening, setting well after midnight. Mars is at conjunction mid June so not visible this month.

Pluto will occult a magnitude 12.2 on the morning of June 30. The event is predicted to be visible from New Zealand.

MERCURY was at inferior conjunction at the end of May, following which it moves into the morning sky. It will remain too close to the Sun to see for much of the month, but will be briefly visible in the brightening dawn sky towards the end of June.

The planet is in Taurus all month, starting June some 3.5° from the brightest star, Aldebaran. The two will then be too close to the Sun to see. Mercury moves away and up from Aldebaran until becoming stationary on June 12. Following that Mercury reverses direction and moves towards the star, with the two closest on the morning of June 24, 2° apart. With a magnitude 0.6 the planet will be a shade brighter than the star. At beginning of nautical twilight at 6.40 am when the Sun will be 12° below the horizon, the two will be a low 8° up, 30° round from east. Aldebaran will be to the right of Mercury and slightly higher.

By June 30, Mercury will have moved further to be below Aldebaran, but will have brightened to magnitude 0.0. At 7am it will again be some 8° above the horizon, only a few degrees east of northeast. Aldebaran will be 6.5° above it. The end of June will give the best chance to catch a glimpse of Mercury at its apparition in the morning sky.

VENUS sets more than 3 hours after the Sun during the June, making it readily visible to the west after sunset. Half an hour after sunset will find Venus more than 20° up in a direction well north of west. It starts the month in Gemini, but from 3rd to the 24th will be crossing Cancer. During the last few days of the month it is in Leo, closing in on Jupiter. On the 30th the two will be just over half a degree apart. They are closer still on July 1.

The crescent moon joins the party on June 20 when it will be just over 5° from Venus and a little further from Jupiter.

MARS is at conjunction with the Sun mid June. At conjunction Mars will be 232 million km beyond the Sun and 384 million km from the Earth. Mars will be within 4° of the Sun throughout June, as seen from Earth, so much too close to the Sun to see.

JUPITER is an early evening object, setting about 10 pm on June 1 and a couple of minutes after Venus on the 30th. It moves from Cancer to Leo on June 1 ahead of Venus which almost catches up with Jupiter by the end of June.

The crescent moon is closest to Jupiter on the 21st when the two will be 5.5° apart. This is one evening after the moon's approach to Venus. By June 30 Venus and Jupiter will be a brilliant pair less than 1°.

Mutual events of jovian satellites

There are about 5 mutual events of Jupiter's Galilean satellites observable from NZ during June. One occurs when Jupiter is very low. Better placed ones are:

June 1, Europa occults Io, mid event ca 8.46pm, duration 3.7 min, altitude ca 12°, az 307°. June 4, Ganymede occults Io, mid event ca 7.17pm, duration 29.1 min, altitude ca 22°, az 324°. June 6, Io occults Europa, mid event ca 6.33pm, duration 5.6 min, altitude ca 26°, az 333°. June 22, Europa occults Ganymede, mid event ca 7.25pm, duration 4.9 min, altitude ca 15°, az 309°

This is almost the end of the current series of mutual events. Useful observations and timings of these events can be made by those set up for the video observation of minor planet occultations.

Users of Dave Herald's Occult program can generate their own predictions of these and other events. Hristo Pavlov's Occult Watcher programme will also list them and has diagrams showing the satellites relative to Jupiter. Details can also be found on the IMCCE web site, http://www.imcce.fr/phemu/ where predictions and requirements for observing and reporting information are available.

SATURN is visible all evening following its May 23 opposition. It doesn't set until several hours after midnight. The planet is in Libra moving slowly in a retrograde, westerly, sense as the Earth overtakes the planet.

The moon passes Saturn twice during the month. The first occasion is on June 1 when the 98% lit moon will be 5° from Saturn at midnight. The two will be only slightly further apart at 6 pm on the 2nd. The moon will pass Saturn again on June 29. Early evening the 91% lit moon will be a little under 4° below Saturn. They will be nearly 6° apart by midnight with the moon now to the upper right of Saturn due to the rotation of the sky.

Outer planets

URANUS is a morning object in Pisces rising more than 4 hours before the Sun on the 1st and rather over 6 hours before it on the 31st. The planet's magnitude is 5.9 to 5.8, so readily visible in binoculars.

NEPTUNE rises just before midnight on June 1 and two hours before on June 30. The planet remains in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9. It is stationary on June 12 after which is recommences its easterly motion.

PLUTO is in Sagittarius rising near 7.24 pm on the 1st and 2 hours earlier on the 30th about 24 minutes after sunset. Its magnitude will be 14.3. On the 30th Pluto will occult a 12.2 magnitude star at about 4.52am (June 29, 16:52 UT). The predicted path of the occultation is very promising for New Zealand. Video observations and light curves are wanted!

BRIGHTER ASTEROIDS: (1) Ceres is in Capricornus most of June, it moves into Microscopium on the last day of the month. It rises just before 9pm on the 1st and at 6.41 on the 30th. On June 22 Ceres will be 12', less than half the full moon's diameter from the 4.1 magnitude star omega Cap. The asteroid will be to the left of the star

(4) Vesta is a morning object in Pisces until June 21 when it crosses into Cetus. It brightens slightly during June from magnitude 7.9 to 7.6. Vesta rises at 1.18 am on June 1 and just after midnight on the 30th.

-- Brian Loader

6. Mt John's 50th Anniversary Symposium

Mt John University Observatory celebrated its fiftieth anniversary over May 6-8, Wednesday-Friday, when Canterbury University's Department of Physics & Astronomy held a symposium at Lake Tekapo to mark the event. Nearly 80 participants came from around the world, including UK, US, France, South Africa, Japan and Australia for the event.

The opening on Wednesday evening was held in the Godley Hotel, and Associate Professor Karen Pollard (Mt John director), Prof. Mike Reid (Physics and Astronomy HoD) and Prof. Wendy Lawson (UC PVC Science) made short speeches.

Former graduate students were encouraged to return for the event, and these included Dr David Buckley (MSc 1982) from Cape Town, Prof. Gerry Gilmore FRS (PhD 1979) from Cambridge, UK, Duncan Hall from Wellington (ME 1981), Dr Phillip MacQueen (PhD 1986) from Austin, Texas, Dr Jennifer McSaveney, Wellington, (PhD 2003) and Michael Snowden (MSc 1974). In addition, past graduate students from other universities who did their thesis work at Mt John also came, including Professors Ed Guinan and George Wolf (originally from the University of Pennsylvania in the late 1960s), Dr Yvette Perrott (originally from Auckland, now in Cambridge UK) and several more. The success of Mt John has certainly come in large part from the 175 graduate students who have written theses using Mt John data, 82 of them from the University of Canterbury and the remainder from other New Zealand universities or universities overseas.

Former Mt John or Canterbury staff members included Alan Thomas, Rod Austin, Alan Gilmore, Pam Kilmartin and Dr William Tobin (from France). The founder of Mt John was Frank Bateson, who passed away 8 years ago, but his daughter Audrey Walsh came from Wollongong, NSW, and gave an inspiring talk about her father's work to establish the observatory. Another distinguished visitor from Australia was Prof. Mike Bessell from Canberra, who wrote an influential report for MORST (as it then was) on New Zealand's need for a national observatory. He talked about his report at the symposium. We also had Dr Stella Kafka from Massachusetts, the new director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers (with whom Mt John has an active collaboration with the robotic telescope), and Prof. Yasushi Muraki, one of the founders of the MOA microlensing project from Nagoya university, Japan.

The whole event was a good opportunity for people with a former connection to Mt John to rekindle old friendships and to learn more about the past research undertaken at Mt John; it was a time for reminiscences and some predictions and advice for the future. The talks took place in six sessions over a day and a half - 28 talks in all - from the site-testing days to the present, on instrumentation, discoveries, the rigours of observing on long winter nights, how in 2004 we obtained a 1.8-m telescope for microlensing and the MOA project, thanks to our collaboration with Nagoya University and a $7.5M grant from the Japanese government (obtained by Professor Yasushi Muraki). Graeme Murray from Earth & Sky discussed how Mt John was opened up to astro-tourists just over a decade ago, with the result that the observatory is now a mecca for visitors from around the world, numbering some 120,000 each year.

On Thursday evening we retired to the Godley Hotel for a sumptuous banquet, where William Tobin gave an inspired and witty after-dinner speech, followed by a beautiful song by Bex Murray (daughter of Graeme of Earth & Sky).

On the Friday afternoon we had an open day on Mt John, and this allowed everyone to see the observatory and its four telescopes and a number of instruments, including Hercules. That evening was clear, and most participants returned to Mt John for some visual observing, led by Alan Gilmore and Pam Kilmartin on the McLellan and B&C telescopes. Overall, this was a very successful celebration of half a century of New Zealand's only professional observatory for optical astronomy. Whether we can celebrate another half century in 2065 remains to be seen; currently Mt John faces numerous challenges, and its staffing levels for both academic and technical staff are now the lowest at any time in its 50-year history, with the result that innovative new research projects have all but ground to a halt.

-- john hearnshaw.

Copied from the Physics & Astronomy Department Newsletter of 15 May. See the Newsletter with Symposium group photo at http://www.phys.canterbury.ac.nz/newsletter/2015/2015-05-15.pdf

7. RASNZ Conference

The RASNZ held its annual Conference in Lake Tekapo village over the weekend of May 8-10. There were around 120 registered participants, double the usual number. Attendance was boosted by many who had come from overseas for the Mt John 50th Anniversary celebrations and stayed on for the Conference, giving it added richness.

The Canterbury Astronomical Society was the host organisation. CAS's President Euan Mason welcomed attendees at the Opening Ceremony on the Friday evening.

RASNZ President John Hearnshaw noted the conjunction of the Conference with Mt John's 50th Anniversary. It is also important in that Lake Tekapo, and the Mackenzie Country generally, are internationally known for their dark and starry skies. The Aoraki-Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve covers some 4300 sq.km. of the northern half of the Mackenzie Country, including Twizel and the Mt Cook region. The AMIDSR was awarded the Gold Tier status by the International Dark Sky Association for its sky quality and the District Council's protections of the sky through its lighting ordinances. In 2013 a very successful Starlight Festival was held at Lake Tekapo. Another will be held at Twizel on October 9-11 this year.

Adding to the numbers attending were ten secondary school pupils and six Canterbury University 1st Year Astronomy students. Their attendance was supported by the RASNZ to attract more young people into the Society, there being concern that its membership is aging.

Mackenzie District Council Mayor Claire Barlow opened the conference. Claire noted that the MDC has had lighting ordinances in place in the Mackenzie since 1981. These have paid off with the rise of astro- tourism. Canterbury Tourism forecasts a 'tsunami' of visitors wanting to visit the Mackenzie and see the stars. (Lake Tekapo's Earth and Sky Ltd, the biggest astro-tourism company, employ forty people now and wonder how they will cope with the projected increase.)

Karen Pollard gave the Fellows Lecture "The Music of the Stars" outlining her journey to becoming an astronomer. Now an Associate Professor in Canterbury University's Department of Physics & Astronomy, Karen's interest began in childhood as a voracious reader. She loved maths and science and one Christmas was given a telescope that her folks had bought at a garage sale. Proneness to motion sickness scotched any ideas of becoming an astronaut. Among inspirations were the planetary photos from Voyager, Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos' TV series and Douglas Adams's 'The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy' particularly its 'Don't panic' advice. Karen got her PhD at Canterbury studying RV Tauri stars: large old pulsating stars in dusty environments. Karen has been involved with MACHO, MOA and OGLE microlensing projects in NZ and South Africa. Results included identifying RV Tauri stars and Type II Cepheids in the Large Cloud of Magellan in their databases. These programmes have also shown that planets are common around most stars. Karen's husband Michael Albrow provides mathematical modelling of pulsating stars. Karen and Michael had a year in the United States when Michael worked at the Space Telescope Science institute and Karen at Gettysburg College. The study of pulsating stars has led on to astro- seismology, the study of multi-mode vibrations in stars. Analysis of these vibrations gives much information about the stars' internal structure. This work earned a Marsden grant that was completed last year.

There followed on Saturday and Sunday many talks on a wide variety of topics. The Editor will try to summarise some of them, at least, in later Newsletters. As well there were a number of posters on mostly technical aspects of observing.

At the conclusion on Sunday afternoon Euan Mason thanked the organisers, most particularly John Hearnshaw and Orlon Peterson. John praised the Tekapo Catering Company for their excellent fare and service. He also thanked the international contributors Ed Guinan, Gerry Gilmore, Stella Kafka, David Buckley, Philip MacQueen and William Tobin for travelling long distances to attend, as well as the several Australians who attended.

Next year's Conference will at Napier's Holt Planetarium, 2016 May 13- 15. Garry Sparks announced that its theme will be astrobiology. Possible side trips are to the out-of-town observatory and to see the collection of Ian Axford's medals displayed at Napier Boys' High School. The Conference dinner theme will be the electromagnetic spectrum. And don't forget your dancing shoes, Garry advised.

8. Young Star Clusters at High Galactic Latitudes

Brazilian astronomers have made a remarkable discovery: clusters of stars forming on the very edge of the Galaxy. The team, led by Denilso Camargo of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul in Porto Alegre, Brazil, publish their results in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The Milky Way Galaxy that we live in has a barred spiral shape, with arms of stars, gas and dust winding out from a central bar. Viewed from the side, the Galaxy would appear relatively flat, with most of the material in a disc and the central regions.

Stars form inside massive and dense clumps of gas in so-called giant molecular clouds (GMCs) that are mainly located in the inner part of the galactic disc. With many clumps in a single GMC, most (if not all) stars are born together in clusters.

Denilso´s team looked at data from NASA´s orbiting Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) observatory. They not only found GMCs thousands of light years above and below the galactic disc, but that one of them unexpectedly contained two clusters of stars. This is the first time astronomers have found stars being born in such a remote location.

The clusters, designated Camargo 438 and 439, are within the molecular cloud HRK 81.4-77.8. This cloud is thought to be about 2 million years old and is around 16000 light years beneath the galactic disk, in the direction of the constellation of Cetus

Denilso believes there are two possible explanations. In the first case, the 'chimney model', violent events such as supernova explosions eject dust and gas out of the galactic disk. The material then falls back, in the process merging to form GMCs.

The other idea is that the interaction between our Galaxy and its satellites, the Magellanic Clouds, may have disturbed gas that falls into the Galaxy, again leading to the creation of GMCs and stars. The chimney model would need several hundred massive stars to have exploded as supernovae over several generations, creating a 'superwind' that threw HRK 81.4-77.8 into its present position. Over millions of years, the bubbles created by the explosions may then themselves compress material, forming more stars and fuelling the ejection of material in a 'galactic fountain', where the dust and gas eventually rains back on to the disk.

-- From a Royal Astronomical Society (U.K) press release. See the original with pictures at https://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/2592-astronomers-find-newborn-stars-at-the-edge-of-the-galaxy

9. Mercury Mission Ends

After four years at Mercury, NASA's Messenger orbiter finished its remarkable mission and crashed into the planet on April 30. The spacecraft has been operating on borrowed time for months. Its fuel tanks nearly empty after a decade of interplanetary manoeuvring, the spacecraft could only fire its engine so many times before the pull of Mercury's gravity - coupled with the Sun's perturbing pull - forced it to crash into the planet.

Messenger's initial polar orbit around Mercury ranged in altitude from just 200 km to about 15,000 km over 12 hours. Later the orbit was adjusted so the spacecraft passed even closer. It made 4,105 orbits around Mercury.

Launched in August 2004, Messenger first became acquainted with Mercury during three close flybys in 2008-09. (The spacecraft's name, by the way, is a contraction for Mercury Surface, Space Environment, Geochemistry, and Ranging.) Messenger finally settled into orbit around the planet on 18 March 2011 UT.

The nominal mission was to be only a year, but with the spacecraft still healthy NASA managers opted to continue the mission and, in March 2014, to lower the periapse (close point) of each orbit to less than 50 km. These mission extensions, particularly moving the spacecraft closer in, paid big dividends in terms of surface photography and geochemical assays. But it also meant more frequent thruster firings to keep the spacecraft from swooping too low and striking Mercury prematurely.

One of the mission's most unexpected results is that the rocks and dust on Mercury's surface contain very little iron. This is odd because Mercury has a huge, iron-dominated core that takes up three-fourths of the planet's diameter and half its volume. So geochemists expected that the planet's surface would contain an abundance of iron-rich minerals.

This finding has a bearing on another Mercurian mystery. The planet's surface is very dark, reflecting only about 7% of the sunlight striking it. That's even darker than the Moon. Researchers have long known that the lunar surface becomes less reflective over time because tiny meteorites pepper the lunar dust, momentarily flash-melting its iron- bearing silicate minerals and creating submicroscopic bits of metallic iron. These iron particles are what make the Moon appear dark. But given Mercury's iron-poor surface, some other process must be involved.

In the March 31st issue of Nature Geoscience, a trio of researchers led by Megan Bruck Syal (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) offer a reasonable alternative. "One thing that hadn´t been considered was that Mercury gets dumped on by a lot of material derived from comets, Syal notes in a press release from Brown University.

She and her colleagues first estimated that the infall of comets and cometary dust over the past 200 million years could have infused the top layer of Mercurian dirt with 3% to 6% carbon. Then they conducted impact simulations at the NASA Ames Vertical Gun Range to confirm that the comet-borne carbon would actually stick around, in the form of tiny particle clusters called agglutinates.

Moreover, the resulting surface would have a very bland spectrum, exactly what Messenger found. The carbon acts like an invisible paint that has been building up on Mercury's surface for billions of years. --------

The European Space Agency is assembling the next mission to Mercury. A spacecraft called BepiColombo is to be launched in 2017 and arrive at Mercury in 2024.

BepiColombo will actually consist of two orbiters: one to study Mercury itself and the other to probe the planet's unusual magnetosphere. ESA is building one half, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter, and Japan is supplying the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter.

In case you're wondering, BepiColombo honours Italian researcher Giuseppe "Bepi" Colombo (1920-84). He first deduced that Mercury has a spin-orbit resonance, showing that the planet rotates three times for every two orbits it completes around the Sun. Colombo also realized that NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft could be placed in a heliocentric orbit that synched with Mercury's - a discovery that allowed Mariner 10 to make three flybys of the innermost planet in 1974-75.

--From a Sky & Telescope website article by Kelly Beatty on 1 May. See the original with pictures and diagrams at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/messenger-spacecraft-crashes-into-mercury-050120151/?et_mid=747161&rid=246399573

For a list of Messenger's scientific and technical achievements see http://messenger.jhuapl.edu/news_room/presscon14_multi.html#results

10. Quote

--------- "College isn't the place to go for ideas." -- Helen Keller.

"The important thing is not to stop questioning." -- Albert Einstein.

"If mankind minus one were of one opinion, then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the one - if he had the power - would be justified in silencing mankind." -- John Stuart Mill.

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817
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
Conference 2015 Delegates
Conference 2015 Delegates

For links to local astronomical societies please see our affiliated societies pages.

General Astronomy Websites

Heavens Above - ISS tracking and prediction site
Space Weather - News and information about the Earth-Sun environment
Cloudy Nights - Astronomy Forum (US Focus)
Ice in Space - Astronomy Forum (Australian Focus)

Research Organisations

IAU (International Astronomical Union)
μFUN (Microlensing Followup Network)
NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration)
ESA (European Space Agency)
ESO (European Southern Observatories)
AAVSO American Association of Variable Star Observers
AURA (Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy)

Research/Observing Assistance

SIMBAD (Astronomical Database, bibliography, cross-identifacations)
Aladin (Interactive Sky Atlas)
Astrophysics Data System (Digital library portal)
arXiv (Repository of scientific paper preprints)
CBAT (Central Beurau for Astronomical Telegrams)
VSX (Variable Star Index)
VSP (Variable Star Plotter)

NZ tertiary astronomy courses

Free astronomy software and tools

Stellarium - Open source planetarium software
Carte Du Ceil - Planetarium software with advanced cataloges and features
AAVSO Software Directory - Collection of tools for recording and analysis of Variable stars
NinePlanets - A collection of many astronomy software titles for all operating systems

RASNZ Electronic Newsletter April 2015

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 email the editor for a copy. The latest issue is below.

Email Newsletter Number 172

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.


1. Gerry Gilmore Lecture Tour
2. 2015 Conference Update
3. The Solar System in May
4. Observations of Comet 67P Sought
5. IAU Cosmic Light Programme
6. UTC Time Step on July 1
7. More Results from Plank
8. Last Notes from the 2014 Conference
9. How to Join the RASNZ
10. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
11. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
12. Quote

1. Gerry Gilmore Lecture Tour

The RASNZ Lecture Trust Inc. is pleased to advise that this year´s Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lecturer is Professor Gerry Gilmore (http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/people/Gerry.F.Gilmore).

Gerry is Professor of Experimental Philosophy at the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge University, UK. Additionally, he is Scientific Coordinator of Opticon: the European Union Co-ordination Network for Optical Infrared Astronomy, and UK Principal Investigator of the Gaia data processing consortium. He gained his PhD at the University of Canterbury, NZ.

Lecture details are:

May 4th Auckland 8:30pm Owen Glen Lecture Theatre, University of Auckland, Grafton Rd, Auckland Central. Free admission. Gaia: Mapping the Milky Way from Space

May 5th Nelson 7:30pm Room A211, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. $2 admission. Nelson Science Society members free. Astronomy, Cosmology and the Big Question in Nature

May 11th Dunedin (a Physics Department, University of Otago public lecture) 6:00pm to 7:30pm Castle 2 Lecture Theatre, University of Otago. Free admission. Gaia: Mapping the Milky Way from Space

May 13th Wanganui Whanganui Regional Museum´s Davis Lecture Theatre Astronomy, Cosmology and the Big Question in Nature

May 14th Gisborne 7:00pm Lawson Field Theatre $5 admission. Astronomy, Cosmology and the Big Question in Nature

May 15th Wellington 6:00pm Royal Society Rooms, Thorndon, Wellington Free admission. Gaia: Mapping the Milky Way from Space

Abstracts of the talks:

Astronomy, Cosmology and the Big Question in Nature People have been thinking about where we and the Universe came from, in all cultures. Modern science has made impressive progress, linking big questions from the largest to the smallest scales. This talk will give a top level overview of how we address big questions, and where we are with the current big questions: dark matter, dark energy and more.

Gaia: Mapping the Milky Way from Space Gaia is the European Space Agency mission which is currently creating the first ever 3-D census of the Milky Way. Gaia´s giga-pixel camera is mapping the brightness, colour, distance and motions of over one billion stars to a precision comparable to resolving a button on the Moon. Gerry Gilmore who is UK´s Principal Investigator for Gaia and leads the team processing Gaia´s imaging data, will explain what Gaia is, how it is delivering a 12-Dimensional map of the Milky Way, and give some personal views on life inside a billion Euro project. http://gaia.ac.uk/.

-- Bob Evans on behalf of the RASNZ Lecture Trust Inc.


2. 2015 Conference Update

A brief summary from our busy Organizing Committee: The conference is now less than three weeks away and we have a great line up of speakers. We can still accept further registrations but we can't accept anyone else for the Dinner. We can still accept more Poster Papers.

For further information on the RASNZ conference and registration please visit the conference website at http://www.rasnz.org.nz/groups-news-events/rasnz-conference . The conference will be preceded by a two day symposium to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Mount John University Observatory - see http://www.phys.canterbury.ac.nz/mtjohn50/ for registration information and other details of this meeting. Immediately after the conference the Ninth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9) will also be held at the Godley Hotel, Lake Tekapo on 11th-12th May. For details see http://occultations.org.nz/meetings/TTSO9/TTSO9.htm. Note that registrations for TTSO9 can ONLY be made through the RASNZ Conference registration page.


3. The Solar System in May

Dates and times are NZST (UT + 12 hours) from May 5 unless otherwise specified. Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in may

                               May  1  NZST                    May 30  NZST
                    morning  evening                 morning  evening
            rise:   7.04am, set:  5.30pm  rise:   7.33am, set:  5.03pm
  Civil:    starts: 6.38am, ends: 5.57pm  starts: 7.05am, ends: 5.33pm
  Nautical: starts: 6.06am, ends: 6.30pm  starts: 6.31am, ends: 6.06pm 
  Astro:    starts: 5.34am, ends: 7.02pm  starts: 5.57am, ends: 6.39pm

May phases of the moon (times as shown by guide)

          Full moon:     May  4 at  3.42 pm (03:42 UT)
  Last quarter:  May 11 at 10.36 pm (10:36 UT)
  New moon:      May 18 at  4.13 pm (04:13 UT)
  First quarter: May 26 at  5.19 am (May 25, 17:19 UT)

THE PLANETS in May Mercury and Mars are both too close to the Sun to observe for a second month. Venus continues to get higher in the evening sky while Jupiter gets lower setting around 10 pm by the end of May, so is best observed early evening. Saturn is at opposition on May 23, so is best viewed late evening and early morning.

MERCURY sets 45 minutes after the Sun on May 1. It is at its greatest elongation 21° east of the Sun on the 7th. Although it will then set 53 minutes after the Sun it will be too low for observation. It is at inferior conjunction between the Earth and Sun at the end of May. Mercury will then be about 2° south of the Sun with its unlit side towards the Earth. At conjunction Mercury will be 70 million km from the Sun and 82 million km from the Earth.

VENUS sets 2 hours after the Sun on the 1st and 3 hours after it on the 31st. On May 1 Venus will be 13° up half an hours after sunset. The planet will be in Taurus some 3° above El Nath, beta Tau, at magnitude 1.7 the second brightest star in Taurus. Venus moves to the east into Gemini on the 8th. By the 31st, half an hour after sunset Venus will be 20° above the horizon to the north of northwest. It will then be 4° above Pollux, at magnitude 1.2 the brightest star in Gemini.

On the evening of May 21 the crescent moon, 11% lit will be 9° to the left of Venus. The following night the moon will be a similar distance above Venus.

MARS sets only half an hour after the Sun on the 1st. By the 31st this has reduced to only 10 minutes later. Conjunction occurs in mid June.

JUPITER will be best placed for viewing as the sky darkens following sunset. On the 1st it is highest, 31° and due north at transit, 6.49 pm. By the end of May, Jupiter transits at sunset and will be 30° up at 6pm an hour after sunset. Altitudes are for the latitude of Wellington. The planet will be a little higher further north and lower further south in NZ

The time Jupiter sets gets steady earlier during the month from a few minutes before midnight on the 1st to a few minutes after 10 pm on the 31st. It will be in Cancer rather distant from any bright stars. It will be moving slowly to the east in the direction of Regulus, but remain 15° from the star by the end of May.

MUTUAL EVENTS OF JOVIAN SATELLITES There are about 10 mutual events of Jupiter's Galilean satellites observable from NZ during May. Some occur very soon after sunset or when Jupiter is very low. Better placed one include:

May 3, Callisto occults Ganymede, mid event ca 10.40pm, duration 6.8 min, altitude ca 10°. May 5, Io eclipses Europa, mid event ca 8.16pm, duration 5.3 min, magnitude change of Europa 1.5, so easy to detect. May 13, Ganymede occults Io, mid event ca 6.07pm, duration 5.5 min May 17, Io occults Ganymede, mid event ca 8.12pm, duration 4.9 min May 20, Ganymede occults Io, mid event ca 9.05pm, duration 6.4 min May 25, Europa occults Io, mid event ca 6.28pm, duration 3.5 min May 27, Ganymede occults Europa, mid event ca 8.03pm, duration 7.3 min, this occultation is total for about 90 seconds.

Useful observations and timings of these events can be made by those set up for the video observation of minor planet occultations.

Users of Dave Herald's Occult program can generate their own predictions of these and other events. Hristo Pavlov's Occult Watcher programme will also list them and has diagrams showing the satellites relative to Jupiter. Details can also be found on the IMCCE web site, http://www.imcce.fr/phemu/ where predictions and requirements for observing and reporting information are available.

SATURN is at opposition on May 23. It rises just over an hour after sunset on May 1 and about half an hour before sunset on May 31. The planet starts the month in Scorpius near beta1 Sco (mag 2.6). It moves slowly to the west through the stars during May, crossing into Libra on May 11.

At opposition on May 24, Saturn will be slightly less than 9 AU, 1341 million km from the Earth and 10 AU, 1493 million km from the Sun.

The almost full moon will be just under 4° to the left of Saturn on the evening of May 5. The two are closest about 4am on the morning of May 6.

At present Saturn's north pole is tilted 25° towards the Earth. This brings the northern surface of the rings well into view. They should be visible in binoculars, although a small telescope is likely to give a better view.

Outer planets

URANUS is a morning object in Pisces rising 2 hours before the Sun on the 1st and rather over 4 hours before the Sun on the 31st. The planet's magnitude is 5.9, so readily visible in binoculars

NEPTUNE rise a little over 5 hours before the Sun on May 1. By the 31st it rises just before midnight. The planet remains in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9

PLUTO is in Sagittarius rising near 9.30 pm on the 1st and 2 hours earlier on the 31st. Its magnitude is 14.3.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is in Capricornus during May, its magnitude ranging from 8.9 to 8.5 through the month. It rises a little before 11 pm on the 1st and at 9 pm on the 31st.

(4) Vesta is a morning object in Aquarius for most of May, but moves into Pisces on the 29th. Its magnitude is close to 8.0 all month. Vesta rises at 2.20 am on May 1 and 1.20 am on the 31st.

-- Brian Loader


4. Observations of Comet 67P Sought

Observations of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko are sought from amateur and professional astronomers.

67P is currently crossing from Aquarius into Pisces and just beginning to emerge from the solar glare for observers in the southern hemisphere. With an estimated magnitude at around +16, the comet will still be a very difficult object to see visually, but well within the range of amateur astrophotography. Solar elongation increases to 37° in mid-May with the comet a magnitude brighter and ripe for a portrait before the start of dawn.

Amateur astronomers can sign up at http://rosetta.jpl.nasa.gov/amateur-observer-registration for the new campaign. Once registered, you'll start receiving updates from your fellow observers at the PACA (Pro-Amateur Collaborative Astronomy) Rosetta67P Facebook group. You'll also contribute your observations there https://www.facebook.com/groups/paca.rosetta67p/

Professional astronomers can go to the Rosetta Campaign site or e-mail Colin Snodgrass <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.> See also http://www.rosetta-campaign.net/

See Bob King's article at http://click.e.skyandtelescope.com/?qs=6d1836aecf57e9a1db00cf6b3555d5d a62861da139062522402887fbeac3dfa7bd9da43da9c546dd


5. IAU Cosmic Light Programme

The International Astronomical Union on April 16 launched the Cosmic Light programme. This is part of the global celebrations of the International Year of Light 2015. The IAU is focused on limiting energy waste through the reduction of light pollution. It also wants to highlight the importance of the preservation of dark night skies.

In 2013 the United Nations proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). This initiative was the result of a large consortium between UNESCO and a range of scientific bodies, including scientific societies and unions, educational institutions, technology platforms, non-profit organisations and private sector partners.

The IAU was invited by the IYL2015 Steering Committee to organise activities under the Cosmic Light theme. The IAU recognises the importance of light for astronomy. It supports the notion that technology leading to greater energy efficiency is key to the preservation of dark skies.

IAU has since joined forces with CIE (International Commission on Illumination) and IDA (International Dark-Sky Association). This forms a group of experts in lighting, light pollution awareness, education and outreach. All in this group strongly support the preservation of the night skies, their quality, and our fundamental right to the night sky. As light pollution increasingly becomes excessive, misdirected light has profound consequences on our perception of the night sky. It also interferes with astronomical research, disrupts ecosystems, leads to adverse health effects and wastes energy.

A public call gathered many high quality proposals from around the world. From these the IAU identified several key projects now called the Cosmic Light cornerstone projects. These are making a difference to people´s awareness of the problems caused by light pollution and the importance of understanding our Universe through cosmic light. The cornerstone projects are (with links listed at the end):

Cosmic Light Awareness A cornerstone of the programme, focused on involving schools around the globe in awareness campaigns within the framework of the International Year of Light. The diversity of the networks involved will allow the programme to reach 100 countries with three project components: oThe IYL2015 Dark Sky Meter App, already launched for iPhone. With this app the user can get instant information about the night-sky quality and contribute directly to science. oThe Cosmic Light EDU kit. From its website teachers will have access to a virtual kit that gathers many activities, tools and other resources on the topic of the science of light. This kit features continued support for teaching communities around the world. A special component will be incorporated for children with visual impairments. oThe Quality Lighting Teaching Kit, focusing on light pollution awareness, will increase student and public awareness of quality lighting issues through online tutorials, teaching kits, and hands-on activities. The programme and kit will be disseminated to formal and informal audiences worldwide. By choosing developing countries or countries most affected by poor quality lighting, this project seeks to produce a lasting legacy.

Light: Beyond the Bulb (LBTB) An open-source international exhibition programme for the International Year of Light designed to showcase the incredible variety of light-based scientific research being done today, spanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum, as well as many scientific disciplines and technological platforms. The free exhibition materials and striking images have been crowd-sourced and curated by experts for their scientific content, high-quality printability, stunning beauty and ability to engage the wider public audience. Any exhibitor can host the exhibition. So far there are 150 LBTB locations signed up for exhibits across 25 countries and 400 LBTB poster exhibit venues.

Galileoscope A high-quality, low-cost telescope kit developed by a team of leading astronomers and science educators. This easy-to-assemble kit allows one to see the celestial wonders that Galileo Galilei first glimpsed over 400 years ago. These include lunar craters and mountains, four moons orbiting Jupiter, the phases of Venus, Saturn´s rings, and countless stars invisible to the naked eye. Galileoscope is currently accepting pre-orders for the International Year of Light 2015 special edition, with deliveries to commence in May.

Through this set of worldwide programmes, the IAU intends to reach and engage a large number of communities. It wants to raise awareness of the need to minimise light pollution and to have a better understanding of the universe. It extends the invitation to worldwide communicators to join us for this amazing global celebration.

Links oCosmic Light https://www.iau.org/iyl/ oInternational Year of Light 2015 http://www.light2015.org/ oLight beyond the Bulb http://lightexhibit.org/ oGalileoscope http://galileoscope.org/ oCosmicLight EDU kit http://nuclio.org/cosmiclightedukit/ oIYL2015 Dark Sky Meter App https://itunes.apple.com/app/dsm- lite/id626796278?mt=8 [It costs $1.30 or thereabouts. - Ed.] oInternational Commission on Illumination http://www.cie.co.at/ oInternational Dark-Sky Association http://www.darksky.org/ oExecutive Committee Working Group on the IYL2015 http://www.iau.org/science/scientific_bodies/working_groups/212

See the full release at http://www.iau.org/news/pressreleases/detail/iau1504/

-- Abridged from the above release.


6. UTC Time Step on July 1

The International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service, Paris Observatory, announced their in Bulletin C number 49 that a positive leap second will be introduced at the end of June 2015. The sequence of dates of the UTC second markers will be: 2015 June 30, 23h 59m 59s 2015 June 30, 23h 59m 60s 2015 July 1, 0h 0m 0s

The difference between UTC and the International Atomic Time TAI is: from 2012 July 1, 0h UTC, to 2015 July 1 0h UTC : UTC-TAI = - 35s from 2015 July 1, 0h UTC, until further notice : UTC-TAI = - 36s

------ Leap seconds can be introduced in UTC at the end of the months of December or June, depending on the evolution of UT1-TAI. Bulletin C is mailed every six months, either to announce a time step in UTC or to confirm that there will be no time step at the next possible date.

See http://hpiers.obspm.fr/eop-pc

-- Thanks to Howard Barnes for passing this along.


7. More Results from Plank

New maps from the European Space Agency´s Planck satellite show the polarized light from the early universe across the entire sky, revealing that the first stars formed much later than previously thought. They also include information about our own Milky Way, showing that the contribution from dust in our galaxy is much more widespread than previously thought. They reveal complex structures in the galactic magnetic field.

The history of our universe began 13.8 billion years ago, and for researchers trying to understand its evolution, one major source of information is the cosmic microwave background, or CMB. This fossil light came from when the universe was hot and dense, only 380,000 years after the Big Bang. Thanks to the expansion of the universe, we see this light today covering the whole sky at microwave wavelengths.

Between 2009 and 2013, Planck surveyed the sky to study this ancient light in unprecedented detail. Tiny differences in the background´s temperature trace regions of slightly different density in the early cosmos, representing the seeds of all future structure, the stars and galaxies of today. Scientists from the Planck collaboration have published the results from the analysis of these data in numerous scientific papers over the past two years, confirming the standard cosmological picture of our universe with ever greater accuracy. See, for example, http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de/mpa/institute/ news_archives/news1101_planck/news1101_planck-en.html).

The detailed map of CMB temperature structures is a high-fidelity image of the boundary of our visible universe. It shows us its detailed structure when it was 40,000 times younger than today and gives us our best indication of what happened at even earlier times. The CMB carries additional clues about cosmic history encoded in its polarization. Light is polarized when it vibrates in a preferred direction, something that may arise as a result of photons bouncing off particles such as electrons. This is what happened when the CMB originated in the early universe. Planck´s polarization data provide an independent way to measure cosmological parameters and thus confirm the details of the standard cosmological picture determined from CMB temperature fluctuations.

However, as the CMB light travelled through space and time it was also influenced by the first stars. The polarization data now indicates that these started to shine about 550 million years after the Big Bang, ending the 'Dark Ages'. This is more than 100 million years later than previously thought. This later time helps to resolve a problem.

Previous studies of the CMB polarization seemed to point towards an earlier dawn of the first stars. However, very deep images of the sky indicated that the earliest known galaxies in the universe, forming perhaps 300-400 million years after the Big Bang, would not have been powerful enough to end the Dark Ages within 450 million years. The new evidence from Planck significantly reduces the problem. Adding another 100 million years allows the earliest stars and galaxies to ionize the leftover gas and make space transparent.

The Planck data just released also shows the polarization of foreground emission from gas and dust in the Milky Way. This allows mapping of the structure of the galactic magnetic field, providing unprecedented insights into the complex 'weather' phenomena of our Milky Way.

The new data has also enabled important insights into the early cosmos and the nature of its components. These include the intriguing dark matter and the elusive neutrinos.

The Planck data has delved into the even earlier history of the cosmos, all the way to inflation. This is the brief era of accelerated expansion that the universe underwent when it was a tiny fraction of a second old. As the ultimate probe of this epoch, astronomers are currently looking for a signature of gravitational waves triggered by inflation and later imprinted on the polarization of the CMB.

Earlier claims of a direct detection had to be revised in light of Planck´s maps of dust polarization, as reported in http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Planck/Planck_gravitat ional_waves_remain_elusive . Combining the newest Planck data with the latest results from other experiments, the limits on the amount of primordial gravitational waves have been pushed down, producing upper limits that already exclude some models for inflation.

See full text and images at http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de/mpa/institute/news_archives/ news1502_aaa/news1502_aaa-en.html

-- From a Max Plank Institute for Astrophysics press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.


8. Last Notes from the 2014 Conference

With the 2015 Conference imminent, the last of the notes from the 2014 Conference are here cleared from the Editor's files. Throughout their intermittent publication the order of the notes has been in the order of presentation at the Conference except for our guest speaker, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell. Omitted in the notes below is John Hearnshaw's long summary of the history of Mt John Observatory. That is now available in 'Mt John - The First 50 Years' published by Canterbury University Press. See http://www.cup.canterbury.ac.nz/catalogue/mt_john.shtml

------------ David Herald presented an analysis of lunar eclipse crater timings. For more than 150 years astronomers have tried to determine what height in the Earth´s atmosphere causes the shadow seen in lunar eclipses. There have been assertions that the shadow zone changes height with darkness of eclipse and with solar cycles. Also that the shadow is not round but wider at the equator. Attempts to test these assertions rely on timings of the shadow edge crossing particular craters. David analysed 22,000 crater timings since 1842 collected from archives by Joseph Ashbrook and Byron Soulsby. David concluded that a shadow height of 86.9 km gives the best fit all the time. He found no correlation with eclipse darkness or with solar cycles. Nor is there any evidence that increased atmospheric pollution is changing the shadow zone´s height. And Earth´s shadow is round to within the method´s accuracy.

John Drummond told of the history and mythology around the constellation of Argo and the ship´s keel, Carina. He then showed images of objects in Carina with some background on their astrophysical origins, ages, etc.

Gordon Hudson recounted the tribulations in getting weather instruments mounted on an 8-metre mast. The weather measurements are used to control the opening and closing of his dome. They are also available on his website.

Alan Gilmore and Pam Kilmartin tried to encourage observers to make follow-up observations of Near-Earth Asteroids. Increasing numbers of these objects are being found by search programmes. Some are lost for lack of further position measurements. Web pages at the Minor Planet Center, Astromentrica software and on-line star catalogues make the work easy once one has a telescope and CCD.

David Moriarty described his CCD photometry and analysis of the Eclipsing binary TW Crucis. Though it was discovered 84 years ago, it has been little observed. The system is a W Ursa Majoris binary where the two stars are elongated by their tidal forces. Observations suggest that the orbital period is increasing. David found that the maxima are asymmetric and suggests that this is caused by varying groups of star-spots, like sunspots but bigger.

Brian Loader showed how the separation and position angle of close double stars can be measured in lunar occultations. Seen in a video camera, the star appears to fade in stages as it disappears behind the moon, or brighten in stages as it reappears. Timings from a single station give a component of the stars´ separation. Timings from two widely-spaced stations give the separation and position angle. Three stations give a measure of the uncertainties in these quantities. Good video timings give an accuracy of 1 AU in 100 light-years. Results are published in the Journal of Double Star Observations, www.jdso.org.

Alister Brickell reviewed the astronomical and geological causes of climate changes. It is only recently, geologically speaking, that Earth has had ice at both polar caps at the same time. The current position of continents is implicated in this. Ice cores show that historically temperature begins to rise about 800 years before carbon dioxide increases in the atmosphere. Global air temperatures have not risen significantly in the past 15 years according to the latest IPCC Report.

Steve Chadwick presented a video tour of the Clouds of Magellan based on pictures taken from his backyard observatory. Some of the recent discoveries were eye-openers. Three supernovae remnants are found in the Small Cloud. One, a space-telescope discovery, is just 2000 years old. NGC 346 in the SMC is as big as the Eta Carinae Nebula and contains a whole story of star formation. The LMC has an overwhelming range of nebulae, clusters and supernovae remnants as well as the largest star-forming region in our corner of the universe.

Stan Walker wishes to encourage photometry with DSLR cameras of bright Cepheid variables. Stan and co-authors Glen Schrader and Mark Blackford have analysed photometry of six long-period Cepheid variables and found changes in their pulsation periods. Over 111 years the period of AQ Puppis has lengthened from 29.80 years to 30.14 days. These changes tell us about the evolution of these stars. More observations are sought.

John Drummond presented a history of giant telescopes and showed what is currently in production. William Herschel had the first really serious case of `aperture fever´. His culminated in a 48-inch aperture reflector. The Earl of Rosse managed a six-foot reflector in the 1840s. Like Herschel´s it had a speculum-metal mirror. Rosse´s reflector was used to discover the spiral in spiral nebulae but did little else. Giant refractors of the late 19th Century reached their limit at aperture 40-inches or 1-metre. Around the same time silver- on-glass mirrors were growing in size. Mt Wilson saw the installation of 60- and 100-inch mirrors at the beginning of the 20th century. Mt Palomar´s 200-inch (5-metre) telescope began work in the late 1940s. Except for an abortive effort at a Soviet 6-metre telescope in the 1970s, telescope sizes did not increase till new technologies arrived in the late 20th Century. One was the ability to make several mirrors work as one. This led to the Keck, Hobby-Eberly and SALT telescopes of 10-11 metres aperture. The second was spin-casting where the concave face of a single mirror is formed by spinning the mould in its furnace. This has enabled the casting of relatively thin single mirrors up to 8.3 metres aperture. Both technologies are being applied to make multi-mirror telescopes. The Giant Magellan telescope will use seven 8-metre mirrors together. The European Extremely large Telescope will combine smaller mirrors into an array 38 metres across.

Two poster papers were displayed. Ed Budding, Roger Butland, Mark Blackford and Roland Idaczyk presented their analysis of two binary systems, GG Lupi and Mu1 Scorpii. High resolution spectroscopy and BVR photometry were used. GG Lupi appears to be a pair of near-zero-age main sequence stars almost in contact with each other.

Gavin Logan titled his poster `New Zealand Dark Skies. Clean, green? What about all black?´ While the NZ tourism industry plays heavily on our supposed `clean, green´ image there is little effort to ensure that our populated areas can see the night sky. The Auckland Astronomical Society has been making submissions to local and central government for a number of years - happily noting that some elements of tackling light spill are now creeping into planning and lighting regulations. Overall awareness is still low so the Auckland Astronomical Society (AAS) has begun to assemble a small group of members to take measurements of sky brightness around the Auckland region. The main focus of the group is to raise the issue in political and public consciousness and look for the support of RASNZ members in establishing a NZ chapter of the International Dark Sky Association. Issues in hand include getting more focus on retrofitting of lights as well as specifying those for new buildings, the promotion of dimming and curfews, and the pros and cons of LED technology where existing `colour temperature´ measurements can fail to properly identify lighting with a high proportion of harmful blue light.


9. How to Join the RASNZ

RASNZ membership is open to all individuals with an interest in astronomy in New Zealand. Information about the society and its objects can be found at http://rasnz.org.nz/rasnz/membership-benefits A membership form can be either obtained from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by completing the online application form found at http://rasnz.org.nz/rasnz/membership-application Basic membership for the 2015 year starts at $40 for an ordinary member, which includes an electronic subscription to our journal 'Southern Stars'.


10. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

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


11. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants may be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Applications are now invited for grants from the Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund. The application should reach the Secretary by 1 May 2015. There will be a secondary round of applications later in the year. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

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



"America is the only country where a significant proportion of the population believes that professional wrestling is real but the moon landing was faked." - David Letterman.

"I don't believe in astrology. I am a Sagittarius and we're very sceptical." - Warren Tantum.

"We are here on earth to do good unto others. What the others are here for, I have no idea." - W.H. Auden.

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817
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

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