RASNZ Membership Subscription and Southern Stars

Your RASNZ subscription provides the major part of the funds required to run RASNZ. Expenses include publishing Southern Stars, supporting Affiliated Societies, hosting this web site, supporting the various groups and sections and supporting astronomy throughout New Zealand in general. See Glen Rowe's description of member benefits for further details.

The Southern Stars is RASNZ's official journal. Members may choose to receive just the electronic journal or, for a modest cost, both electronic and printed versions of the Journal.

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Astronomical Yearbook

The Astronomical Yearbook is a handbook of stars and planets in the southern skies is published by the Auckland Observatory. Its cost may be included with your RASNZ subscription.

Include the Astronomical Yearbook with your RASNZ subscription ($20 NZD).


Education Group donation

The RASNZ Education group supports astronomy education, aiming at teachers and students as well as regional astronomical societies and the general public. Donations support operating the group including paying for hosting their website.

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The Gifford-Eiby Memorial Fund sponsors visiting astronomy lecturers and instructors Affiliated Societies for lectures and seminars by assisting with travel expenses.

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Dark Sky Group donation

The Dark Sky Group advocates for appropriate lighting to preserve dark skies. There is a wealth of related information in the Dark Sky web pages and support available from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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You may wish to donate to provide general financial support to the RASNZ, or to donate funds for some specific purpose not provided for above. When you make a Special purposes donation you may care to email the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to tell us what the donation is intended for. You may use the "Donate" button at the bottom of the page if you wish to donate an arbitrary amount and specify a purpose at the same time.

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Thank you for your assistance with RASNZ's mission to promote and investigate astronomy and related fields.

Professional Astronomers Group within RASNZ

The Professional Astronomers Group was set up at the RASNZ Annual General Meeting held at Dunedin in May 2011. The principal guidelines and operating protocols of PAG are shown below. The full guidelines and protocols are available for download as a Word document.

Any professional astronomer interested in joining the PAG should contact the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Professor Karen Pollard

Guidelines and operating protocols for the PAG
  1. Membership: The PAG will comprise professional astronomers in NZ. These will be defined either as those who are IAU members, or as those who, by virtue of their professional activities in astronomy and who would meet normal IAU membership criteria, may join PAG by invitation or after individual solicitation. Any IAU member in NZ is free to decline membership of PAG, or leave PAG at their own volition at any time. Membership of RASNZ will not be a prerequisite for membership of PAG, but RASNZ membership will be strongly encouraged.
  2. Chair of PAG: Whenever the chair of PAG falls vacant, then the members of PAG will hold an election (normally by email) so as to appoint a new chair of PAG from amongst PAG members. The chair will normally serve for a three-year term. The election will be conducted by the RASNZ Council. The Chairperson shall maintain an up-to-date membership list of PAG and provide that list to the RASNZ Council on request by the President or Executive Secretary.
  3. RASNZ representative on RS Advisory Panel (Physical Sciences): The RASNZ Council shall nominate a representative for the Society from amongst the membership of the PAG and who will serve on the RS Advisory Panel (Physical Sciences). Normally the representative of RASNZ will be the chairperson of PAG and will serve for a three-year term on the RS Advisory Panel which is concurrent with the position of PAG Chair. Membership or Fellowship of the RS is not a prerequisite for this appointment.
  4. Functions of PAG:
    • The PAG will make recommendations (through the channel of the Royal Society) of the names of individuals in NZ who are to be nominated for membership of the IAU.
    • The PAG will recommend to the RS the name of one of its members who should be NZ representative at IAU General Assemblies, who will serve on various IAU committees and cast a vote for NZ at the IAU on motions proposed at IAU General Assemblies. (Such representatives normally receive RS funding for their participation at a General Assembly).
    • The PAG may make proposals to the IAU or to the RS for the sponsorship of astronomical conferences which are proposed to be held in NZ.
    • The PAG may raise any matter concerning astronomy of interest to RASNZ or to the RS and bring it to the attention of their respective councils.
    • The PAG will promote the interests of astronomers, professional and amateur, in NZ, foster the joint amateur-professional symbiosis within RASNZ, and generally support the aims of RASNZ in promoting astronomy in NZ, including teaching, research, public outreach in astronomy and support for amateur astronomy by professionals where appropriate.

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

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

Contents

1. Steve Kerr to Direct the Occultation Section
2. ATV-5 Shallow Re-entry Cancelled
3. Notice of AGM
4. Notice of a Meeting of the Affiliated Societies Committee
5. Internet Continuing Education - Variable Stars
6. The Solar System in March
7. 2015 RASNZ Conference
8. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)
9. 2017 Conference - Host Sought
10. Eta Carinae's Stars Clash
11. Inflation Signature Not Found in Plank Analysis
12. How to Join RASNZ
13. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
14. Quote

1. Steve Kerr to Direct the Occultation Section

The RASNZ Council has appointed Steve Kerr be the Director of the Occultation Section. Steve succeeds the late Graham Blow who founded the Section. By way of introduction Steve has provided the following biographical note.


I am an Industrial Chemist by training and profession working in the electricity generation industry and based at Rockhampton in central Queensland, Australia. I consider myself to have been an amateur astronomer since the age of 10 and my early mentors were involved in occultation observing and other forms of 'scientific' observational astronomy. My earliest formal contact with the RASNZ Occultation Section was in 1984 when I commenced timing the eclipse disappearance and reappearances of the Galilean satellites of Jupiter for Brian Loader as part of the program he was running for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). I continued making these observations through until 1991.

It was not until the late 1990's (after finishing my Chemistry Degree and getting a job) that I made direct contact with Graham Blow and commenced making observations of other sorts of occultation phenomena - specifically lunar and asteroidal occultations. Graham almost immediately got me involved with the section's newly created website and for a number of years, I was responsible for all site updates and data management. This extended to preparing notes for the section circular relating to asteroidal occultations. Most of these activities (and in fact most astronomy in general) had to stop in 2001 when I became a parent.

Since then, my involvement in the RASNZ Occultation Section has been in: - active observer of asteroidal occultations with less emphasis on lunar occultations - attended all of the Trans-Tasman Symposia on Occultations (TTSO's) to date usually making presentations and acting as convenor for TTSO6 in Brisbane in 2012. - writing a semi-regular column for Australian Sky and Telescope on occultations with strong reference back to the RASNZ Section.

Beyond occultation astronomy, I have been an active variable star observer both for the RASNZ VSS under Dr Frank Bateson and more recently with Variable Stars South. I also operate a semi automatic video meteor observation program as part of the IMO (International Meteor Organisation) video observing program. I am a member of the AAQ (Astronomical Association of Queensland) and promote occultation observing within that organisation.

Graham Blow has often discussed Occultation Section matters when we caught up over the years - we first met face to face in 2003. I must say I was shocked and very humbled when he broke the news to me of his medical condition and that he was considering nominating myself as a possible next director for the Section. I fully realise that these are enormous shoes to fill but also that Graham has cultivated a very effective network of people across New Zealand and Australia that together make the Section's activities possible. This network of volunteers will be critical going in to the future. On that basis, I am prepared to take on the role of the Director should the Council see fit.

2. ATV-5 Shallow Re-entry Cancelled

Following the failure of one its systems the scheduled shallow re- entry of the International Space Station supply craft ATV-5, aka Georges Lemaitre, on 23 February has been cancelled. The shallow re- entry, crossing NZ, was intended as a test of the eventual de-orbiting of the ISS itself. (See Newsletter No.169, Item 3.) Instead ATV-5 was de-orbited on a standard steep re-entry around February 15. For background see http://blogs.esa.int/atv/2015/02/10/atvs-not-over-til-its-over/

3. Notice of AGM

The 92nd Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand will be held at about 4:30 pm on Saturday the 9th of May 2015 in the Community Hall at Tekapo. Notices of Motion are invited and should reach the Executive Secretary six weeks in advance of the meeting, by 28 March 2015. They should be sent in writing to: R O'Keeffe Executive Secretary, RASNZ 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd RD 2 TUAKAU 2697

4. Notice of a Meeting of the Affiliated Societies Committee

The Affiliated Societies Committee will meet on Friday the 8th of May 2015 at the Community Hall in Tekapo. This meeting is normally attended by the Presidents of Affiliated Societies or their nominated representative. Notices of Motion for the meeting are invited and should reach the Executive Secretary by March 28, 2015. -- Rory O'Keeffe, Executive Secretary, RASNZ, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

5. Internet Continuing Education - Variable Stars

The American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) has available internet based courses under the banner of the CHOICE (Carolyn Hurless Online Institute for Continuing Education in Astronomy) programme. These short courses cover topics such as variable star instrumental techniques, light curve analysis and star evolution. Those in the remainder of 2015 dealing with visual observing and star behaviour are: April 6 to May 1 Developing a Visual Observing Program April 6 to May 1 Variable Star Types and Light Curves July 6 to 31 Stellar Structure and Birth Aug 3 to 28 Stellar Evolution and Death Sept 7 to Oct 2 Variable Star Types and Light Curves

For courses on instrumental techniques and courses later in the year see the full list on the web site, which includes a course prescription for each item. http://www.aavso.org/2015-choice-course-schedule

General Information: The courses are generally of four to six weeks duration and it is suggested the time commitment is 8 to 20 h/week. The sessions may involve group discussions, quizzes, assignments and or a test. Cost per course is $US50 (reduced cost for AAVSO members). For general information see http://www.aavso.org/choice-astronomy. Registration is via the AAVSO online store: http://www.aavso.org/aavso-online-store

-- Contributed by Alan Baldwin

6. The Solar System in March

All dates and times are NZDT (UT +13 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 March                          
                       March  1                      March 31        
             morning       evening           morning       evening   
          rise: 6.58am,  set:  8.07pm     rise: 7.32am,  set:  7.17pm
Twilights                                                            
Civil:    starts: 6.33am, ends: 8.33pm  starts: 7.07am,  ends: 7.43pm
Nautical: starts: 5.59am, ends: 9.07pm  starts: 6.35am,  ends: 8.15pm
Astro:    starts: 5.23am, ends: 9.42pm  starts: 6.03am,  ends: 8.47pm
March PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)      
  Full moon:     March  6 at  7.05 am (Mar  5, 18:05 UT)
  Last quarter:  March 14 at  6.48 am (Mar 13, 17:48 UT)
  New moon:      March 20 at 10.36 pm (        09:36 UT)
  First quarter: March 27 at  8.43 pm (        07:43 UT)

The planets

Venus and Mars remain early evening objects, setting soon after the Sun. Jupiter, just past opposition, will be prominent all evening, Saturn rises late to mid evening so will be visible low to the east an hour later. Mercury is an easy morning object in the first part of March.

Mercury continues to be well placed for morning viewing before sunrise, during the first part of March. It rises more than 2 hours before the Sun on March 1st The planet will be 12° above the horizon in a direction a little to the south of east at the beginning of nautical twilight (Sun 12° below the horizon), about 6 am. At magnitude 0.0 the planet will be the brightest object low to the east.

Mercury starts March in Capricornus. As it moves to the east through the stars, it will pass the asteroid Vesta, magnitude 7.9, early in the month. The two are closest on the morning of March 5 when Vesta will be 50 arc-minutes to the upper right of Mercury. On that morning the star iota Cap, magnitude 4.3, will be 25 arc-minutes above Mercury with Vesta 40 arc minutes to the right of the star. They should be easy to pick up in binoculars while the sky is still nearly dark.

Mercury moves on into Aquarius on March 12 still rising 2 hours before the Sun and readily visible an hour before sunrise. A week later, on the morning of March 19, Mercury will rise only 100 minutes before the Sun, so making it lower in the morning sky at the equivalent time. The planet will be a little brighter at magnitude -0.3. On that morning Mercury will appear close to Neptune, the latter 1.6° to Mercury's left. At magnitude 8.0 Neptune will not be easy in binoculars. The moon will also be quite close, a very thin crescent some 5° to the two planets left and a little higher.

During the rest of the month Mercury will get lower in the morning sky. By the 31st it will rise less only 50 minutes before the Sun making it difficult to find even though now at magnitude -1.0.

Venus and MARS, together with Uranus, are all quite close in the early evening sky. But they will be low. On the 1st, half an hour after sunset, at the end of civil twilight, Venus will be 7.5° above the horizon, at magnitude -4.0 easy to find. Mars, much fainter, magnitude 1.3, will be a 3° left of, and slightly lower than Venus. It will need binoculars to locate. Uranus, fainter still at 5.9, will be 4° to the right of Venus and a little higher. But it is not likely to be visible even in binoculars.

On the 1st Mars will set just an hour after the Sun, Venus about 10 minutes later and Uranus just over 10 minutes later again.

As the month progresses the two inner planets will move past Uranus. Venus will be closest to Uranus on the 4th and 5th. On the 4th it will be to the lower left of Uranus, on the 5th to its upper right, the separation of the two planets being just over half a degree, the diameter of the full moon, on both nights. Mars passes Uranus on the 11th and 12th and will be slightly closer to Uranus than Venus was. By then, Mars will set less than 1 hour after the Sun, making it a difficult object - Uranus just about impossible!

By the end of March, Mars will be setting only 45 minutes after the Sun, but Venus on the other hand will set nearly 90 minutes later than the Sun, as its elongation from the Sun increases.

On the 22nd the 5% lit crescent moon will be just under 5° to the upper right of Mars. The following night, now 12% lit, will be just over 5°to the upper right of Venus.

Jupiter will be easily visible to the northeast by the time Venus is lost to view. It will remain in the sky until well after midnight. The planet is in Cancer, moving slowly to the west through the stars, its westerly motion being due to the faster moving Earth overtaking it.

Jupiter motion in Cancer is towards the Praesepe cluster. By the end of March they will be some 5° apart. Their separation won't get much less as Jupiter reverses direction early in April when it starts moving to the east again.

The moon passes Jupiter twice in March. On the 3rd the nearly full moon will be 5° from Jupiter. On the 30th the moon coming round for a second time will be about half a degree closer. It will then be 78% lit.

Mutual events of jovian satellites

There are about 27 mutual events of Jupiter's Galilean satellites observable from NZ during March. Now Jupiter is visible in the evening sky, some of these take place at a more convenient time. They include:

  • March 8, Ganymede occults Callisto mid event ca 10:38pm. The two merge about 10:20 and separate again about 10:55.
  • March 14, Io eclipses Ganymede. Maximum ecl just after 9 pm Starts ca 8:50, ends ca 9:10, mag change 0.5
  • March 15, Europa occults Io mid event 9:24 pm merge ca 9:20, separate ca 9:28
  • March 27, Io eclipses Europa. Maximum eclipse ca 8:56 pm Starts ca 8:53, ends ca 8:59, mag change 1.0 Europa will be only 13" from Jupiter's limb
  • March 31, Ganymede eclipses Europa. Maximum eclipse ca 10:22 pm Starts ca 10:18, end ca 10:26, mag change 0.5

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 rises just before midnight on 1st March. By the 31st it will rise a little before 10 pm so getting about 4 minutes earlier each night. The planet is in Scorpius and is stationary mid-month. As a result the position of Saturn changes very little during the month. It will be less than 2° from the 2.6 magnitude double star beta Sco. The companion of beta has a magnitude 4.5 and is 14" from the brighter star. Binoculars will show up the star's double nature.

On the 12th the gibbous moon, 62% lit, will be 3.5° from Saturn, with the moon on the opposite side of Saturn to beta Sco. At midnight on the 12th, Saturn will be visible low in a directions a little south of east, having risen about an hour earlier.

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 remains in Pisces in March, an evening object magnitude 5.9. It will set 80 minutes after the Sun on the 1st, but only 15 minutes later than the Sun on the 31st. So even at the beginning of the month it will be a difficult binocular object in the Sunset glow. The close approach of Venus on the 4th and 5th may make locating Uranus using binoculars easier

Neptune was at conjunction with the Sun on February 26. It becomes a morning object in March. By the 31st it rises 2 hours before the Sun. The planet is in Aquarius at magnitude 8.

Pluto is in Sagittarius rising near 2.30 am on the 1st and 2 hours earlier on the 31st. Its magnitude is 14.4

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is a morning object in Sagittarius with magnitude 9.2. On the 1st it will be just over 6° from Pluto and rise 4 minutes later. On the 31st Ceres crosses into Capricornus, it then rises about 1.20 am.

(3) Juno is an evening object in Cancer during March. It loses brightness steadily during the month as its distance from the Earth increases. Its magnitude ranges from 8.8 in the 1st to 9.6 on the 31st.

(4) Vesta is in Capricornus at the start of March. It moves into Aquarius on the 22nd. On the morning of the 16th it will be just over a quarter degree, half the diameter of the full moon, to the left of the star delta Cap, magnitude 2.9. This should make Vesta easy to locate in binoculars. About 6am would be a good time to look for the two. Don't confuse Vesta with an 8.8 magnitude star a little to its right.

(7) Iris is in Leo and at opposition at the beginning of the month. Its magnitude will then be 8.9. It moves into Sextans on the 7th, and fades to magnitude 9.5 by the 31st.

-- Brian Loader

7. 2015 RASNZ Conference

Dear Friends, Colleagues,

It is a pleasure to announce that the next conference of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ) will be held at Lake Tekapo from 8th-10th May 2015. Our guest speakers will be Professors Gerry Gilmore (University of Cambridge) and Edward Guinan (Villanova University), and the Fellows Lecture for 2015 will be delivered by Associate Professor Karen Pollard from Canterbury University. Titles and abstracts for these talks will be released when they are available.

For further information on the RASNZ conference and registration please visit the conference website at www.rasnz.org.nz/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.

The RASNZ standing conference committee invites and encourages anyone interested in New Zealand Astronomy to submit papers, with titles and abstracts due 1st April 2015. The link to the paper submission form can be found on the RASNZ conference website given above, or you can go to the RASNZ Conference Paper submission form. Please note that you MUST be registered for the conference to make a presentation. Even if you are just thinking of presenting a paper please submit the form, and we can follow up with you at a later date.

We look forward to receiving your submission and seeing you at conference.

Please feel free to forward this message to anyone who may find this of interest.

Sincerely yours, Warwick Kissling, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

8. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)

The RASNZ Occultation Section is pleased to announce that the 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9) will be held at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, over 11-12 May 2015. Comprehensive information about the meeting is available here:

http://occultations.org.nz/meetings/TTSO9/TTSO9.htm

The meeting will immediately follow the 2015 RASNZ Conference and the Mt John Observatory 50th Anniversary Symposium. Because attendance at all these meetings is expected to be high, accommodation space in Tekapo is likely to be limited. If you plan to attend any of these meetings we recommend that you book your accommodation early.

-- Murray Forbes.

9. 2017 Conference - Host Sought

The RASNZ Standing Conference Committee (SCC) invites interested societies, affiliated to the RASNZ, to offer to host the 2017 RASNZ conference. Conferences are usually held in May.

Information about hosting a conference, such as a guide to the facilities needed at the conference venue and an outline of the responsibilities of the Local Organising Committee which they will need to form, can be found here: RASNZ Conference Guidelines (please note you need to be a registered member on the web-site to access this link). In addition, please feel free to contact the SCC by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Please submit your offer to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. no later than 2015 April 17.

The SCC hopes to be able to make a recommendation for the host of the 2017 conference to the RASNZ Council at its meeting in May so that a formal invitation can be issued.

-- Glen Rowe, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee.

10. Eta Carinae's Stars Clash

Embedded in the lovely Carina Nebula, one of the great observing gems of the far-southern sky, Eta Carinae is the most massive, most luminous star within 10,000 light-years of us. (It's 7,500 light-years distant.) Astronomers now believe it's actually a binary star whose gigantic primary has roughly 90 times the Sun's mass and outshines it by 5 million times. Less is known about the secondary, but it too is thought to be enormous, with perhaps 30 solar masses and a million times the Sun's luminosity.

Eta Carinae erupted violently in 1843, ejecting perhaps 10 Sun's worth of mass - a truly titanic blast that would have destroyed a lesser star. This "erratic stellar monster," as one researcher dubbed it, briefly became the second-brightest star in the night sky. Today astronomers see the results of that outburst as an expanding two-lobed shell called the Homunculus Nebula.

More recently, space observatories found that Eta Carinae creates strong X-ray outbursts every 5.5 years. This happens whenever the paired stars are closest in their highly elongated orbit and separated by only about 225 million km - roughly Mars's distance from the Sun.

These periodic encounters are not just hi-and-bye affairs. It's more a clash of the titans. The larger star's extreme luminosity is driving dense stellar winds that carry off a Jupiter's worth of mass every year at roughly 400 km per second. The secondary also creates an intense outflow, one that's less dense yet has six times higher velocity.

Computer simulations by Thomas Madura (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center) and others suggest that the secondary's flow carves out a cavity in the primary's slower, denser wind - much as a moving boat creates a wake around it.

Nothing much happens when the two stars are widely separated. But when closest to each other, at periastron, the two flows collide violently, creating a shock boundary that heats the gas to tens of millions of degrees - hot enough to generate a torrent of X-rays that build gradually over many months and then drop off precipitously as the stars start to separate.

Madura and others at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center have created a dramatic recreation of how the winds interact when they slam together that's worth watching. See it at the link below.

NASA's Swift spacecraft captured the most recent X-ray flare-up last July, and it was stronger than previous outbursts recorded in 1995, 2003, and 2009 by the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer. Moreover, the tailing off of the emission spike was different too. One of the two stars' winds must have changed over time - but which?

Fortunately, observers could sort it out using a blue-light emission from ionized helium at 468.6 nanometres. As Mairan Teodoro (Western Michigan University) explains, the X-rays are produced on the side of the shock zone nearest the secondary. But the helium emission comes from the primary's dense slow wind - a crucial difference.

At the recent meeting of American Astronomical Society, Teodoro presented 22 years of spectroscopic observations of Eta Carinae gathered using a worldwide network of telescopes. (Amateurs played a crucial role in this campaign, by the way.) He says that the helium emission, first noted during 2003's periastron, has been steady to within about 20%. So the varying X-ray flux must be due to changes in the secondary star and its high-speed wind.

Frankly, astronomers know very little about the secondary - even its mass is something of a guesstimate. As Madura concedes, "We actually still don't know what the secondary star is, and that's one of the reasons why we're doing all this work." In fact, a big question mark remains about the 1843 eruption. "Everyone thinks it's the more massive star that threw off the mass [in 1843] to form the Homunculus Nebula," he says, "but to be honest we don't even know which star had the eruption."

-- Article by Kelly Beatty, copied from http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/eta-carinae-x-ray-pulse-01162015/?et_mid=717089&rid=246399573


Eta Carinae was monitored at Mt John Observatory as part of the international collaboration during May to October 2014. High resolution spectroscopic observations from the HERCULES spectrograph on the 1-metre McLellan telescope were obtained of this interesting unstable high-mass binary system in order to study the dynamics and activity system, including the interacting stellar winds. The binary system has an orbital period of 5.5 years. The components of this high mass binary system had their closest approach to each other in August 2014, during which time it was spectroscopically monitored from several observatories around the world. People involved in the UC/Mt John part of this project are Karen Pollard (UC/Mt John), Pam Kilmartin (UC/Mt John), Fraser Gunn (UC/Mt John), and Carolle Varughese (UC Dept Physics and Astronomy summer student).

-- From a note by Karen Pollard.

11. Inflation Signature Not Found in Plank Analysis

Confirming earlier suspicions, a joint analysis of data from the European Space Agency´s Planck satellite and the ground-based BICEP2 and Keck Array experiments has found no conclusive evidence of primordial gravitational waves. (See Newsletter No. 166, Item 8.)

The universe began about 13.8 billion years ago and evolved from an extremely hot, dense and uniform state to the rich and complex cosmos of galaxies, stars and planets we see today. An extraordinary source of information about the universe´s history is the cosmic microwave background, or CMB, the legacy of light emitted only 380,000 years after the Big Bang. ESA´s Planck satellite observed this background across the whole sky with unprecedented accuracy, and a broad variety of new findings about the early universe has already been revealed over the past two years.

But astronomers are still digging ever deeper in the hope of exploring even further back in time: they are searching for a particular signature of cosmic `inflation´ -- a very brief accelerated expansion that, according to current theory, the universe experienced when it was only the tiniest fraction of a second old. This signature would be recorded in gravitational waves, tiny perturbations in the fabric of space-time, that astronomers believe would have been generated during the inflationary phase.

Interestingly, these perturbations should leave an imprint on another feature of the cosmic background: its polarization. When light waves vibrate preferentially in a certain direction, we say the light is polarized. The CMB is polarized, exhibiting a complex arrangement across the sky. This arises from the combination of two basic patterns: circular and radial (known as E-modes), and curly (B-modes).

Different phenomena in the universe produce either E- or B-modes on different angular scales. Identifying the various contributions requires extremely precise measurements. It is the B-modes that could probe the universe´s early inflation. But this unique record of the very early universe is hidden in the polarization of the CMB, which itself only represents only a few percent of the total light.

Early 2014 the BICEP2 team presented results based on observations of the polarized CMB on a small patch of the sky performed in 2010-12 with their microwave telescope at the South Pole. The team also used preliminary data from another South Pole experiment, the Keck Array. They found curly B-modes in the polarization observed over stretches of the sky a few times larger than the size of the full Moon. The BICEP2 team presented evidence favouring the interpretation that this signal originated in primordial gravitational waves, sparking an enormous response in the academic community and general public.

However interstellar dust in our galaxy can produce a similar effect. The Milky Way is pervaded by a mixture of gas and dust shining at similar frequencies to those of the CMB. This foreground emission affects the observation of the most ancient cosmic light. Very careful analysis is needed to separate the foreground emission from the cosmic background. Critically, interstellar dust also emits polarized light, thus affecting the CMB polarization as well.

The BICEP2 team relied on models for galactic dust emission that were available at the time. These seemed to indicate that the region of the sky chosen for the observations had dust polarization much lower than the detected signal. The two ground-based experiments collected data at a single microwave frequency, making it difficult to separate the emissions coming from the Milky Way and the background.

The Plank satellite observed the sky in nine microwave and sub- millimetre frequency channels, seven of which were also equipped with polarization-sensitive detectors. By careful analysis, this multi- frequency data can be used to separate the various contributions.

The BICEP2 team had chosen a field where they believed dust emission would be low, and thus interpreted the signal as likely to be cosmological. However, as soon as Planck´s maps of the polarized emission from galactic dust were released, it was clear that this foreground contribution could be much higher than previously expected. In fact, in September 2014, Planck revealed for the first time that the polarized emission from dust is significant over the entire sky, and comparable to the signal detected by BICEP2 even in the cleanest regions.

So, the Planck and BICEP2 teams joined forces. They combined the satellite´s ability to deal with foregrounds, using observations at several frequencies, with the greater sensitivity of the ground-based experiments over limited areas of the sky, thanks to their more recent, improved technology. By then, the full Keck Array data from 2012 and 2013 had also become available. This joint work showed that the detection of primordial B-modes was not clear once the emission from galactic dust is removed.

Another source of B-mode polarization, dating back to the early universe, was detected in this study, but on much smaller scales on the sky. This signal, first discovered in 2013, is not a direct probe of the inflationary phase but is induced by the cosmic web of massive structures that populate the universe and change the path of the CMB photons on their way to us. This effect is called `gravitational lensing,´ since it is caused by massive objects bending the surrounding space and thus deflecting the trajectory of light much like a magnifying glass does. The detection of this signal using Planck, BICEP2 and the Keck Array together is the strongest yet.

As for signs of the inflationary period, the question remains open. The joint study sets an upper limit on the strength of gravitational waves from inflation. They might have been generated at the time but at a level too low to be confirmed by the present analysis. The analysis shows that the amount of gravitational waves can probably be no more than about half the observed signal. The gravitational wave signal could still be there, and the search is definitely on.

For the full text and images see http://sci.esa.int/planck/55362-planck-gravitational-waves-remain-elusive/

-- From a European Space Agency press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

12. How to Join 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/RASNZInfo/MemberBenefits.shtml 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/RASNZInfo/Membership/ 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.

14. Quote

 

"'For the first time in New Zealand, and possibly for the first time in the world, the prediction of the occurrence of an aurora was made with certainty on August 22,1939.... The director of [Carter Observatory], Mr M. Geddes, noticed in the case of a number of aurorae that earth currents which accompanied the displays and seriously interfered with telephonic communications frequently began in the afternoon preceding the auroral display. Arrangements were consequently made with the post office for prompt advice of such interference, and when earth currents became evident on the afternoon of August 22nd last it was possible to warn the photographic stations... of the brilliant aurora which became visible as darkness fell.' R.A. McIntosh made no mention of solar activity, long suspected but not yet shown to play a role in the aurora. That connection was finally established in 1948."

-- Quoted from The Sky, March 1940, in Sky and Telescope, March 2015, p.10.


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

Astronomical Societies affiliated to the RASNZ have representation on the RASNZ Council through the Affiliated Society Representatives (see below). Societies have access to travel assistance for bringing guest speakers to their meetings through the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund. See the list of speakers for people who have offered to come and talk to your society or can lead various sorts of workshops.

Societies also benefit through receipt of a copy of Southern Stars and contact with other astronomical societies through notices of activities and events sent out by the Affiliated Society Representatives from time to time.

Keeping in Touch newsletters are sent out to Affiliated Societies to spread the word about items that may be of interest to Societies and their members. Back issues of Keeping in Touch PDFs may be downloaded from the Affiliated Society Files page. Other files of interest to Societies may also be found there.

Contact details for Affiliated Societies are provided on the Society's Details page.

Affiliated Society Representatives

The RASNZ Affiliated Society representatives provide liaison between the various affiliated societies and the RASNZ council. From time to time we email notices to the societies. If you have an event coming up, want to share knowledge or equipment, or have anything you'd like to let the other societies or council know about please send us an email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Updates for Affiliated Society information.

Updates to the Affiliated Society's details may be sent to your This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


New Zealand law changes concerning High Powered Lasers

Law concerning the sale or supply of high powered laser pointers (greater than 1mW) has been introduced in New Zealand. There are special provisions to allow astronomical societies to obtain such pointers for astronomical use. See the details supplied by the Ministry of Health.

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

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

Contents

1. Graham Blow
2. Stardate South Island Feb. 20-23
3. ATV-5 Atmospheric Re-entry Update - Feb.28
4. The Solar System in February
5. 2015 RASNZ Conference
6. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)
7. ExoWorlds Naming Contest Opened
8. Antarctic Meteor Crater
9. X-ray Stars in Colliding Galaxies
10. Cassini Plumbs Titan's Lakes
11. Closure Averted for World-Class Observatories
12. More from the 2014 Conference
13. How to Join RASNZ
14. Quotes

1. Graham Blow

As most members will be aware Graham Blow died at the age of 60 at the end of 2014. He passed away peacefully at his home on the 31st December. His death followed a severe heart attack a week earlier. Graham's funeral was held on Monday 5 January at Houghton Bay, Wellington.

Graham will be remembered for his enthusiasm for occultation observing. He formed the RASNZ Occultation Section in October 1977 and remained director of the Section for over 37 years until his death.

One of Graham's legacies will be the series of Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultation, TTSO, meetings started in 2007 and held annually since then alternating between New Zealand and Australia. The 2015 TTSO9 will be held at Tekapo on Monday and Tuesday May 11 and 12 following the RASNZ conference.

In the mid-1970s Graham and others organized the National Committee for student astronomy. This got a lot of secondary school pupils involved in astronomy. Some are now RASNZ members.

One of Graham's greatest achievements was in 1988 when Pluto occulted a 12th magnitude star. Graham encouraged several observers with photo- electric equipment to observe the event. It happened that NZ was at the southern edge of the occultation track. Seen from Mt John the star just grazed Pluto's atmosphere, till then unknown. Observers further north at Black Birch and Auckland saw the star occulted by the planet. These observations contributed to the first accurate determination of Pluto's size. The occultation also started studies of Pluto's atmosphere that continue today.

-- From notes by Brian Loader, John Talbot, Warwick Kissling and Alan Gilmore.

2. Stardate South Island Feb. 20-23

Stardate SI runs from Feb 20 to Feb 23 at the hostel and campsite at Staveley. Talks begin on Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. while we wait for the sky to get dark.

The featured speaker is Steve Chadwick. Steve will talk on "A trip around the Clouds of Magellan", "An introduction to narrow-band imaging" and will run a practical workshop on using Photoshop to process astroimages.

Other talks and contributors are "Dissecting a 6" Newtonian" - Rob Glassey "How astronomy advanced inquiry to the use of an experimental method" - Philip Catton "The 2014 periastron passage of Eta Carinae" - Malcolm Locke "Deconstructing a Canon 350D" - Andrei Cotiga "Constructing an observatory" - Peter Aldous TBA - Phil Barker

For full details see http://www.treesandstars.com/stardate/

3. ATV-5 Atmospheric Re-entry Update - Feb.28

Further to the item in Newsletter No. 166, Item 4, October 2014, Jovan Skuljan writes:

The final orbit of ESA's Automated Transfer Vehicle 5 (ATV-5), also named Georges Lemaitre, has shifted more towards the south of the South Island. The expected re-entry date is now 28 February 2015, at around 1:30 a.m. NZDT. The final ephemeris is still not available, but the latest prediction is for a ground track passing almost directly above Dunedin. This means that the viewing conditions from Mt John will not be particularly good, since the maximum altitude above the horizon at Lake Tekapo is unlikely to reach 20 degrees. However, the satellite will be easy to observe from Otago and Southland.

All New Zealand astronomers are invited to join the campaign and take images of the ATV-5 as it crosses the sky above the South Island. This collaborative effort will be coordinated by the Defence Technology Agency (DTA) in Auckland, where the images will be collected and included in the final data analysis. The only equipment required for the observation is a digital camera fitted with a standard photographic lens. The aim is to record the satellite trail across the fixed stellar background.

Expressions of interest should be sent directly to Dr Jovan Skuljan (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) who will coordinate this project. The participants will receive a PDF document describing the event and observation techniques. Please indicate the most likely location that you are planning to use (the nearest town will be sufficient at this stage), and a short description of your equipment, including the camera, lens and telescope mount (or tripod). The best locations should be within 100-200 km to either side (north or south) of the ground track (currently Dunedin). The equatorial ephemerides will be available closer to the time of the event.

4. The Solar System in February

All dates and times are NZDT (UT +13 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 february

                   February  1                    February 28        
                  morning evening                morning evening     
            rise: 6.23am, set:  8.44pm   rise:   6.57am, set:  8.08pm
Twilights                                                            
Civil:    starts: 5.55am, ends: 9.13pm   starts: 6.31am, ends: 8.35pm
Nautical: starts: 5.17am, ends: 9.51pm   starts: 5.57am, ends: 9.09pm
Astro:    starts: 4.35am, ends:10.32pm   starts: 5.22am, ends: 9.44pm

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

  Full moon:     February  4 at 12.09 pm (Feb  3, 23:09 UT)
  Last quarter:  February 12 at  4.50 pm (        03:50 UT)
  New moon:      February 19 at 12.47 pm (Feb 18, 23:47 UT)
  First quarter: February 26 at  6.14 am (Feb 25, 17:14 UT)

The planets in february

Venus and Mars are close together and visible for a short time after sunset. Jupiter reaches opposition and is visible most of the night but Saturn is only visible in the morning sky although it rises just before midnight by the end of February. Mercury moves rapidly up into the morning sky to become easily visible an hour before sunrise in the second half of the month.

Mercury was at inferior conjunction with the Sun on January 30 so it starts February much too close to the Sun to observe. It subsequently moves rapidly into the morning sky, rising 45 minutes before the Sun on the 6th and nearly 100 minutes earlier a week later. On the 13th at 5.40 am, an hour before sunrise, Mercury at magnitude 0.6 will be some 7° above the horizon, easily the brightest low object a little to the south of west.

From the 17th and on into early March, Mercury will rise more than 2 hours before the Sun and it will the planet will gradually brighten a little. On the 28th Mercury will be more than 12° above the horizon an hour before sunrise, making it an easy morning object with a magnitude 0.1. This will be the best morning appearance of Mercury for the year for the southern hemisphere.

Venus and MARS become a pair of early evening planets during February. On the 1st, Venus is 9.5° left of Mars. Both planets start February in Aquarius. Both move into Pisces during the month with Venus closing in on Mars. On the 22nd, they are at their closest with Venus less than half a degree above Mars. Their brightness contrast will be extreme, Venus more than 100 times brighter than Mars.

The previous evening, when the two planets will be only slightly further apart, the moon as a fine crescent will be 4.5° to their right. By February 28 Venus will be nearly 3° ahead of Mars.

The two planets set a little over an hour after the Sun throughout February. On the 1st Mars almost 90 minutes later, Venus 68 minutes later. On the 28th Mars will set first, 63 minutes after the Sun, while Venus sets 8 minutes later (as seen from Wellington).

Jupiter is at opposition on February 7. Thus it will be visible most of the night, although low to the northeast early evening, particularly at the beginning of the month. At opposition, Jupiter will be 650 million km, 4.35 AU, from the Earth and 5.33 AU from the Sun.

The planet starts February in Leo. During February it moves to the west (that is in a retrograde sense) and into Cancer on the 4th. Early that evening the full moon will be some 4.5° to the upper right of the planet. By midnight the sky will have rotated to bring the moon almost directly above Jupiter, its distance increasing to 5°.

Mutual events of jovian satellites

There are about 16 mutual events of Jupiter's Galilean satellites observable from NZ during February. The events involve either occultations or eclipses of one satellite by another. Visually, mutual occultations are the more interesting to watch as satellites can be seen to merge and separate over a period several minutes. Eclipses are normally partial events with fairly small magnitude changes of the eclipsed satellite. Consequently they are mostly difficult to detect visually. Total eclipses are rare.

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

For more details refer to the IMCCE web site, http://www.imcce.fr/phemu/ where predictions and requirements for observing and reporting information are available. Users of Dave Herald's Occult program can generate their own predictions.

Saturn remains a morning object throughout February. On the 1st it rises close to 1.30 am, by the end of the month a few minutes before midnight. The planet will be in Scorpius near the close double star beta Sco, magnitude 2.6. Saturn will be about 9° from Antares.

On the morning of the 13th, the moon, just past last quarter, will be 4.5° to the left of Saturn as seen in the early dawn sky.

During February Saturn's north pole is tilted almost 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 remains in Pisces as an evening object magnitude 5.9. By the end of February it will set at 8.30pm, so less than 90 minutes after the Sun and low in the fading twilight.

Neptune is within a degree of Venus on the 1st so will be low in the twilit sky. Despite being close to Venus, Neptune, magnitude 8.0, is likely to be difficult to see in binoculars due to twilight. Neptune is at conjunction with the Sun on the 26th. It will then be 4.63 billion km, almost 31 AU, from the Earth and 30 AU beyond the Sun.

Pluto is in Sagittarius and rises more than 4 hours before the Sun by the 28th. Its magnitude is 14.4

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is a morning object in Sagittarius with magnitude 9.2. By the end of the month it will rise over 4 hours before the Sun.

(3) Juno starts February in Hydra. It moves into Cancer on the 16th. This places it in the evening sky, although it doesn't set until several hours after midnight. Its brightness fades during the month from magnitude 8.2 to 8.9

(4) Vesta moves further into the morning sky following conjunction. It rises less than an hour before the Sun on the 1st, two hours before it on the 28th. The asteroid is in Capricornus, at magnitude 8.

(7) Iris and (8) Flora are both in Leo, but at opposite sides of the constellation, nearly 30° apart. Iris's magnitude varies from 9.5 to 9.0, Flora's at its brightest is 9.1 when at opposition on the 17th. Iris doesn't reach opposition until early March.

-- Brian Loader

5. 2015 RASNZ Conference

Dear Friends, Colleagues,

It is a pleasure to announce that the next conference of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ) will be held at Lake Tekapo from 8th-10th May 2015. Our guest speakers will be Professors Gerry Gilmore (University of Cambridge) and Edward Guinan (Villanova University), and the Fellows Lecture for 2015 will be delivered by Associate Professor Karen Pollard from Canterbury University. Titles and abstracts for these talks will be released when they are available.

For further information on the RASNZ conference and registration please visit the conference website at www.rasnz.org.nz/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.

The RASNZ standing conference committee invites and encourages anyone interested in New Zealand Astronomy to submit papers, with titles and abstracts due 1st April 2015. The link to the paper submission form can be found on the RASNZ conference website given above, or you can go to the RASNZ wiki www.rasnz.org.nz/wiki. Please note that you MUST be registered for the conference to make a presentation. Even if you are just thinking of presenting a paper please submit the form, and we can follow up with you at a later date.

We look forward to receiving your submission and seeing you at conference.

Please feel free to forward this message to anyone who may find this of interest.

Sincerely yours, Warwick Kissling, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

6. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)

The RASNZ Occultation Section is pleased to announce that the 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9) will be held at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, over 11-12 May 2015. Comprehensive information about the meeting is available here:

http://occultations.org.nz/meetings/TTSO9/TTSO9.htm

The meeting will immediately follow the 2015 RASNZ Conference and the Mt John Observatory 50th Anniversary Symposium. Because attendance at all these meetings is expected to be high, accommodation space in Tekapo is likely to be limited. If you plan to attend any of these meetings we recommend that you book your accommodation early.

-- Murray Forbes.

7. ExoWorlds Naming Contest Opened

The first ever contest allowing members of the public to name ExoWorlds began on January 13. It offers offering the registered clubs and non- profit organisations the chance to nominate their favourite systems to take through to the next rounds.

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) is organising a worldwide contest to give popular names to selected exoplanets along with their host stars, among a list of hundreds of well-characterized exoplanets it has offered for public naming. The first round of the competition allows all registered clubs and non-profit organisations to nominate up to 20 ExoWorlds (exoplanetary systems and their host stars) to be made available for the next stage of the contest, where names can be proposed for the most popular ExoWorlds.

Although people have been naming celestial objects for millennia, the IAU was delegated the task of assigning scientifically recognised names to newly discovered celestial bodies by its member countries. The NameExoWorlds contest is the first opportunity that the public will have to name not only exoplanets, but also, for the first time in centuries, to give popular names to stars - those that have known exoplanets in orbit around them.

To participate in the contest, clubs and non-profit organisations must first register with the IAU Directory of World Astronomy. The deadline for which has been extended to 23:59 UTC on 15 May 2015.

The deadline for the first stage of the contest itself is at 23:59 UTC 15 February 2015, when nominations for 20 ExoWorlds to be named will close. In the next phase, once the most popular ExoWorlds have been identified, the stars and planets will be made available to all registered clubs and organisations to submit their desired names. Each club or organisation can then propose a name for one ExoWorld, with all submissions having to abide by the IAU Exoplanet Naming Conventions and be supported by a detailed argument for their choice. When this stage has concluded, the public worldwide will then be invited to vote on their favourite proposed names.

The final results are expected to be announced at a special public ceremony held during the IAU XXIX General Assembly in Honolulu, USA, 3- 14 August 2015.

For the original announcement see http://nameexoworlds.org/ The list of hundreds of well-characterized exoplanets is at http://www.nameexoworlds.org/the_exoworlds The IAU Directory of World Astronomy is at http://directory.iau.org/ IAU naming conventions are found at http://www.iau.org/public/themes/naming_exoplanets/

-- From http://www.iau.org/news/pressreleases/detail/iau1501/

---------- Commenting on this opportunity, Phil Yock writes:

Included amongst the 305 candidates chosen by the IAU were the first 8 exoplanets found by gravitational microlensing. New Zealand astronomers contributed to all these discoveries. Here are some details on the first four:- (1) I. Bond et al., ApJL 606, L155 (2004), discovery led by MOA, confirmed by OGLE (2) A. Udalski et al., ApJL 628, L109 (2005), discovery led by OGLE, contributions made by several observatories including NZ amateur observatories, first amateur co-found planet in 200 years (3) J. Beaulieu et al., Nature 439, 437 (2005), discovery led by PLANET with NZ members and OGLE group, contribution by MOA group (4) A. Gould et al., ApJL 644, L37 (2006), discovery led by MicroFUN with NZ members and OGLE group and members of MOA

Proposals could be made for all these planets. For example, the first microlensing planet (which was a giant planet) could be named Moa to indicate its large size, the NZ connection, and the fact that neither the bird nor the planet will be detected again. If this were to happen, the Japanese members of MOA and/or the OGLE group could perhaps propose a name for the host star of the planet.

8. Antarctic Meteor Crater

During a routine flight over the Antarctic ice shelf on 20 December last year, geophysicist Christian Müller spotted something strange: a huge, 2-kilometre-wide circle on the ice.

Müller, a contractor with research consultants Fielax from Bremerhaven, Germany, was in Antarctica as part of a polar survey conducted by the German Alfred Wegener Institute. Six days after spotting the weird ice- ring, he and his colleagues returned and flew over the site at two different altitudes, to photograph and scan it. Their working theory is that the ring marks an ice crater left by a large meteorite that slammed into Antarctica in 2004.

Two previous studies seem to back up this theory. First, a trail of dust was seen 30 kilometres above Antarctica on 3 September 2004. An Australian team speculated at the time that this was the remnants of one of the largest meteoroids to have entered Earth's atmosphere during the decade (Nature, 10.1038/nature03881).

Second, in 2007, another team used global infrasound (low-frequency sound) data to triangulate the location of a big bang that was picked up by remote sensors on that same date (Earth, Moon and Planets, 10.1007/s11038-007-9205-z. They pinpointed the Antarctic ice shelf, very close to where Müller spotted his ice crater and speculated the bang had been made by a meteoroid the size of a house.

Müller and his colleagues say their theory still needs to be carefully checked out, and will be conducting further studies.

For more see http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn26769-huge-circle-in-antarctic-ice-hints-at-meteorite-impact.html?cmpid=RSS|NSNS|2012-GLOBAL|online-news#.VLb3qhX2_IU

9. X-ray Stars in Colliding Galaxies

When galaxies get together, there is the chance of a spectacular light show as is the case with NGC 2207 and IC 2163.

Located about 130 million light-years from Earth, in the constellation of Canis Major, this pair of spiral galaxies has been caught in a grazing encounter. NGC 2207 and IC 2163 have hosted three supernova explosions in the past 15 years and have produced one of the most bountiful collections of super bright X-ray lights known. These special objects -- known as "ultraluminous X-ray sources" (ULXs) -- have been found using data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory.

As in our Milky Way galaxy, NGC 2207 and IC 2163 are sprinkled with many star systems known as X-ray binaries, which consist of a star in a tight orbit around either a neutron star or a "stellar-mass" black hole. The strong gravity of the neutron star or black hole pulls matter from the companion star. As this matter falls toward the neutron star or black hole, it is heated to millions of degrees and generates X- rays.

ULXs have far brighter X-rays than most "normal" X-ray binaries. The true nature of ULXs is still debated, but they are likely a peculiar type of X-ray binary. The black holes in some ULXs may be heavier than stellar mass black holes and could represent a hypothesized, but as yet unconfirmed, intermediate-mass category of black holes.

The composite image of NGC 2207 and IC 2163 at http://chandra.harvard.edu/photo/2014/ngc2207/ contains Chandra data in pink, optical light data from the Hubble Space Telescope in red, green, and blue (appearing as blue, white, orange, and brown), and infrared data from the Spitzer Space Telescope in red.

The scientists involved in studying this system note that there is a strong correlation between the number of X-ray sources in different regions of the galaxies and the rate at which stars are forming in these regions. The composite image shows this correlation through X-ray sources concentrated in the spiral arms of the galaxies, where large amounts of stars are known to be forming. This correlation also suggests that the companion star in the binary systems is young and massive.

Colliding galaxies like this pair are well known to contain intense star formation. Shock waves -- like the sonic booms from supersonic aircraft -- form during the collision, leading to the collapse of clouds of gas and the formation of star clusters. In fact, researchers estimate that the stars associated with the ULXs are very young and may only be about 10 million years old. In contrast, our Sun is about halfway through its 10-billion-year lifetime. Moreover, analysis shows that stars of various masses are forming in this galaxy pair at a rate equivalent to form 24 stars the mass of our Sun per year. In comparison, a galaxy like our Milky Way is expected to spawn new stars at a rate equivalent to only about one to three new suns every year.

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

10. Cassini Plumbs Titan's Lakes

Saturn's largest moon, Titan, continues to put on a show for the Cassini spacecraft as its moves toward northern summer. In a recent flyby, Cassini sounded the depths of Titan's largest sea, Kraken Mare, and discovered new transient features similar to the previously observed "Magic Island" (http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/cassini/saturn-moon-titan-20131212.html).

On 21 August 2014, Cassini set out to measure the depth of Kraken Mare and characterize the sea state of both Kraken and Ligeia Mare. Using the techniques developed to sound the depths of Ligeia Mare in May 2013 (http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/cassini/saturn-moon-titan-20131212.html), the Cassini Radar Team has isolated reflections from a 40 km segment of Kraken Mare's sea floor. These bottom echoes were found in a shallow region near the mouth of a drowned river valley that feeds the sea and showed distinctive double-peaked returns indicating shallow depths of 20-35 m. For the remainder of the 200 km shore-to-shore track across the sea, the sea floor was not observed. This means that the liquid was either too deep (> 200 m) or too absorbing (much more absorbing than Ligeia Mare). The altimetry data from dry land in and around Kraken Mare showed relatively steep slopes leading up to the sea, consistent with, but not necessarily evidence for, deep liquid. Cassini scientists are still analysing the data to determine the liquid's absorptivity, which is related to its composition, but the shallow depths, as compared to the 160 m depth of central Ligeia Mare, make this calculation difficult. Applying these techniques to the 2008 altimetry data over Ontario Lacus, the largest lake in Titan's south polar region has, for the first time, revealed depths of 20-40 m in the lake's southern areas.

In addition to measuring depths of Kraken, Cassini re-observed a mysterious transient feature, dubbed Titan's "Magic Island," first seen in July 2013 (http://www.nasa.gov/jpl/cassini/cassini-watches-mysterious-feature-evolve-in-titan-sea). Observations obtained starting two weeks after the initial discovery of the "Magic Island" did not show evidence for the bright features. The data acquired in August 2014, however, reveal that bright features are again present at the location of the original "Magic Island," but that their appearance has evolved since the initial discovery. It is unclear whether the features have been continuously present since July 2013, and were in some way not detectable in the interim, or if the two observations indicate distinct transient events. Currently, the most likely candidates are waves, bubbles, or floating debris.

In an exciting development, two new transient "Magic Island" features were also observed in Kraken Mare during the August 2014 observation. Unlike the Ligeia transients, however, the Kraken Mare transients were observed within several hours of observations acquired by Cassini's Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS). The VIMS data show a 5-micron-bright detection at the same location as the radar transients. This detection is similar to returns interpreted as specular reflections from waves or wet ground. These observations require the transient feature to be located at the surface of the liquid and support explanations including waves and wet floating debris. Combined, these new observations demonstrate that Titan's polar seas are dynamic and exciting environments that will certainly continue to surprise and astonish us for the remaining years of the Cassini mission. Cassini is scheduled to observe the Ligeia features again in January 2015.

-- From a Cornell University press release forwarded by Karen Pollard

11. Closure Averted for World-Class Observatories

In a hopeful turn of events, the University of Hawaii has assumed ownership of the 35-year-old United Kingdom Infrared Telescope (UKIRT). One of the world´s leading infrared observatories, UKIRT will continue surveying nearby brown dwarfs, distant supermassive black holes, and everything in between.

Despite high productivity, UKIRT faced closure when UK´s Science and Technology Facilities Council pulled funding in 2012. A few months later, UKIRT director Gary Davis posted an Announcement of Opportunity, basically putting the world-class observatory up for sale.

It worked. Scientific operations will continue now that the University of Hawai´i supports the facility in partnership with the University of Arizona and Lockheed Martin Space Technology Advanced Research and Development Laboratories.

A similar turnabout seems to be in place for the 15-meter James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), which observes submillimeter-wavelength emission from cold dust and gas within the solar system and in distant galaxies. Also placed on the chopping block in 2012, its for-sale announcement came in June 2013. The latest update says JCMT operations will transfer early next year to the University of Hawaii, in partnership with the East Asian Core Observatories Association.

This news may cheer astronomers at a number of state-of-the-art observatories still facing closure. As funding funnels towards next-gen scopes such as ALMA, the European Extremely Large Telescope, the Thirty Meter Telescope, and the Square Kilometre Array, current observatories around the world are coming under budgetary fire.

The U.S. National Science Foundation announced in 2012 plans to divest from two radio telescopes, the Green Bank Telescope and the Very Long Baseline Array, as well as three optical telescopes from the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Though Green Bank received a $1 million boost from the West Virginia University, it will need more if it is to survive long-term.

In 2013 the University of California announced its intentions to stop funding the long-running Lick Observatory by 2018. This decision was amended at the end of 2014 so that Lick Observatory operations will continue under the management of University of California Observatories (UCO), the multi-campus astronomical research unit headquartered at the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz.

The University of California Office of the President has given the UCO Director, with advice from the UCO Advisory Committee and others, the flexibility to determine the best distribution of available UC resources between Lick and other UC-related astronomical facilities such as the 10-meter Keck Telescopes in Hawaii, the instrumentation labs at UC Santa Cruz and UCLA, and the future Thirty Meter Telescope now under construction.

There are now enough funds in the projected budgets of UCO to run Lick Observatory for the next five years, albeit at a frugal level. Lick has an annual operating budget of approximately $1.5 million. Ongoing fundraising efforts and potential partnerships currently being explored may provide additional funding for Lick.

-- From articles by Monica Young and Hilary Lebow on Sky & Telescope's webpage. See the more at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/closure-averted-world-class-infrared-telescope-110314/ and http://news.ucsc.edu/2014/11/Lick-support.html

12. More from the 2014 Conference

Zelia Dionnet, a visitor to Auckland University, talked about work on meteorites that she was involved with in Paris. Efforts to relate particular meteors to particular asteroids rely on their similarities in colour. This comparison is impeded by `space weathering´. The colours of asteroids are altered by the flux of cosmic rays and energetic atoms from the sun. Also the surface material is continually stirred up by tiny meteors and occasionally rearranged completely by major collisions. Zelia´s research measured the effect of cosmic ray action by subjecting meteorite samples to beams of high-speed ions and measuring the change in the reflectivity. Meteoric material was reddened by this exposure.

Haritina Mogasanu showed examples of the RASNZ Education Section´s new website and its content. It is intended that this will be a resource for teaching astronomy. Haritina appealed for more contributions by RASNZ members.

Grant Christie led off Sunday morning´s presentations with a summary of ten years of the Microlens Follow-up Network, MicroFUN. The group was set up by Andy Gould of Ohio State University. At first it was assumed that relatively large telescope would be involved. However, after Jenny McCormick got critical measures of a lensing event with a 25-cm telescope, observers with smaller telescopes were encourage to join. Microlensing events that involve planets can show light variations in hours and minutes, so it is imperative to have continuous coverage. The Network has contributed to the discovery of many planets around other stars, `exo-planets´, including a Jupiter-Saturn system and a planet of four times Jupiter´s mass orbiting a red dwarf star.


The Editor apologies for misspelling David Moriarty's surname in the Conference notes in November's Newsletter, Item 12.

13. How to Join 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/RASNZInfo/MemberBenefits.shtml 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/RASNZInfo/Membership/ Basic membership for the 2015 year starts at $40 for an ordinary member, which includes an electronic subscription to our journal 'Southern Stars'.

14. Quotes

 

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

"The more original the discovery, the more obvious it seems afterwards." -- Arthur Koestler.

"No-one has ever had an idea in a dress suit." -- Sir Frederick G Banting.

"My theology, briefly, is that the universe was dictated but not signed." -- Christopher Morely.

"And on the eighth day God said, 'OK, Murphy, you're in charge.'" -- Unknown.


Newsletter editor:

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

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

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

Contents

1. New Horizons Spacecraft Awakens
2. Rosetta Finds 67P's Water Unlike Earth's
3. Stan Walker to Direct Variable Stars South
4. The Solar System in January
5. 2015 RASNZ Conference
6. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)
7. Report on the 2014 Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lecture Tour
8. Huggins History Wins Prize
9. ANITA III Seeks High-Energy Neutrinos
10. How to Join RASNZ
11. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
12. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
13. Quotes

1. New Horizons Spacecraft Awakens

After a voyage of nearly nine years and five billion km -- the farthest any space mission has ever travelled to reach its primary target -- NASA´s New Horizons spacecraft came out of hibernation on Dec. 6 for its long-awaited 2015 encounter with the Pluto system.

Operators at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland verified that New Horizons, operating on pre-programmed computer commands, had switched from hibernation to "active" mode. Moving at light speed, the radio signal from New Horizons -- currently more than 4.6 billion km from Earth, and just over 260 million km from Pluto -- needed four hours and 26 minutes to reach NASA´s Deep Space Network station in Canberra, Australia.

Since launching on January 19, 2006, New Horizons has spent 1,873 days -- about two-thirds of its flight time -- in hibernation. Its 18 separate hibernation periods, from mid-2007 to late 2014, ranged from 36 days to 202 days in length. The team used hibernation to save wear and tear on spacecraft components and reduce the risk of system failures.

The wake-up sequence had been programmed into New Horizons´ onboard computer in August, and started aboard the spacecraft at 3 p.m. EST on Dec. 6. About 90 minutes later, New Horizons began transmitting word to Earth on its condition, including the report that it is back in "active" mode.

The New Horizons team will spend the next several weeks checking out the spacecraft, making sure its systems and science instruments are operating properly. They´ll also continue to build and test the computer-command sequences that will guide New Horizons through its flight to and reconnaissance of the Pluto system.

With a seven-instrument science payload that includes advanced imaging infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers, a compact multicolour camera, a high- resolution telescopic camera, two powerful particle spectrometers and a space-dust detector, New Horizons will begin observing the Pluto system on Jan. 15.

New Horizons´ closest approach to Pluto will occur on July 14, but plenty of highlights are expected before then, including, by mid-May, views of the Pluto system better than what the mighty Hubble Space Telescope can provide of the dwarf planet and its moons.

"New Horizons is on a journey to a new class of planets we´ve never seen, in a place we´ve never been before," says New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of APL. "For decades we thought Pluto was this odd little body on the planetary outskirts; now we know it´s really a gateway to an entire region of new worlds in the Kuiper Belt, and New Horizons is going to provide the first close-up look at them."

The Sleeping Spacecraft: How Hibernation Worked During hibernation mode, much of the New Horizons spacecraft was unpowered. The onboard flight computer monitored system health and broadcast a weekly beacon-status tone back to Earth. Onboard sequences sent in advance by mission controllers woke New Horizons two or three times each year to check out critical systems, calibrate instruments, gather some science data, rehearse Pluto-encounter activities, and perform course corrections.

New Horizons pioneered routine cruise-flight hibernation for NASA. Not only has hibernation reduced wear and tear on the spacecraft´s electronics, it also lowered operations costs and freed up NASA Deep Space Network tracking and communication resources for other missions.

A Musical Wake-Up New Horizons joins the astronauts on four space shuttle missions who "woke up" to English tenor Russell Watson´s inspirational "Where My Heart Will Take Me" -- in fact, Watson himself recorded a special greeting and version of the song to honour New Horizons! The song was played in New Horizons mission operations upon confirmation of the spacecraft´s wake-up; listen to it at http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/mp3/wakeup.htm

Text & Images: http://pluto.jhuapl.edu/news_center/news/20141206.php http://www.nasa.gov/newhorizons/on-plutos-doorstep-new-horizons-spacecraft-awakens-for-encounter/

-- From a joint Johns Hopkins University and NASA press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

2. Rosetta Finds 67P's Water Unlike Earth's

First measurements by the Rosetta mission´s ROSINA instrument show that the deuterium-to-hydrogen (D/H) ratio of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko is highly enriched in deuterium. These results contradict the theory that the water present in the Earth´s atmosphere and oceans has a cometary origin. They also indicate that 67P comets do not all come from one region, the Kuiper Belt: some may have originated in the Oort Cloud. This international study, which involved laboratories from the CNRS, University Toulouse III -- Paul Sabatier, UPMC, UVSQ, University d´Orleans, University de Lorraine and University de Franche-Comte, with support from CNES, is published in Science Express on 10 December 2014.

Born 4.55 billion years ago, the various bodies that make up the solar system - the Earth and planets, asteroids and comets - originally formed from the same cloud of gas and dust, the protosolar nebula. From this common origin they have developed in different ways, depending on their orbit and therefore on their exposure to solar radiation. Comets, which have been at great distances from the Sun for most of their lives, have hardly changed at all, and are thus privileged witnesses of the conditions that prevailed at the birth of the solar system. The isotopic compositions of their principal constituents are therefore likely to provide unique information about the conditions and processes underlying the formation of the solar system, and especially about the origin of the Earth´s water.

The D/H ratio is a key marker for determining the origin of the Earth´s water and understanding the role that the comets and/or asteroids may have played. The detailed study of the first spectra obtained by the ROSINA instrument since it arrived in the neighbourhood of the comet gives a value for the D/H ratio of 5.3 ± 0.7 x 10^-4, whereas its value on Earth is 1.55 x 10^-4. This ratio, highly enriched in deuterium in comparison with the Earth, therefore conflicts with the assumption that the water present in the Earth´s atmosphere and oceans has a cometary origin, contrary to what other results from Jupiter family comets suggested. Since the value of the terrestrial D/H ratio falls within the range of the D/H ratio of asteroids located between Mars and Jupiter, the water in the Earth´s oceans may have come mainly from asteroids and/or certain comets. In addition, cometary reservoirs are located at considerable distances from the Sun: the Oort Cloud, for instance, stretches out to over 10^5 AU, and is the source of long-period comets such as Halley. The Kuiper Belt, located at a distance of over 50 AU, is known to be the origin of the comets of the 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko family, known as Jupiter family comets since the distant part of their orbits are in the neighborhood of Jupiter´s orbit. According to ROSINA´s new results, the comets in this family may not all come from a single source region, the Kuiper Belt: some may have originated in the Oort Cloud.

The researchers now aim to continue elucidating the chemical and isotopic composition of the atmosphere of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko´s, especially for gaseous species other than hydrogen, such as noble gases and nitrogen. These measurements should make it possible to undertake a detailed exploration of the origin of the volatile elements on Earth that allowed the emergence of life.

Companion press release from the European Space Agency: http://www.esa.int/Our_Activities/Space_Science/Rosetta/Rosetta_fuels_debate_on_origin_of_Earth_s_oceans

Companion press release from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/news/news.php?feature=4404

-- A press release from Center National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS)in Paris, forwarded by Karen Pollard.

3. Stan Walker to Direct Variable Stars South

The RASNZ Council has confirmed the appointment of Stan Walker as Director of Variable Stars South (VSS) from the beginning of 2015. He replaces Tom Richards who has directed VSS for the past six years. Stan intends to take on the position for a maximum of three years.

Tom tendered his resignation at the end of September and began canvassing the VSS community and the leadership group for a successor.

Tom set up VSS as the reincarnation of the Variable Star Section in January 2009. Pauline Loader had kept the VSS running after the resignation of Frank Bateson till Tom took over. In the six years under Tom's direction the VSS has flourished strongly, and has now thirteen research projects led by various very able astronomers. Its membership, though that is now an informal concept, hovers around 50-60 and its finances are strong. It has run three symposia with 30 or more attendees, presented papers at every RASNZ and NACAA conference, and has an accelerating stream of refereed publications in recognized astronomical journals.

With VSS in such a strong and healthy state, Tom decided this was an opportune time to hand over to another leader. Because of the diversified non-centralized nature of VSS it is to a large extent functioning autonomously.

In his letter of resignation, Tom noted "I am very ably assisted by three office-bearers: Bob Evans (Invercargill) for financial matters, Phil Evans (Rarotonga) editing the quarterly Newsletter, and David O'Driscoll (Brisbane) as webmaster. I am sure these three will provide continuing support to a new Director. In addition Stan Walker (Kaitaia) has been a close and invaluable adviser with far more knowledge than I have, and I'm confident will be willing to assist whoever replaces me."

4. The Solar System in January

All dates and times are NZDT (UT +13 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 JANUARY                         
                       January  1                  January 31         
               morning      evening         morning        evening    
Sun         rise: 5.48am,  set: 8.59pm      rise: 6.22am,  set: 8.45pm
Twilights                                                             
Civil:    starts: 5.17am, ends: 9.31pm    starts: 5.54am, ends: 9.14pm
Nautical: starts: 4.34am, ends:10.14pm    starts: 5.15am, ends: 9.52pm
Astro:    starts: 3.43am, ends:11.04pm    starts: 4.33am, ends:10.34pm

The Earth is at perihelion, its closest to the Sun for the year, on January 4 when it will be 0.983 Astronomical Units, 147 million km, from the Sun.

JANUARY PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)    
Full moon:     January  5 at  5.52 pm (        04:52 UT)
Last quarter:  January 13 at 10.47 pm (        09:47 UT)
New moon:      January 21 at  2.14 am (Jan 20, 13:14 UT)
First quarter: January 27 at  5.48 pm (        04:48 UT)

The planets in january

Venus and Mars are visible for a short time after sunset. Mercury will also be close to Venus in the first part of the month, but will be lost to view by about the 20th. Jupiter rises in the opposite side of the sky a little later in the evening at first. It rises at sunset at the end of January. Saturn remains a morning object although rising earlier as the month progresses.

Mercury will be briefly visible in the evening sky, near Venus, during the first half of January. It will set just over an hour after the Sun up to mid January. During the first part of January, Mercury will gradually move closer to Venus as they both move to the east through the stars. They are less than 1° apart from the 8th to the 13th. But Mercury will never quite catch up to Venus as its motion slows. With a magnitude of -0.7 Mercury will be easy to see, especially in binoculars, to the lower left of the much brighter Venus.

After mid January Mercury will fall behind Venus again as the innermost planet's motion drops away. Mercury is stationary on the 14th when it stops moving to the east. It will then be 19° east of the Sun. Over the next few days the planet will move increasingly rapidly to the west and towards the Sun, until it is at inferior conjunction between the Earth and Sun on the 30th. At conjunction it will be nearly 3.5° north of the Sun; the planet will be 98.6 million km, 0.659 AU, from the Earth and half this distance from the Sun.

Obviously Mercury will be lost to view several evenings before conjunction.

Venus is also an early evening object, setting just over an hour after the Sun all month. It starts January in Sagittarius but moves into Capricornus on the 3rd and on into Aquarius on the 25th. On the 22nd the brightest star in Capricornus, delta Cap mag 2.85, will be 1° above Venus.

By the end of the month Venus will be 10° to the lower left of Mars. As noted above, Venus and Mercury will be close during the first half of the month, less than 3° apart up to the 18th. Mercury will always be to the lower left of Venus and visible before any star.

On the evening of the 22nd the 5% lit crescent moon will be 7° to the lower right of Venus. The moon will set about 50 minutes after the Sun, so will be very low.

Mars is the third early evening planet of the month. It sets about two and a quarter hours after the Sun on the 1st, but only 90 minutes later on the 31st. Thus it will gradually get a little lower during the month. Mars starts January in Capricornus but moves on into Aquarius on the 9th.

In Aquarius Mars will catch up with and pass Neptune which moves much more slowly. The two will be closest on the 20th when Neptune will be only 20 arc-minutes (two-thirds the diameter of the full moon) below and a little left of Mars. Neptune's magnitude will be 8.0. Thus it should be readily visible in binoculars once the sky is sufficiently dark. There are no stars between the planets likely to be mistaken for Neptune. But the two planets will be low with an altitude of only 6° one hour after sunset. On the 19th Mars will be 40 arc-minutes left of Neptune, on the 21st, 1° to its upper right.

On the 23rd the moon, the crescent now 11% lit, will be just over 5.5° to the lower right of Mars.

Jupiter rises 2 hours after sunset on the 1st and at the time of sunset on the 31st. Thus it is the fourth planet visible in the evening sky, albeit later than the other three. It will spend the month moving slowly to the west through Leo, situated 8 to 12° to the left of Regulus, magnitude 1.4.

The 90% lit waning moon passes Jupiter on the 8th when the moon will be 5° to the upper right of the planet as seen late evening shortly after they rise.

Mutual events of jovian satellites

There are about 26 mutual events of Jupiter's Galilean satellites observable from NZ during January. The events involve either occultations or eclipses of one satellite by another. Visually, mutual occultations are the more interesting to watch as satellites can be seen to merge and separate over a period several minutes. Eclipses are normally partial events with fairly small magnitude changes of the eclipsed satellite. Consequently they are mostly difficult to detect visually. Total eclipses are rare.

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

For more details refer to the IMCCE web site, <http://www.imcce.fr/phemu/> where predictions and requirements for observing and reporting information are available. Users of Dave Herald's Occult program can generate their own predictions.

Saturn is a morning object throughout January. It rises some 2 hours and 20 minutes before the Sun on the 1st and nearly 5 hours earlier on the 31st. The planet starts the month in Libra, moving into Scorpius on the 18th when it will be 10° to the left of Antares. At the end of January, Saturn will be 1° from the star beta Sco. The magnitude 2.6 star has a fainter companion, magnitude 4.5, some 13.8" from it. Binoculars will show the pair.

On the morning of January 17 the waning moon, 19% lit, will be a little less than 4° below Saturn.

Outer planets

Uranus remains in Pisces as an evening object magnitude 5.8. By the end of January it will set soon after 11pm. The 30% lit moon will be 2° below Uranus on January 25. An occultation of the planet will be visible from a large part of northeast Asia

Neptune is an early evening object in Aquarius at magnitude 8.0. On January 31 it will set at the same time as Venus, a few minutes before 10 pm. It will then be a little under 2° to the right of Venus. The conjunction of Mars and Neptune on the 20th (see Mars above) will give an opportunity to easily find the fainter outer planet using binoculars.

Pluto is in Sagittarius at conjunction with the Sun of the 3rd. It will then be 32.8 astronomical units beyond the Sun and just over 5 billion km from the Earth. Light from Pluto takes about 4hours and 40 minutes to reach the Earth.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres rises an hour before the Sun on January 1, some three and three quarter hours before it on the 31st. The asteroid is in Sagittarius, it will dim slightly during the month from magnitude 8.9 to 9.2 during January.

(3) Juno is at opposition on January 27 with a magnitude 8.1. This makes it the brightest asteroid currently observable. The asteroid is in Hydra.

(4) Vesta is at conjunction with the Sun on January 11. At conjunction it will be 35 arc-minutes from the Sun as seen from the Earth. Its distance from the Sun will be 2.20 AU, from the Earth 3.16 AU, 473 million km.

(6) Hebe, in the evening sky, dims from magnitude 9.0 to 9.6 as the Earth's distance from the asteroid increasing during January. The asteroid will be in Eridanus at first but moves into Taurus on the 11th.

-- Brian Loader

5. 2015 RASNZ Conference

It is a pleasure to announce that the next conference of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ) will be held at Lake Tekapo from 8th-10th May 2015. Our guest speakers will be Professors Gerry Gilmore (University of Cambridge) and Edward Guinan (Villanova University), and the Fellows Lecture for 2015 will be delivered by Associate Professor Karen Pollard from Canterbury University. Titles and abstracts for these talks will be released when they are available.

For further information on the RASNZ conference and registration please visit the conference website at http://www.rasnz.org.nz/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/. Following the conference, the 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations will also be held at Lake Tekapo. For details see http://occultations.org.nz/meetings/TTSO9/TTSO9.htm. Conference attendees are welcome to attend these meetings, but please Note that separate registrations are required for them which must be done through the above websites; they will NOT be handled by RASNZ.

The RASNZ standing conference committee invites and encourages anyone interested in New Zealand Astronomy to submit papers, with titles and abstracts due 1st April 2015. The link to the paper submission form can be found on the RASNZ conference website given above, or you can go to http://www.rasnz.org.nz/wiki/doku.php?id=conference:paper_submission. Even if you are just thinking of presenting a paper please submit the form, and we can follow up with you at a later date.

We look forward to receiving your submission and seeing you at conference. Please feel free to forward this message to anyone who may find this of interest.

Sincerely yours, Warwick Kissling, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

6. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)

The RASNZ Occultation Section is pleased to announce that the 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9) will be held at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, over 11-12 May 2015. Comprehensive information about the meeting is available here:

http://occultations.org.nz/meetings/TTSO9/TTSO9.htm

The meeting will immediately follow the 2015 RASNZ Conference and the Mt John Observatory 50th Anniversary Symposium. Because attendance at all these meetings is expected to be high, accommodation space in Tekapo is likely to be limited. If you plan to attend any of these meetings we recommend that you book your accommodation early.

For those who are members of the Occultation Section, the latest Section Circular was released today. We also expect the next issue of the Journal for Occultation Astronomy to be available very soon. To access these visit: http://occultations.org.nz/members/publ/publ.htm

-- Graham Blow

7. Report on the 2014 Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lecture Tour

Dr Tamara Davis from the University of Queensland made a whirlwind tour of New Zealand at the end of September, giving 10 lectures in 6 days on the subject of Dark Matter and Dark Energy.

She arrived in Auckland on September 21st and immediately flew to New Plymouth to give a public lecture that evening to 55 people. The next morning she spoke to 45 school students from three local schools. Local organising was done by the New Plymouth Astronomical Society.

She then drove her rental car to Levin where the Horowhenua Astronomical Society had organised a public meeting. 114 people attended this, some of whom had driven from Wellington. The next morning 80 students from five different colleges heard her speak.

Tamara then drove to Napier where the Hawkes Bay Astronomical Society had organised her lecture in the Holt Planetarium. 50 people attended.

The next morning she flew to Invercargill. Upon arriving she was taken to CUE TV for an interview, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3sgYvpgcqM . In the evening she spoke to 44 people. The following morning she spoke to 60 students from three local high schools.

After a quick lunch provided by a member of the Southland Astronomical Society I drove her to Dunedin. During the trip she tapped away at her laptop computer. She was verifying analyses of spectra taken of distant galaxies that had experienced a supernova. Occasionally she would give a cheer when she came across the most distant galaxy she had ever found. Redshifts of 4.5 and more. She tried to explain to me what she was doing. Fascinating, but I don´t have a PhD!

We arrived in Dunedin right on schedule and were able to set her up for the public lecture organised jointly by the Dunedin Astronomical Society and the Otago Institute. 53 people attended. At the conclusion she was whisked away for a live radio interview. (http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/nights/audio/20151088/the-dark-universe)

Her flight for Christchurch did not leave until around lunchtime the next day so she had a free morning. Over a meal the previous evening, unbeknown to me, a cunning plan was hatched where she agreed to speak to a Spanish class at Kavanagh College. However this rapidly grew to a lecture to over 300 students. Many of them were not science students. At the end she was being asked for her autograph!

Finally in Christchurch, she spoke to 150 people at the University of Canterbury, organised by the Canterbury Astronomical Society.

Dr Tamara Davis seemed indefatigable. She told me that she thoroughly enjoyed the tour, even though it was apparent she was starting to tire by the end. A comment I´m sure she´d want me to repeat, stemming from her experience with the Kavanagh College lecture, is: "The GREAT thing about this audience is that they WERE NOT generally science students. So there was more of a "wow" factor about the material I presented, because many of them had not seen as much of what science could do as the science students. This is the sector of the population we most want to reach!!"

The tour was organised and travel financed by the RASNZ Lecture Trust. This is a separate entity from the RASNZ itself. There is some confusion over this. We are now about to start organising next year´s lecture tour, the lecturer being Professor Gerry Gilmore. He is a New Zealander working at Cambridge University in the UK.

-- Bob Evans

Apologies to Bob, and to the Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lecture sponsor, that this item was overlooked earlier. -- Ed.

8. Huggins History Wins Prize

The Historical Astronomy Division of the American Astronomical Society awarded of its Donald E. Osterbrock Book Prize for 2015 to Dr. Barbara J. Becker for Unravelling Starlight: William and Margaret Huggins and the Rise of the New Astronomy (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Becker taught history of science at the University of California, Irvine, and is now retired and living in North Carolina.

Becker has studied William and Margaret Huggins for decades, and the culmination of her detailed archival work is Unravelling Starlight, an invaluable analysis of the roles of these pioneers in astrophysics. The Hugginses were active in England in the late 19th century at a time when merely measuring the positions and brightnesses of stars and planets was widely considered the proper role of astronomers; their emphasis on the new technique of spectroscopy was a key ingredient in the birth of what came to be called astrophysics.

William Huggins, a former London silk merchant, was a prime example of a Victorian "amateur" astronomer who made fundamental contributions to the field. From his home in a London suburb he observed for decades, at first visually and then photographically, the spectra of stars and nebulae.

Huggins was the first to observe emission lines in the spectra of some nebulae (e.g., planetary nebulae), thereby suggesting their gaseous nature (by comparison with laboratory emission spectra), and he found no emission lines in others (e.g., globular clusters, the Andromeda nebula and its companion). Huggins was also the first to apply Christian Doppler's principle to shifts in wavelength of a star's light (Sirius) in order to determine its motion along the line of sight, even though it took a later generation of astronomers to understand its true importance.

Becker's double biography also reveals new insights regarding the underappreciated role of Margaret Huggins in all aspects of the work after 1875. She was especially skilled in photographic techniques and, rather than a mere "assistant," she was a true collaborator.

Another of Becker's new insights is how thoroughly the Hugginses were involved in solar observations, in particular suggesting plausible methods of observing solar prominences and photographing the solar corona without a total eclipse.

Since the publication of her prize-winning book, Becker has also compiled the Selected Correspondence of William Huggins (Pickering & Chatto, 2014).

The Osterbrock Book Prize will be awarded at the 225th AAS meeting in Seattle, Washington [http://aas.org/meetings/aas225], on 5 January 2015, after which Becker will deliver a prize lecture.

For more see: http://had.aas.org/osterbrock/2015osterbrock2becker/

9. ANITA III Seeks High-Energy Neutrinos

If all went to plan - the editor hasn't found the right link to verify - then ANITA III, the third iteration of the Antarctic Impulsive Transient Antenna will have been launched in early December.

ANITA comprises an array of antennas suspended from a giant balloon. The antennas are looking down at Antarctica´s ice listening for radio waves which that ice is giving off. These radio waves are generated by neutrinos passing through the ice, making Antarctica the biggest neutrino-detection laboratory in the world.

The particular neutrinos that ANITA seeks are of extremely high energy. Where they come from, no one knows - nor, strictly speaking, is it actually known that they exist, for ANITAs I and II, which were smaller devices, failed to find them. But theory says they should be there, generated in whatever giant explosions also create cosmic rays.

Cosmic rays are high-velocity protons, sprinkled with a smattering of heavier atomic nuclei, that fly through space until they hit something such as Earth´s atmosphere, when they disintegrate into a shower of other particles. They have been known for a century, but their origin remains mysterious because, being electrically charged, their paths are bent by the galaxy´s magnetic field. That means the directions they come from do not point to whatever created them.

Neutrinos, however, are electrically neutral, as their name suggests. Their paths should thus point back towards their origins. Neutrinos do not interact much with other sorts of matter, but when one of ultra-high energy does so, the result is a shower of particles travelling at speeds which exceed that of light in ice. An object travelling faster than light´s speed in the medium through which it is passing will generate electromagnetic waves. These are known, after their discoverer, as Cherenkov radiation. And it is pulses of radio-frequency Cherenkov radiation, the electromagnetic equivalent of a sonic boom, which ANITA is looking for.

Once airborne under her balloon - an object made of cling-film-like plastic that, when fully inflated, will be a fifth of the size of a football stadium - ANITA will take advantage of the polar vortex, a wind in constant revolution around the pole. She will fly at an altitude of 35-40 km, which will mean her antennae can see 1.5 million sq.km of ice. Ultra-high-energy neutrinos travelling through the ice are thought to interact with it and produce Cherenkov radiation about once per century per sq.km, so an area of this size would be expected to yield about 40 bursts a day. ANITA will complete several laps of the continent, each lasting about 15 days. Then the balloon will be cut loose, and she will deploy a parachute and be guided back to the surface for re-use.

Astrophysicists are not the only people rubbing their mittens together in expectation of the results of this experiment. The neutrinos ANITA is looking for are far more energetic than anything produced by the Large Hadron Collider, the world´s most powerful particle accelerator. That means they may obey hitherto unperceived extensions of the laws of physics. One possibility is that, among the Cherenkov-radiation-generating particles produced when a neutrino collides with the ice, there may be an occasional miniature black hole.

That would be particularly exciting, because such black holes might themselves disintegrate in a characteristic puff of radiation named after another physicist, Stephen Hawking. If Hawking radiation exists, it means black holes are not truly black-a discovery which would almost certainly win Dr Hawking a Nobel prize.

Though it is not designed to search for Hawking radiation, ANITA would probably see it if it were there. And, since Hawking radiation is created, quite literally, out of nothing (the particles it is made from emerge from the vacuum of space and then steal the energy needed to become real from the black hole itself), that would assist understanding of a very strange piece of physics indeed.

-- Mostly copied from The Economist. For the original see http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21635452-experiment-antarctica-may-solve-mystery-cosmic-rays-balloon

10. How to Join 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/RASNZInfo/MemberBenefits.shtml 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/RASNZInfo/Membership/ 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. 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. Quotes

 

"Maybe this world is another planet´s hell." - Aldous Huxley.

"Just remember, if the world didn´t suck, we´d all fall off." - Unknown.

The next Newsletter will be in January so keep those contributions flooding in.

Season's greetings to all our readers.


Newsletter editor:

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

December 2014

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

Mt John Observatory at 50 years
John Hearnshaw

In 2015, Mt John University Observatory will be 50 years old.
Volume 53, number 4. December 2014. P3

Living Together: Planets, Host Stars and Binaries. A Trip to Litomyšl (CZ)
Christoph Bergman

In this article I report on a conference I recently attended in Litomyšl (Czech Republic) and give a brief outline of the research I presented there, which aims to detect terrestrial planets in our neighbouring star sytem alpha Centauri.
Volume 53, number 4. December 2014. P6

Space Camp, South Canterbury
Freidl Hale

This past September, South Canterbury Astronomers Group hosted Space Camp at Raincliffe, outside of Timaru. It was our first go at hosting a large group of people and is deemed to have been a huge success.
Volume 53, number 4. December 2014. P8

Second Annual Astrophotography Weekend
Horowhenua Astronomical Society

On the weekend of 21st-23rd November 2014 the Horowhenua Astronomical Society hosted its second annual astrophotography get-together at Foxton beach, which is situated an hour and a half north of Wellington. The weekend promised to be a great event enabling likeminded people from all over New Zealand a chance to meet and discuss their favourite pastime.
Volume 53, number 4. December 2014. P9

In the Spirit of Eratosthenes, Measuring the Size of the Earth
Warwick Kissling

A written version of a talk given at the 2014 RASNZ Conference in Whakatane.
Volume 53, number 4. December 2014. P11

Big Sunspot
R W Evans

The second half of 2014 October was witness to the largest sunspot on the Sun's disc in 24 years. It was given the NOAA number 12192.
Volume 53, number 4. December 2014. P17


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

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

Contents

1. Philae Probe Landed on Comet 67P
2. 2014 Dark Sky Lighting Award
3. The Solar System in December
4. 2015 RASNZ Conference
5. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)
6. IceCube Work Gains Marsden Funding
7. The Sky as a Cultural Resource
8. New Director for AAVSO
9. Chinese Chang´e Craft Loops the Moon
10. The Smell of 67P
11. ALMA Hints of Planets Around Young Star
12. More from the 2014 Conference
13. How to Join RASNZ
14. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
15. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

1. Philae Probe Landed on Comet 67P

On November 12 the European Space Agency successfully landed Rosetta's Philae probe on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. All didn't quite go according to plan. The harpoons intended to hold the craft to 67P's surface failed to fire so it bounced in the extremely low gravity, finally coming to rest against a cliff. The robot's own pictures show it to be rammed up against walls that throw a deep shadow over its solar panels for most of 67P's 12-hour day.

European Space Agency controllers will not give up on Philae. They will continue to listen for the little probe in the days ahead, hopeful that it will somehow become active again. Philae has gone into standby because of low power. But the conditions that currently prevent Philae from charging its batteries could change. It is not inconceivable that as the comet moves in closer to the Sun, the amount of light made available to the probe will increase, in amount and in intensity.

On each pass overhead, the Rosetta satellite will try to detect and lock on to any sort of blip being transmitted from below. The mission has faced up to the odds before, and won. It bounced and probably scraped across the surface during its historic touchdown on Wednesday. Philae survived all that. People will now want to believe it can hunker down in the darkness and ride out its present predicament. It would be very useful to know where exactly the probe is right now on the surface of Comet 67P. This would give controllers a better sense of whether it is ever likely to come back to life.

There could be structural changes on the comet, too. Obstructions that look hard and imposing today could crumble in time as 67P warms and becomes more active. The jets of gas and dust that are generated as the comet's internal ices are heated could disturb the robot in such a way that it is bumped to a more favourable lighting location.

For sure, Philae will be very cold in the long nights it is experiencing, but the assessment of the thermal status of the probe is encouraging. It can survive.

If this is the last we hear from the robot, history will be very quick to judge this mission as an astonishing success. The robot delivered almost 100% of its primary goals, returning the first-ever pictures and other science data from the surface of a comet.

So how about we do it again? This is the dream certainly of many who control Philae's mothership, Rosetta. The strange shape of 67P turned an already challenging prospect into an extremely daunting one. It will continue to orbit and observe 67P for at least another year, but after that there is a desire to put the satellite on the surface of the comet as well.

"I would like to land on the surface of the comet with the full spacecraft - definitely," says European Space Agency flight director Andrea Accomazzo. "In the end, we can design an approach trajectory to the comet. We just slow down the spacecraft and it falls on to the comet. The touchdown will not be as soft as the lander. There's no landing gear; the spacecraft would be mechanically damaged. But we can do it."

And Paolo Ferri, Esa's head of mission operations, added: "We would plan such a manoeuvre so that we could follow Rosetta down to the surface. But once it touches down, we cannot control anymore the attitude. So, the antenna will not be pointing to the right direction. "We would lose the contact when it touches down, but we would still be able to control it down to the last metre, to get signal, measurements and pictures. It would be spectacular. That's the right way to die."

-- Mostly copied from an article by Jonathan Amos of the BBC. Original at http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-30062346

For more see http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/philae-lander-success-11152014/ See also Item N.

2. 2014 Dark Sky Lighting Award

The 2014 RASNZ Dark Sky Lighting Design: Award of Excellence was awarded to Lighting Designer Pontus Hammarbäck of Stephenson & Turner NZ Ltd for the lighting project in Opera House Lane, Wellington.

The New Zealand Chapter of the Illuminating Engineering Society of Australia and New Zealand Ltd New Zealand Chapter held their 2014 LiDA Lighting Design Awards on Friday the 7th of November. David Britten, from Stardome Observatory judged this year and presented the Award at the formal award ceremony. Further details and judges comments will be in the next Newsletter.

-- Steve Butler, RASNZ's Dark Skies Group.

3. The Solar System in December

All dates and times are NZDT (UT +13 hours) unless otherwise specified. Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

December 1    sunrise: 5.40am   sunset: 8.39pm   December 31    sunrise: 5.47am  sunset: 8.59pm
Civil twilight starts: 5.10am     ends: 9.10pm                   starts: 5.16am    ends: 9.31pm
Nautical twilt starts: 4.28am     ends: 9.52pm                   starts: 4.33am    ends:10.14pm
Astronomical   starts: 3.40am     ends:10.40pm                   starts: 3.42am    ends:11.05pm

The southern summer solstice is on December 22, with the Sun furthest south at 12.04pm. On the day of the solstice, sunrise and sunset times are:

Auckland     5.55 am and 8.42 pm,
Wellington   5.41 am and 8.56 pm,
Invercargill 5.46 am and 9.41 pm

The sun is more than 18° below the horizon (that is no twilight) for 5hr 33min at Auckland, 4hr 32min at Wellington and 2hr 32min at Invercargill

Phases of the moon (times as shown by guide)

Full moon:     December  7 at  1.27 am (Dec  6, 12:27 UT)
Last quarter:  December 15 at  1.51 am (Dec 14, 12:51 UT)
New moon:      December 22 at  2.36 pm (        01:36 UT)
First quarter: December 29 at  7.31 am (Dec 28, 18:31 UT)

The planets in december

The 5 naked eye planets will be in order across the sky, although not all visible at once. In the evening Mercury sets first (after conjunction) followed by Venus and Mars. Soon after Mars sets in the west, Jupiter will rise in the east, with Saturn rising some hours later, but increasingly before the Sun as the month progresses.

Mercury is too close to the Sun to observe for much of December. It is at superior conjunction on the 8th when the planet will be 70 million km (0.467 AU) beyond the Sun, and 217 million km (1.45 AU) from the Earth. After conjunction Mercury becomes an evening object setting after the Sun. By December 31 it will set an hour later. That evening Mercury will have a magnitude -0.8 and be just over 3° to the left of Venus.

Venus is also an early evening object setting some 45 minutes after the Sun on the 1st and 66 minutes later than the Sun on the 31st. By the latter date it will be about 5° above the horizon well to the south of due west 30 minutes after sunset. Mercury will be about 3° to its left and a little lower.

The moon, just over 1 day old, will be 7° to the lower right of Venus and about level with Mercury, on December 23. The moon, as a very thin crescent, will set 40 minutes after the Sun, so not easy to spot.

Mars is also an early evening object during December, a little higher than the two inner planets. It sets around midnight on the 1st, nearly an hour earlier on the 31st. The planet starts in Sagittarius but moves on into Capricornus on the 4th. During the rest of December it moves most of the way across Capricornus ending the month close to delta Cap, at 2.85 magnitude the brightest star in the constellation.

On the 26th the moon, now a crescent 14% lit, will be just over 6° to the lower right of Mars.

Jupiter remains essentially a morning object although by the end of December it will rise just after 11pm. The planet rises 2 hours later at the beginning of the month. It will be in Leo, 7.5° from Regulus and, at first, moving very slowly towards it. On the 9th Jupiter is stationary and then starts moving back over subsequent nights until on the 31st it will be over 8° from the star.

The waning moon passes Jupiter and Regulus on December 12 and 13. On the morning of the 12th the 76% moon will be 6° from Jupiter. The following morning the 67% lit moon will be just over 3° above Regulus and 8° from Jupiter.

There are 4 mutual events of Jupiter's Galilean satellites observable from NZ during December. Some details are given below.

Saturn was at conjunction mid November, during December it starts moving up into the morning sky. At first it rises only 30 minutes before the Sun, so will be unobservable. By the end of December, Saturn will rise over 2 hours before the Sun, so 45 minutes before sunrise it will be about 15° up in a direction a little to the south of east. Antares will be to the right of the planet at almost the same altitude. However to see the planet it will be necessary to be looking by 5am or earlier.

With the north pole of Saturn tilted towards the Earth at an angle almost 25° the rings are wide open and easily seen in binoculars or a small telescope.

On the morning of the 20th the moon, visible as a thin crescent only 7% lit, will be 3° to the left of the planet.

Outer planets

Uranus is in the evening sky at magnitude 5.8. It is in Pisces, setting soon after 3am at the start of December, two hours earlier by the end of the month. It is stationary on the 22nd, so its position will change little throughout December.

Neptune, in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9, sets nearly 90 minutes earlier than Uranus, so will be setting just before midnight by the 31st.

Pluto is in Sagittarius at magnitude 14.4. By the end of December it will be within 3° of the Sun.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is within a few degrees of the Sun throughout December. Conjunction is on December 10, at its closest Ceres will be only 6 arc minutes from the northern limb of the Sun. The asteroid will be nearly 420 million km beyond the Sun and 567 million km from Earth.

(3) Juno brightens from magnitude 9.0 to 8.5. It will be in Hydra and stationary mid month.

(4) Vesta, brightens slightly from magnitude 7.8 to 7.6 in December. It is in Sagittarius which means it is close to the Sun, the asteroid's distance from our star decreasing from 20° to 5° during the month. So like Ceres it will not be readily observed. However on the 16th Vesta will be 1° to the lower right of Venus.

(6) Hebe, in the evening sky, fades a little from magnitude 8.3 to 8.9 as the Earth's distance from the asteroid increasing during December. The asteroid will be in Eridanus and will be stationary at the end of the month.

Mutual events of the gallilean satellites december 2014.

There are 4 events during December, 3 occultations and one eclipse. Visually occultations are generally more interesting to watch as the satellites approach one another, merge and then separate again. Eclipses are often difficult to detect visually as the light change is often quiet small, and takes place slowly.

To see the merging and separation, occultations should be watched for several minutes before and after the start and end times. That is for at least the duration of the event.

Details of events visible from NZ during the month are listed, note times could be in error by a minute or two.

  • Dec 17, 5:02:30 am, Europa occults Io, annular, duration 28 minutes, from 4:48:32 am to 5:16:27 am. Strong twilight by end of event
  • Dec 22, 1:00:55 am, Callisto eclipses Io, annular, duration 22.5 minutes, maximum light drop 0.6 magnitudes, difficult to detect visually. Jupiter low.
  • Dec 24, 5:03:43 am, Callisto occults Ganymede, partial, almost grazing, duration 9.3 minutes, no light change.
  • Dec 29, 4:25:34 am, Ganymede occults Io, total, duration 25.1 minutes. Io will be completely hidden by Ganymede for just over 9 minutes. Moderate twilight by end of event

-- Brian Loader

4. 2015 RASNZ Conference

Dear Friends, Colleagues,

It is a pleasure to announce that the next conference of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand (RASNZ) will be held at Lake Tekapo from 8th-10th May 2015. Our guest speakers will be Professors Gerry Gilmore (University of Cambridge) and Edward Guinan (Villanova University), and the Fellows Lecture for 2015 will be delivered by Associate Professor Karen Pollard from Canterbury University. Titles and abstracts for these talks will be released when they are available.

For further information on the RASNZ conference and registration please visit the conference website at www.rasnz.org.nz/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/. Following the conference, the 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations will also be held at Lake Tekapo. For details see http://occultations.org.nz/meetings/TTSO9/TTSO9.htm. Conference attendees are welcome to attend these meetings, but please note that separate registrations are required for them which must be done through the above websites; they will NOT be handled by RASNZ.

The RASNZ standing conference committee invites and encourages anyone interested in New Zealand Astronomy to submit papers, with titles and abstracts due 1st April 2015. The link to the paper submission form can be found on the RASNZ conference website given above, or you can go to the RASNZ wiki www.rasnz.org.nz/wiki. Even if you are just thinking of presenting a paper please submit the form, and we can follow up with you at a later date.

We look forward to receiving your submission and seeing you at conference.

Please feel free to forward this message to anyone who may find this of interest.

Sincerely yours,
Warwick Kissling
RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

5. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)

The RASNZ Occultation Section is pleased to announce that the 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9) will be held at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, over 11-12 May 2015. Comprehensive information about the meeting is available here:

http://occultations.org.nz/meetings/TTSO9/TTSO9.htm

The meeting will immediately follow the 2015 RASNZ Conference and the Mt John Observatory 50th Anniversary Symposium. Because attendance at all these meetings is expected to be high, accommodation space in Tekapo is likely to be limited. If you plan to attend any of these meetings we recommend that you book your accommodation early.

For those who are members of the Occultation Section, the latest Section Circular was released today. We also expect the next issue of the Journal for Occultation Astronomy to be available very soon. To access these visit: http://occultations.org.nz/members/publ/publ.htm

-- Graham Blow

6. IceCube Work Gains Marsden Funding

The NZ Government's Marsden Fund has awarded Associate Professor Jenni Adams of the University of Canterbury's Department of Physics & Astronomy total funding of $770,000 for the study of cosmic neutrinos via the Ice Cube array at the South Pole.

Cosmic rays, with energies over a million times greater than anything achievable by man-made particle accelerators, continually bombard the Earth´s atmosphere. But where in outer space do they come from? We cannot tell as their direction of travel varies as their path is twisted by magnetic fields on their journey. However, cosmic neutrinos may provide the answer.

Associate Professor Jenni Adams, together with scientists from Germany and the USA, recently presented the first strong evidence for the observation of cosmic neutrinos. The evidence was gathered from their IceCube Observatory, and their achievement was recognised with the Physics World Breakthrough of the Year prize in 2013.

Neutrinos offer a unique way to observe the Universe. Unlike photons or charged particles, neutrinos can travel through matter unimpeded, and their trajectories are not bent by magnetic fields. Furthermore, they are generated by cosmic rays at the sites where the cosmic rays originate. IceCube consists of over 5000 optical sensors suspended along cables in ice deep below the South Pole. Marsden funding will allow Professor Adams and her team to develop and apply sophisticated techniques to obtain a large, high- quality sample of these cosmic neutrinos. Cosmic neutrinos detected by IceCube will provide information on the birth sites of cosmic rays.

Long-awaited observations provided by this project will offer new and exciting ways to investigate the origin and acceleration of nature´s highest-energy particles.

-- Mostly from the Marsden Fund's website. See http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/programmes/funds/marsden/awards/2014-marsden- fund-highlights/

7. The Sky as a Cultural Resource

Also receiving Marsden funding was Te Mauria Whiritoi, a project to examine Maori beliefs, practices and observations in relation to astronomy, ecology and ritual.

From the beginning of human history, people have looked to the heavens in search of greater understanding. Astronomy connects scientific observation, cultures, religion, mythology and astrological practices throughout the world.

The project will be led by Dr Rangi Matamua, of the School of Maori and Pacific Development at the University of Waikato. Researchers from the University of Waikato, Victoria University of Wellington, and the University of Hawai`i seek to collect and preserve a significant body of Maori astronomical knowledge that might otherwise be lost.

It was knowledge of the night sky that guided Polynesians across the open ocean to settle in Aotearoa, and the cosmological cycle guided management and harvesting of species. Renewed interest in the stars has manifested in the last decade with celebrations of celestial events such as Matariki. Te Mauria Whiritoi will include online surveys to probe the experiences and concerns of participants in relation to Matariki commemorations, and enquire after their knowledge of both Maori and Pakeha astronomy. The results will lead to online audio-visual material on the star-lore behind Matariki.

The revitalisation of traditional knowledge and associated ritual and spiritual practices also has political aspects by providing resources for those interested in ensuring the ongoing influence of Maori language and culture in this increasingly multicultural nation. Te Mauria Whiritoi has been given funding of $710,000.

From http://www.royalsociety.org.nz/programmes/funds/marsden/awards/2014- marsden-fund- highlights/

8. New Director for AAVSO

The current Director of AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Observers) is due to retire at the end of February 2015.

The AAVSO Council has chosen as the Association´s next Director Dr Styliani (Stella) Kafka. Dr Kafka is presently Journal Manager for the American Institute of Physics and a Visiting Investigator in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington.

Stella comes to the AAVSO highly qualified both in scientific and managerial matters. Her research interests include investigating multiple aspects of variability and magnetic activity in binary systems and studying Type-Ia supernova progenitors, utilizing multi-wavelength short- and long-term photometric and spectroscopic data.

Her role at the American Institute of Physics requires excellent managerial skills. She is responsible for most aspects of the AIP journals, including defining editorial direction, developing marketing strategies, and evaluating business plans for their future development. She also serves as liaison to the scientific community for the journals.

Stella is dedicated to expanding the AAVSO, both in terms of increasing its numbers of members and observers and broadening its presence in the professional community.

Stella is eager to become part of the AAVSO´s dedicated community of members and observers around the world who share her lifelong love of the night sky. We look forward to her contribution to variable star observing and analysis.

From AAVSO. Recent Activities. Abstract by Alan Baldwin from http://www.aavso.org/aavso-director-search-results-are

9. Chinese Chang´e Craft Loops the Moon

At the end of October a Chinese spacecraft landed back of Earth after completing an eight-day loop around the moon. The test flight was a dress rehearsal for a future mission to bring back lunar samples.

The flight of Chang'e 5-T1, informally known as Xiaofei, began on 23 October when a Long March 3C rocket lofted the spacecraft on a trajectory toward the Moon. Four days later it passed about 13,000 km from the lunar surface before heading home. Pictures released by the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program show the blunt capsule, roughly the size of a washing machine, resting upright with scorching from its high-temperature re-entry.

The main spacecraft is a near-clone of Chang'e 2, a box-shaped structure with long solar-cell arrays that orbited the Moon in 2011 and later photographed asteroid 4179 Toutatis at close range. Besides its high-resolution camera, which relayed a stunning view of the Moon's farside with a gibbous Earth in the distance, the craft reportedly carries an experiment that exposed bacteria and plants to space radiation and secondary payloads for German and Spanish research teams.

According a report published by Chinese Military Online, the main spacecraft will spend some time hovering near the L2 Lagrangian point before returning to the Moon and slipping into orbit.

Apart from successfully making the round-trip lunar voyage - the first since the Soviet Union's Luna 24 did so in 1976 - the spacecraft was an engineering test designed to lead to a sample-return mission. That mission, Chang'e 5, is designed to return some 4½ pounds (2 kg) of lunar material and could occur as early as 2017. (Space aficionados aren't clear if or when a Chang'e 4 spacecraft might be launched.)

Meanwhile, China's small lunar rover Yutu, which dropped onto Sinus Iridum last December, continues to function - barely. It encountered problems during the brutal cold of its first 2-week-long lunar night, which left it immobile. But Chinese space officials say that it is still communicating with mission controllers on Earth.

-- Abridged from an article by Kelly Beatty of Sky & Telescope. See the original with pictures and links at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/change-spacecraft-loops-moon-11052014/

10. The Smell of 67P

The scientists working on the Rosetta comet mission posted an intriguing essay about the composition of Comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which Rosetta is studying at very close range. The chemicals wafting off from the comet are associated with some intense and memorable odours, which Kathrin Altwegg (principal investigator for Rosetta) describes in wonderfully colourful terms:

The perfume of 67P/C-G is quite strong, with the odour of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulphide), horse stable (ammonia), and the pungent, suffocating odour of formaldehyde. This is mixed with the faint, bitter, almond-like aroma of hydrogen cyanide. Add some whiff of alcohol (methanol) to this mixture, paired with the vinegar-like aroma of sulphur dioxide and a hint of the sweet aromatic scent of carbon disulphide, and you arrive at the `perfume´ of our comet.

Those are pretty common compounds. Surely it wouldn´t be that hard to create an odour room where people could inhale the smell of comet directly. No need to restrict it to comets, by the way. It would not be terribly hard to simulate moon dust (said to smell like gunpowder), Mars (probably rusty and dry), and so on.

-- Abridged from an article by Corey S. Powell. See the original at http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/outthere/2014/10/23/senses-space/

11. ALMA Hints of Planets Around Young Star

An ALMA submillimeter-wavelength image has veiled the dawn of planet formation around a surprisingly young star in unprecedented detail.

Planets are forming around HL Tauri, a young variable star just 1 million years old. They are leaving their imprints in the dusty disk leftover from the star´s formation, showing a protoplanetary system that spans 235 astronomical units (A.U.) (One A.U. is the distance between Earth and the Sun). The innermost disk gap appears at a radius of 20-30 A.U., roughly the size of Neptune´s orbit around the Sun. A second gap appears further out at 70 A.U., which would lie outside Pluto´s orbit, and still more gaps appear beyond that.

The 66 dishes of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) can be placed as far as 16 kilometers apart, in effect combining their power into one 16-km-wide telescope. The result is fine detail at submillimeter wavelengths, a little-explored regime of the electromagnetic sky.

ALMA has been fully operational since March 2013 but has continued to ramp up, adding antennae and possible configurations. Now the science team is testing the longest-baseline configurations, arrangements of the antennae that allow for the most detailed images ever recorded at submillimeter wavelengths.

Seen visually, HL Tauri is a 15th magnitude star hidden in a cocoon of dust and gas. ALMA imaged the system at a wavelength of 1.3 mm (233 GHz) to cut through the dusty veil and reveal the planet-forming disk at its centre. ALMA has imaged planet-forming gaps before, but never at this resolution. ALMA can make out details 35 microarcseconds across, the equivalent of 5 A.U. at HL Tauri's distance.

The gaps around 20-30 A.U. and 70 A.U. are most likely the markers of a planet´s passage through the disk. The discovery of disk gaps around a star less than 1 million years old is surprising - planets aren´t supposed to form so fast.

In the core-accretion model, small dust grains collide and stick together, forming a small, rocky core that then begins collecting a gaseous envelope. But the core-accretion scenario, at least in its classical form, would have trouble building planets in less than 1 million years.

-- From an article by Monica Young of Sky and Telescope. See the original at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/stunning-alma-image-reveals-planetary-genesis-1106149/

12. More from the 2014 Conference

David Moiaty outlined the possibility of life beyond Earth. David is a retired microbiologist so shared an expert´s viewpoint. First he described in detail the chemicals and conditions necessary for life. Carbon is vital. It can combine with many elements that make organic molecules: hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus to name a few. Its compounds are stable in the presence of water. Speculations of silicon-based life founder on the instability of `organic´ molecules involving silicon. Then there is the environment that Earth provides. Chemical processes occurring in plate-tectonic subduction zones may be important in making molecules important to life. The spongy lattices of certain iron compounds may have provided the first `cells´ for nascent life.

Once life got underway it was a long haul before multicellular organisms appeared. Early cyano-bacteria produced oxygen as a waste product. For hundreds of millions of years their oxygen was used up in oxidizing iron compounds dissolved in the sea. It is interesting that Pilbara region of Australia has both stromolites made from fossilized bacterial mats and vast quantities of iron oxide produced in the same era. Only after the iron was precipitated out of the sea did oxygen accumulate in the atmosphere. During this time some bacteria absorbed others and formed symbiotic relationships. Modern organisms rely on mitrochondria in their cells for efficient energy production. Plant cells have chloroplasts to convert sunlight to sugars. Both mitochondria and chloroplasts were originally independent bacteria. The take-home message is that a lot of things have to happen in the right conditions for bacterial life to form and prosper. Multicellular life is much harder to organise and will be much rarer.

13. How to Join 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/RASNZInfo/MemberBenefits.shtml 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/RASNZInfo/Membership/ Basic membership for the 2015 year starts at $40 for an ordinary member, which includes an electronic subscription to our journal 'Southern Stars'.

14. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

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

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

15. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants may be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand.

Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary,

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

Newsletter editor:

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

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

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

Contents

1. Clive Ruggles Talks
2. 2014 Burbidge Dinner, Auckland - 8 November
3. Horowhenua Astrophotography Weekend - 21-23 November
4. The last orbit of Georges Lemaitre
5. The Solar System in November
6. 2015 RASNZ Conference
7. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)
8. Dust Makes Cosmic Inflation Signal Iffy
9. Gravitomagnetic Field Explains Flyby Speed Anomaly?
10. Abstracts for Clive Ruggles Talks
11. How to Join RASNZ
12. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
13. Quotes

1. Clive Ruggles Talks

Professor Clive Ruggles, Professor of Archaeo-astronomy University of Leicester, U.K. is giving several talks during a visit New Zealand. See Item 10 for abstracts of the talks.

Canterbury University, Wednesday, 22 October at 7:30pm, C2 Lecture Theatre: "Of calendars and kings: gods, temples, the Pleiades, and the development of archaic states in Hawai'i". Clive will describe his fieldwork in the Hawaiian Islands with archaeologist Patrick V. Kirch studying the orientations of temple platforms and their connections with astronomy, the calendar, dryland agriculture and the emergence of "god- king" cults.

Lake Tekapo, Friday, 24 October at 7:30 p.m., in the Tekapo Community Hall, Aorangi Crescent, Lake Tekapo: "Is a dark future a bright future?" Some thoughts concerning dark skies, international heritage recognition and their potential impacts on the Mackenzie. All welcome. Tea and coffee served from 7 p.m.

Carter Observatory, Wellington, Tuesday, 28 October at 7 pm. General admission prices to the talk, planetarium show and telescope viewing apply. You can either join the 6pm or 8pm planetarium show to attend Clive's talk at 7pm. Bookings for the talk are essential. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to reserve your place for the talk. For details see http://www.carterobservatory.org/clive-ruggles-archeoastronomy-talk

Victoria University of Wellington, Wednesday, 29 October at 12.00 pm in Room 305, Murphy Building (MY305) seminar: "Of calendars and kings: gods, temples, the Pleiades, and the development of archaic states in Hawai`i"

Waikato University, Friday, 31 October at 5:00 pm in S.G.01 (S Block): "Of calendars and kings: gods, temples, the Pleiades, and the development of archaic states in Hawai'i".

Auckland Astronomical Society's Burbidge Dinner, Saturday, 8 November, "Whatever happened to the ancient observatories?" See next item for booking details. Clive will describe some of the world's better known and less well known monuments related to astronomy, but also some deconstruct some of the myths surrounding others - including some of the best known of all.

Stardome Observatory, Auckland, Monday, 10 November at 8.00 pm, "Monuments tied to the sky: the controversial heritage of ancient astronomy."

Clive L. N. Ruggles (born 1952) is a British astronomer, archaeologist and academic, regarded as one of the leading figures in the field of archaeoastronomy and the author of numerous academic and popular works on the subject. As of 2009 Ruggles is Emeritus Professor of Archaeoastronomy at the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester. Ruggles has held the post since it was created in 1999, when it is believed to have been the only appointed Chair for archaeoastronomy among the world's universities. He concurrently also holds the posts of President of the Prehistoric Society, President of the IAU Commission for the History of Astronomy, and is the Chair for the IAU World Heritage and Astronomy Working Group, and was formerly the President of the International Society for Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture.

The Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve are funding Clive's visit to the South Island.

2. 2014 Burbidge Dinner, Auckland - 8 November

Auckland Astronomical Society is holding its annual Burbidge Dinner on Saturday 8 November at 6:30 pm at the Commerce Club of Auckland, 27-33 Ohinerau Street, Remuera. This event is open to all. Members of other clubs and societies are very welcome.

Tickets are $45.00 per person and include a buffet dinner. There will be a cash bar available. Tickets are available from Oana Jones. Please book by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 09 634 1409

The Burbidge Speaker this year is Professor Clive Ruggles, Emeritus Professor of Archaeoastronomy, University of Leicester, UK. His talk will be "Whatever happened to the ancient observatories?" See Item 10 for the talk's abstract.

The evening will include the presentation of the Beaumont prize for the best article written in the Journal and the Harry Williams Astrophotography Competition including presentation of the Harry Williams Trophy.

3. Horowhenua Astrophotography Weekend - 21-23 November

The Horowhenua Astronomical Society is holding its second annual weekend dedicated to astrophotography in the Horowhenua/Manawatu in a wonderful dark-sky location. It will be at Foxton Beach Bible Camp, Foxton Beach, Horowhenua November 21st - 23rd.

It is open to everyone interested in astrophotography - from beginners to advanced. Come along and share your knowledge, tips and experiences. All sorts of astrophotography can be undertaken - solar-system/nightscapes/ deep-sky. The weekend will consist of:

  • Practical astrophotography. There are plenty of safe areas for people to set up their equipment and leave it in situ for the whole weekend.
  • Image Processing: There is a huge room with long tables available which is perfect for people to set up computers for this.
  • Presentations: There will be talks on astrophotography related topics held in the large hall (see below).
  • Bring-and-buy: Feel free to bring along any equipment that you are no longer using and wish to sell.
  • Fish and chips dinner: Saturday night. Please pay when you book.
  • Late-night movies: Should the weather not be kind then movies can be shown on the big screen.

Everyone is encouraged to bring along their own telescopes/binoculars/mounts/cameras, etc, however basic they might be.

The following people will be giving presentations on a range of practical astrophotography subjects: Peter Aldous, Robert McTague, Steve Keen, Stephen Chadwick, George Ionas, Frank Andrews, Steve Lang, Jonathan Green, Amit Kamble. More will be announced shortly.

Due to high demand numbers shall be restricted so please book early to avoid disappointment. For booking details see http://www.horoastronomy.org.nz/upcoming-events/astrophotography-weekend

4. The last orbit of Georges Lemaitre

In the early morning hours of Monday, 23 February 2015, at around 3 a.m. NZDT, a new falling star will cross the sky above New Zealand as Georges Lemaitre, the fifth in the ATV series of spacecraft launched by ESA, is deorbited and sent down to burn in the Earth's atmosphere. The Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATVs) have been used over the past few years to bring supplies and perform some minor orbital corrections to the International Space Station (ISS). Five ATVs have been launched since March 2008. According to a previous announcement by ESA, the ATV-5 will be the last vehicle in this series.

The atmospheric re-entry of the ATV-5 over New Zealand will be best viewed from the South Island. The current prediction for the final orbit has a ground track passing through Mt Cook and Lake Tekapo. A joint team of NZ and UK scientists will observe the event from multiple locations in order to determine the three-dimensional orbit of the satellite and perform other measurements. This work is part of a larger international campaign with the aim of studying the behaviour of a satellite during a shallow re- entry, in a scenario that will be used by NASA to deorbit the ISS within the next 10-20 years.

All New Zealand astronomers are invited to join the campaign and take images of the ATV-5 as it crosses the South Island. This collaborative effort will be coordinated by the Defence Technology Agency (DTA) in Auckland, where the images will be collected and included in the final data analysis. The only equipment required for the observation is a CCD camera fitted with a standard photographic lens. The aim is to record the satellite trail across the fixed stellar background. A cooled CCD camera is preferred, due to its higher sensitivity. However, a digital SLR camera might also be used, depending on the brightness of the satellite.

Expressions of interest should be sent directly to Dr Jovan Skuljan (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) who will coordinate this project. The participants will receive a PDF document describing the event and observation techniques. Please indicate the most likely location that you are planning to use (the nearest town will be sufficient at this stage), and a short description of your equipment, including the camera, lens and telescope mount (or tripod). The best locations should be within 100-200 km to either side (north or south) of the ground track (currently Lake Tekapo). The equatorial ephemerides will be available closer to the time of the event.

-- Jovan Skuljan

5. The Solar System in November

All dates and times are NZDT (UT +13 hours) unless otherwise specified. Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

On November 1 the Sun rises at 6.05 am and sets at 8.03 pm. On November 31 the times are 5.40 am and 8.38 pm respectively. Nautical twilight starts about 1 hour before sunrise in the morning and ends about 1 hour after sunset in the evening. Nautical twilight starts/ends when the Sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. The sky is then reasonably dark except for a near horizon glow in the direction of the Sun.

Phases of the moon (times as shown by guide)

Full moon:     November  7 at 11.23 am (Nov  6, 22:23 UT)
Last quarter   November 15 at  4.16 am (Nov 14, 15:16 UT)
New moon:      November 23 at  1.32 am (Nov 22, 12:32 UT)
First quarter: November 29 at 11.06 pm (        10:06 UT)

The planets in november

Two planets will be easily seen during November. Mars will be visible in the evening sky for two or three hours before it gets too low. Jupiter for a little longer in the morning sky after it rises and before dawn.

Mercury, Venus and Saturn are all close to the Sun during November with Saturn at conjunction on November 18. Observation of any of them will be problematical, to say the least.

Mars, PLANET OF THE EVENING SKY. Best viewed as the sky darkens following sunset.

Mars is the only planet really visible in the evening sky, it sets shortly after midnight, 12.40 am on the 1st and 12.09 am on the 30th. So it is best viewed an hour or so after sunset, when it will be almost due west all month, gradually getting a little lower as the month progresses.

The planet will be moving across Sagittarius and in the process pass close to some bright stars and clusters. On the 3rd it will, at its closest, be less than 3' (one-tenth of the full moon's diameter) from the centre of M28. By the time the sky darkens in NZ Mars will be about 5' from the centre. The following night the planet will be just over half a degree from lambda Sgr, mag 2.8. On the 6th and 7th it will be less than 1° from M22, the third brightest globular cluster, with Mars to the left of the cluster on the 6th and nearly above it on the 7th.

Mars then passes the "handle of the teapot" in Sagittarius, being just under 2° from Nunki, sigma Sgr, magnitude 2.1 on the 12th with the star to the upper left of Mars, magnitude 0.9. By November 17, Mars will be close to pi Sgr, magnitude 2.9, with the planet nearly 3° from the star, this time the star being to the lower right of Mars.

The crescent moon, 17% lit will be some 7° to the lower right of Mars on November 26.

Jupiter in the morning sky.

Jupiter rises 3 hours before the Sun on November 1 and about four and a half hours earlier on the 30th. Thus it will be a brilliant object visible fairly low to the northeast before sunrise. The planet will be in Leo all month, slowly moving towards Regulus which will be a few degrees to its right. An hour before sunrise Jupiter will be to the northeast on the 1st, rather further round towards the north on the 30th.

The moon, at last quarter, will be just over 4° above Jupiter on the morning of October 15. The two are closest just after 3am.

Jupiter's equator is currently nearly edge on as seen from the Earth. As a result a series of mutual events of the major satellites is occurring. A number of these events are visible from New Zealand during November. Most are occultations when one moon will be seen to close in on and merge with another, the two separating again a few minutes later.

Mercury, VENUS and SATURN, three planets lost in the Sun.

Mercury is nominally a morning object, it rises 35 minutes before the Sun on the 1st. 20 minutes before the Sun comes up, the planet will be only 2° above the horizon and so not observable. On the 1st Mercury is at its greatest elongation 19° west of the Sun. During the rest of November it will get steadily closer to the Sun, rising only 15 minutes earlier on the 30th.

Venus, having become an evening object at the end of October, sets just 6 minutes after the Sun on November 1. This increases to 44 minutes later by the end of the month. Hence, by then, it may be briefly visible, very low, 30° to the south of west shortly after the Sun goes down. It will then be in Ophiuchus.

Saturn sets just over an hour after the Sun on November 1. By the 18th it is at conjunction with the Sun. As "seen" from the Earth it will pass almost 2° north of the Sun but in reality it will be 9.95 Au 1488 million km, beyond it. The distance from Earth will be 10.934 AU, or 1636 million km. After conjunction, Saturn will rise before the Sun, but less than half an hour earlier by the 30th, so not observable.

Outer planets

Uranus is in the evening sky at magnitude 5.7 to 5.8. It is in Pisces, highest and to the north at about 11.30 pm on the 1st and two hours earlier on the 30th.

Neptune is also an evening object throughout November, setting after midnight. The planet is in Aquarius, magnitude 7.9. It is stationary mid month, so its position scarcely changes during the month.

Pluto is in Sagittarius at magnitude 14.4. On the 11th, Mars will be less than 4° from Pluto, with the latter the opposite side of Mars to the star Nunki.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is an early evening object magnitude 9.0 to 8.8. At the beginning of November, it sets less than 2 hours after the Sun, by the end of the month only 25 minutes later. By late November Ceres will be in Ophiuchus and will be less than 1° to the lower right of Venus on the 26th. Twilight is likely to make it impossible to view the asteroid in binoculars.

(3) Juno brightens from magnitude 9.3 to 9.0 during November. The 244 km asteroid is a morning object rising a little after midnight in Hydra. It is less than 10" from eta Hya on the morning of the 12th.

(4) Vesta, magnitude 7.9, starts November in Ophiuchus. It moves into Sagittarius on the 27th. It is an evening object, setting just before 11pm on the 1st and a little after 10pm on the 30th.

(6) Hebe is at opposition on November 20 with a magnitude 8.1. Being some way south of the celestial equator at opposition it will rise before sunset and set after sunrise. The asteroid is in Eridanus and will be less than 1° from 3.5 magnitude delta Eri between November 21 and 25.

-- Brian Loader

6. 2015 RASNZ Conference

The 2015 RASNZ Conference will be held in Lake Tekapo village From Friday May 8 to Sunday 10th. It will be followed by the 9th Trans-Tasman Occultation Meeting on the Monday and Tuesday, May 11-12.

Preceding the RASNZ Conference will be a two-day meeting celebrating Mt John Observatory's 50th Anniversary. The meeting will be held in Lake Tekapo village on the Thursday and Friday, May 7-8. The theme is `Celebrating 50 years of Mt John´. Past Pennsylvania and Canterbury students will contribute papers but anyone is welcome. About 80 participants are expected. Details are available at www.mjuo50.org.nz.

7. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)

The RASNZ Occultation Section is pleased to announce that the 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9) will be held at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, over 11-12 May 2015. Comprehensive information about the meeting is available here: http://occultations.org.nz/meetings/TTSO9/TTSO9.htm

The meeting will immediately follow the 2015 RASNZ Conference and the Mt John Observatory 50th Anniversary Symposium. Because attendance at all these meetings is expected to be high, accommodation space in Tekapo is likely to be limited. If you plan to attend any of these meetings we recommend that you book your accommodation early.

For those who are members of the Occultation Section, the latest Section Circular was released today. We also expect the next issue of the Journal for Occultation Astronomy to be available very soon. To access these visit: http://occultations.org.nz/members/publ/publ.htm

-- Graham Blow

8. Dust Makes Cosmic Inflation Signal Iffy

A new analysis of Planck data provides the best measurements ever made of polarized dust emission across the sky - and bolsters the claim that the signal heralded as evidence for cosmic inflation is from dust instead. [See Newsletter No. 159, Item 1, 20 March 2014.)

Things are looking grim for the purported discovery of cosmic inflation´s fingerprints. Earlier this year, the BICEP2 team announced the detection of primordial B-modes, swirly polarization patterns imprinted on the cosmic microwave background (CMB) thanks to the hypothesized, split-second inflationary era. If inflation really did happen right after the universe´s birth, it should have spawned ripples in spacetime called gravitational waves, which in turn would have stretched and squeezed spacetime - and the plasma in it, ultimately fostering the creation of these polarization patterns in the CMB.

The BICEP2 telescope measured "curly" B-modes of polarization in the cosmic microwave background. The strongest curl patterns were a couple of degrees wide, roughly the size of your thumb held at arm's length against the sky.

But other cosmologists quickly raised a red flag about BICEP2´s result, cautioning that the polarization detected might instead be from dust emission in the Milky Way itself. Irregular, charged dust grains interacting with our galaxy´s magnetic field can also produce the B-mode polarization patterns, and on the same angular scale as the theorized primordial ones.

Since the debate arose, the astronomy world has been waiting impatiently for the team of ESA´s Planck mission to cast the deciding vote. Planck´s all-sky CMB observations include polarization, and the mission´s researchers have been laboriously analyzing the data to separate the primordial signals from those originating closer to home. The team is being doubly careful because its preliminary data releases have inadvertently fuelled the debate.

The galactic poles are the main regions of contention here. BICEP2 peered through the sparse galactic fog near the Milky Way´s south pole. More than a half dozen other B-mode experiments also focus on this Southern Hole. What everybody wants to know is, How much does dust emission contribute to the polarization signal in these galactic polar regions?

The Planck team has now released their preliminary analysis of the polarized dust emission near the galactic poles. The analysis doesn't include the detailed, multiple-frequency maps that will for certain settle the question, but it is still far and away the best measurement yet for this dust signal, says Planck scientist Charles Lawrence of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. What it shows is that dust is basically everywhere. "There is no escape from foregrounds, no part of the sky so clean that foregrounds can be ignored," Lawrence says. The Planck team found that the strength of the dust signal is roughly of the same magnitude as the polarization signal reported by BICEP2.

The Plank data indicates that the region that BICEP2 was looking at is only moderately clear. (See plots in the original article.) There are caveats though. First of all, the Planck analysis has sizable error bars, which the team is quick to point out. Second, there´s the ongoing issue of extrapolation. BICEP2 observed the CMB at a frequency of 150 GHz. The Planck analysis, on the other hand, uses 353-GHz data from the spacecraft´s High Frequency Instrument (HFI) and extrapolates down to what the emission should look like at 150 GHz.

To do the extrapolation, the researchers used HFI data from 100, 143, and 217 GHz, as well as maps from various data subsets, to make sure they understood how the dust signal changes as they look at different frequencies. With this information in hand, they then took the 353-GHz data and created rough "150-GHz" maps based on how the dust signal's strength changes with frequency across the sky. The team stuck with 353 GHz instead of using the lower-frequency data to make the plots directly because at 353 GHz dust emission dominates over other polarization signals, meaning data at that frequency give the clearest picture of galactic dust.

The team stresses that the emission maps are estimates. But the analysis is exceptionally careful, and the results imply that polarized dust is the dominant signal in the BICEP2 field, says David Spergel (Princeton), who coauthored one of the cautionary analyses earlier this year. "There could be a weaker signal from gravitational waves, but I don´t think that the current data are good enough to separate out this weaker signal and make a statistically significant detection," he sums up.

The Planck and BICEP2 teams are doing a joint analysis to get to the bottom of things. This analysis will hopefully be done in time for the big Planck conference in December, at which the Planck team will discuss the mission´s full temperature and polarization data (set to be released in November). These will include maps at all frequencies, Lawrence says, which will reveal features the averaging doesn't catch.

The new Planck analysis also picks out a few regions of sky that look the "cleanest" in terms of polarized dust emission. The largest region is, as expected, near the galactic south pole, as far from the dust-laden spiral disk as possible. Unfortunately, the BICEP2 field of view appears to have just missed the sweet spot. But other experiments - notably the Atacama B- mode Search (ABS) and the balloon-borne Suborbital Polarimeter for Inflation (SPIDER) - look right at it.

Even if the BICEP2 result proves a gun-jumper, the experiment has helped to create the most sensitive polarization map for this sector of the sky, Spergel says. But it looks like it´s going to take even more sensitive measurements to discover primordial B-modes.

Reference: Planck Collaboration. "Planck intermediate results. XXX. The angular power spectrum of polarized dust emission at intermediate and high Galactic latitudes." Posted to arXiv.org 19 September 2014.

-- Mostly from an illustrated note Camille M. Carlisle, 24 September. For the original see http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/dust-makes-cosmic-inflation-evidence-iffy-09242014/?et_mid=694711&rid=246399573

9. Gravitomagnetic Field Explains Flyby Speed Anomaly?

When space probes, such as Rosetta and Cassini, fly past certain planets and moons, in order to gain momentum and travel long distances, their change in speed is not exactly as expected. A Spanish researcher has now analysed whether or not a hypothetical gravitomagnetic field could have an influence. However, other factors such as solar radiation, tides, or even relativistic effects or dark matter could be behind this mystery.

Since the beginnings of space exploration, spacecraft controllers have used the 'slingshot' effect of a close pass by a planet or moon to boost the craft's speed. However, during these flyby manoeuvres, something makes the craft fractionally faster or slower than calculated.

This anomaly has only been detected with a high level of precision in flybys of Earth, due to the availability of monitoring stations. These allow for the variations in the spacecraft speed to be measured by radar.

When the Galileo space probe flew over Earth in 1990, an unexpected increase of 4 millimetres per second was detected, as was a similar decrease when it took the same flyby in 1992. In 1998, a speed of 13 mm/s above estimates was observed in the spacecraft NEAR, and similar anomalies were repeated in the flybys of Cassini in 1999 (-2 mm/s), and those of the Messenger and Rosetta probes in 2005, with +0.02 mm/s and +1.82 mm/s respectively.

The deviations do not seriously affect the trajectories of the spacecraft. However, it is very important to clarify what they are caused by in the current era of precise space exploration.

Scientists have still not found any convincing explanation for the phenomenon, although they have put forward a range of hypotheses. One points towards solar radiation being the cause of the change in speed, whilst others suggest an influence from magnetic fields or the effect of tides. Then there are unconventional theories, such as the existence of a halo of dark matter trapped by Earth´s gravitational pull.

In a recent paper in the journal 'Advances in Space Research' Luis Acedo has proposed an explanation based on a supposed circulating gravitomagnetic field, which would follow the Earth´s parallels or lines of latitude. This hypothesis can be used to explain the effects on the majority of flybys. Einstein´s general theory of relativity predicts the existence of a similar field, but in following meridians or lines of longitude. That filed was confirmed by Gravity Probe B experiment.

"If a force field existed," Acedo explains, "its effects would also be seen in the elliptical orbits of spacecraft, and should have been detected a long time ago by geodynamic satellites such as LAGEOS or LARES; however, this is not the case, and it is therefore doubtful that a field of this kind could cast a light on this mystery without seriously changing our understanding of Earth´s gravity."

With this possibility ruled out, Acedo suggests that the anomalous behaviour of the probes during their flybys must originate in something that, although common, we have been unaware of to date. Either that or there is an error in the data analysis programs.

The difference in speeds could have serious implications for the understanding of gravity. A small deficit in the calculated advance of Mercury´s perihelion contributed to the development of the theory of general relativity. For the case in question something similar could occur.

Meanwhile, space probes continue to challenge scientists every time they perform a flyby. One of the last was that of the spacecraft Juno in October 2013, from Earth en route to Jupiter. NASA has not yet published data on this journey, but everything indicates that its speed as it flew over our planet was once again different to estimates.

Reference: Luis Acedo Rodríguez. "The flyby anomaly: A case for strong gravitomagnetism?" Advances in Space Research 54 (4): 788-796, August 2014.

See the original article at http://www.agenciasinc.es/en/News/An-anomaly-in-satellites-flybys-confounds-scientists

-- Thanks to John Arnold for providing the link.

10. Abstracts for Clive Ruggles Talks

"Of calendars and kings: gods, temples, the Pleiades, and the development of archaic states in Hawai'i" In the Hawaiian islands, unlike other parts of ancient Polynesia, chiefdoms became transformed into archaic states during the centuries between the end of long-distance voyaging and European contact. Archaeoastronomy, the study of beliefs and practice relating to the sky, has recently become relevant to studies of the social, political and ideological factors that contrived to bring this about. The prominent place of astronomy within religious, navigational, and calendrical traditions in the islands, as throughout Polynesia, is evident from a rich ethnohistoric record. Clive will describe his fieldwork with archaeologist Patrick V. Kirch studying the orientations of temple platforms and their connections with astronomy, the calendar, dryland agriculture and the emergence of "god-king" cults.

"Whatever happened to the ancient observatories? Ever since Alexander Thom made "megalithic observatories" famous in Britain in the 1960s and 1970, people all over the world began to identify ancient observatory sites in their own countries, often built long before written history. These monuments not only bore witness to ancient peoples deep interest in the skies but also, as it seemed, to the sophistication of ancient knowledge. Yet some supposed ancient observatories were undoubtedly more convincing as such than others, and archaeologists were generally highly skeptical. In recent years, archaeo-astronomers have tended to avoid speaking of ancient observatories at all. What changed? If these sites weren't ancient observatories what were they? And does this mean that ancient people were not as sophisticated, or as interested in the skies, as we thought? Clive shall address these questions using examples from Britain, Peru, China, and elsewhere.

"Monuments tied to the sky: the controversial heritage of ancient astronomy" In today's brightly lit world it is all too easy to forget just how overwhelming the dark night sky would have been to human societies in the past. It was a prominent part of the environment that was impossible to ignore. The objects and cycles seen in the sky were vital to people striving to make sense of the world within which they dwelt and to keep their actions in harmony with the cosmos as they perceived it. Around the world, spectacular ancient monuments ­ as well as many that are not quite so spectacular ­ provide us with tantalising glimpses of long lost beliefs and practices relating to the sky. But they have to be interpreted with considerable caution, and because of this many of the world's most famous ancient astronomy sites are actual highly controversial. This makes it all the more difficult for bodies such as UNESCO and International Astronomical Union who are concerned to preserve and protect the most valuable heritage of ancient astronomy around the planet. In this talk I will describe some of the world's better known and less well known monuments related to astronomy, but also some deconstruct some of the myths surrounding others including some of the best known of all.

"Is a dark future a bright future?" The Aoraki-Mackenzie area was recognized in 2012 as a (gold-tier) International Dark Sky Reserve because of its exceptional dark skies. Dark sky areas can also have great significance in relation both to cultural heritage and natural heritage, and the potential for dark sky values to be recognized as part of the wider heritage value of a place is currently being carefully assessed by bodies such as the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and ICOMOS, the body that advises UNESCO on cultural sites nominated to the World Heritage List. But international heritage recognition can have a range of impacts, all of which have to be carefully assessed by a wide range of stakeholders. In this talk Clive Ruggles, who is the IAU's co-ordinator for the joint UNESCO-IAU Astronomy and World Heritage Initiative, will discuss in general terms the ways in which it could be possible to recognize and protect dark skies in a World Heritage context. In doing so, Clive will attempt to give a background that can inform local discussion and debate on the potential benefits and issues that could arise if the heritage values of the Aoraki-Mackenzie area, including its dark skies, were ever recognized internationally.

See also http://www.cliveruggles.net/

11. How to Join RASNZ

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12. 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.

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13. Quotes

"People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov.

"Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right." -- Isaac Asimov.

"If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." -- Ray Bradbury.


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