The Solar System In January 2018

Dates and times shown are NZDT (UT + 13 hours) unless otherwise stated.

Sunrise, Sunset and Twilight Times in January

Times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

             January  1  NZDT          January 31  NZDT
     SUN:  rise 5.48am, set 8.59pm    rise 5.47am, set 8.59pm
Twilights    morning     evening        morning     evening
Civil:    starts 5.17am, ends  9.31pm   starts 5.54am, ends  9.14pm
Nautical: starts 4.34am, ends 10.14pm   starts 5.16am, ends  9.52pm
Astro:    starts 3.43am, ends 11.04pm   starts 3.42am, ends 10.34pm

The Earth is at perihelion, its closest to the Sun for the year, on January 3. Earth will then be 147 million kilometres, 0.983 AU, from the Sun

January Phases of the Moon (times NZDT, as shown by GUIDE)

          Full moon:     January  2 at  3.24pm (02:24 UT)
  Last quarter   January  9 at 11.25am (Jan  8, 22:25 UT)
  New moon:      January 17 at  3.17pm (02:17 UT)
  First quarter: January 25 at 11.20am (Jan 24, 22:20 UT)
  Full moon     February  1 at  2.27am (Jan 31, 13:27 UT)

A total eclipse of the moon, fully visible from NZ, takes place on the night of January 31/February 1. The eclipse will be total between 1:51:25 am and 3:08:07 am on the morning of Feb 1. Further details can be found on the RASNZ web site.

The Planets in January 2018

The five inner planets are morning objects throughout January, with the exception of Venus which becomes an evening object after conjunction with the Sun on the 9th. Mercury and Venus will be difficult objects to view all month, with Saturn coming into view in the morning sky during January.

Mars and Jupiter will be the most interesting planets to watch. They form a close pair early in the month.

Mars and JUPITER start January as a pair in the morning sky. On the 1st they will be 3° apart with Mars to the upper left of Jupiter. They are closest on the mornings of January 7 and 8. On the 7th Mars will be some 17 arc-minutes above Jupiter, the following morning Mars will be level with and to the right of Jupiter, the two now 22 arc-minutes apart. Mars will, of course, be much fainter than Jupiter, by over 3 magnitudes. Look for the pair of planets an hour before sunrise at an elevation of 30° almost due east.

During the rest of January Mars will steadily pull away from the slower moving Jupiter, by the end of the month they will be about 12° apart. Both will be in Libra all month, although on the 31st Mars will be poised to move into Scorpius with Antares 9° to its right.

On the 12th the crescent moon will be 6° below the planets as seen about 5 am.

Mercury is in the morning sky. On January 1 it rises almost 90 minutes before the Sun. Forty-five minutes before sunrise the planet, magnitude -0.4, will be a mere 6° up, with the Sun 8° below the horizon. During the month the elongation of Mercury from the Sun reduces, so it will get even lower in the morning twilight.

Saturn, also in the morning sky, will emerge from the Sun during January. On the 1st it will rise about 40 minutes before the Sun, an interval increasing to almost 3 hours by the end of the month.

Similar to Mars and Jupiter, Mercury will move past Saturn during January. On the 13th Mercury will be just under a degree above Saturn, the following morning it will nearly 2° to the lower right of Saturn. Also the moon, as a thin crescent, will then be 5.5° to the left of Saturn. All will be difficult to see, some 7 to 8° up 45 minutes before sunrise, Mercury a little brighter than Saturn

Venus rises only 10 minutes before the Sun on January 1. By the 9th it is at superior conjunction. At conjunction Venus will be half a degree south of the Sun but 109 million km beyond it. Two hours after Venus is at conjunction, Pluto is also at conjunction. Following their conjunctions Venus will become an evening object while Pluto becomes a morning object.

By the end of January, Venus will be setting only 25 minutes after the Sun, so it will remain a difficult object all month.

Outer Planets

Uranus is an evening object in Pisces during January. It is best placed in the evening sky as soon as it is dark. Uranus will set at 12.45 am by the end of the month.

Neptune is an early evening object in January. It sets at midnight on the 1st and 10 pm, before the end of astronomical twilight, on the 31st. The planet is in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9.

Pluto, is at conjunction with the Sun on January 9.

Brightest Minor Planets

(1) Ceres is a morning object, at first in Leo then in Cancer from the 19th. During January it brightens from magnitude 7.5 to 6.9.

(2) Pallas is an evening object with magnitude dimming slightly from 8.7 to 9.0 during January. It starts in Fornax, crosses a corner of Cetus between January 13 and 22, to end the month in Eridanus.

(4) Vesta starts January in Libra, crosses a narrow part of Scorpius between the 18th and 29th and then moves into Ophiuchus. Its magnitude changes little, from 7.9 to 7.8.

(7) Iris is an evening object in Aries, dimming from magnitude 8.6 to 9.3 during the month. By the end of January it sets just after midnight.

(8) Flora is in Gemini all month, starting January at magnitude 8.2. It is at opposition on the 2nd when it will be 155 million km from the Earth, 1.034 AU. After opposition it becomes an evening object but dims to magnitude 9.2 by the end of January.

(20) Massalia is in Taurus during January. It fades from magnitude 8.9 to 9.6 during the month.

Brian Loader  
New Zealand

Solar System notes for January, 2018 sky-solar201801 2017-12-21 12:00:00

RASNZ Electronic Newsletter May 2017

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

Email Newsletter Number 197

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


1. The 2017 RASNZ Conference
2. Natalie Batalha Among Time Magazine's Top 100
3. Harry Williams Astrophotography Competition
4. The Solar System in June
5. Comet C/2015 ER61 (PANSTARRS)
6. Variable Star News
7. Asteroid Day - June 30
8. Gaia Video Released
9. MOA finds a Super-Earth
10. Chinese Airline Invests in Mt John and Astro-Tourism
11. How to Join the RASNZ
12. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
13. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

1. The 2017 RASNZ Conference

The large number of attendees at the 2017 Conference in Dunedin were entertained and informed by a wide range of excellent speakers. The venue was the Otago Museum with an excellently-appointed meeting hall and good catering of teas and lunches.

Thanks are due to the Dunedin Astronomical Society for local organisation, Otago Museum for providing the venue, and the RASNZ's Standing Conference Committee for marshalling a wide variety of speakers. Astronz and Emerson's provided sponsorship with Astronz also presenting an 8-inch (200 mm) Dobsonian to the Dunedin Society.

Joss Bland-Hawthorn, the Invited Speaker, gave two very informative talks to the meeting then followed up with a public lecture the after the conference ended on Sunday. Joss is Australian Laureate Professor of Physics at the University of Sydney. His interests, described in his talks, range through cosmology to photonics, notably the development of compact spectrographs.

Jennie McCormick gave the Fellows' lecture detailing her development and adventures in astronomy. The AGM approved the appointment of Steve Butler as a new Fellow of the Society. Steve was also the winner of binoculars in Astronz's luck dip. Professor Craig Rodger gave the after-dinner talk, describing the potential risks of space weather to power grids and what can be done to reduce them.

The Editor hopes to provide more detail in later Newsletters. Next year's Conference will be in Christchurch, May 4-6.

2. Natalie Batalha Among Time Magazine's Top 100

Natalie Batalha, this year's RASNZ Beatrice Tinsley lecturer, has been listed in Time magazine's 100 most influential people. While in New Zealand Dr Batalha is also speaking at the Starlight Festival at Mt Cook village in 13-15 October. Below is an abridged version of the NASA press release about the honour. ---------- A NASA scientist searching for other worlds has been named one of the most influential people on our world. Time magazine has named Kepler project scientist Natalie Batalha to the Time 100, its annual list of the 100 most influential people on Earth. Natalie shares this honour this year with planet-hunters Guillem Anglada-Escudé of the Queen Mary University of London, who discovered an Earth-size planet orbiting Proxima Centauri in 2016, and Michaël Gillon of the University of Liège in Belgium, who recently announced the discovery of seven Earth-size planets orbiting TRAPPIST-1 using NASA?s Spitzer Space Telescope.

Batalha leads the science investigation effort for Kepler ? NASA's first mission to find Earth-size planets beyond our solar system. Kepler is seeking to find how common planets are in other stars' "habitable zones," the range of distances from each individual star where temperatures could allow liquid water to pool on the surface of the planet without freezing or evaporating. Working at NASA's Ames Research Center in California's Silicon Valley, Batalha has been a leading figure of the mission since she joined the team in 1999.

Time magazine's Editor-in-Chief Nancy Gibbs has explained, Each year our Time 100 list lets us step back and measure the forces that move us. One way or another they each embody a breakthrough: they broke the rules, broke the record, broke the silence, broke the boundaries to reveal what we're capable of.?

Time ran a short article on Batalha's accomplishments. Batalha is the first woman at NASA to receive the Time 100 designation. "I'm honoured to be part of the TIME 100 and feel strongly that recognition belongs to the entire team of scientists and engineers who opened our eyes to the large number of potentially habitable worlds that populate the galaxy," said Batalha. "Searching for potentially habitable worlds makes one appreciate just how precious living worlds are. I hope that the discoveries from the Kepler spacecraft inspire people to learn more about other planets, and, in turn, make us love this one all the more."

Batalha holds a Bachelor's degree in physics from the University of California (UC), Berkeley, and a Doctoral degree in astrophysics from UC Santa Cruz. Batalha started her career as a stellar spectroscopist studying young, sun-like stars. Her studies took her to Brazil, Chile and, in 1995, Italy, where she was present at the scientific conference when the world learned of the first planet orbiting another star like our sun.

In 1999, after inquiring about the challenges that star spots present in distinguishing signals from transiting planets, Batalha began working on the Kepler mission with William Borucki, visionary and principal investigator of Kepler, at Ames. Today Batalha leads the Kepler team in determining the fraction of stars in our Milky Way galaxy that have planets that might be places for life as we know it. She participates on numerous scientific advisory panels to chart the future of NASA's astrophysics research to find life beyond the solar system and answer the question: are we alone?

See the full NASA press release at The link was forwarded by John Hearnshaw.

The Time article, much shorter than the above, is found in the 1 May/8 May double issue of 'Time' at p.25 in the Australasian edition.

3. Harry Williams Astrophotography Competition

Calling all astrophotographers. The 2017 Harry Williams Astrophotography Competition is now open for entries.

This year our judge is world-renowned planetary photographer Damian Peach. In 2010 Damian became the only Briton to win the prestigious Astronomy Photographer of the Year Award for his composite photograph of Jupiter's moons, Ganymede and Io, orbiting the stormy surface of the Gas Giant.

Damian is arguably the world's most well-known planetary photographer, his high resolution images of the planets have been compared in quality to the kind of images captured by orbiting spacecraft! So we are truly lucky to have Damian on board as our judge for this year's competition.

As in previous years we are lucky to have Australian Sky & Telescope on board as sponsors of both the Solar System category and the Miscellaneous / Artistic category, the winners of these categories will receive a one year subscription to the magazine as well as the usual cash prize. Also the winner of the Newcomers contest will receive a signed copy of 'Imaging the Southern Sky' by Stephen Chadwick & Ian Cooper. More sponsors to be announced soon.

The competition cut-off date is the 31st of August and the competition awards will be announced at the annual Burbidge Dinner which is the Auckland Astronomical Society's premier annual event, keep an eye out on the society website for details on the forthcoming Burbidge dinner.

The competition rules and entry forms can be found on the Auckland Astronomical Society website

I'm looking forward to seeing all your images and wishing you all clear skies.

--From Jonathan Green's posting to the nzastronomers Yahoo group.

4. The Solar System in June

Dates and times shown are NZST (UT + 12 hours) unless otherwise stated.

The southern winter solstice occurs on June 21. The sun reaches its most northerly declination at about 4 pm.

                    June  1  NZST                  June 30  NZST     
       SUN: rise: 7.34am,  set: 5.02pm     rise: 7.45am,  set: 5.03pm
Twilights     morning       evening            morning       evening 
Civil:    starts: 7.06am, ends: 5.31pm   starts: 7.16am, ends: 5.33pm
Nautical: starts: 6.32am, ends: 6.05pm   starts: 6.42am, ends: 6.07pm
Astro:    starts: 5.58am, ends: 6.39pm   starts: 6.08am, ends: 6.41pm

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

          First quarter: June  2 at 12.42 am (June  1, 12:42 UT)
  Full moon:     June 10 at  1.10 am (June  9, 13:10 UT)
  Last quarter   June 17 at 11.33 pm (11:33 UT)
  New moon:      June 24 at  2.31 pm (02:31 UT)

The planets in june 2017

Jupiter, and later Saturn will be prominent in the evening sky. In the morning Mercury is easily visible for the first few days while Venus is obvious for several hours before sun-up. Mars is getting too close to the sun to see.

MERCURY, in the morning sky, rises over an hour and three-quarters before the Sun on the 1st. At magnitude -0.4 it will be readily visible 30° to the north of east but at a fairly low altitude, near 10° above the horizon 50 minutes before sunrise. It is then in Aries and will be the brightest object in that direction.

The planet will move towards the Sun quite rapidly over the following days, so that by the 10th it will rise just over an hour before the Sun, so be noticeably lower. To compensate, it will brighten steadily, then up to -1.0. Mercury will be in Taurus from June 3.

After this, within a day or two, Mercury will be lost in the morning twilight. It reaches superior conjunction at the far side of the Sun on the 22nd when the planet will be nearly 200 million km, 1.32 AU from the Earth, some 46 million km beyond the Sun.

Following conjunction, Mercury becomes an evening object setting after the Sun, 50 minutes later at the end of June. However it is likely to be too low to see.

VENUS remains an easy morning object during June. It rises about 4 hours before the Sun on the 1st, reducing to 3.5 hours earlier on the 30th. Venus is at its greatest elongation, 46° from the Sun, on the 4th. Also on that morning, Uranus will be 1.5° to the left of Venus.

The planet starts the month in Pisces and ends the month in Taurus. Aldebaran will then be 16° to the lower right of Venus. The moon passes Venus on the morning of the 21st when the crescent moon will be some 2.5° above the planet.

MARS, still nominally in the evening sky, will set an hour after the Sun on the 1st so is unlikely to be visible in the evening twilight.

JUPITER will remain a prominent evening object during June, although by the end of the month it sets at 1am, so will then be getting low by late evening. The planet is in Virgo all month with a magnitude -2, making it the brightest star like object in the evening sky.

The moon passes Jupiter early in the month. The two will be closest early afternoon on the 4th, closest before they rise for New Zealand. By 6pm the two will be just under 4° apart with the 76% lit moon about 4° below Jupiter. By midnight the two will be nearly 6° apart, rotation of the sky bring the moon to about the 2 o'clock position centred on Jupiter.

SATURN is at opposition on the 15th, so will then rise about the time the Sun sets, and will itself set close to sunrise. Thus the planet will be visible all night although very low to the east early evening. It remains in Ophiuchus moving slowly to the west.

Opposition will provide a good opportunity to view Saturn's ring system. It is now wide open as seen from the Earth, with the outer edge of the ring beyond Saturn appearing over the planet's north pole.

On the 10th the moon, only a few hours after being full, will be 5° below Saturn early evening. As with Jupiter 6 days earlier, the two will be closest early afternoon, before they rise.

Outer Planets

URANUS is a morning object rising just before 4 am on the 1st and at 2am on the 30th. The planet is in Pisces. At the beginning of the month it will be close to Venus, with the latter some over 2.7° above the fainter planet as seen on the morning of the 1st. They are closest on the morning of June 4, when Venus will be 2° to the right of Uranus at 6am. There will be one star, magnitude 4.3, closer to Venus than is Uranus at magnitude 5.9. The three are almost in line the following morning, with the star between the two planets. Uranus should be an easy binocular object.

NEPTUNE rises a few minutes after midnight on the 1st and about 10.20 on the 30th. The planet, magnitude 7.9, spends the month in Aquarius. It is stationary on the 17th NZ time. A few hours earlier the moon will be close to Neptune. As seen from Dunedin, the moon will rise almost touching Neptune near the northern cusp of the moon. An occultation of Neptune is visible a few tens of kilometres off shore from Port Chalmers and to the east over much of the southern Pacific.

Minor Planets

(4) VESTA is in Cancer early June but moves into Leo on the 18th. Its magnitude will be 8.2. The asteroid sets at 9.20 pm on the 1st, nearly an hour earlier on the 30th.

(6) Hebe, magnitude 9.4, starts the month in Serpens some 25 arc-minutes from the star zeta Ser, magnitude 4.6. It moves away from the star crossing into Ophiuchus on the 4th. It is at opposition mid month.

(10) Hygiea brightens from magnitude 9.9 on the 1st to 9.2 on the 30th. It is at opposition on the 30th. On the 27th and 28th the asteroid will pass through the northerly outskirts of the bright globular cluster M22 in Sagittarius, at its closest Hygiea will be about 8 arc-minutes from the cluster's centre.

-- Brian Loader

5. Comet C/2015 ER61 (PANSTARRS)

In April this long-period comet brightened unexpectedly to total magnitude 6, bright enough to see in binoculars. It is low in the eastern dawn sky. Below are positions for the next 20 days. No magnitude predictions are included but the comet is expected be at total magnitude 6-7 through May and June.

Positions at 6 a.m NZST for May-June dates                          
    R.A. (2000) Dec.        R.A. (2000) Dec.        R.A. (2000) Dec.
     h  m  s    °  '         h  m  s    °  '         h  m  s    °  '
21  00 18 09  +07 32    31  00 54 40  +11 22    10  01 27 45  +14 31
22  00 21 57  +07 57     1  00 58 08  +11 43    11  01 30 52  +14 48
23  00 25 44  +08 21     2  01 01 33  +12 03    12  01 33 58  +15 05
24  00 29 28  +08 45     3  01 04 57  +12 23    13  01 37 01  +15 21
25  00 33 10  +09 09     4  01 08 18  +12 42    14  01 40 03  +15 37
26  00 36 51  +09 32     5  01 11 38  +13 01    15  01 43 02  +15 52
27  00 40 29  +09 55     6  01 14 55  +13 20    16  01 46 00  +16 07
28  00 44 05  +10 17     7  01 18 11  +13 39    17  01 48 56  +16 22
29  00 47 38  +10 39     8  01 21 24  +13 57    18  01 51 50  +16 36
30  00 51 10  +11 01     9  01 24 35  +14 14    19  01 54 41  +16 50

The comet is at perihelion in early May, close to Earth's distance from the Sun (q = 1.042 AU), but 1.2-1.3 AU away from us. It is in a long-period orbit (a = 716 AU) having come from an aphelion around 1432 AU away or 48 times Neptune's distance from the Sun, taking 19,000 years since its previous return. The effects of the planets' gravities have altered its orbit at this return so it will go out to 858 AU and return in 8900 years. The orbit details are from Syuichi Nakano in Central Bureau Electronic Telegram No. 4383 (2017 April 17).

6. Variable Star News

The 2017 April issue of the VSS Newsletter is available from the Section?s web-site. As usual a variety of topics are covered ranging from analysis of light curves to detailed information on building an observatory. The variables analysed are the BL Tel 2015 eclipse (Peter Williams), an analysis of semi-regular variable NGC 288-V1 located in a globular cluster (Mati Morel) and an update on QZ Carinae (Stan Walker). Tom Richards presents Part 4 of his series on ?The Stellar Detective?; this series is about ways to develop binary star models using simple mathematical concepts and this section addresses what can be determined from colour measurements of a system. And there is an article by Carl Knight on binary asteroids being monitored in the Pulkovo asteroid project. This program is being promoted by Eugene Sokov of Pulkovo Observatory, St Petersburg. The April 2017 Newsletter can be found on the Home page of the VSS web-site and can be downloaded.

Note that the Variable Stars South web-site is being rebuilt and until that is completed some items such Technical Guides and previous issues of the VSS Newsletter May not be available.

-- Alan Baldwin The site is at - Ed.

7. Asteroid Day - June 30

An email from Grig Richters, Asteroid Day, European Office, :

As you might be aware, in December 2016 the United Nations General Assembly declared June 30 as Asteroid Day. I am one of the co-founders of Asteroid Day and would like to invite you to participate in Asteroid Day this year. I hope that you and your colleagues will celebrate June 30, 2017 (which falls on a Friday).

On Asteroid Day local organisers educate the public about asteroids. In the first two years over 700 events were hosted across 80 Nations. On our website you can find plenty of free resources like a movie, a video series, a PowerPoint presentation, posters and much more. This is a good place to get started if you want to host an event.

Want to learn from a couple of case studies how-to organise a successful local event? Read this blog post where we highlight both a large and smaller Asteroid Day event.

Asteroid Day is successful because of local leadership by people like you. If you want to host an event we would appreciate you registering your event here. [See web link above.]

Feel free to share this message with your colleagues and if you work with an outreach team then I would appreciate it if you could forward this message to them as well.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any further questions.

---------- For a sceptical view of Asteroid Day see Newsletter No. 175, 20 July 2015, Item 8.

8. Gaia Video Released

The changing face of our Galaxy is revealed in a new video from the European Space Agency's (ESA's) Gaia mission. The motion of two million stars is traced 5 million years into the future using data from the Tycho-Gaia Astrometric Solution, one of the products of the first Gaia data release. This provides a preview of the stellar motions that will be revealed in Gaia's future data releases, which will enable scientists to investigate the formation history of our Galaxy.

Stars move through our Galaxy, the Milky Way, although the changes in their positions on the sky are too small and slow to be appreciated with the naked eye over human timescales. These changes were first discovered in the eighteenth century by Edmond Halley, who compared stellar catalogues from his time to a catalogue compiled by the astronomer Hipparchus some two thousand years before. Nowadays, stellar motions can be detected in a few years with high-precision astrometric observations, and ESA's Gaia satellite is currently leading the effort to pin them down at unprecedented accuracy.

A star?s velocity through space is described by the proper motion, which can be measured by monitoring the movement of a star across the sky, and the radial velocity, which quantifies the star's motion towards or away from us. The latter can be inferred from the shift towards blue or red wavelengths of certain features ? absorption lines ? in the star's spectrum.

A star?s velocity through space is described by the proper motion, which can be measured by monitoring the movement of a star across the sky, and the radial velocity, which quantifies the star's motion towards or away from us. Radial velocity can be measured from the shift of absorption lines in a star's spectrum.

Gaia was launched in 2013 and started scientific operations in July 2014, scanning the sky repeatedly to obtain the most detailed 3D map of our Galaxy ever made. The first data release, in September 2016, was based on data collected during Gaia's first 14 months of observations and comprised a list of 2D positions ? on the plane of the sky ? for more than one billion stars, as well as distances and proper motions for a subset of more than two million stars in the combined Tycho?Gaia Astrometric Solution, or TGAS.

The TGAS dataset consists of stars in common between Gaia's first year and the earlier Hipparcos and Tycho-2 Catalogues, both derived from ESA's Hipparcos mission, which charted the sky more than two decades ago.

The video at shows the 2 057 050 stars from the TGAS sample, with the addition of 24 320 bright stars from the Hipparcos Catalogue that are not included in Gaia's first data release. The stars are plotted in Galactic coordinates and using a rectangular projection. In this, the plane of the Milky Way stands out as the horizontal band with a great density of stars. Brighter stars are shown as larger circles, and an indication of the true colour of each star is also provided.

The video starts from the positions of stars as measured by Gaia between 2014 and 2015, and shows how these positions are expected to evolve in the future, based on the proper motions from TGAS. The frames in the video are separated by 750 years, and the overall sequence covers 5 million years. The stripes visible in the early frames reflect the way Gaia scans the sky and the preliminary nature of the first data release; these artefacts are gradually washed out in the video as stars move across the sky.

Stars seem to move with a wide range of velocities in this video, with stars in the Galactic Plane moving quite slowly and faster ones appearing over the entire frame. This is a perspective effect: most of the stars we see in the plane are much farther from us, and thus seem to be moving slower than the nearby stars, which are visible across the entire sky.

Some of the stars appear to dart across the sky with very high velocities: for some stars, this is an effect of their close passage to the Sun ? for example, in about 1.35 million years, the star Gliese 710 will pass within about 13 500 AU (10 trillion km or 0.2 light year) from the Sun. Other stars seem to trace arcs from one side of the sky to the other, passing close to the galactic poles, accelerating and decelerating in the process: in fact, this acceleration and deceleration are spurious effects since these stars move with a constant velocity through space.

Stars located in the Milky Way's halo, a roughly spherical structure in which the Galactic Plane is embedded, also appear to move quite fast. This is because stellar motions in the video are calculated with respect to the moving Sun, which is located in the Galactic Plane. Actually halo stars move very slowly with respect to the centre of the Galaxy.

After a few million years, the plane of the Milky Way appears to have shifted towards the right: this is mainly the consequence of the motion of the Sun with respect to that of other, nearby stars in the Milky Way. However, the regions that are depleted of stars in the video will not look like this to future observers. Instead, they will be replenished by stars that are not now part of the TGAS sample. The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, whose stars are not well sampled in the TGAS data, are not visible in this view.

TGAS is twice as precise and contains almost 20 times as many stars as the previous definitive reference for astrometry, the Hipparcos Catalogue. As such, it represents a major advance in terms of high precision parallaxes and proper motions.

Gaia's second data release, in April 2018, will include not only the positions, but also distances and proper motions for over one billion stars, as well as radial velocities for a small subset of them. This will mark a new era in the field of astrometry, enabling scientists to study the past positions of stars ? to explore the formation history of our Galaxy ? and to predict their future positions to a level of accuracy that was never achieved before.

A later link is at

-- Abridged from the ESA press release at the above link.

9. MOA finds a Super-Earth

NASA is adopting a planet hunting technique created by Kiwi scientists. Called gravitational microlensing, it helped Auckland and Massey University scientists Associate Professor Ian Bond and Dr Nick Rattenbury find a new giant planet orbiting a far flung star this year with Canterbury's Mt John telescope - a 'super-Earth.'

Estimated to be two to five times the size of Earth, the "very cold and icy" planet is about 24,000 light years away, and is believed to orbit a dim star weaker than our own sun, Rattenbury said. But the discovery of the latest planet was partly by chance. The pair found out they had actually captured the planet in observations made back in 2012. However it was not till this year as they were sifting through all their data that they realised what they had.

"We'd started a new way of observing, about once a night we used to observe very infrequently different directions shifting the telescope from position to position, then we changed our strategy to a small number of [positions] lots of times a night," Rattenbury said. "This event [discovery of the super-Earth] lasted only 10 days, they usually last 30 days on average."

Unlike planets revealing themselves by directly blocking out star light, gravitational microlensing detects perceived increases in light caused by a gravitational field - the gravitational field betrays the presence of a planet. "The chances of one of these things lining-up [with the telescope] is about a million-to-one," Rattenbury said.

Sifting-through years of accumulated data in 2017, the scientists discovered they'd actually detected the planet back in 2012, Rattenbury said. What's exciting about discovery is that it adds to evidence showing planets can exist close to the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way, Rattenbury said. Since the 1990's about 25 planets have been found using gravitational microlensing, about another 14 are yet to be confirmed, he said.

Albert Einstein first theorised the technique and the Kiwi scientists have helped turn it into a reality as part of the New Zealand/Japanese Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA) collaboration, using the University of Canterbury's MOA-II Mt John telescope. Now NASA has adopted the gravitational microlensing technique developed by our scientists and will use it aboard its planned 2020 outer space Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope.

As for the planet officially known as MOA-2012-BLG-505Lb, no one's in a hurry to name it and for now it will likely keep its "phone number" name, Rattenbury said. The collaboration group's under peer-review paper, MOA-2012-BLG-505Lb: A super-Earth mass planet in the Galactic bulge, will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

See the original article with pictures at

10. Chinese Airline Invests in Mt John and Astro-Tourism

One of the biggest airlines in the world will boost funding for tourism infrastructure in Tekapo under a new agreement, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, to partner with Mt John Observatory. During a ceremony at the Tekapo observatory on Friday, China Southern Airlines was announced as an official partner of the University of Canterbury facility. While the exact value of the three-year deal remains unclear, it is expected to boost research facilities and opportunities at the observatory.

The partnership will also support tourism in Tekapo, with 10 per cent of the agreement's funding provided to the Mackenzie District Council for tourism infrastructure in the tourist hot spot.

The agreement, labelled "incredibly unique" by Christchurch International Airport chief executive Malcolm Johns, was partly prompted by Tekapo's reputation in China as a sought after tourism destination. "One of the places that really captured their imagination was the Mackenzie Country," Johns said. "It's one of the most unique landscapes in New Zealand." The partnership was "one of the biggest alliances in tourism at the moment", he said.

University of Canterbury pro-vice chancellor Professor Wendy Lawson said the partnership was "very significant", and would help to boost public access to astronomy. The Mt John observatory is New Zealand's pre-eminent optical research observatory and sits at the heart of the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Lawson could not say exactly how much the agreement was worth financially, but said it was in the range of "hundreds of thousands of dollars" over three years. Just what that money would be spent on was yet to be decided, she said.

Mackenzie Mayor Graham Smith welcomed the partnership. "China Southern Airlines is showing a real commitment in this partnership to enhance the visitor experience at Tekapo." He believed it was "quite significant", and hoped it would be an ongoing relationship. The council had not made a decision on how its share of the funding would be used, but one suggestion had been to spend it on tourism amenities such as seating in Tekapo, he said. "We don't want it spend where it can't be seen."

The council had also applied for funding for new tourism infrastructure elsewhere in the district, he said. That included upgrading toilets at Lake Pukaki, improving infrastructure at The Pines reserve, which Smith described as "a mess", and improving Godley Rd, which led up to Mt John. "Unfortunately the Government has only released $5.5 million in this funding round, which doesn't go very far," he said.

China Southern Airlines Australasian managing director Louis Lu said the new agreement showed the airline's commitment to New Zealand. "We share the same dream," he said. "This is a great opportunity to support Canterbury University and Mt John Observatory. We all share an interest in discovering more about the amazing space that is the sky. "China Southern explores it from an aviation perspective, the team at UC and the observatory research its secrets and showcase the amazing stargazing opportunities it offers. This is a meaningful partnership which benefits both the tourism and the scientific worlds."

It is the latest boost to Mackenzie's reputation as an astro-tourism mecca. The 4300sq km area was declared as the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve in 2013. It is the Southern Hemisphere's biggest dark sky reserve, and one of only eight in the world. Lighting ordinances mean much of the district is mostly unaffected by light pollution.

Tekapo company Earth and Sky was granted $3 million in government funding late last year, which would be used to construct the company's new multi-million dollar astronomy centre.

Tourism operator Tekapo Springs also ventured into the astro-tourism market, with its new venture, Tekapo Star Gazing, launched at the start of this year.

-- See Daisy Hudson's original article with photos at

11. How to Join the RASNZ

RASNZ membership is open to all individuals with an interest in astronomy in New Zealand. Information about the society and its objects can be found at 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 Basic membership for the 2016 year starts at $40 for an ordinary member, which includes an electronic subscription to our journal 'Southern Stars'.

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.

For an application form contact the Executive Secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Nichola van der Aa, 32A Louvain Street, Whakatane 3120.

13. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

The RASNZ is responsible for recommending to the trustees of the Kingdon Tomlinson Fund that grants be made for astronomical projects. The grants May be to any person or persons, or organisations, requiring funding for any projects or ventures that promote the progress of astronomy in New Zealand. Applications are now invited for grants from the Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund. The application should reach the Secretary by 1 May 2017. There will be a secondary round of applications later in the year. Full details are set down in the RASNZ By-Laws, Section J.

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Nichola van der Aa, 32A Louvain Street, Whakatane 3120.


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New Zealand

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