From the president’s desk, 24 May 2016

I’ve just arrived home after a very successful Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand conference in Napier hosted by the Hawke’s Bay Astronomical Society and sponsored by ASTRONZ, Baylis Drilling, Easy Print, the Hawke’s Bay Branch of the Royal Society, Graham Palmer Photography, the Hawke’s Bay Holt Planetarium, and Pink Total Transport.

The conference was run very smoothly and the Museum Theatre Gallery (MTG) venue was superb. The amphitheatre-shaped lecture theatre provided an excellent vantage point from every seat for the talks, which covered a wide-range of astronomical topics and varied in depth. All presenters spoke exceptionally well and kept the audience captivated. The Fellows’ lecture was presented by Brian Loader who spoke about ‘Pluto, 2015 June 29’. Of note were the number of young speakers this year. This is primarily thanks to Immediate-Past-President John Hearnshaw’s SWAPA (Students With A Passion for Astronomy) programme that he initiated under his presidency. With this focus of endearing young people to attend and contribute to conferences and the RASNZ as a whole, the future of New Zealand astronomy and the Society is looking bright indeed!

On Sunday afternoon Dr Michele Bannister presented a fascinating public lecture on ‘Pluto: Once a Point of Light – Now a World’. The many participants thoroughly enjoyed it and asked some excellent questions – including some from children! Michele is an authority on the study of and search for icy worlds in the outer solar system.

The poster papers were professionally produced and revealed some of the excellent research done in our country. A big thank you to all presenters – both oral and poster based.

The conference dinner on the Saturday night at the Napier Boys’ High School was outstanding – the theme of which was ‘come dressed as your favourite wavelength’. The food was superb – thanks to the chefs at the NBHS rectory. Between courses a number of significant awards were presented.

Jennie McCormick (MNZM) was welcomed as a fellow of the RASNZ. Society rules state that, ‘Fellowship of the Society shall be a distinction conferred upon members who have made notable contributions to either amateur or professional astronomy…’ (Rule 14). Jennie has made a number of significant contributions to New Zealand astronomy over the years, including the discovery of an asteroid (2009 SA1), contributing to the detection of 19 exoplanets by microlensing, being amongst lead authors in 29 journal papers including the prestigious journal, Science, and much more. Jennie now joins the ranks of 12 fellow fellows. Well done Jennie and thoroughly deserved!

Professor Gerry Gilmore had the status of Honorary Member of the Society conferred upon him at the banquet. Gerry wasn’t in New Zealand to receive this award but the citation read by Professor John Hearnshaw made everyone proud that he was a Kiwi. His astronomical achievements are truly significant and of momentous note on the global scale.

This year’s Murray Geddes prize was awarded to Dave Cochrane of KiwiStar Optics for his national and international contribution to optics. Of note is that he is heavily involved with the optics of the prime focus corrector for the William Herschel telescope, which includes a lens 1100 mm in diameter, one of the largest lenses ever made anywhere!

On a less serious note was the auction where a pair of 10x50 binoculars donated by ASTRONZ ( ) was auctioned and purchased by Marilyn Head. In addition a package of astronomy stamps donated by our Society philatelist, Gary Sparks, was also auctioned. A significant portion of the monies raised was then awarded to the winner(s) of the conference astronomy quiz. These two initiatives were also the brainchild of John Hearnshaw during his tenure as president.

The winners of this year’s RASNZ astrophotography competition were announced and certificates and prizes awarded. Images from all contestants were shown as a PowerPoint on the big screen. Astrophotography is certainly alive and flourishing in New Zealand. This year's prize money was kindly donated by RASNZ.

The after-dinner speaker was the Hawke’s Bay Astronomical Society president Gary Sparks. Gary provided a thoroughly enthralling journey in archaeoastronomy as he took us on a photographic journey through Peru. Sites such as the 13-towers of Chankillo, Macchu Pichu, and the Nazca Lines were shown and discussed in the typical side-splitting style that is Gary Sparks.

After the conference, the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand Astrophotography Section held an imaging workshop on the Monday and first half of Tuesday. Auckland’s Rolf Olsen was the main speaker. Rolf is well-known internationally for his exceptional imaging skills and long duration exposures. Not many astrophotographers can state that their exposures are in the hundred hour duration! Rolf took the 20 attendees on a very insightful journey through PixInsight, the most popular image processing software in the world. In addition Jonathan Green, Amit Kamble, Steve Hennerly, and section director John Drummond also gave talks on a range of astrophotography topics. The workshop was very well received by attendees with many asking when the next one will be!

In conclusion I would like to thank the Hawke’s Bay Astronomical Society for their exceptional organising and delivery skills, the Standing Conference Committee, the numerous conference sponsors, the presenters and particularly the attendees – for without you the conference wouldn’t have nearly been the success it was.

John Drummond
RASNZ president
24th May 2016, Gisborne