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 in their own newsletters provided an acknowledgement of the source is also included.


1. The Solar Eclipse
2. Laser Regulation Discussion
3. The Solar System in December
4. Stardate North Island Jan. 17-21
5. Stardate South Island Feb. 8-11
6. Ken Freeman Wins Oz PM's Prize for Science
7. Lunar Sourcebook Now Free PDF
8. RASNZ Conference 2013
9. Conferences in 2014 and 2015
10. How Vesta Stays Bright
11. Fermi Counts All the Stars
12. WISE Discovers Hot DOGs
13. SKA Expressions of Interest
14. 21st Century Atlas of the Moon
15. How to Join the RASNZ
16. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
17. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
18. A Month for Sundays?

1. The Solar Eclipse

The November 14 solar eclipse was seen from most parts of New Zealand, though some places had cloud. It was widely reported in the news media.

Results from the total eclipse track were mixed. A bunch of Kiwis in Cairns were lucky to get a gap in the cloud at the right moment, we hear. Others in the region were not so fortunate.

Peter and Janet Russell of South Canterbury reported seeing the eclipse from a cruise ship west of Noumea. The highlight was going from daylight to almost total darkness in a very short time and the stars appearing.

John Drummond of Gisborne was also on a cruise ship between Fiji and NZ. His initial report: "The eclipse was AWESOME!!!!! Had clear skies for the whole event (apart from 1 minute of cloud after totality)." John posted pictures to the nzastronomers Yahoo! group.

2. Laser Regulation Discussion

The following was received from Ministry of Health's Environmental and Border Health Team.

On 1 November Associate Minister of Health Jo Goodhew announced the release of a public consultation document outlining proposed options for new government controls on high power hand-held laser pointers.

There are different types of laser pointers, which are used for a range of activities - including as presentation aids or by astronomers to point to the night sky or use in observatories etc

This email is from the Ministry of Health and is intended to alert you to the discussion paper. The consultation is being undertaken to see what people think about how risks from high power hand-held laser pointers should be managed. Hand-held laser pointers have been sold for many years and many are low risk. However, as technology has advanced more powerful laser pointers which have much greater potential to harm the user and others have become readily available. There has also been an increase in the number of incidents where people have deliberately pointed a high power laser pointer at aircraft, cars and other vehicles.

The proposed options seek to balance the protection of people's health and safety with the Government's commitment to better and less regulation. Feedback from the consultation will help inform final proposals that will be considered by the Government.

If you want to make a submission on the proposals, the consultation paper and information about how to make a submission is available on the Ministry of Health's website high-power-laser-pointers-consultation-paper Responses are due by 14 December 2012.

Feel free to circulate this email to any of your colleagues who may be interested.

3. The Solar System in December

The southern summer solstice is on December 21/22 with the Sun furthest south close to midnight in NZ.

The planets in december

Mars gets lower in the evening sky during December. Jupiter is at opposition on the 1st, so is easily visible in the evening sky by the end of the month.

Saturn, Venus and Mercury are all morning objects, low before dawn in early December. Saturn will get higher during the month, the other two remain low.

Mars and jupiter in the evening sky.

Mars will get lower in the evening sky, setting nearly two and a half hours after the Sun on December 1 and some 90 minutes later on the 31st. An hour after sunset it will have an altitude about 13° on the 1st but only 4° on the 31st. The magnitude of the planet will be 1.2.

Jupiter will become an easy evening sky object during December. It is at opposition on the 1st, so then rising close to the time of sunset. By the end of the month it will rise two and a half hours before the Sun sets, so will be readily visible as the evening sky darkens.

An occultation of Jupiter by the moon occurs on the 26th before they rise in NZ. The event is visible in parts of South America, the South Atlantic Ocean and parts of southern Africa. By the time they are visible in the night sky in NZ, the moon will be about 5° from Jupiter.

The morning sky: mercury, venus and saturn

Mercury is a morning object throughout December, rising just under an hour before the Sun mid month and about 50 minutes earlier at the beginning and end of the month. Half an hour before sunrise the planet will have an altitude of 5° at Auckland and a little less further south, so making it a difficult object to find in the morning twilight. The planet will be some 6° to 10° to the lower right of Venus.

Mercury´s magnitude will vary from -0.2 at the beginning of December to -0.6 at the end of the month.

Venus is also a low object in the morning sky during December. It rises about 80 minutes before the Sun and will be about 8° up in a direction to the south of east half an hour before sunrise. On the morning of the 12th the moon, as a thin crescent, will be 2.5° to the right of Venus with Mercury some 4° to the moon´s lower right.

Saturn is the third planet in the morning sky. At the beginning of December it will be some 4° to the upper left of Venus and rise about 90 minutes before the Sun, making it a rather difficult object. It moves to the east through the stars more slowly than the two inner planets. As a result it will rise nearly 3.5 hours before the Sun on the 31st, and be nearly 40° to the upper left of Venus. By then the planet will be readily visible to the east in the pre-dawn sky an hour before sunrise, with an altitude of some 25°.

With a magnitude 0.6 it will be the brightest object at a moderate altitude to the east. Spica, only a little less bright, will be some 16° to its upper left.

Uranus and NEPTUNE remain in the evening sky during December. Uranus is in Pisces and Neptune in Aquarius

Uranus will have a magnitude 5.7. It is stationary mid month. As a result its position will change by less than one-third the diameter of the full moon during December.

It will be about 7.5° above the 4.0 magnitude star omega Psc as seen in the evening sky. There is only one star comparable in magnitude to the planet near Uranus, a 5.8 star 2° to the right of the planet.

Neptune, magnitude 7.9 is between the stars iota Aqr (4.3) and theta Aqr (4.2), 2.5° to the right of iota. Its position changes by less than 40 arc- minutes during the month. By the end of December it will set close to midnight At 10 pm it will be about 18° up and due west.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres and (4) Vesta are both at opposition in December, Vesta on the 9th with a magnitude 6.5 and Ceres 9 days later with a magnitude 6.7. Both remain in the vicinity of Jupiter.

Ceres moves back into Taurus at the beginning of the month and ends December some 3° from beta Tau. Vesta remains in Taurus all month. By the end of December it will be less than 3° to the lower right of Aldebaran and about twice that distance from Jupiter

(2) Pallas is an evening object in Cetus with magnitude ranging from 9.4 to 9.6. It ends the month just under 6° from beta Cet, magnitude 2.0.

(9) Metis brightens considerably during December from magnitude 9.3 to 8.5. It is a morning object in Gemini and ends the month a few degrees from Pollux.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2012.

-- Brian Loader

4. Stardate North Island Jan. 17-21

When: Thursday January 17 to Monday Jan 21, 2013 Where: Tukituki Youth Camp, Tukituki Valley, near Havelock North, Hawkes Bay

Stardate is an annual event held during the month of January with as much hands on observing as the weather allows.

For anyone with an interest in astronomy, StarDate provides opportunities to look through a range of telescopes, listen to a wide range of astronomy related talks and meet a variety of astronomers. See for details

5. Stardate South Island Feb. 8-11

Stardate South Island will be on the new moon weekend 2013 February 8-11. Online registration will open soon. Check

6. Ken Freeman Wins Oz PM's Prize for Science

Kate Brooks, President, Astronomical Society of Australia, circulated the following:

Please join me in congratulating Prof. Ken Freeman from Australia National University, winner of the 2012 Prime Minister's Prize for Science. The Prime Minister's Prizes for science are Australia's pre-eminent annual awards for excellence in science and science teaching. The major award, the Prime Minister's Prize for Science, recognises outstanding achievements by Australians in science and technology that promotes human welfare. Ken received his award from the Prime Minister yesterday evening at an awards ceremony held in the Great Hall at Parliament House. The prize comprises a solid gold medallion and a cash prize of $300,000.

Ken has been shaping and changing our view of the Universe over the past 50 years. He is famous for his incredible contribution to our understanding of Galaxies and dark matter and his impressive publication record. Throughout his career Ken has been committed to training the next generation of astronomers and supporting the Australian astronomy community. Ken has served on many national astronomy committees and was the Secretary for the Astronomical Society of Australia between 1971-1972. In 2001, Ken was awarded the Society's Robert Ellery Lectureship in recognition of his outstanding contributions in astronomy. Ken has supervised more than 50 astronomy students and continues to be a mentor, inspiration and friend to us all.

More information about the 2012 winners, including a great video starring Ken, is available at:

Congratulations Ken for this well-deserved accolade.

7. Lunar Sourcebook Now Free PDF

Maurice Collins points out that the Lunar and Planetary Institute have now made the Lunar Sourcebook a free pdf to download at

The complete volume is here

This book is the best lunar reference book ever written and contains all the Apollo results.

Maurice notes that it is very technical but they have tried to write it so that you get the gist of what is going on.

8. RASNZ Conference 2013

Planning for the 2013 conference is now well under way. It will be held in Invercargill, hosted by the Southland Astronomical Society. The Southland Society is planning to arrange visits to local facilities: details will appear on the RASNZ web site. The conference dates are Friday 24 to Sunday 26 May, the venue is the Ascot Park Hotel. The venue has plenty of on-site accommodation, both hotel and motel. In addition there are other motels close by. For more details of the venue, nearby accommodation and local attractions - including the Bluff Oyster Festival - visit the RASNZ web site at

The conference will be followed by TTSO7 (the 7th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations). It will run over two days, the Monday and Tuesday following the conference. These occultation symposia are held annually, alternating between NZ and Australia and have always been well attended. More details are likely to appear soon on the Occultation Section web site,

The Fellows' speaker for 2013 will be Bob Evans. Bob is the secretary/treasurer of the host society, the Southland Astronomical Society, as well as the editor of Southern Stars and the chairman of the Local Organising Committee for the conference. The title of his lecture is: "Reflective and Refractory: Some Observations of New Zealand Amateur Astronomy".

Other guest speakers are in the process of being arranged. Margaret Austin has agreed to be the after-dinner speaker. This promises to be an extremely interesting talk with her involvement in the establishment of the Dark Sky Reserve in the Mackenzie Basin.

Registration forms for the conference will be on line very soon. RASNZ members will receive a printed copy included with the December issue of Southern Stars. With the coincidence of the RASNZ conference and the Bluff Oyster Festival, early booking of accommodation is encouraged as there will be a demand for accommodation by attendees of the Oyster Festival.

Meanwhile consider presenting a paper on your astronomical work. We would like to see more such papers, including ones illustrating the work of sections, presented by members of the society.

-- Brian Loader, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee.

9. Conferences in 2014 and 2015

RASNZ Conference 2014 Plans are now well under way for the 2014 conference which will be held in early June at Whakatane and hosted by the local Whakatane Astronomical Society, celebrating their 50th anniversary. It is expected that the conference will be followed by VSSS3 - the third Variable Star South Symposium.

Expressions of interest to host the 2015 Conference --------------------------------------------------- A reminder that the call is out for offers to host the 2015 conference. Any society or university department interested in hosting the conference should contact the SCC by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. as soon as possible.

Interested societies will be sent 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.

The SCC hopes to be able to make a recommendation for the host of the 2015 conference to the RASNZ Council by the end of November 2012 so a formal invitation can be issued.

-- Brian Loader, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee.

10. How Vesta Stays Bright

Like a movie star constantly retouching her makeup, the protoplanet Vesta is continually stirring its outermost layer and presenting a young face.

New data from NASA's Dawn mission show that a common form of weathering that affects many airless bodies like Vesta in the inner solar system, including the Moon, surprisingly doesn't age the protoplanet's outermost layer. The data also indicate that carbon-rich asteroids have been splattering dark material on Vesta's surface over a long span of the body's history. The findings are described in two papers published Nov. 1 in the journal Nature.

Over time, soils on the Moon and on asteroids have undergone extensive weathering. Scientists see this in the accumulation of tiny metallic particles containing iron, which dulls the bright, fluffy outer layers of these bodies. Yet Dawn's visible and infrared mapping spectrometer (VIR) and framing camera detected no accumulation of these tiny particles on Vesta, and the protoplanet (sometimes called a giant asteroid) remains bright and pristine.

Still, the bright rays of the youngest features on Vesta are seen to degrade rapidly and disappear into background soil. Scientists know that frequent, small impacts from asteroids and comets continually mix the fluffy outer layer of broken debris. Vesta also has unusually steep topography relative to other large bodies in the inner solar system, which leads to landslides that further mix the surface material.

Early pictures of Vesta showed a variety of dramatic light and dark splotches on Vesta's surface. These light and dark materials were unexpected and now show that Vesta has a brightness range that is among the largest observed on rocky bodies in our solar system.

It was initially theorized that the dark material on Vesta might come from the shock of high-speed impacts melting and darkening the underlying rocks or from recent volcanic activity. Analysis of data images however, shows that the distribution of dark material is widespread and occurs in both small spots and diffuse deposits, without correlation to any particular underlying geology. The likely source of the dark material is carbon-rich asteroids, which are also believed to have deposited hydrated minerals on Vesta.

To get the amount of darkening Dawn observed on Vesta, approximately 300 dark asteroids with diameters between 1 and 10 km likely hit Vesta during the last 3.5 billion years. This would have been enough to wrap Vesta in a blanket of mixed material 1 to 2 metres thick.

Studies of meteorites linked to Vesta suggest that it formed from interstellar gas and dust during the solar system's first 2 to 5 million years.

Dawn has a high-quality camera, along with a back-up; a visible and near- infrared mapping spectrometer to identify minerals on the surface; and a gamma ray and neutron spectrometer to reveal the abundance of elements such as iron and hydrogen, possibly from water, in the soil. Dawn also probed Vesta's gravity using extremely precise navigation.

The study of Vesta, however, is only half of Dawn's mission. The spacecraft departed from Vesta in September and is now on its way to the dwarf planet Ceres. There it will conduct a detailed study of Ceres's structure and composition. Vesta and Ceres are the most massive objects in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. Ceres, the largest object in the main belt, could harbour substantial water or ice beneath its rock crust -- and possibly life. The spacecraft will rendezvous with Ceres and begin orbiting in 2015, conducting studies and observations for at least five months.

Text & Images: 240211.aspx

Nature papers:

More information about Dawn:

-- from a press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

11. Fermi Counts All the Stars

Astronomers using data from NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope have made the most accurate measurement of starlight in the universe and used it to establish the total amount of light from all the stars that have ever shone, accomplishing a primary mission goal.

The optical and ultraviolet light from stars continues to travel throughout the universe even after the stars cease to shine, and this creates a fossil radiation field we can explore using gamma rays from distant sources.

Gamma rays are the most energetic form of light. Since Fermi's launch in 2008, its Large Area Telescope (LAT) observes the entire sky in high-energy gamma rays every three hours, creating the most detailed map of the universe ever known at these energies.

The total sum of starlight in the cosmos is known to astronomers as the extragalactic background light (EBL). To gamma rays, the EBL functions as a kind of cosmic fog. The team investigated the EBL by studying gamma rays from 150 blazars, or galaxies powered by black holes, that were strongly detected at energies greater than 3 billion electron volts (GeV), or more than a billion times the energy of visible light.

Though Fermi detected more than a thousand blazars, gamma rays of 3 GeV energy are few and far between. This is why it took four years of data to make the analysis.

As matter falls toward a galaxy's supermassive black hole, some of it is accelerated outward at almost the speed of light in jets pointed in opposite directions. When one of the jets happens to be aimed in the direction of Earth, the galaxy appears especially bright and is classified as a blazar.

Gamma rays produced in blazar jets travel across billions of light-years to Earth. During their journey, the gamma ray photons pass through an increasing fog of visible and ultraviolet light emitted by stars that formed throughout the history of the universe.

Occasionally, a gamma ray photon collides with a starlight photon and transforms into a pair of particles -- an electron and its antimatter counterpart, a positron. Once this occurs, the gamma ray is lost. In effect, the process dampens the gamma ray signal in much the same way as fog dims a distant lighthouse.

From studies of nearby blazars, scientists have determined how many gamma rays should be emitted at different energies. More distant blazars show fewer gamma rays at higher energies -- especially above 25 GeV -- due to absorption by the cosmic fog. The farthest blazars are missing most of their higher-energy gamma rays.

The researchers then determined the average gamma-ray attenuation across three distance ranges between 9.6 billion years ago and today.

From this measurement, the scientists were able to estimate the fog's thickness. To account for the observations, the average stellar density in the cosmos is about 1.4 stars per 100 billion cubic light-years, which means the average distance between stars in the universe is about 4,150 light-years.

A paper describing the findings was published on Science Express. See .

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

12. WISE Discovers Hot DOGs

A full-sky survey by NASA's wide-field infrared WISE telescope has found a new species in the cosmic zoo: hot, dust-obscured galaxies, dubbed hot DOGs. WISE turned up about 1,000 hot DOGs, each of which pump out as much light as 100 trillion sun-like stars. They may represent a missing link in galaxy evolution. The findings have been published in the Astrophysical Journal.

The objects are rare, accounting for about one in 100,000 light sources, and difficult to find since most of their energy is masked by dust. Astronomers believe hot DOGs, which are twice as warm as similar galaxies, may be a transitional state between disk-shaped galaxies, like the Milky Way, and elliptical galaxies.

Most of the hot DOGs found by WISE are about 10 billion light years away, meaning they formed when the universe was a fraction of its present age. Scientists suspect conditions in the early universe were more conducive for seeding and growing these hot galaxies, but they are not ruling out that the phenomenon could occur today.

Because the galaxies do not have enough stars to account for all their heat, scientists suspect they may contain unusually active super-massive black holes, which are regions of space so dense with matter that not even light can escape the grip of gravity.

At times, black holes feed on surrounding material, providing telltale signs of their existence. All galaxies are believed to host a black hole, though some, such as Sagittarius A, located at the centre of the Milky Way, are relatively dormant, at least at the present time. Sagittarius A contains 4 million times the mass of the sun. Black holes in giant elliptical galaxies are substantially larger, approaching 10 billion times the sun's mass. Among the 563 million infrared objects detected by WISE during its two-year mission are millions of super-massive black holes.

-- From a Reuters editing of a released by NASA. The original is at idUSBRE87S1AM20120829

13. SKA Expressions of Interest

The Economic Development Group of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) invites New Zealand research organisations and businesses to express interest in participating in the pre-construction phase of the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project.

The government has established a contestable fund of EUR1 million (NZ$1.6 million) over three years to support organisations participating in the pre- construction phase.

For more information, and to submit your interest please view the website. funding/square-kilometre-array-expressions-of-interest/

-- From Royal Society of NZ Alert No. 743, 15 November 2012

14. 21st Century Atlas of the Moon

Maurice Collins writes: Dr Charles A. Wood and I have just completed work on a very special project we have been working on, of a new Lunar Atlas, titled "21st Century Atlas of the Moon"!

The atlas consists of 28 main charts are set with the IAU conventions of North at the top, and is spiral bound for ease of folding at the telescope. The charts are arranged in a "lawn mowing" fashion aligned with the advance of the lunar terminator during the month for ease of use. We hope it will be the ideal lunar atlas to use at the telescope or as a desk reference when looking at images of the Moon. It also covers the limb regions that are brought into view by the lunar libration (apparent rocking) and covers the complete near side of the Moon, but with a section on the farside for completeness. It also has some of the low sun angle images we made with LTVT Digital Elevation Models for lunar basins and mare ridges and high sun albedo images of the full Moon. Spacecraft landing site locations are also depicted. The atlas plates use the high resolution uniform sun angle NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mosaics and has a facing page of detailed selected regions from each chart made from LRO Wide Angle Camera mosaics we constructed, and other NASA spacecraft and telescopic images.

The text of the atlas is by lunar scientist Dr Charles A. Wood who also writes the "Exploring the Moon" column in Sky and Telescope magazine and Lunar Photo of the Day, and contains an introduction to lunar geology and lots of information about the regions depicted on the charts.

It will be available in early December, and we have just announced it in Sunday's (November 18) LPOD: Details and sample pages are viewable here:

We hope it will be of interest to everyone who likes to explore the Moon, and is out just in time for Christmas! The price is US$29.95 and the postage to NZ is quite reasonable. It can be ordered online. We hope you will like it and find it useful!

15. How to Join the RASNZ

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

The annual subscription rate is $75, not including the Yearbook. For overseas rates please check with the membership secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

16. 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

17. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

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

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

18. A Month for Sundays?

In 2012, December has 5 Saturdays, 5 Sundays and 5 Mondays. This apparently happens once every 823 years! [It is anonymously asserted.]

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore   Phone: 03 680 6000
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Lake Tekapo 7945
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