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. Conference Update
2. Notice of AGM
3. Affiliated Societies Committee Meeting
4. The Solar System in May
5. Seventh Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations
6. SOFIA coming to New Zealand?
7. You Can't Name Exoplanets
8. Voyager 1 Has Exited the Heliosphere
9. Youngest Stars Found
10. Most Massive Binary Found?
11. CMB Precisely Mapped by Plank
12. Some Interesting Images
13. NASA Software
14. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
15. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
16. How to Join the RASNZ

1. Conference Update

Have you registered for the 2013 Invercargill conference AND booked your accommodation? The 2013 conference will be only 5 weeks away on April 20. After the end of April a registration late fee applies. Also the Ascot Hotel is only holding accommodation for conference attendees until April 30. With the Bluff Oyster Festival on the same weekend as conference, accommodation is likely to be booked out quickly. So if you need to book accommodation do so right away; if at the Ascot make sure you mention you are attending the conference.

Visit the RASNZ web site at <> for more details about the conference and to register for the conference and/or TTSO7.

There are still a few gaps in the conference speaking programme. We encourage members and societies to present papers on their own observing activiies or other items of astronomical interest. Submission forms to present a paper are also on the web site.

Further details of the plans for the TTSO7 meeting are available on the Occultation Section web page <>. If you want to present a talk at the symposium, contact Murray Forbes at <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.> for details.

Airport shuttle.

If you are arriving by air and require vouchers to procure the reduced Shuttle fare of $5 between the Invercargill Airport and the Ascot Park Hotel you should apply to Phil Burt, <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>.

Pre-conference tour

Bob Evans writes: Delegates intending to participate in the Friday afternoon tour, 1pm to 4pm, are invited to make their intentions known to Bob Evans, <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>. This is not a commitment but it would be useful to know approximate numbers in order to hire an appropriate bus. Note: cost is $20, payable when boarding the bus.

We are negotiating a slight change to the tour. Instead of including the Invercargill Met Station, we hope instead to visit the European Space Agency's Tracking Station which is at present set up ready for the launch of the Automated Transport Vehicle 5 on June 5th. We will confirm this as soon as we know.

Conference Dinner

The LOC has arranged a theme for the banquet. Realising that November 23rd this year is the 50th anniversary of the first transmission of Dr Who on BBC TV, they have decided on the theme "50 Years of Dr Who". For more information on the above, the LOC can be contacted at <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>.

-- Brian Loader, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee. 12 March.

2. Notice of AGM

The 90th Annual General Meeting of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand will be held at about 4:30 pm on Saturday the 25th of May in the Oreti-Aparima Room of the Ascot Park Hotel, Invercargill.

-- R O'Keeffe, Executive Secretary, RASNZ.

The Agenda for the meeting, in RTF format, will be emailed to RASNZ members after this Newsletter. - Ed.

3. Affiliated Societies Committee Meeting

The Affiliated Societies Committee will meet on Friday the 24th of May 2013 at the Ascot Park Hotel, Invercargill. This meeting is normally attended by the Presidents of Affiliated Societies or their nominated representative

-- R O´Keeffe, Executive Secretary, RASNZ.

4. The Solar System in May

PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)

Last quarter: May 2 at 11.14 pm NZST (11:14 UT)

New moon: May 10 at 12.28 pm NZST (00:28 UT) eclipse of Sun
First quarter: May 18 at 4.35 pm NZST (04:35 UT)
Full moon: May 25 at 4.25 pm NZST (04:25 UT) Conference dinner
Last quarter Jun 1 at 6.58 am NZST (May 31, 18:58 UT)

Solar eclipse.

An annular eclipse of the Sun will occur on the morning of May 10. The path of annularity starts at dawn in Australia, its path to the east taking it across York Peninsula where it crosses the path of the 2012 total eclipse. The subsequent northerly loop across the Pacific of this year´s eclipse takes the path away from New Zealand.

Only a very slight partial eclipse of the Sun will be visible from the North Island and the north and west of the South Island of New Zealand. At its greatest some 14% of the solar disk will be covered by the moon as seen from North Cape. The time of maximum eclipse as seen from New Zealand ranges from 11.40 am to noon. No eclipse will be visible from the southeast of the South Island south of about the mouth of the Clarence.

More details of the eclipse can be found on the RASNZ web site: <>

The planets in may

At the end of May, four of the naked eye planets will be in Taurus - along with the Sun. Only Saturn will be readily observable, by the end of May it will transit and so be highest to the north at 10 pm.

Planetary conjunctions

Venus, Mercury and Jupiter form a varying cluster of planets towards in the latter part of May with a series of mutual conjunctions. The conjunctions will all be difficult to see in the evening with the three planets setting no more than an hour after the Sun.

On the 24th Mercury will be at its closest to Venus, 1.4° below the brighter planet. Jupiter will be 4.6° away to the upper right of Venus.

Three evenings later, on the 27th, Mercury will be at its closest to Jupiter, but in fact still a little closer to Venus. The three planets will form a small triangle with Jupiter at the apex. Venus will be 1.8° below and slightly left of Jupiter. Mercury will be 2.4° below and to the right of Jupiter and 2.0° to the right of and very slightly lower than Venus.

The following evening Venus will be almost directly below and 1.1° from Jupiter, with Mercury 2.5° to the right of Venus and a shade higher.

Half an hour after sunset Venus will be about 3.5° above a sea level horizon, so very low. At magnitude -3.9 it should be readily visible in a clear sky. Jupiter a little higher is 2 magnitudes fainter while Mercury is at -0.6. All should be visible in binoculars.

Planets in the evening sky.

Mercury in fact starts May in the morning sky. On the 1st it will rise just over an hour before the Sun. Half an hour later the planet will be about 5° above the horizon a little to the north of east. At magnitude -1 it may be visible in binoculars. Mercury will steadily get lower in the sky each following morning so becoming lost to view in the brightening sky after a few days.

On the morning of the 12th Mercury is at superior conjunction with the Sun. After conjunction the planet becomes an evening object. By the end of the month it will set just over an hour after the Sun. On the 31st Mercury will be about 5° up half an hour after sunset, with the planet, magnitude -0.4, to the northwest.

During May, Mercury moves across Aries and Taurus as it passes first Mars and then Venus and Jupiter. The conjunction with Mars occurs with the planets too close to the Sun to see. On the last evening of May, Mercury will be poised to move on into Gemini.

Venus is an evening object throughout May. On the 1st it will set only 25 minutes after the Sun. This increases to an hour later by the end of May. By then it should be visible low in the north-westerly sky soon after sunset.

On the 31st, Venus will be a little less than 4° above the horizon half an hour after sunset. Jupiter will be 2.5° to its left and slightly lower, while Mercury will be 3.7° to its right and slightly higher.

Venus starts May in Aries, but moves on into Taurus on the 4th.

Jupiter sets just about 2 hours after the Sun at the beginning of May and 55 minutes later than the Sun on the 31st. So it will be a low object to the northwest as the evening sky darkens.

On the 12th a very thin crescent moon, only 4.5% lit will be 4.5° to the left of Jupiter. Three quarters of an hour after sunset the two will be about 7° up with Jupiter near northwest.

Jupiter is in Taurus all month.

Saturn was at opposition at the end of April so becomes a well placed evening object during May. At the end of the month it will be due north and highest in the sky close to 10 pm. The planet will start May in Libra but its slow retrograde motion takes it back into Virgo on the 14th. It will be about midway between Spica mag 1.1 and beta Lib, mag 2.6. When highest in the sky the three will form a nearly horizontal line high to the north.

The moon and Saturn are in conjunction a couple of days before the moon is full. Early in the evening of the 23rd, the 95% lit moon will be to upper right of Saturn.

Mars will be the only planet in the morning sky all month but remains difficult to see. It rises only 15 minutes before the Sun on the 1st increasing to 48 minutes earlier on the 31st. At magnitude 1.4 it is not likely to be visible to the eye.

Outer planets

Uranus rises about 4.30 am at the beginning of May, two hours earlier by the end of the month. It will be in Pisces near a corner of Cetus at magnitude 5.9.

Neptune rises 3 hours before Uranus, so shortly before midnight by the end of May. The planet is currently in Aquarius with a magnitude 7.9 during May.

Brighter asteroids:

Both (1) Ceres and (4) Vesta move across Gemini during May. Vesta at magnitude 8.4 is a little brighter than Ceres. By the end of May they will set about 2.5 hours after the Sun. Ceres will then be approaching beta Gem, magnitude 1.2. It is 3° from the star on the 31st. Vesta will be 8° "behind" Ceres.

-- Brian Loader

5. Seventh Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations

This is a reminder that the Seventh Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO7) will take place in Invercargill over Monday May 27 and Tuesday May 28, 2013, immediately following the RASNZ Conference.

TTSO meetings are held in New Zealand and Australia over alternate years and attract a wide variety of participants. Their purpose is to provide a forum to swap information, experiences and ideas, and to discuss new techniques in observing occultations. The meetings are designed to cater for both new and seasoned observers so prior experience with this form of observing is not a prerequisite for attending.

A focus of this year´s meeting will be the launch of the new Astronomical Digital Video System (ADVS) developed by Tony Barry, Dave Gault and Hristo Pavlov. This revolutionary new system has been designed from the ground up to overcome ALL of the problems associated with using current video systems to observe occultations. Tony and Dave will bring with them a full working model so that TTSO7 participants will be able to get some "hands on" experience. More information about the ADVS is available at:

There is still time in the programme for additional presentations, in either oral form or as poster papers. Presentations can be on any occultation-related topic. If you would like to give a presentation please send a title, brief abstract and requested duration in the case of oral presentations, to the TTSO7 convenor, Murray Forbes (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) with a copy to Graham Blow (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). At the meeting digital copies of all presentations will be required in a form suitable for inclusion on the Symposium CD.

For more information please visit the TTSO7 website:

-- Graham Blow & Murray Forbes

6. SOFIA coming to New Zealand?

William Tobin writes: 'The Space Review' devotes a recent article to SOFIA, the US-German Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy ( ). It is reported that this observatory-in-a-747 'plans a deployment of the observatory to New Zealand in July to allow for observations of objects visible only in the southern hemisphere'. I have been unable to find confirmation on any of the official SOFIA websites (e.g. or ) but I had heard rumours that a New Zealand expedition was in the offing, so I expect the information is reliable. The rumours did not extend to whether SOFIA would be based in Christchurch, as was its predecessor, the Kuiper Airborne Observatory.

7. You Can't Name Exoplanets

The International Astronomical Union Press Office and the European Southern Observatory's Education and Public Outreach Department advise:

In the light of recent events, where the possibility of buying the rights to name exoplanets has been advertised, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) wishes to inform the public that such schemes have no bearing on the official naming process. The IAU wholeheartedly welcomes the public's interest to be involved in recent discoveries, but would like to strongly stress the importance of having a unified naming procedure.

The full text of this press release and image are available on:

-- Forwarded by Karen Pollard.

8. Voyager 1 Has Exited the Heliosphere

Thirty-five years after its launch, Voyager 1 appears to have travelled beyond the influence of the Sun and exited the heliosphere, according to a new study.

The heliosphere is a region of space dominated by the Sun and its wind of energetic particles, and which is thought to be enclosed, bubble-like, in the surrounding interstellar medium of gas and dust that pervades the Milky Way galaxy.

On 25 August 2012, NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft measured drastic changes in radiation levels, more than 18 billion km (117 AU) from the Sun. Anomalous cosmic rays, which are cosmic rays trapped in the outer heliosphere, all but vanished, dropping to less than 1 percent of previous amounts. At the same time, galactic cosmic rays -- cosmic radiation from outside of the solar system -- spiked to levels not seen since Voyager's launch, with intensities as much as twice previous levels.

"Within just a few days, the heliospheric intensity of trapped radiation decreased, and the cosmic ray intensity went up as you would expect if it exited the heliosphere," said Bill Webber, professor emeritus of astronomy at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. He calls this transition boundary the "heliocliff".

It appears that Voyager 1 has exited the main solar modulation region, revealing hydrogen and helium spectra characteristic of those to be expected in the local interstellar medium. However there is debate whether Voyager 1 has reached interstellar space or entered a separate, undefined region beyond the solar system.

For more see

-- From a press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

9. Youngest Stars Found

Using a variety of telescopes, in space and on the ground, astronomers have found some of the youngest stars ever seen.

Dense envelopes of gas and dust surround fledging stars known as protostars, making their detection difficult. The 15 newly-observed protostars turned up by surprise in a survey of the biggest site of star formation near us, located in the constellation Orion. The discovery gives scientists a peek into one of the earliest and least understood phases of star formation.

Stars form when a massive cloud of gas and dust collapses under its own gravity. The gathering of thin cool gas into a ball of super-hot plasma that we call a star takes only a few hundred thousand years. It is relatively quick by cosmic standards. So finding protostars in their earliest, most short-lived and dimmest stages poses a challenge.

Astronomers long had investigated the stellar nursery in the Orion Molecular Cloud Complex, a vast collection of star-forming clouds, but had not seen the newly identified protostars until the Herschel infra-red space telescope observed the region.

Herschel spied the protostars in far-infrared, or long-wavelength, light. It detects wavelengths of 70 and 160 micrometers. These shine through the dense dust clouds around burgeoning stars. Herschel's scans were compared with those of the same region done by the Spitzer IR space telescope. Extremely young protostars were identified in the Herschel views but were too cold to be picked up in most of the Spitzer data. The identifications were further verified with radio wave observations from the Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) telescope in Chile.

Of the 15 newly discovered protostars, 11 are very red. This indicates that the stars are still embedded deeply in a gaseous envelope, meaning they are very young. An additional seven protostars previously seen by Spitzer share this characteristic. Together, these 18 budding stars comprise only five percent of the protostars and candidate protostars observed in Orion. That figure implies the very youngest stars spend perhaps 25,000 years in this phase of their development. That is a mere blink of an eye considering that a star like our Sun lives for about 10 billion years.

For more see:

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

10. Most Massive Binary Found?

Astronomers have observed a binary star that potentially weighed 300 to 400 solar masses at birth. The present day total mass of the two stars is between 200 and 300 times that of the Sun, depending on its evolutionary stage. That possibly makes it the most massive binary star known to date.

The massive binary star R144 is in an outer area of the star-forming region 30 Doradus in the Large Magellanic Cloud. A number of particularly bright stars can be found in the centre of that region with a characteristic pattern of spectral lines. The masses of these so-called Wolf-Rayet stars are up to 250 times the mass of the Sun. R144 is the visually brightest light source of this type in the star-forming region 30 Doradus and radiates strongly in X-rays. This was an indication that R144 is a binary star. This presumption has now been confirmed thanks to the discovery of periodic orbital changes in the spectrum.

Spectra of R144 have been obtained with the Very Large Telescope of the European Southern Observatory in Chile. From the changing shape and position of the spectral lines it is clear that R144 is a binary star. The spectral lines also suggest that the binary system is formed by two hydrogen-rich Wolf-Rayet stars with similar masses. Their total mass of 200 to 300 solar masses. The star NGC 3603-A1 was formerly known as the most massive binary system, with a total mass that is equal to 212 times the mass of the Sun.

It is a mystery how extremely massive stars form. According to the most widely accepted theories, stars of hundreds of solar masses can only form in massive star clusters. The fact that R144 lies far out from the central star cluster in 30 Doradus is possibly an indication that these systems can form in isolation.

An alternative scenario for the formation of R144 is it was formed in the central star cluster, but was ejected by dynamical interactions with other massive stars. The team is already working on follow-up observations to determine whether R144 is indeed a 'runaway' star. They also want to definitively establish its mass and its other physical properties, to decide whether R144 really is the most massive double star discovered so far.

For more see ort?rss=1

Text (in Dutch) & Image:!/actueel/nieuws/_detail/gli/kandidaat-zwaarste- dubbelster-geidentificeerd/

-- From a press release from the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) in Amsterdam, forwarded by Karen Pollard.

11. CMB Precisely Mapped by Plank

The most detailed map ever created of the cosmic microwave background -- the relic radiation from the Big Bang -- has been acquired by the European Space Agency's Planck space telescope. In it are features that challenge the foundations of our current understanding of the universe.

The map is based on the initial 15.5 months of data from Planck. It is the mission's first all-sky picture of the oldest light in our universe, imprinted on the sky when the universe was just 380,000 years old. At that time, the young Universe was filled with a hot dense soup of interacting protons, electrons and photons at about 2700°C. When the protons and electrons joined to form hydrogen atoms, the light was set free. As the universe has expanded, this light today has been stretched out to microwave wavelengths, equivalent to a temperature of just 2.7 degrees above absolute zero.

This 'cosmic microwave background' (CMB) shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities at very early times. These became the seeds of the future structure of the universe that we see today. According to the standard model of cosmology, the fluctuations arose immediately after the Big Bang and were stretched to cosmologically large scales during a brief period of accelerated expansion known as inflation.

Planck was designed to map these fluctuations across the whole sky with greater resolution and sensitivity than ever before. By analyzing the nature and distribution of the "seeds" in Planck's CMB image, we can determine the composition and evolution of the universe from its birth to the present day.

Overall, the information extracted from Planck's new map provides an excellent confirmation of the standard model of cosmology to an unprecedented accuracy. But the precision of Planck's map has also revealed some peculiar unexplained features that may well require new physics to be understood.

One of the most surprising findings is that the fluctuations in the CMB temperatures at large angular scales do not match those predicted by the standard model. Their signals are not as strong as expected from the smaller scale structure revealed by Planck. Another is an asymmetry in the average temperatures on opposite hemispheres of the sky. This runs counter to the prediction made by the standard model that the universe should be broadly similar in any direction we look. Furthermore, a cold spot extends over a patch of sky that is much larger than expected. The asymmetry and the cold spot had already been hinted at by Planck's predecessor, NASA's WMAP mission, but were largely ignored because of lingering doubts about their cosmic origin.

"The fact that Planck has made such a significant detection of these anomalies erases any doubts about their reality; it can no longer be said that they are artefacts of the measurements. They are real and we have to look for a credible explanation," says Paolo Natoli of the University of Ferrara, Italy.

One way to explain the anomalies is to propose that the universe is in fact not the same in all directions on a larger scale than we can observe. In this scenario, the light rays from the CMB may have taken a more complicated route through the universe than previously understood, resulting in some of the unusual patterns observed today.

Beyond the anomalies, however, the Planck data conform spectacularly well to the expectations of a rather simple model of the universe. This has allowed scientists to extract the most refined values yet for its ingredients.

Normal matter that makes up stars and galaxies contributes just 4.9% of the mass/energy density of the universe. Dark matter, which has thus far only been detected indirectly by its gravitational influence, makes up 26.8%, nearly a fifth more than the previous estimate. Conversely, dark energy, a mysterious force thought to be responsible for accelerating the expansion of the universe, accounts for less than previously thought.

Finally, the Planck data also sets a new value for the rate at which the universe is expanding today, known as the Hubble constant. At 67.15 kilometres per second per megaparsec, this is significantly less than the current standard value in astronomy. The data imply that the age of the universe is 13.82 billion years.

For more see lmost_perfect_Universe

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

12. Some Interesting Images

Mars Panorama from Curiosity. Truly a remarkable picture -- steerable and zoomable -- stitched together by an amateur from many Curiosity Rover frames. days-136-149#71.24,-20.08,110.0

-------------- Multiple arcs are revealed around Betelgeuse, the nearest red supergiant star to Earth, in this new image from ESA´s Herschel space observatory. The star and its arc-shaped shields could collide with an intriguing dusty `wall´ in 5000 years. llision -------------- Composite X-ray images of the remnant of the supernova of 1006

-------------- A new picture of the green planetary nebula IC 1295 from the European Southern Observatory's Very Large Telescope.

-------------- The gravitational field surrounding the massive cluster of galaxies, Abell 68, acts as a natural lens in space to brighten and magnify the light coming from very distant background galaxies. The lensing makes a cartoon 'space invader' from video games of yore.

---------------- The Hubble Space Telescope has produced a time-lapse movie of a mysterious protostar that behaves like a flashing light. Every 25.34 days, the object, designated LRLL 54361, unleashes a burst of light which propagates through the surrounding dust and gas.

-- All forwarded by Karen Pollard.

13. NASA Software

Do you want to go Mars but don't know when to leave or how much to bring? Do you want to study Earth protection by planning a mission to a near- Earth asteroid? Do you want to place a telescope in an orbit that is always looking outwards from the Earth and Sun? The General Mission Analysis Tool (GMAT) is an open-source space mission design tool to help you answer these and many other space flight challenges. GMAT is developed by a team of NASA, private industry, and public and private contributors. It is used for real-world engineering studies, as a tool for education and public engagement, and (after completion of final acceptance testing in Sept. 2013) to fly operational spacecraft. In addition, we are proud to announce a formal partnership between NASA and the Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) to co-develop GMAT. You can download GMAT here: Windows Installer <> , Source Code <> .

For a full description of GMAT R2013a, see the Release Notes <> .

This is a one-time announcement. For further information, please visit our wiki: To receive future announcements, please subscribe to the project mailing list:

-- Forwarded by Karen Pollard.

14. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

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

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

15. 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

16. 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..


"Any clod can have the facts, but having opinions is an art." -- Charles McCabe.

"Where facts are few, experts are many." -- Donald R. Gannon

"Google can bring you back 100,000 answers, a librarian can bring you back the right one." -- Neil Gaiman.

"A liberal is a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel." -- Robert Frost.

"Time is that quality of nature which keeps events from happening all at once. Lately it doesn't seem to be working." -- Anonymous.

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

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