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

Contents

1. Kiwi Teens Attending Astronomy Olympiad
2. The Solar System in August
3. RASNZ Rule Changes
4. Astronomy for Impaired Eyes
5. John Drummond Available for Talks
6. Pluto's Smallest Moons Named
7. Conference Notes - Part 2
8. Margherita Hack
9. Solar Flare Forecasts Compared
10. Kepler's Planet Search Ends
11. Long-Lost Comet Rediscovered
12. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
13. Quote

1. Kiwi Teens Attending Astronomy Olympiad

For the first time, four Kiwi school students have been selected to compete in the 7th International Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad, being held in Greece. The Year 13 Wellington students leave for Greece on July 25 and are seeking financial assistance towards the cost of attending the 10-day Olympiad.

Connor Hale (Tawa College), Navodhi Delpachitra and Daniel Yska (Onslow College) and Darina Khun, (Wellington East Girls College) will travel to Volos, Greece to take part in this prestigious international event. All four students have demonstrated proficiency in practical Astronomy, are active members of the Wellington Astronomical Society, and have achieved highly in NCEA Physics and Mathematics.

The level of competition will be high, as most other competing teams come from countries in which astronomy forms a significant part of the secondary school curriculum. To counter this, the four New Zealand students have been attending regular training sessions.

Gordon Hudson, current president of the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand, will accompany the students. "We regard this as a wonderful opportunity for New Zealand students to benefit from experiencing a different cultural opportunity, and from competing against other international students of their age," he said. "It raises New Zealand's international astronomical profile and gives the students themselves a major incentive to reach for the stars and take their abilities to the outer limits."

Donations can be deposited in Olympiad (03-0584-0301180-000). For further information, contact Gordon Hudson. 04 236 5125 (Home) 027-697 9907 (Mob) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

-- from a press release of July 4

2. The Solar System in August

PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)

New moon:      August  7 at  9.51 pm NZST (Aug 6, 21:51 UT)
First quarter: August 14 at 10.56 pm NZST        (10:56 UT)
Full moon:     August 21 at  1.45 pm NZST        (01:45 UT)
Last quarter   August 28 at  9.35 pm NZST        (09:35 UT)

The planets in august

Saturn remains visible in the evening sky throughout August, it gets lower during the month especially later evening. Venus is visible in the early part of the evening and gets higher during the month.

Mercury, Mars and Jupiter all start August as morning objects. On the 1st, forty minutes before sunrise, they will be very low to the northeast. Jupiter will be highest 8° up and so quite easily visible at magnitude - 1.9. By the end of August Mercury will have disappeared, the altitude of Mars, 40 minutes before sunrise, will be almost unchanged, Jupiter will be nearly twice as high.

Planets in the evening sky: saturn and venus.

Venus will be the first object to appear in the evening sky, visible at sunset or earlier. On August 1, 30 minutes after sunset it will be about 22° above the horizon.

By that time, as the sky darkens, SATURN will also be visible almost due north well up in the sky with Spica 12° to its left. Later in the evening, as the two swing around to the west the rotation of the sky brings Spica down to the lower left of Saturn. Saturn will set a little before 1am.

At the end of August Venus will be about 30° above the horizon half-an- hour after sunset and set more than 3 hours after the Sun. By the 31st the planet will only be 7° below Spica.

Saturn, on the other hand, will be getting lower, but still higher than Venus, now to the northwest, 14° from Spica, to the star´s upper right. The planet will set about 11 pm, so will be best observed early evening.

The moon moves through this part of the sky fairly early in the month. On the 10th, as a thin crescent 10% lit, it will be 5° above Venus. On the 12th the 27.5% lit moon will be just over 1° below Spica, the two being closest about 9 pm. The following night, the moon now 38% lit is 2.4° to the upper left of Saturn.

Mercury will be a very low evening object by the end of August, but it sets only half an hour after the Sun on the 31st, so is not visible.

Jupiter, mars and mercury in the morning sky.

At the beginning of August the three planets will all be low in the dawn sky. Jupiter will be the highest, about 8° up 45 minutes before sunrise. At the same time Mars, at magnitude 1.6, will be just over 5° up, while Mercury is 3.5° up and a little brighter at magnitude 0. Only Jupiter, magnitude -1.9 is likely to be reasonably easy to see by eye.

On the morning of the 4th the waning moon, a thin crescent 8.5% lit, will be just over 3° above Jupiter.

During the month, Jupiter will gradually get higher, Mars hardly change in height while Mercury will close in on the Sun, so there is little chance of seeing the latter.

On the 24th Mercury is at superior conjunction with the Sun, 1.36 AU or 203 million km from the Earth and 52 million km beyond the Sun. After conjunction Mercury will become an evening object, but remains too close to the Sun to be visible during the remainder of August.

By the 31st Jupiter will be an easy object in the early dawn sky, 40 minutes before sunrise it will be 15° above the horizon shining brightly to the northeast.

Outer planets

Neptune is at opposition on August 27, when it will be 29.0 AU, 4334 million km from the Earth and a further 150 million km from the Sun. At sopposition its magnitude is 7.8. Neptune is in Aquarius.

Uranus is more than 3 hours behind Neptune, so it will not rise until late evening early in the month and mid evening by the end. Its magnitude is 5.7, the planet being in Pisces.

Brighter asteroids:

Both (1) Ceres and (4) Vesta are at conjunction with the Sun during August, Vesta on August 5 and Ceres August 16. At opposition Vesta will be 3.47 AU, 519 million km from the Earth and 367 million km from the Sun. From the point of view of the Earth, Vesta will pass 2.5° north of the Sun. Ceres at opposition is slightly further away, 533 million km from Earth and 3883 from the Sun. It passes 7° north of the Sun.

While Ceres and Vesta are too close to the Sun to observe, a number of other asteroids are in binocular reach during August, with two being at opposition.

(2) Pallas is in Monoceros, magnitude 9.1, changing little during the month

(3) Juno Starts the month in Aquarius magnitude 9.0. It soon moves into Aquila where it is at opposition on August 14, still magnitude 9.0. By the end of August it will have dimmed a little to 9.3.

(7) Iris is also in Aquarius, it is at opposition on August 16 at magnitude 7.9, so at that date is the brightest asteroid.

(8) Flora is past opposition, its magnitude dims from 9.0 to 9.6 during the month. It is in Sagittarius where it will occult a number of faint stars.

(324) Bamberga brightens rapidly during the month, starting at magnitude 9.4, it reaches 8.5 by the 31st. The asteroid is in Pisces. Opposition is in September.

-- brian loader

3. RASNZ Rule Changes

At the AGM in Invercargill changes to Rules and By-laws were passed. RASNZ Secretary Rory O'Keeffe has forwarded a Rich Text version of changes to the Newsletter editor. This will be circulated to Members and Affiliated Societies when the Newsletter is distributed.

A full copy of the amended Rules and Bylaws is available on the Society´s website through a link at http://www.rasnz.org.nz/RASNZInfo/RASNZ.shtml.

4. Astronomy for Impaired Eyes

Allen Little advises that he has set up a website to introduce astronomy to disabled citizens. Allen has impaired eyesight or legal blindness but enjoys astronomy and the meetings of the Horowhenua Astronomical Society. There members have taken time to help him understand the multiple wonders of space and beyond.

Allen's site is at https://sites.google.com/site/viewablesky

5. John Drummond Available for Talks

RASNZ astrophotography section director and RASNZ Comet and Meteor section director John Drummond is taking an 18 month unpaid sabbatical from full- time teaching so as to focus on completing his Swinburne University `Masters´ of Science in Astronomy degree. He will still be doing relief teaching when available to help pay the bills though. Because John will have more free time, he will be available to travel to astronomical societies to give talks (during the week if need be) for the next 1.5 years. John has been invited to speak at many astronomical societies throughout NZ on a wide variety of topics over the last few years. To help his finances, he will have to charge for his services (preparation and presentation time). For societies with a city population of under 50,000 his speaker´s fee will be $100, for larger cities it will be $150 per talk. Remember that you can apply to the RASNZ Gifford-Eiby fund for travel costs. [See Item 12 for details - Ed.]

If any society is interested in having John give a talk (or do a workshop, etc), please contact him at the details below - Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone: (06) 8627 557 (home), 0275 609 287 (cell) Postal: John Drummond, PO Box 113, Patutahi 4045

6. Pluto's Smallest Moons Named

The names of Pluto¹s two smallest known moons, previously referred to as P4 and P5 have been formally approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). P4 has been named Kerberos, after the three-headed dog of Greek mythology. P5 has been named Styx, after the mythological river that separates the world of the living from the realm of the dead. The moons join Pluto's previously known moons Charon, Nix and Hydra. According to IAU rules, Pluto¹s moons are named for characters associated with the Underworld of Greek and Roman mythology.

Mark Showalter, Senior Research Scientist at the SETI Institute in Mountain View, California, led the team of astronomers in the discoveries of Kerberos and Styx. Both were first seen in lengthy exposures of the Pluto system taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. These images were obtained in support of NASA's New Horizons mission, which will fly past Pluto in July 2015. Kerberos was discovered in 2011 and Styx in 2012.

The names were selected based on the results of an unprecedented Internet vote that was held during February 2012. The ballot at http://plutorocks.seti.org received almost 500,000 votes, including 30,000 write-in suggestions. The website received international attention, and half the votes came from outside the U.S.

Kerberos is the Greek form of the name Cerberus, which ranked second in the voting. Styx ranked third. The top vote-getter was Vulcan based on a suggestion from actor William Shatner of TV's Star Trek. Vulcan was the name of the home planet of Mr. Spock. The IAU gave serious consideration to this name, which happens to be shared by the Roman god of volcanoes. However, because that name has already been used in astronomy, and because the Roman god is not closely associated with Pluto, this proposal was rejected.

We will obtain closer looks at Kerberos and Styx in 2015, when New Horizons becomes the first spacecraft to fly through the Pluto system.

For more see http://www.seti.org/seti-institute/press-release/plutos- smallest-moons-receive-their-official-names

-- from a Seti Institute press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.


The official announcement in IAU Central Bureau Electronic Telegram 3575 on 2013 July 8 listed the designation details

Designation and Name        Provisional Designation     Reference
Pluto IV        Kerberos    = S/2011 (134340) 1         IAUC 9221
Pluto V         Styx        = S/2012 (134340) 1         IAUC 9253

7. Conference Notes - Part 2

Richard Easther discussed the cosmic microwave background and beyond. The currently accepted history of the universe is described by the 'funnel diagram'. The universe begins as minute spark of enormous energy which undergoes an expansion of 10^30 times in a tiny fraction of a second. (An expansion greater than the speed of light is permitted as it is space that is expanding, not stuff moving through space.) This 'inflation' preserved tiny density fluctuations that existed at the quantum level before expansion. The density fluctuations later led to the bunching of matter, dark and bright, to form galaxies. In the first three minutes nuclear reactions produced mainly protons (hydrogen nuclei) with 25% helium nuclei, by mass, and a smidgen of lithium. This gas mix remained too hot to form atoms for 300,000 years. Photons and electrons bounced off each other producing a uniform black-body radiation distribution. When the gas cooled to around 3000 degrees electrons and nuclei combined into atoms. Photons were then free to roam. As the universe expanded the radiation cooled to produce the cosmic microwave background (CMB) with a temperature today of 2.7 degrees Kelvin. The CMB produced about 1% of the noise on analogue TV sets. The CMB is easily detected but is so uniform over the sky that it was missed early on. It has no variations bigger than 1 part in 100,000. In the 1970s it was found that the CMB was a fraction warmer on one side of the sky than the other. This showed that the Milky Way and its neighbours were moving at 300 km/s toward a region now known as the Great Attractor. [See the June Newsletter, Item 8.] In 1992 the COBE satellite showed there were variations in the CMB at the millionths of a degree level. That was followed by the WMAP satellite that mapped the variations in finer detail. On March 21 this year the first results from the Plank satellite were released, confirming WMAP's results and adding more detail. The CMB variations are caused by photons losing energy as they 'climb' out of dense regions. Also photons were released at different stages of oscillations of blobs of matter in potential wells formed by dark matter. The result is a power spectrum of slightly warmer and slightly cooler spots of varying sizes. The uniformity of the CMB supports inflation theory. Are the large-scale variations in the CMB due to a cause, or are they just chance? We can't test this with more observations. Studies of the CMB provide constraints on other properties of the universe such as the number of types of neutrinos.

Jean-Francois Kaufeler of the European Space Agency told of the importance of the 'ground segment' to space missions. The ground segment includes telecoms and telemetry; radiometric measures; range, angle, Doppler and other measurements. Around 10% of a mission's budget is for the ground segment. Half of that goes to development, half to operations. Control centres include mission control, flight dynamics systems, collision warning and avoidance, and mission simulator systems. Ground system engineering includes antennae and communications, data systems and software, mission analysis, flight dynamics, satellite-based navigation, space debris information, standardization, etc. ESA has recently opened a third deep-space antenna in Argentine. It includes a 35-metre dish, low- noise amplifier working at 15 Kelvin, atomic clocks based on cryo-cooled sapphire and masers. Operation was handed over in January 2013. It will support the Mars Express mission. Collision avoidance is a major task. There are now 100,000 bits of space debris more than 1 cm across. In 2010 ESA satellites performed nine evasive manoeuvres. ESA also forecasts hazardous re-entries. In answer to a question, Jean-Francois noted that debris at 600 km altitude remains there for many decades. One solution is to attach small satellites to force re-entry of orbiting objects.

Aaron Greenwood described his astro-seismology observations using Mt John's 1-metre telescope and Hercules spectrograph. As stars are point sources, their pulsations can be studied only by photometry and spectroscopy. Gamma Doradus-type variable stars, one of the class in Aaron's project, have masses 1.5-1.8 times the sun and pulsate with periods of 0.3-3 days. Their temperatures are 6500-7500 Kelvin, similar to the sun. The pulsations are non-radial. That is, they are not like a balloon inflating and deflating as are many variable stars, but are more like multiple vibrations of the surface. To measure pulsations of period near one day requires international cooperation else one is always seeing the part of the pulsation phase. The pulsations are described in terms of spherical harmonics, numbers that divide up a sphere into latitudinal and longitudinal segments. Detailed analysis of distortions in spectral lines allows pulsation modes to be identified. These give information about the internal structure of the star in the way the earthquakes tell us about Earth's interior. Interpretation requires experts in many areas of astrophysics. As well as Canterbury University, the Royal Observatory of Belgium, and the University of Louvain are involved.

Gordon Hudson summarised 150 years of observatories and their directors in the Wellington region, covering 1860 to 2010. His Wellington region also included Nelson and Marlborough. An early observatory was set up in the Wairarapa by Carkeck. Ships at Wellington needed accurate time for their chronometers. This was supplied in the 19th Century by Archdeacon Stock and later by Sir James Hector. Whanganui was one of the first of the smaller towns to set up an observatory. Nearby Hawera did the same. Father Kennedy bought from the Crossley estate the 9-inch refractor now at the Carter Observatory. In the early 20th Century Dr Charles Adams was Government Astronomer and made contributions to calculation of ephemerides. A.C. Gifford was a Cambridge-educated mathematician who set up Wellington College's first observatory. Gifford was an astronomy populariser, with a long-running astronomy column in Wellington's 'Evening Post'. He also independently showed that round craters would be made by impactors from any direction.

-- From the Newsletter Editor's notes. Not to be taken as a true and correct record of what the presenters actually said. Watch for their articles in 'Southern Stars'. More next month (I hope...) -- Ed.

8. Margherita Hack

Margherita Hack, an astrophysicist who explained her research on the stars in plain language for the public and who championed civil rights in her native Italy, died at the beginning of July in the Adriatic Sea town of Trieste, where she had headed an astronomical observatory. She was 91.

President Giorgio Napolitano's condolence message hailed her as a "high- level personality in the world of scientific culture." "At the same time, she represented a strong example of civil passion, leaving a noble fingerprint in public debate and in the dialogue with citizens," Napolitano said. The Italian news agency Ansa quoted family friend Marinella Chirico as saying Hack died in a hospital after being treated for heart problems.

Hack headed the observatory in Trieste, the first woman to hold that post, from 1964 to 1987, and was a popular and frequent commentator in Italian media about discoveries in astronomy and physics. The current director of the observatory, Stefano Borgani, noted that Hack was one of the first astronomers to have the intuition that the future of astronomical observation lay in using space satellites.

An atheist who decried Vatican influence on Italian politicians, Hack helped fight a successful battle to legalise abortion in Italy. She unsuccessfully lobbied for the right to euthanasia and also championed gay rights. Among her victories was a campaign against construction of nuclear reactors in Italy. A vegetarian since childhood, she also was an advocate for animal protection and lived with eight cats and a dog.

Hack, an optimist with a cheerful disposition, studied the heavens in the firm belief there was no after-life. "I have no fear of death," Hack once said in a TV interview. "While we are here, death isn't with us. When there is death, I won't be here," she said.

Among the many Twitter comments about her passing was one from an admirer who wrote that Hack was "so great and nice that God will pretend not to exist so as not to upset her," the Italian news agency LaPresse noted. She liked to joke that the first and last time she was in a church was for her marriage to fellow native Florentine Aldo De Rosa, in 1944. She agreed to a church ceremony only because the groom's parents were very religious.

Hack dressed simply in life, including for her own wedding, when she wore an overcoat-turned-inside out for a bridal gown. She and her widower, 93, had no children.

Hack enrolled at the University of Florence as a student of literature, but after one class, switched to physics. By the early 1950s, she was an astronomer at the Tuscan city's astronomical observatory. She was also an athlete, excelling in track. Specialising in the long jump and high jump from 1939 to 1943, she won national university championships and placed high in national championships.

Hack was active in left-wing politics, including most recently supporting the governor of southern Puglia, Nichi Vendola, one of Italy's few openly gay politicians. "With Margherita Hack's passing, we lose an authoritative voice in favour of civil rights and equality," said Fabrizio Marrazzo, a spokesman for a gay advocacy group, Gay Center. "More than once, Hack came out in favour of gay rights, civil unions and the dignity of gay families."

Italy's foreign minister, Emma Bonino, who as a leader of the tiny Radical Party helped wage battles to legalise divorce and abortion in Italy, said Hack was "an extraordinary figure. With her vanishes not only a great scientist but a free spirit, deeply intellectually honest," Ansa quoted Bonino as saying.

-- From http://www.stuff.co.nz/science/8863642/Leading-cultural- astrophysicist-dies the link forwarded by Pam Kilmartin.

9. Solar Flare Forecasts Compared

A comparison of solar flare forecasting systems has turned the performance table of apparently effective prediction methods on its head. Researchers at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, have tested the reliability of seven techniques against their record of predicting flares and non-flare events correctly, as well as their history of missed flares and false alarms. When the predictions were put into context of the Sun´s activity levels over time, some of the most seemingly successful techniques slid down the table. Dr D. Shaun Bloomfield is presenting the findings at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in St. Andrews, Scotland.

Solar flares are sudden and dramatic releases of energy from the Sun's atmosphere in the form of radiation and electrically charged particles. These eruptions are associated with many aspects of 'space weather', which can damage satellites and interfere with communications, navigations and power systems. In our technology-dependent society, accurate advanced warning of solar flare occurrence is an area of increasing concern.

"The most important aspect of any type of forecast is how it performs," said Bloomfield. "If we always say, 'flare expected today', we will have successfully predicted all flares. However, we would be crying wolf and be completely wrong on most days, as flares can occur quite far apart in time. We need be accurate in both our predictions of when flares will occur and when they won´t for this to be of real value to society."

Bloomfield and his colleagues compared seven different systems for predicting solar flares: two of these used images showing the structure of sunspots; the other five used a variety of parameters relating to the magnetic field, including maximum field strength, total flux and strengths of gradients. The source data came from a range of ground based and space based solar telescopes, including SOHO.

In the past, solar flare forecasts have generally been tested over periods of time containing different amounts of flare activity. Bloomfield and his colleagues found that the previous standard system for rating flare forecasts was very sensitive to the relative activity levels between testing periods. The team suggest that the 'True Skill Statistic' (TSS) should be adopted as the new standard rating for solar flare prediction systems. TSS is calculated from the fraction of correct flare forecasts out of all flares observed, minus the fraction of false alarms out of all non-flares observed.

"The benefit of the TSS over other ratings scores is that it is not changed by the number of flares or non-flares observed. We can make a proper comparison of forecast systems, regardless whether they have made 50 or 5000 predictions. Even so, surveys with small data sets are still prone to noise and their results must be considered less reliable," said Bloomfield.

Bloomfield and his colleagues found that according to the TSS score, adaptive systems including artificial neural networks, did not actually appear to perform much better than simple predictions based on the shape of sunspots. However, the researchers were not able to include several forecasting systems in their study as not all the data needed to calculate the TSS was available.

"If we are to move forward in developing a standard ratings system for flare predictions that produces meaningful results, we need to encourage solar forecasters to be more open about publishing their results. As well as the number of flares correctly predicted, we need to know numbers of correct non-flare predictions, false alarms and missed flares. If these differences in flare statistics are not taken into account properly, some methods can appear to perform better than others when in reality they are the same or worse," said Bloomfield.

For the full text see http://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/224-news-2013/2317-space-weather- forecast-study-turns-table-of-effective-predictions-on-its-head

-- from the Royal Astronomical Society's webpage.


For 3 years of the Sun in 3 minutes see http://goo.gl/QpcSd

10. Kepler's Planet Search Ends

The Kepler telescope was launched into space in 2009 to look for extrasolar planets, those that circle stars other than the sun. Since then it has spotted more than 2,700 potential alien worlds, including some that appear to be small, rocky and far enough from their stars for liquid water to exist on the surface-rather like Earth, in other words, and thus, just possibly, hospitable to life. In doing so it made "exoplanet" research one of the busiest areas of astronomy. It also whetted planet-hunters´ appetites. Originally meant to collect data for 3½ years, last year its mission was extended until 2016. So it came as a blow when, on May 15th, the telescope´s minders at NASA announced that the device was in trouble. One of the three components, known as reaction wheels, that help keep it pointing in the right direction (specifically, at a patch of stars between the constellations Lyra and Cygnus) had jammed.

With its sole spare reaction wheel already damaged, things did not look good. After two weeks of trying, NASA´s boffins have been unable to restore Kepler to working order. Geoff Marcy, a planet-hunter at University of California, Berkeley, expressed his angst by borrowing from W.H. Auden: "Kepler was my North, my South, my East and West," he lamented online. This comes just six months after COROT, a European telescope with a mission similar to Kepler´s, suffered a computer failure from which it has yet to recover.

Happily, there is plenty of science left to do. Big experiments collect such vast quantities of data these days that scientists cannot keep up. As a result, discoveries can be made long after a telescope has been decommissioned. Two papers, presented to the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society, held on June 2nd-6th in Indianapolis, show how.

The first, by Mark Everett, of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory in Arizona, and his colleagues, concerns data gathered by Kepler to help astronomers nail down how common various types of planet might be. Earlier results suggested that about 13% of the Milky Way´s stars host Earth-size planets. A further 30% host so-called Super Earths, planets that are significantly bigger than Earth but still rocky. All good news, in other words, for those hoping for signs of alien life.

But Dr Everett thinks that those numbers may be too high. Kepler scans hundreds of thousands of stars, hunting for the tiny but regular dips in brightness which occur when a planet passes in front of its parent star. Astronomers can estimate the size of a star from its brightness and its colour. Once that is known, they can estimate the radius of a transiting planet from the amount of dimming it causes.

Dr Everett and his team used ground-based telescopes to make detailed measurements of the sizes of 268 stars identified by Kepler as being orbited by planets. They found that Kepler underestimated how big the stars were. Sometimes the underestimates were small. But one in four stars seems to be larger by 35% or more.

That matters, because the size of a planet is calculated from the size of its parent star and the amount of dimming observed. If the star is bigger, therefore, so too are its planets. In other words, some of the Super Earths identified by Kepler may in fact be gas giants, more akin to Neptune and Uranus.

Bigger stars´ "habitable zones", in which temperatures are low enough for liquid water, and life, to exist, are also farther from a star system´s centre. So some planets Kepler deemed far enough from their parent star to be sufficiently cool may in fact not be. (Admittedly, some others, previously considered too far to contain any water other than ice, could be balmier than thought.)

The second paper, by John Gizis at the University of Delaware, reports the discovery not of a strange new planet, but of a strange new star. W1906+40, as it is known, is a cool dwarf that suffers from regular temper tantrums. Roughly once a week it flares, its temperature rising from around 2,000°C to 7,700°C in a matter of minutes, before slowly cooling off again.

Flares like these have never before been seen in such a small, cool star. Dr Gizis hopes that studying them will help astronomers understand the whims and fancies of the powerful magnetic fields that all stars, including the sun, generate, and which are presumed to produce the flares.

Even if Kepler cannot be mended, planet-hunters need not despair. Earlier this year NASA confirmed that in 2017 it plans to launch the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, a successor to Kepler which will search the entire sky, rather than merely a part of it, and look for exoplanets nearest to Earth. Until then, though, astronomers will be poring over Kepler´s back catalogue, where many discoveries still lurk.

-- From 'The Economist' of June 8.

11. Long-Lost Comet Rediscovered

In 1819 November 27 Marseilles astronomer Blanpain discovered a comet of magnitude 6-7 in Virgo. Measurement of its positions from December 14 to 1820 January 25 showed that it was a short-period comet that would return in five years. It was not seen again so was designated D/1819 W1 in modern catalogues; D/ for disappeared. In 2003 an asteroid was discovered that had an orbit similar to Comet Blanpain. It was designated 2003 WY25. Brian Marsden of the Minor Planet Center ran the orbit back in time and showed that the identity was plausible. On July 4 observers using the 1.8-metre Pan-STARRS1 telescope found an 18th magnitude comet that was quickly identified as being a return of 2003 WY25. It was also near the position of D/1819 W1 predicted by Syuichi Nakano of Sumoto, Japan, from his linkage of the 2003 asteroid to the 1819 comet. Having precise observations over ten years, Gareth Williams of the Minor Planet Centre was able to accurately run the comet's movements back to 1819. The orbital elements for each of 38 returns can be seen in Minor Planet Electronic Circular 2013-N21 at http://www.minorplanetcenter.net/ . Over the two centuries the comet's return times varied from 5.14 to 5.48 years as the gravity of planets, mostly Jupiter, tweaked its orbit. Comet Blanpain, now re-designated P/1819 W1, will be at its closest to the sun on 2014 August 28, just inside Earth's orbit. Unfortunately it will then be on the far side of the sun from us so not visible. -- From International Astronomical Union Central Bureau Electronic Telegram No. 3574 and from MPEC 2013-N21, both published on July 7.

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., R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

13. Quote

"In 'Mission: Risk Averse' {Scientific American March 2013] John Matson expresses concern about the apparent risk-averse attitude at NASA leading to a preponderance of Mars missions at the expense of exploration of the rest of the more challenging parts of the solar system. I would suggest that there is another psychology at play: catering to the persistent hope of manned exploration. If such exploration is at all feasible, then Mars is the place (never mind that it is also an obvious dead end), and it is then natural to put so many eggs in the Mars basket. But this reveals a deeper choice that confronts NASA: How long will the capability to do real science be hobbled by the fabulously expensive Buck Rogers fantasies of manned missions? Given human psychology, this will not be easily resolved."

-- John Gaffin in Scientific American, Letters, July 2013, p.5.


Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore   Phone: 03 680 6000
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