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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. 2014 Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lectures
2. The Solar System in October
3. Comet C/2012 K1 (PANSTARRS)
4. Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring)
5. Variable Star Visual Observing
6. Herbert Astronomy Weekend Report
7. 2015 RASNZ Conference
8. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)
9. Pleiades Problem Resolved?
10. Supermassive Black Hole in Tiny Galaxy
11. Philae Landing Sites Discussed
12. How to Join RASNZ
13. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

1. 2014 Beatrice Hill Tinsley Lectures

Presented by the RASNZ Lecture Trust.

This year's lectures are by Dr Tamara Davis who is the Future Fellow of the School of Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Queensland, Australia.

NEW PLYMOUTH - Cosmological Confusion Sunday September 21st 7:30 pm. Ryder Hall, New Plymouth Boys´ High School. Adults $5, Junior gold coin donation..

LEVIN - Cosmological Confusion Monday September 22nd 7:00pm School Hall, Waiopehu College, Bartholomew Road, Levin. Gold coin donation.

NAPIER - The Dark Side Tuesday September 23rd 7:00pm Holt Planetarium, Chambers St, Napier. Gold coin donation.

INVERCARGILL - The Dark Side Wednesday September 24th 7:30pm Oreti Room, Ascot Park Hotel, Invercargill. Adults $5, Students $2.

DUNEDIN - Cosmological Confusion Thursday September 25th 5:30pm Hutton Lecture Theatre, Otago Museum, Dunedin. Free.

CHRISTCHURCH - The Dark Side Friday September 26th 7:00pm C2 Lecture Theatre, University of Canterbury, Christchurch. Free.

Further details on RASNZ website, .

Enquiries to Bob Evans, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

2. The Solar System in October

All dates and times are NZDT (UT +13 hours) unless otherwise specified. Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

On October 1 the Sun rises at 6.53 am and sets at 7.28 pm. On October 31 the times are 6.07 am and 8.02 pm respectively. Nautical twilight starts about 1 hour before sunrise in the morning and ends about 1 hour after sunset in the evening. Nautical twilight starts/ends when the Sun is 12 degrees below the horizon. The sky is then reasonably dark except for a near horizon glow in the direction of the Sun.

Phases of the moon (times as shown by guide)

First quarter: October  2 at  8.32 am (Oct 1,  19:32 UT)
Full moon:     October  8 at 11.51 pm (        10:51 UT)
Last quarter   October 16 at  8.12 am (Oct 15, 19:12 UT)
New moon:      October 24 at 10.57 am (Oct 23, 21:57 UT)
First quarter: October 31 at  3.48 pm (        02:48 UT)

Total eclipse of the moon, october 8 to 9.

A total eclipse of the moon takes place on October 8. All phases of the eclipse are visible from New Zealand. Totality lasts for almost an hour from 11:25 pm to 12:24 pm. The moon starts entering the Earth's umbral shadow about 10:15 pm and finally leaves it at 1.35 am.

Numerous stars will be occulted during the eclipse, although none will be visible to the unaided eye. One of the brightest is SAO 109533, magnitude 7.4 which will disappear just before totality starts and reappear during the total part of the eclipse.

Lunar occultations of asteroids are rarely visible due to the brightness of the Moon and faintness of most asteroids. An occultation of (37) Fides, magnitude 9.8, occurs during the eclipse, so will be visible. It disappears behind the moon shortly before the end of totality and reappears at the darkened limb of the moon about 40 minutes later. Precise times of the occultation of Fides and stars for any locality can be generated using Dave Herald's Occult program.

Partial eclipse of the sun, october 23.

The partial eclipse of Sun follows a fortnight later on October 23. Technically it is an annular eclipse but the path misses the Earth passing over the north pole. A partial eclipse is visible from the northern Pacific and north America as far south as the Yucatan Peninsula, apart from Labrador and Newfoundland. For the eastern half of Canada and the USA the Sun sets while partially eclipsed. It rises in eclipse for eastern Siberia.

The planets in october

The two inner planets, Mercury and Venus are both at conjunction with the Sun during October. Mercury will be visible as an evening object for the first few days of the month. Mars and Saturn are both early evening objects, although is very low in the evening twilight by the end of the month.

Jupiter is a morning object rising 3 hours before the Sun at the end of October.

Planets in the evening sky.

Mercury starts October as a magnitude 0.5 evening object, setting more than two hours after the Sun. Some 45 minutes after sunset the planet will be 14° above the horizon a little to the south of west. Spica at magnitude 1.1 will be 8° below Mercury while Saturn will be 20° higher and a little to the right of Mercury.

Over the following evenings Mercury will rapidly get lower in the evening sky, especially after it is stationary on October 4. As a result it will be lost in the evening twilight within a few days. Inferior conjunction is on October 17, when the planet will be 50 million km from the Sun and 100 million from the Earth. After conjunction, Mercury becomes a morning object but will rise little more than half an hour before the Sun on the 31st, so being unobservable.

Mars is the best placed planet for viewing in the evening sky, setting after midnight all month. It starts October just under 4° from Antares, with Mars very slightly brighter. The planet is then in Ophiuchus and steadily moves away from Antares and across the constellation until entering Sagittarius on the 21st.

The moon makes a rather distant pass of Mars on the 18th, when the two will be 7.5° apart. The moon will be a 21% lit crescent.

Saturn sets considerably earlier than Mars, ranging from three and a half hours after the Sun on the 1st to only an hour and a quarter later on the 31st. The planet is in Libra with the two brightest stars of the constellation below and to either side of Saturn.

On October 25, the moon as a very thin crescent will be 5° below Saturn. The following evening the slightly thicker moon will be 8° to the upper right of the planet.

At the beginning of October the asteroid Ceres, magnitude 9, will be a little over a degree below Saturn. Over the following few evenings Ceres will overtake Saturn, the two being less than half a degree apart on the 5th, with Ceres to the right. Those wanting to identify the asteroid using binoculars should note that Ceres will be a little lower than Saturn. A slightly brighter star, magnitude, 8.6 will be almost level with Saturn but a little further away.

Jupiter in the morning sky.

Jupiter rises 2 hours before the Sun on October 1 and 3 hours earlier on the 31st. Thus it will be a brilliant object visible fairly low to the northeast before sunrise. The planet starts October in Cancer but moves on into Leo on the 13th.

The moon passes Jupiter mid month. As seen from NZ the 32% lit moon will be 5.5° to the upper left of Jupiter on the morning of the 18th and 9.5° to the right of the planet the following morning.

Jupiter's equator is currently near edge on as seen from the Earth. As a result a series of mutual events of the major satellites is starting. A partial eclipse of Callisto by Ganymede on the morning of the 6th will not be observable as it takes place too close to sunrise. The two satellites reverse their roles at the end of the month, but for NZ the eclipse takes place on the morning of November 1. At present Jupiter is well north of the equator, so rather low in NZ skies.

Venus is at superior conjunction at the far side of the Sun to the Earth on October 25 so will be observable during October. At conjunction Venus will be 108 million km (0.72 AU) beyond the Sun and 257 million km (1.72 AU) from the Earth. At closest it would appear to be 1° to the north of the Sun.

Outer planets

Uranus is at opposition on October 8, the planet will then be 2844 million km, 19 AU, from the Earth. Consequently the planet will be in the sky all night. It is currently in Pisces.

A few hours after Uranus is at opposition the Earth's moon is in total eclipse. Uranus, at magnitude 5.7 will be 2° above the moon as seen from NZ. A similar magnitude star will be 1.3° to the left of Uranus, otherwise there is no object likely to be confused with Uranus in binoculars above the moon.

Neptune is an evening object throughout October, it sets well after midnight. The planet is in Aquarius, magnitude 7.8 to 7.9.

Pluto is in Sagittarius at magnitude 14.4. By the end of October Mars will be 8.5° from Pluto.

BRIGHTER ASTEROIDS: (1) Ceres is an evening object in Libra at magnitude 9.0. As noted above it passes Saturn at the beginning of October, with the two less than 0.5° apart on the 5th. By the end of October, Ceres will set less than 2 hours after the Sun. (4) Vesta, magnitude 7.9, starts October in Libra. It crosses part of Scorpius between October 11 and 21; on the latter date it carries on into Ophiuchus. On the 26th it is just over 6° from Antares. (6) Hebe brightens from magnitude 8.6 to 8.2 during October, making it a fairly easy binocular object. It is in Eridanus, rising about 10.30pm on the 1st and 8.15pm on the 31st. (3) Juno brightens to magnitude 9.3 at the end of October. It will then be a morning object in Hydra rising about 1.24 am.

-- Brian Loader

3. Comet C/2012 K1 (PANSTARRS)

This comet passed perihelion, 158 million km from the sun, at the end of August. It is now moving up the dawn sky. At total magnitude 7 it should be easily seen in small telescopes, possibly in binoculars.

The comet is approaching us as it moves away from the sun. It will be 234 million km away on September 21, closing to 154 million km by October 20.

Positions at 5 a.m. NZDT:
         R.A. (2000) Dec.                  R.A.(2000) Dec.        
          h  m  s    °  '    m1               h  m  s    °  '   m1
Sep. 21   8 46 17  -03 21   7.0      Oct. 6   8 22 32  -15 24  6.8
     22   8 45 07  -04 01   7.0           7   8 20 17  -16 25  6.8
     23   8 43 54  -04 41   7.0           8   8 17 55  -17 27  6.8
     24   8 42 38  -05 23   7.0           9   8 15 26  -18 31  6.8
     25   8 41 20  -06 05   6.9          10   8 12 47  -19 36  6.8
     26   8 39 58  -06 49   6.9          11   8 10 00  -20 44  6.8
     27   8 38 33  -07 34   6.9          12   8 07 04  -21 54  6.8
     28   8 37 05  -08 21   6.9          13   8 03 56  -23 05  6.8
     29   8 35 32  -09 09   6.9          14   8 00 38  -24 18  6.8
     30   8 33 56  -09 58   6.9          15   7 57 07  -25 34  6.8
Oct.  1   8 32 15  -10 48   6.9          16   7 53 24  -26 51  6.8
      2   8 30 29  -11 40   6.9          17   7 49 26  -28 09  6.7
      3   8 28 39  -12 34   6.9          18   7 45 13  -29 30  6.7
      4   8 26 42  -13 29   6.9          19   7 40 43  -30 52  6.7
      5   8 24 41  -14 26   6.8          20   7 35 56  -32 15  6.7

The ephemeris, based on elements from MPC 89726, is from the Minor Planet Center. -- Ed.

4. Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring)

C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) is likely to fade as it moves away from the Earth. It passes close to Mars in October then sinks into the evening twilight in November as it moves to the far side of the sun. The comet will be 153 million km from us on September 20, growing to 268 million km by October 27.

The ephemeris below is for 10 pm NZDT = 0900 UT.

         R.A.(2000) Dec.                  R.A.(2000) Dec.          
         h  m  s    °  '   m1               h  m  s   °  '   m1    
Sep. 20  18 13 20  -52 57   9.3      Oct. 8  17 41 14  -32 44   9.8
     21  18 09 31  -51 30   9.3           9  17 40 39  -31 55   9.8
     20  18 13 20  -52 57   9.3          10  17 40 08  -31 08   9.9
     21  18 09 31  -51 31   9.3          11  17 39 40  -30 23   9.9
     22  18 06 07  -50 06   9.3          12  17 39 16  -29 39   9.9
     23  18 03 05  -48 44   9.4          13  17 38 54  -28 56  10.0
     24  18 00 22  -47 24   9.4          14  17 38 35  -28 14  10.0
     25  17 57 55  -46 07   9.4          15  17 38 19  -27 34  10.0
     26  17 55 42  -44 53   9.4          16  17 38 05  -26 55  10.0
     27  17 53 43  -43 40   9.5          17  17 37 53  -26 17  10.1
     28  17 51 56  -42 30   9.5          18  17 37 44  -25 40  10.1
     29  17 50 19  -41 22   9.5          19  17 37 36  -25 04  10.1
     30  17 48 51  -40 16   9.6          20  17 37 30  -24 29  10.2
Oct.  1  17 47 32  -39 13   9.6          21  17 37 26  -23 55  10.2
      2  17 46 20  -38 12   9.6          22  17 37 23  -23 22  10.2
      3  17 45 15  -37 12   9.7          23  17 37 22  -22 50  10.2
      4  17 44 16  -36 15   9.7          24  17 37 22  -22 18  10.3
      5  17 43 23  -35 20   9.7          25  17 37 24  -21 48  10.3
      6  17 42 35  -34 26   9.7          26  17 37 26  -21 18  10.3
      7  17 41 52  -33 34   9.8          27  17 37 30  -20 49  10.3

m1 is the comet's total magnitude, the brightness of a star defocused to the size of the comet's head.

The ephemeris is from Minor Planet Center, based on orbital elements in MPC 89727.

C/2013 A1 will pass just 130,000 km from Mars on October 19. That is one- third the Earth-Moon distance. The closest comets known to have passed Earth have been at least ten times more distant.

Such a close encounter means the dust tail left in Siding Spring´s wake might graze Mars´s upper atmosphere, severely damaging orbiting spacecraft. The time of greatest danger will occur about 90 minutes after Siding Spring´s closest approach, and will last about 20 minutes.

To avoid the threat of Siding Spring´s debris, NASA engineers will manipulate the trajectories of the Mars orbiters so that all three will end up on the opposite side of the planet during the flyby.

-- The above from Sky & Telescope.


5. Variable Star Visual Observing

A number of variable stars have been identified by AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Observers) as suitable for visual observing and requiring more visual observations. Amongst these are some Southern variables such as R Car, S Car and R Cen which were formerly closely followed by the RASNZ Variable Star Section.

Variable Stars South (VSS) would like to find a few more observers in this region to follow these stars and some others. We expect people to start on a small scale with a couple of charts allocated and become familiar with these fields as the seasons change. As you gain experience and if you enjoy the challenge you can progress to more stars and/or join one of the VSS scientific observing programmes. In addition visual variable star observing is a great way to explore the night sky.

If you have a small to moderate sized telescope and can take a few hours per month to observe on fine nights we would like to hear from you. Your first point of contact is Alan Baldwin at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to get more information or make enquiries.

Variable Stars South is an observing Section of RASNZ, the successor to the Variable Star Section of RASNZ which supported southern observers of variable stars.

-- Alan Baldwin

6. Herbert Astronomy Weekend Report

Nineteen arrived at Camp Iona on Friday for what turned out to be the only clear night sky for our whole weekend at Herbert. Next morning, another seven attendees arrived.

At midday, Steve Butler of Invercargill presented his "The Colours of Night" talk. Steve spoke about the issue of the colour temperature of artificial light at night used especially for street lighting. The introduction of LED and some other technologies have brought whiter light into use. The older low and high pressure sodium yellow/orange lights are being replaced with blue white LED lights.

During Steve´s lecture, a reporter from the Otago Daily Times (ODT) newspaper arrived. I was pleasantly surprised to be interviewed by him. A photo of my father, Norman Dickie age 97, and me appeared in Monday 25th's ODT along with a brief article about the Herbert Astronomy Weekend. This created interest in Gore, where Norman and I live, and elsewhere in Otago.

After Steve´s talk ended, everyone went outside and each group of attendees was photographed in front of solar telescopes. A relaxing afternoon was had by many. Further attendees arrived during the course of the afternoon, as the sky clouded over. A Dunedin attendee had his 50th birthday celebrated that evening with the earlier surprise arrival of his family members from Dunedin.

Martin Unwin of Haast spoke about the upcoming Mutual Eclipses and Occultations Phenomena of Jupiter´s satellites. These begin this month and will continue until next August. Martin shown videos of Jovian Mutual Eclipse phenomena he had taken during its previous mutual apparition in 2009 and 2010.

Amadeo Enriquez of the Otago Museum coordinates an Astronomy Club for keen children and teenagers in Dunedin. He spoke about launching a meteorological balloon near Queenstown last August. First, they did some fundraising for a balloon to be released into the stratosphere. They purchased the balloon from NIWA Lauder, with a bottle of helium. They built a box equipped with a GPS tracking device and a digital camera intending to photograph the curvature of the Earth from the stratosphere. This was attached to the balloon. They drove for four hours to their launch site between the foot of the Remarkables range and the shore of Lake Wakatipu, southeast of Queenstown. Helium gas was gradually fed into the expanding balloon by the group, and away it went. It sailed over the Remarkables and drifted eastward, tracked by Amadeo and his Astronomy Club. It attained a maximum altitude of 31km into the stratosphere before it burst. It landed in a paddock near Ranfurly, where it was retrieved by the Astronomy Club. Though the digital camera took photos, the camera unfortunately did not look sideways to capture anything of the Earth´s curvature from the stratosphere. Instead the camera was facing downward onto Wakatipu and Central Otago. The Astronomy Club intends to purchase another balloon and launch it in October, this time with multiple cameras on board.

David Brian told of the activities of the Canterbury Astronomical Society. It is co-hosting the RASNZ Conference and symposium to be held at Lake Tekapo on May 6th to 12th, 2015. David also announced that the next Stardate SI camp will be held on the weekend of February 20th to 23rd.

Robert McTague of the South Canterbury Astronomers Group spoke about the upcoming Space Camp NZ to be held at Raincliff this September 19th to 22nd.

The Herbert Astronomy Weekend concluded on Sunday morning with a clean up and the departure of a lot of attendees, leaving four behind for a cloudy Sunday night. It was a pleasant and interesting weekend attended by a total of 41 astronomy enthusiasts persons from Christchurch to as far south as Invercargill and Riverton.

-- Ross Dickie, Convenor.

7. 2015 RASNZ Conference

The 2015 RASNZ Conference will be held in Lake Tekapo village From Friday May 8 to Sunday 10th. It will be followed by the 9th Trans-Tasman Occultation Meeting on the Monday and Tuesday, May 11-12.

Preceding the RASNZ Conference will be a two-day meeting celebrating Mt John Observatory's 50th Anniversary. The meeting will be held in Lake Tekapo village on the Thursday and Friday, May 7-8. The theme is `Celebrating 50 years of Mt John´. Past Pennsylvania and Canterbury students will contribute papers but anyone is welcome. About 80 participants are expected. Details are available at

8. 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9)

The RASNZ Occultation Section is pleased to announce that the 9th Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations (TTSO9) will be held at Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, over 11-12 May 2015. Comprehensive information about the meeting is available here:

The meeting will immediately follow the 2015 RASNZ Conference and the Mt John Observatory 50th Anniversary Symposium. Because attendance at all these meetings is expected to be high, accommodation space in Tekapo is likely to be limited. If you plan to attend any of these meetings we recommend that you book your accommodation early.

For those who are members of the Occultation Section, the latest Section Circular was released today. We also expect the next issue of the Journal for Occultation Astronomy to be available very soon. To access these visit:

-- Graham Blow

9. Pleiades Problem Resolved?

A new measurement, made using radio interferometry, argues that the distance to the Pleiades star cluster measured by ESA's Hipparcos satellite is decidedly wrong and that ground-based astronomers had it right all along.

Open star clusters like the Pleiades and Hyades are perfect proving grounds for models of stellar evolution because their stars all have the same age and composition yet exhibit a wide range of masses. But for these models to work, it's critical that astronomers know the clusters' distances precisely.

The Hipparcos satellite launched by the European Space Agency in 1989 gave a distance of 392 light-years (120.2 parsecs), supposedly with an error of less than 1%. This distance was in serious conflict with ground-based methods that had consistently shown that the Pleiades are about 435 light-years (133 parsecs) away.

To gauge the distances of stars, Hipparcos measured their trigonometric parallax, the tiny shift of nearby stars against distant background stars as Earth orbits the sun. A star one parsec (3.26 light-years) away shows a shift of one second of arc (arcsecond) over a baseline of 1 astronomical unit, the mean Earth-Sun distance. So, over a year, a star 3.26 light years away shows a total parallax shift of two arcseconds. Hipparcos could measure star positions to 0.001 arcsecond, far more precisely than is possible with ground-based telescopes. Thus Hipparchos could measure star distances out to many hundreds of light-years away. Its measurement of the Pleiades distance had to be taken seriously.

If the cluster really was 10% closer than everyone had thought, then its stars must be intrinsically dimmer than stellar models suggested. A debate ensued about whether the models or the spacecraft data were wrong. Much hung in the balance, but the discrepancy remained unresolved. The "Pleiades problem" remained a major embarrassment among astrometrists worldwide.

Now Carl Melis (University of California, San Diego) and others have seemingly put the matter to rest. In the August 29th issue of Science, they report distance results derived with a different and powerful method: very- long-baseline radio interferometry. They have seemingly nailed the distance at 444.0 light-years (136.2 parsecs), likewise accurate to within 1%.

The distance found by Melis's team agrees well with previous ground-based determinations - and not with Hipparcos. If this result holds up, it´s good news for the standard models of how stars work. But astronomers must try to understand why the Hipparcos observations misjudged the distance so obviously - and whether its entire database of stellar distances is suspect.

There's some suspicion that mission scientists failed to notice systematic positional errors during the processing of the Hipparcos data, but no one has yet turned up evidence for that. In any case, the mission team for Gaia, ESA's much more accurate follow-on astrometry mission, are taking special care.

In fact, as Léo Girardi (Padova Astronomical Observatory) points out in an accompanying Science perspective, by 2020 Gaia data should completely resolve any lingering aspects of the puzzling Hipparcos discrepancy. Perhaps there really were errors in the Pleiades distance determination - or, conceivably, the cluster's stars could be quite spread out along our line of sight.

For the original Sky & Telescope article by Kelly Beatty see

For detailed papers see and

10. Supermassive Black Hole in Tiny Galaxy

Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have found a monster lurking in a very unlikely place. New observations of the ultracompact dwarf galaxy M60-UCD1 have revealed a supermassive black hole at its heart, making this tiny galaxy the smallest ever found to host a supermassive black hole. This suggests that there may be many more supermassive black holes that we have missed, and tells us more about the formation of these incredibly dense galaxies. The results were published in the journal Nature on 18 September 2014.

Lying about 50 million light-years away, M60-UCD1 is a tiny galaxy with a diameter of 300 light-years - just 1/500th of the diameter of the Milky Way. Despite its size it is pretty crowded, containing some 140 million stars. While this is characteristic of an ultracompact dwarf galaxy (UCD) like M60- UCD1, this particular UCD happens to be the densest ever seen. In fact, if you lived inside this galaxy the night sky would dazzle with the light of at least a million stars, all visible to the naked eye. On Earth, a comparatively measly 4000 stars are visible.

Despite their huge numbers of stars, UCDs always seem to be heavier than they should be. Now, an international team of astronomers has made a new discovery that may explain why - at the heart of M60-UCD1 lurks a supermassive black hole with the mass of 20 million Suns.

The supermassive black hole at the centre of M60-UCD1 makes up a huge 15 percent of the galaxy's total mass, and weighs five times that of the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. This is surprising in a galaxy that is 1/1000th the mass of our Milky Way. The black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy has the mass of four million Suns it is still less than 0.01 percent of the Milky Way's total mass

The team discovered the supermassive black hole by observing M60-UCD1 with both the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini North 8-metre optical and infrared telescope on Hawaii's Mauna Kea. The sharp Hubble images provided information about the galaxy's diameter and stellar density, whilst Gemini was used to measure the movement of stars in the galaxy as they were affected by the black hole's gravitational pull. These observations were then used to calculate the mass of the unseen black hole.

The finding implies that there may be a substantial population of previously unnoticed black holes. In fact, the astronomers predict there may be as many as double the known number of black holes in the local Universe.

Additionally, the results could affect theories of how such UCDs form. This finding suggests that dwarf galaxies may actually be the stripped remnants of larger galaxies that were torn apart during collisions with other galaxies, rather than small islands of stars born in isolation.

One explanation is that M60-UCD1 was once a large galaxy containing 10 billion stars, and a supermassive black hole to match. The galaxy may have passed too close to the centre of its much larger neighbouring galaxy, Messier 60. In that process the outer part of the galaxy would have been torn away to become part of Messier 60, leaving behind only the small and compact galaxy we see today."

The team believes that M60-UDC1 may one day merge with Messier 60 to form a single galaxy. Messier 60 also has its own monster black hole an amazing 4.5 billion times the size of our Sun and more than 1000 times bigger than the black hole in our Milky Way. A merger between the two galaxies would also cause the black holes to merge, creating an even more monstrous black hole.

For more see

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

11. Philae Landing Sites Discussed

The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft finally arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko a month ago, after a 10-year cruise through interplanetary space. In an ideal world, Comet C-G would have been a nice smooth ball of dust and ice with a big X marking the safest and most scientifically interesting landing site for the craft's Philae lander. Had that been the case, says Rosetta mission manager Fred Janssen, his team would have put the odds of a successful landing at 70% or 75%.

But nature has thrown the project a few curves. Not only is the comet's nucleus complicated - an irregular, double-lobed structure 4 km long - but it's also much rougher and craggier than expected. Add to that the comet's ahead-of-schedule activity (it's already giving off jets of gas despite being 3.4 astronomical units from the Sun), and all bets are off. At an ESA press briefing Janssen declined to offer a revised risk assessment. "No site meets all the engineering criteria," he allowed.

That said, Philae has to set down someplace, and the team has winnowed down an initial set of 10 candidate sites to primary and backup locations. The best location, designated Site J, is on the comet's smaller lobe (think of it as the "head"); the backup, Site C, is on the larger "body." Engineers opted to stay clear of the smooth-textured "neck" between them, because from there it would be difficult for Philae to remain in constant radio contact with the main spacecraft as it orbits the nucleus.

The smaller-lobe site won out in part because cameras have already identified two small pits near it that are sources of outgassing. Each of Philae's 10 instruments will be able to operate at least once to its full capability. Assuming no "gotchas" emerge, the spacecraft will release Philae on November 11th for its 7-hour-long "fall" the the comet's surface. Once it makes contact at roughly one meter per second), the washing-machine-size, 100-kg lander will anchor itself using a mechanical harpoon, then quickly take a 360° panorama and measure the pressure of cometary gas surrounding it. - From a note by Kelly Beatty on Sky & Telescope's website. For the full article see

12. How to Join RASNZ

RASNZ membership is open to all individuals with an interest in astronomy in New Zealand. Information about the society and its objects can be found at

A membership form can be either obtained from This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by completing the online application form found at

Basic membership for the 2015 year starts at $40 for an ordinary member, which includes an electronic subscription to our journal 'Southern Stars'.

13. 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


"Democracy consists of choosing your dictators, after they've told you what you think it is you want to hear." -- Alan Coren.

"The only thing that saves us from the bureaucracy is inefficiency. An efficient bureaucracy is the greatest threat to liberty." -- Eugene McCarthy.

"Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm." -- John F. Kennedy.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin.

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817 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