RASNZ Electronic Newsletter August 2015

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. The latest issue is below.

Email Newsletter Number 176

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.


1. Auckland Astronomical Society's Burbidge Dinner
2. 2015 Harry Williams Astrophotography Competition
3. Herbert Astronomy Weekend - September 11-14
4. The Solar System in September
5. Pluto's Young Plains
6. Pluto Feature Names Unofficial
7. 'Maunder Minimum' Prediction Clarified
8. StellarFest 2015 at Foxton
9. Variable Stars and Astronomy Education
10. Population III Stars Seen?
11. ALMA Images Distant Galaxy
12. Buckyballs Solve Interstellar Mystery
13. How to Join the RASNZ
14. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
15. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
16. Quote

1. Auckland Astronomical Society's Burbidge Dinner

The Auckland Astronomical Society invites you to the 2015 Burbidge Dinner. The guest speaker this year is: Professor Chris Lintott from Oxford University, UK. His talk will be:

Is the Milky Way Special? We are on the verge of finally getting to know our celestial neighborhood. New missions such as Gaia and Fermi are poised to reveal the Milky Ways past, present and perhaps future, and so it seems an excellent time to ask whether there's anything really special about our home galaxy. In this talk, Chris Lintott will draw on cutting-edge research and results from his own Galaxy Zoo project to compare the Milky Way to the other galaxies which surround us, and ask whether were living in a special time in its history. For starters, it seems there's something odd about the black hole that lurks in the centre of the Milky Way.

Chris Lintott is Professor of Astrophysics and Citizen Science in the Department of Physics at Oxford University. Lintott is involved in a number of popular science projects aimed at bringing astronomy to a wider audience. He is the primary presenter of the BBC series The Sky at Night, having previously been co-presenter with Sir Patrick Moore until Moore's death in 2012. Lintott co-authored 'Bang! - The Complete History of the Universe' with Patrick Moore and Queen guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May.

The evening will include the presentation of the Beaumont prize for the best article written in the Journal by a member and the Astrophotography Competition including the Harry Williams Trophy. Date: Saturday, 3rd October 2015, starting at 6:30 pm. Venue: Alexandra Park, Epsom. Tickets: Early-bird price $50.00 per person. $60 per person after 31st August. Includes a buffet dinner. Tickets can be purchased through the Astronz website or by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

-- Adapted from a note by Jonathan Green to the nzastronomers group.

2. 2015 Harry Williams Astrophotography Competition

Entries to the Harry Williams Astrophotography competition close on September 7. Winners of the competition will be announced at the Auckland Astronomical Society's annual Burbidge Dinner.

This year's competition will be judged by Pete Lawrence who is an expert in image processing and one of the UK's foremost astrophotographers. Pete is probably best known for being one of the co-hosts of the very popular BBC "Sky at Night" television program where he routinely provides advice on astro-imaging and general astronomical observing. Pete also has a degree in physics with astrophysics.

This year the Deep Sky category is sponsored by the Nikon D810a full frame astrophotography camera. Nikon has very generously provided a cash prize of $500 for the winner of the category as well as a loan of their new Nikon D810a, Nikon's first dedicated astrophotography DSLR.

For Competition details and the Entry Form see http://www.astronomy.org.nz/new/public/default.aspx

-- Adapted from a note by Jonathan Green to the nzastronomers group.

3. Herbert Astronomy Weekend - September 11-14

The Herbert Astronomy Weekend will be on the weekend of September 11th to 14th at Camp Iona, 2 km to the west of Herbert in North Otago, beginning from Friday afternoon.

The overnight fees are $34 per adult for two nights and $17 for one night. For secondary school teenagers, they are $14 and $28 for one and two night per teenager, and for primary schoolchildren they are $11 and $22 for one and two nights. For those staying the full three nights at Camp Iona, the charge is $38. There is also a daytime or evening visitor charge of $6 per person for those who wish to our Herbert Astronomy Weekend without the need to stay overnights at Camp Iona. Those fees are payable in cash or cheque at Camp Iona.

Speakers are welcome at our Herbert Astronomy Weekend, and a data projector is available for those who wish to speak. Please contact Euan Mason at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you wish to speak.

The Herbert Astronomy Weekend´s website is http://www.treesandstars.com/herbert/ where online registrations are encouraged for those attending the Weekend.

-- Ross Dickie, Herbert Astronomy Weekend Convenor.

4. The Solar System in September

Dates and times are NZST (UT + 12 hours) unless otherwise specified up to September 26. From September 27 they are NZDT (UT + 13 Hours). NZDT commences on Sunday September 27 at 2am when clocks should be put forward one hour.

Rise and set times are for Wellington. They will vary by a few minutes elsewhere in NZ.

The southern spring equinox is on September 23, with the Sun on the celestial equator at 8:21 pm

Sunrise, sunset and twilight times in september

                       September  1  NZST            September 30  NZDT
                 morning    evening              morning  evening
       SUN: rise:  6.44am,  set: 5.58pm    rise:  6.55am, set:  7.27pm
 Civil:    starts: 6.19am, ends: 6.24pm   starts: 6.30am, ends: 7.53pm
 Nautical: starts: 5.47am, ends: 6.56pm   starts: 5.58am, ends: 8.25pm 
 Astro:    starts: 5.15am, ends: 7.28pm   starts: 5.24am, ends: 8.59pm

September PHASES OF THE MOON (times as shown by GUIDE)

          Last quarter:  September  5 at  9.54 pm (09:54 UT)
  New moon:      September 13 at  6.41 pm (06:41 UT)
  First quarter: September 21 at  8.59 pm (08:59 UT) 
  Full moon:     September 28 at  3.51 pm (02:51 UT)

ECLIPSES A partial eclipse of the Sun on September 13 will be visible from southern parts of Africa, the southern half of the Malagasy Republic, the South Indian Ocean and Antarctica. No part of the eclipse is visible from Australia or New Zealand. This is an annular eclipse but the path of annularity misses the Earth.

A total eclipse of the moon on September 28 is also not visible from Australasia. The total phase of the eclipse, lasing some 82 minutes, is best seen from countries either side of the Atlantic Ocean.

The planets in september

Mercury will be well placed for evening viewing during the earlier part of the month. Venus, Mars and Jupiter are all morning objects rising a little before the Sun. Saturn, in the evening sky, will set before midnight. An occultation of Uranus by the moon on the morning of September 2 will be visible from most of NZ.

MERCURY is an easy early evening object during the first half of September, setting 2 hours or more after the Sun. On the 1st, 50 minutes after sunset the planet, magnitude 0.2, will be some 15° above the horizon to the west. On the 4th Mercury is at its greatest elongation, 27° east of the Sun. For nearly two weeks after that its evening altitude slowly declines.

The angle of Mercury from the Sun rapidly declines in the latter part of September as does its evening altitude so that it slips out of view. Mercury is at inferior conjunction between the Earth and Sun at the very end of the month.

VENUS was at inferior conjunction mid-August, so September finds it moving up into the morning sky. It rises nearly 100 minutes before the Sun on September 1. It continues to rise earlier so it is up almost 2 hours before the sun on the 30th. On the morning of the 10th the 11% lit crescent moon with be 7° to the left of Venus.

MARS is also a morning object, but rather lower than Venus. It rises just under an hour before the Sun on the 1st and 70 minutes before the Sun on the 30th. Mars will be at magnitude 1.8 all month.

Like Venus, Mars starts the month in Cancer, moving on into Leo on the 6th. In Leo it will move towards Regulus, alpha Leo, and is closest to the magnitude 1.4 star on the morning of September 25, when the two will be about 50 arc-minutes apart. Mars, at magnitude 1.8 will be slightly fainter than Regulus and to the lower left of the star.

The moon, a 6% lit waning crescent, will be just under 4° above Mars on the morning of the 11th, one day after it passes Venus.

JUPITER is the third planet in the morning sky that rises shortly before sunrise. It is in Leo all month, moving away from Regulus. It was at conjunction with the Sun on August 26, so will rise only 3 minutes earlier than the Sun at the beginning of September. By the end of the month this will have increased to nearly an hour before the Sun, but the planet will be only 5° above the horizon twenty minutes before sunrise making it a difficult object to see.

SATURN will be the only naked eye planet left in the evening sky once Mercury has slipped out of it. It sets at 12.40 a.m. at the beginning of September and 11.56 p.m. (NZDT) on the 30th. Hence it will be readily visible in the earlier part of the evening. It will be in Libra about 12° below Antares all month, Saturn moving slightly closer to Antares as the month progresses.

The moon a 29% broad crescent will be some 3.5° to the right of Saturn on September 19.

Outer planets

URANUS remains in Pisces during September. It rises around 9.14 p.m. on the 1st and 8.15 p.m. (NDST) on the 30th. The planet will be at magnitude 5.7 so readily seen in binoculars.

OCCULTATION OF URANUS. On the morning of September 2 an occultation of Uranus by the moon will be visible in NZ for places just north of Auckland southwards. A grazing occultation occurs just south of Wellsford. The disappearance will be at the bright limb of the 88% lit moon so difficult to observe. The reappearance at the unlit limb will be a lot easier to see using a small telescope.

Unlike stellar occultations, the occultation of Uranus will not be instantaneous due to the angular diameter of the planet. In the South Island the reappearance will take about 6 seconds, but this time will increase further north, nearer the graze path, to almost 20 seconds at Auckland.

The time of the reappearance is near 5 a.m.; for most places a little before, but for Wellington and places near the east coast of the North Island Uranus will reappear shortly after 5 a.m. Users of Occult will be able to generate accurate times for their position.

NEPTUNE is at opposition on the 1st. It then rises 15 minutes before sunset and sets a few minutes after sunrise. By the end of the month Neptune sets an hour before sunrise. The planet remains in Aquarius at magnitude 7.8, so is quite easily seen in binoculars. The near full moon is closest to Neptune on September 26.

PLUTO continues to be in Sagittarius all September with a magnitude 14.3 to 14.4.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is in Sagittarius during September fading a little from magnitude 8.2 to 8.7 during the month. The dwarf planet will be slow moving in Sagittarius, being stationary on the 15th. It will then be about 3.5° from the M55 globular cluster.

(4) Vesta is in Cetus throughout September brightening from magnitude 6.7 to 6.3 during the month. The asteroid rises at 8.16 p.m. on the 1st. By the end of September it will rise about 40 minutes before sunset and set nearly an hour after sunrise.

(15) Eunomia starts September in Andromeda with a magnitude 8.4. It moves into Pegasus on the 22nd. Opposition is at the end of September when Eunomia will have brightened to 7.9. It will then be the second brightest asteroid in the sky, having crossed into Pegasus on the 22nd.

-- Brian Loader

5. Pluto's Young Plains

A close-up image of Pluto reveals a craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto´s icy mountains, in the centre-left of the heart feature, informally named "Tombaugh Regio" (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.

This fascinating icy plains region -- resembling frozen mud cracks on Earth -- has been informally named "Sputnik Planum" (Sputnik Plain) after the Earth´s first artificial satellite. It has a broken surface of irregularly-shaped segments, roughly 20 km across, bordered by what appear to be shallow troughs. Some of these troughs have darker material within them, while others are traced by clumps of hills that appear to rise above the surrounding terrain. Elsewhere, the surface appears to be etched by fields of small pits that may have formed by a process called sublimation, in which ice turns directly from solid to gas, just as dry ice does on Earth.

Scientists have two working theories as to how these segments were formed. The irregular shapes may be the result of the contraction of surface materials, similar to what happens when mud dries. Alternatively, they may be a product of convection, similar to wax rising in a lava lamp. On Pluto, convection would occur within a surface layer of frozen carbon monoxide, methane and nitrogen, driven by the scant warmth of Pluto´s interior.

Pluto´s icy plains also display dark streaks that are a few miles long. These streaks appear to be aligned in the same direction and may have been produced by winds blowing across the frozen surface.

The New Horizons Atmospheres team observed Pluto´s atmosphere as far as 1,600 km above the surface, demonstrating that Pluto´s nitrogen-rich atmosphere is quite extended. This is the first observation of Pluto´s atmosphere at altitudes higher than 270 km above the surface.

The New Horizons Particles and Plasma team has discovered a region of cold, dense ionized gas tens of thousands of miles beyond Pluto -- the planet´s atmosphere being stripped away by the solar wind and lost to space.

For the full release and images see http://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-s-new-horizons-discovers-frozen-plains-in-the-heart-of-pluto-s-heart

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

6. Pluto Feature Names Unofficial

Amidst all the excitement of seeing Pluto´s unique features for the first time, NASA researchers have been using unofficial names to talk science until official terms come down the pipeline. These preliminary names come from the list compiled during the OurPluto naming campaign, but so far the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has not approved them (or any others).

The IAU is very precise about how they name planetary features. Similar to how biological beings are divided into kingdoms, classes, and species, so too are solar system features (along with stars and galaxies) grouped and classified, then named according to an overarching theme. For example, craters 60 km or greater on Mars are named after deceased scientists and explorers, as well as writers who wrote about the Martian planet. Smaller Martian craters are named after cities with populations less than 100,000. For more on the IAU´s themes and conventions see https://www.iau.org/public/themes/naming/#planetaryfeatures

As such, until those studying Pluto can understand and classify Pluto´s features, the IAU will have to wait to properly group and approve names. However, according to Rita Schulz, chair of the IAU´s Working Group on Planetary System Nomenclature, the first name likely to come down the Pluto-naming pipeline will be the Tombaugh Regio - and it seems fitting to name Pluto´s heart after the world´s discoverer.

>From a Sky & Telescope article by Anne McGovern. See the original with images at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/unofficially-naming-pluto-0723201566/?et_mid=771005&rid=246399573

7. 'Maunder Minimum' Prediction Clarified

Last month's Newsletter Item 7 was a press release by the Royal Astronomical Society (U.K.) detailing a model of solar magnetism that predicts a fall in solar activity by 60 percent during the 2030s to conditions last seen during the 'mini ice age' that began in 1645.

This was widely interpreted as a 60% fall in the Sun's total energy output. In fact the Sun's magnetic activity was all that was being discussed. Variations in magnetic activity, most obvious in sunspot numbers, change the Sun's energy output by around 0.1%.

The press release strayed from the original paper's predictions by linking the 'Maunder Minimum' to the mini ice age. The duration, extent and cause of that weather event is still controversial.

Duncan Hall provided a link to a clarification of this on Radio NZ's Media Watch programme at http://podcast.radionz.co.nz/mwatch/mwatch-20150726-0911-winter_is_coming_churnalism_freezes_out_the_facts-048.mp3 Put up with the Paul Henry piece in the first few minutes. The rest is worth the wait.

8. StellarFest 2015 at Foxton

StellarFest ran from 14-16 August 2015 at Foxton Beach. About 70 people registered for this event, including a dozen or so students enrolled in the astronomy paper running this semester at Massey University. There were many excellent presentations including, amongst others, observing - solar, variable stars, DSLR night sky and light pollution meters; basic physics - observing equipment, gravity; recent discoveries - exoplanets, New Horizons probe and the infra-red satellite (WISE).

The most up-to-the-minute presentation (by Skype) was by Paul Delaney of York University, Toronto, about dwarf planet Pluto: firstly a brief history of the discovery and the definition of a planet and then some detail on the images which indicate relatively recent activity, in contrast to the previously assumed view of it as a dead, cold world. The question to be resolved is, what is the source of the energy for this activity?

As well as the interesting lectures the clouds cleared on Saturday night to allow some viewing.

-- Rapporteur Alan Baldwin

9. Variable Stars and Astronomy Education

During this year there has been discussion amongst some Variable Stars South (VSS) associates about hands-on activities for folk new to astronomy. Recently two projects have risen above the horizon.

1. Carl Knight, based in the Manawatu, has become involved in a school

Science Fair project being undertaken by Tessa, a student at Freyberg High School. The project decided on with the help of Stella Kafka of AAVSO was to measure the variability of UU Muscae, a Delta Cepheid variable with a period of 11.6 days. Much has been learnt from this exercise about the practical difficulties of running such astronomy projects within a short time-frame. One benefit coming out of the project has recently opened up, with the opportunity for Carl to talk about astronomy in education at a lunch-time meeting of the science teachers at this local school.

Science Fair projects may be a way to work with secondary school students and Carl plans to make available some notes on his experiences for the benefit of others going down this track.

2. AAVSO (American Association of Variable Star Observers) has

"published" their introductory Variable Star Astronomy education course on-line; this consists of notes for students and guide notes/PowerPoint for teachers. With the support of the Chandra X-ray Centre this is now available for FREE (AAVSO Newsletter 2015 Aug). Web-site https://www.aavso.org/education/vsa A quick inspection has shown that it is northern Hemisphere based. Perhaps the curriculum could be used to develop a Southern equivalent using existing web resource and a small amount of new material.

Anyone who has experience with practical astronomy exercises is invited to join in the current discussion.

-- Alan Baldwin

10. Population III Stars Seen?

By far the brightest galaxy yet found in the early Universe appears to have the first generation of stars in it. First generation stars are massive, brilliant, and previously purely theoretical objects. They were the creators of the first heavy elements necessary to make the stars, planets and life we have today. The newly found galaxy, labelled CR7, is three times brighter than the brightest distant galaxy known up to now.

Astronomers have long theorised the existence of a first generation of stars, known as Population III stars. They formed from the hydrogen, helium and trace amounts of lithium from the Big Bang. All the heavier chemical elements - such as oxygen, nitrogen, carbon and iron, which are essential to life - were made in later generations of stars.

Population III stars would have been enormous: several hundred or even a thousand times more massive than the Sun. They would have been very hot and short-lived, exploding as supernovae after only about two million years. Until now the search for physical proof of their existence had been inconclusive.

An international team used several of the biggest ground-based telescopes -- the European Southern Observatory´s Very Large Telescope (VLT), the W. M. Keck Observatory and the Subaru Telescope -- as well as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to look back into the ancient Universe, to a period known as reionisation. That was approximately 800 million years after the Big Bang. In the widest survey of very distant galaxies ever attempted the team discovered, and confirmed, a number of surprisingly bright very young galaxies. CR7 was one of these.

Closer study found strongly ionised helium emission in CR7 but, crucially and surprisingly, no sign of any heavier elements in a bright pocket in the galaxy. This meant the team had discovered the first good evidence for clusters of Population III stars that had ionised gas within a galaxy in the early Universe

Within CR7, bluer and somewhat redder clusters of stars were found, indicating that the formation of Population III stars had occurred in waves - as had been predicted. What the team directly observed was the last wave of Population III stars, suggesting that such stars should be easier to find than previously thought. They reside amongst regular stars, in brighter galaxies, not just in the earliest, smallest, and dimmest galaxies, which are so faint as to be extremely difficult to study.

Further observations with the VLT, the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), and the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope are planned to confirm beyond doubt that what has been observed are Population III stars, and to search for further examples.

CR7 is three times brighter than the previous titleholder, Himiko, which was thought to be one of a kind at this very early time. Dusty galaxies, at much later stages in the history of the Universe, may radiate more total energy than CR7 in the form of infrared radiation from warm dust. The energy coming from CR7 is mostly ultraviolet/ visible light.

The team considered two alternate theories: that the source of the 
light was either from an active galactic nucleus (AGN) or Wolf-Rayet 
stars. The lack of heavy elements, and other evidence, strongly refutes 
both these theories. The team also considered that the source might be 
a direct-collapse black hole, which are themselves exceptional exotic 
and purely theoretical objects. The lack of broad emission lines and 
the fact that the hydrogen and helium luminosities were much greater 
than what has been predicted for such a black hole indicate that this, 
too, is unlikely. A lack of X-ray emissions would further refute this 
possibility, but additional observations are needed.

The name Population III arose because astronomers had already classed the stars of the Milky Way as Population I (stars like the Sun, rich in heavier elements and forming the disc) and Population II (older stars, with a low heavy-element content, and found in the Milky Way bulge and halo, and globular star clusters).

-- From ESO Science Release eso1524 forwarded by Karen Pollard. See the original text http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1524/

11. ALMA Images Distant Galaxy

The Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA) Long Baseline Campaign has produced a spectacular image of a distant galaxy being gravitationally lensed. The image shows a magnified view of the galaxy´s star-forming regions, the likes of which have never been seen before at this level of detail in a galaxy so remote. The new observations are far sharper than those made using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and reveal star-forming clumps in the galaxy equivalent to giant versions of the Orion Nebula in the Milky Way.

Observations made at the end of 2014 as part of the campaign targeted a distant galaxy called HATLAS J090311.6+003906, otherwise known as SDP.81. This light from this galaxy is bent by a cosmic effect known as gravitational lensing. A large galaxy between SDP.81 and us is acting as a lens, warping and magnifying the view of a more distant galaxy and creating a near-perfect example of a phenomenon known as an Einstein Ring.

The lensed galaxy is seen at a time when the Universe was only 15 percent of its current age, just 2.4 billion years after Big Bang. The light has taken 11.4 billion years to reach us. The massive foreground galaxy that is bending the light is comparatively close at four billion light-years away from us.

At least seven groups of scientists have independently analysed the ALMA data on SDP.81. This flurry of research papers has revealed unprecedented information about the galaxy, including details about its structure, contents, motion, and other physical characteristics.

The astronomers´ sophisticated models reveal fine, never-before-seen structure within SDP.81, in the form of dusty clouds thought to be giant repositories of cold molecular gas - the birthplaces of stars and planets. These models were able to correct for the distortion produced by the magnifying gravitational lens.

As a result, the ALMA observations are so sharp that researchers can see clumps of star formation in the galaxy down to a size of about 200 light-years, equivalent to observing giant versions of the Orion Nebula producing thousands of times more new stars at the far side of the Universe. This is the first time this phenomenon has been seen at such an enormous distance.

Using the spectral information gathered by ALMA, astronomers also measured how the distant galaxy rotates, and estimated its mass. The data showed that the gas in this galaxy is unstable; clumps of it are collapsing inwards, and will likely turn into new giant star-forming regions in the future.

The modelling of the lensing effect indicates the existence of a supermassive black hole, 200-300 million times the mass of the Sun, at the centre of the foreground galaxy lens.

ALMA acts as an interferometer. Simply speaking, the array´s multiple antennas work in perfect synchrony to collect light as an enormous virtual telescope up to 15 kilometres across. As a result, the new images of SDP.81 have a resolution up to six times higher than those taken in the infrared with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

In angular terms, details down to 0.023 arc-seconds, or 23 milli- arcseconds, can be measured. Hubble observed this galaxy in the near- infrared, with a resolution of about 0.16 arcseconds. However, when observing at shorter wavelengths, Hubble can reach finer resolutions, down to 0.022 arcseconds in the near-ultraviolet. At the Moon's distance 1 milli-arcsecond is about 2 metres. So 0.022 arcseconds is about 44 metres on the Moon, seen from Earth.

For the original text and picture see http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1522/

-- From ESO Science Release eso1522 forwarded by Karen Pollard.

12. Buckyballs Solve Interstellar Mystery

The term "diffuse interstellar bands" may not run chills down your back, but it´s code for a spectral mystery that has haunted astronomers for almost a century. First discovered in 1922, these absorption lines (more than 400 of them) are seen anytime astronomers look toward dust- reddened stars. But no ions or molecules tested in the lab have provided a good match. Sometimes the bands even appear where there´s very little dust.

Now new research published in the July 16 Nature has finally confirmed that buckyballs - officially known as buckminsterfullerene, a molecule that links 60 carbon atoms into a soccer-ball-shaped cage - are responsible for two of these mysterious absorption bands.

Buckyballs lie on the periphery of our ordinary experience, showing up in small amounts among soot particles and easily created in the lab. (In fact, some chemists are building so-called buckybombs, nanoscale explosives designed to attack cancer cells.) The molecule´s extremely stable lattice shape withstands high temperatures and pressures. Given its stability, it´s not surprising that this molecule might exist in space. The Spitzer Space Telescope had detected buckyballs several years ago: in their gaseous form in 2010, and in their solid form, where the spheres stack together like oranges in a crate, in 2012. But knowing that these molecules could exist in space was only the first step.

Neutral buckyballs don´t absorb light at the right wavelengths to explain diffuse interstellar bands, but ionized buckyballs could. So Ewen Campbell (University of Basel, Switzerland) and colleagues trapped a few thousand charged buckyballs, then cooled them to the icy temperature of the interstellar medium by colliding them with cold (5.8 K or -449°F) helium atoms. Then the chemists measured the spectrum. What they found was an exact match to two diffuse interstellar bands, a confirmation that at least two of these mysterious absorption bands are due to the presence of charged buckyballs in space.

The loss of an electron reshapes the buckyball slightly, by the way, so it's no longer quite the shape of a soccer ball. They're "slightly distorted, not that anybody but a spectroscopist would notice," says co-author John Maier (University of Basel, Switzerland). "A bit like when Messi kicks a football - it becomes a bit squashed."

Buckyballs aren´t the only carbon-bearing molecule lurking in interstellar space either. It´s likely that a number of other molecules, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (smelly molecules also found in fossil fuels, natural crude oil, and coal deposits) or silicon-tipped carbon chains, are responsible for the remaining absorption bands. But these other suggestions still await confirmation. So that´s two down, 400 or so to go...

-- Monica Young on Sky & Telescope's webpage. For the full article, with many pictures, see http://www.skyandtelescope.com/astronomy-news/buckyballs-solve-interstellar-mystery-0720201564/?et_mid=771005&rid=246399573

13. How to Join the 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 http://rasnz.org.nz/rasnz/membership-benefits 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 http://rasnz.org.nz/rasnz/membership-application Basic membership for the 2015 year starts at $40 for an ordinary member, which includes an electronic subscription to our journal 'Southern Stars'.

14. 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

15. 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. Applications are now invited for grants from the Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund. The application should reach the Secretary by 1 May 2015. There will be a secondary round of applications later in the year. 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.

16. Quote

"The world's nations have agreed that global warming must be limited to less than two degrees Celsius to avoid its most serious consequences. The science makes it quite clear that in order to achieve this target, global emissions of carbon dioxide need to be reduced to zero before the end of the current century. Therein lies the challenge of our time." -- Tim Naish, Director of Victoria University's Antarctic Research Centre.

Newsletter editor:

Alan Gilmore Phone: 03 680 6817
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