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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. The Conference
2. The Solar System in July
3. 'Closest Mars' Hoax Email Around Again
4. Jack Dunlop QSM
5. Most Distant GRB Seen from NZ
6. 5th Australasian Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation
7. RASNZ in Wikipedia
8. South Africa Queries SKA´s Size and "Affordability"
9. Astrometry Finds a Planet Orbiting Smallest Star
10. 16-inch Mirrors for Sale
11. Biographies, please
12. Star Parties in September
13. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
14. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
15. How to Join the RASNZ

1. The Conference

The RASNZ Conference in Wellington was a lively affair with a great variety of contributions: something for everyone. Registrations were just shy of 100 with good representation from North, South and West Islands.

Honours were bestowed:

Phil Yock was elected a Fellow of the RASNZ for his long service to NZ astronomy and science in general. Professor Yock was instrumental in getting the JANZOS cosmic ray experiment set up on Black Birch Range in Marlborough to look for high energy shrapnel from Supernova 1987A. This resulted in a long collaboration with cosmic ray researchers at Nagoya University. When Nagoya's interest turned toward Dark Matter, Phil did all the local diplomatic work setting up the MOA collaboration. He was the Principal Investigator for the NZ side of the MOA programme for a decade, seeing it through the development stages.

Richard Hall was awarded the Murray Geddes Prize for his long services to astronomy. Richard ran astronomy many courses at the Carter Observatory and has written several books; he was the leader of the group who built Stonehenge Aotearoa in the Wairarapa. Richard also compiles the Phoenix Astronomical Calendar.

Variable Star Colloquium Astronomy talks kicked off on Friday morning -- before the Conference proper -- with the Variable Star Colloquium: "Studying Southern Variables". RASNZ President Grant Christie opened the Colloquium, noting that variable star observers were the elite of amateur astronomers. The old Variable Star Section, directed for 70 years by Frank Bateson, had been the 'jewel in the crown' of the RASNZ, much enhanced by the energy and diligence of Albert Jones. Predictions that amateur observing would be superseded by new technologies have yet to materialise. And amateurs have upped their game by adding CCD photometry to earlier photo-electric photometry. Grant thanked Pauline Loader for stepping into the breach at Frank's retirement. Pauline kept the Section running till Tom Richards offered to take over and move it forward in new directions. Then followed a day of papers by a range of observers. (The editor hopes to do summaries of the various talks in upcoming Newsletters.)

Conference Opening The Conference was formally opened by Dr Helen Anderson, CEO of the Ministry of Research, Science and Technology (MORST). Before the official opening President Grant thanked the Conference Organising Committee members: John Field, Warwick Kissling, Marilyn Head, Gordon Hudson, Pauline and Brian Loader, and Dennis Goodman and members of the Wellington Astronomical Society. Grant noted that the travel support of Conference guest speakers had been generously supported by the embassies of their own countries: Dr Fulvio Melia's by the US Embassy; Dr Chris Fluke by the Australian High Commission.

Dr Anderson said her main scientific interest was in the mechanics of large earthquakes. Since these didn't happen often she now has a 'day job' leading MORST. She is interested in astronomy and has a telescope that, to the annoyance of her family, shows things upside down. Astronomy holds great fascination for the public. Maori used the stars for navigation. For its small size NZ has a high number of amateur astronomers, including one cabinet minister. And there is much new investment: Mt John's MOA telescope; AUT's radio telescope at Warkworth; and the Boötes-3 telescope in Marlborough.

The serious message for astronomy is that policy makers have to fund a wide variety of sciences important to the economy: bio-security, health, etc. This government wants publicly-funded science to deliver benefits to the New Zealanders. New money has been provided for agriculture and climate-change research. Environmental research gets $100 million; around 10% of the science spending. Total research funding is around $700 million. Basic research gets $37 million, allocated through the Marsden Fund.

Much of modern science needs big kit; the SKA is an example. The global financial crisis will mean the deferral of big-ticket items internationally. Building community support for the SKA is good but not enough. The emphasis must be on industrial development, astro-tourism and industries around the SKA.

On the literary side Dr Anderson recommended that we all read Bill Manhire's poem "Herschel at the Cape", published in "Dark Matter".

Variable Stars South Tom Richards began the conference talks by outlining his ideas for the re- constituted variable star section, now Variable Stars South. Tom noted that, under Frank Bateson, observing territory was partitioned at declination -30 degrees. South of -30 degrees was covered by the RASNZ's VSS; north of -30 was left to the AAVSO and other northern variable star organisations.

Tom noted that we now have amazing equipment at astonishingly low prices: telescopes, mounts, detectors and computers. Communications have improved out of sight in recent years: instant alerts worldwide in many fields like gamma ray bursts. We can upload data from international centres, and remotely access robotic telescopes.

Despite al the sophisticated gear there was still a need for the visual observations for alerts and monitoring of interesting variables, for data continuity in long-period variable stars and for collaborative projects. CCD work is moving into niches where it excels: faint objects and fast- varying objects.

To co-ordinate all the work, and because nobody has expertise in all fields now, Tom plans to divide the VSS into "Programmes". Cataclysmic variable work will be the responsibility of Paddy McGee; Tom will look after eclipsing binary work; long-period variables will be Stan Walker's province and Alan Plummer will supervise visual research. Tom hoped that RASNZ members would join at least one of these groups and contribute observations. VSS's website is under construction by Michael Chapman of the Sydney City Skywatchers (formerly the NSW Branch of the British Astronomical Association.)

Honouring the history of the variable star work in Australasia was another project. As a start the VSS has made Honorary Life Members the three people who made the old VSS what it was. The three represent the 'pipeline' of variable star work.

Mati Morel has provided observers with finder charts for variable stars complete with magnitude sequences for brightness estimations. He has produced some 1252 charts, many replacing the original 'lettered' comparison stars with modern V magnitudes. Mati joined VSS in 1972 and is still going strong. [At least one nova chart and sequence has appeared since the Conference.]

Albert Jones has made 500 000 magnitude estimates; a world record. He is co-discoverer of supernova 1987A in the Large Cloud of Magellan; discovered comets in 1946 and 2001; has contributed to numerous publications; has an Honorary D.Sc. from Victoria University of Wellington and many international awards and honours.

Ranald McIntosh began converting all the VSS results into machine-readable form in 1984. Since then he has supervised the archiving of one million observations, adding 4000-8000 new records monthly. Along the way he has provided observers with data-entry programs.

The VSS will be a success, Tom concluded, if it attracts active members, has many projects and a sense of continuity. He asked anyone interested to join in and contribute to the science of astronomy.

The Rest of the Weekend Saturday and Sunday were crammed with a wide range of talks, everything from planet searches to the problems of adding an upstairs observatory to a house. The editor hopes to summarise these talks, curtly; but no promises.

The Dinner The Conference Dinner was enlivened by the 'Come as your favourite astronomer' theme. Several Greeks and Alexandrians appeared, dressed in summery robes and goosebumps. Two Tycho Brahes argued over who was the impostor -- perhaps the real Tycho was the one with the metal nose. A well-dressed 17th Century Englishman -- first Treasurer of the Royal Society and discoverer of the rotation of Saturn, he claimed -- turned out to be Sir Peter William Ball, who nobody had heard of {still searching - Ed.) There were several Herschels. Some modern astronomers were in attendance: Davis S Evans was remembered; our Honorary Member was hilariously celebrated with bushy eyebrows and wide floral tie. And there were two Frank Andrewses; the larger one being the real McCoy.

After the Weekend The two-day Occultation Workshop followed the main Conference. It was attended by observers from both sides of the Tasman.

2. The Solar System in July

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for July 2009 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: Notes for August 2009 will be in place in a few days.

The Earth is at aphelion on July 4, when it will be 152.1 million kilometres from the Sun.

A very slight penumbral eclipse of the Moon on July 7 will produce no noticeable change in the Moon's brightness. At most just over one-sixth of the Moon's diameter will enter the outer edge of the penumbra. The event occurs in the evening while the Moon is in NZ skies.

On July 22 a total eclipse of the Sun is visible in the northern hemisphere. The path of totality starts at sunrise on the coast of India near Mumbai then crosses northern India and China. It leaves China on an easterly track taking it just south of the main islands of Japan, before turning to head to the southeast across the Pacific to end at sunset to the northeast of New Zealand.

No part of eclipse is visible from New Zealand. The only part of Australia to see anything of it is the tip of the Cape York Peninsula where a slight penumbral eclipse occurs.

The planets in july

The evening sky - saturn

Saturn will set shortly after 9pm by the end of July so that it is very much an early evening object. The planet remains in Leo moving slowly to the southeast.

During July the rings, already a narrow band, are going to close up further. By the end of the month the tilt of Saturn's south pole towards the Earth will be less than 2 degrees, and less than 0.2 degrees towards the Sun.

The 37% lit waxing Moon will be some 7.5 degrees above Saturn on the night of July 28. The previous night a thinner Moon will be rather further away to the left of the planet.

Saturn's brightest satellite Titan will be in eclipse in the planet's shadow twice in July, on the 10th and 26th. On both occasions the eclipse starts before sunset and ends after Saturn sets on NZ, hence Titan will not be visible those evenings.

The last stages of shadow transits of Titan across Saturn are visible early evening on July 2 and 18. The transits end at 8:37pm and 7:52pm respectively, both starting before sunset.

More details on observing these events and a table of the times of all the eclipses can be found on the page of eclipses of Titan and Rhea on the web site. Moderate sized telescopes are needed to see these events.

Jupiter will rise before 7pm by late July and so be a mid to late evening object. The retrograde motion of Jupiter takes it past Neptune for a second time this month. The two are closest on July 10 when they are just over half a degree apart. On the same night, the Moon, three days past full, will be a few degrees from the pair.

On the days the two planets are closest the 5th magnitude star mu Capricorni will be close to midway between the two. This should help in detecting Neptune which, at magnitude 7.8, is a lot fainter than the star. In binoculars it is likely to be easier to see Neptune when the Moon is not too close.

The morning sky - venus and mars

Venus and Mars will start July about 4 degrees apart, rising close to 4.30 am. Venus will be in Taurus, with Mars just over the border in Aries; it moves into Taurus on July 3. As it moves across Taurus during the month, Venus will draw away from Mars so that by July 31 the two will be nearly 16 degrees apart. Venus will then be rising after 5 pm.

As they move across Taurus the planets will pass between Aldebaran and the Pleiades. Venus will be on a line between them on July 12, only half the distance from the star it is from the cluster. A week later Mars will be midway between the two. The planet and star will be similar in magnitude and colour. On the same morning the crescent Moon will be nearly 8 degrees below Mars and only slightly further from Venus. The three with Aldebaran will form a kite shape to the northeast, with the Moon to the lower left and the more pointed corner and the star to the upper right and blunter corner of the shape.

Towards the end of July, Mars will be at its closest to Aldebaran, with the two some 5 degrees apart on the morning of July 27.

Mercury rises about an hour before the Sun at the beginning of July, making it a very low object half an hour before sunrise. The planet will be fairly bright at magnitude -1. It will quite rapidly move towards the Sun during the first half of the month, to be at superior conjunction on July 14.

After conjunction, Mercury becomes an evening object. By July 31 it will set nearly 90 minutes later than the Sun and begin to be briefly visible as the sky darkens in a direction between west and northwest. It will be in Leo nearly 25 degrees below and to the left of Saturn and some 5 degrees below Regulus.

Uranus is in Pisces between Jupiter and Venus, but considerably closer to the former. By the end of July Uranus will rise about 9.30 pm and transit a little before 4 am, thus being observable from late evening.

Neptune remains close to Jupiter during July.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is an evening object setting about 10:30pm on July 1 and 9.30 by July 31. Its magnitude ranges from 8.7 to 8.9. The asteroid starts July in Leo 7.5 degrees from Saturn. By the end of July it will have moved into Virgo and be some 11 degrees from the planet.

(2) Pallas starts July in Hydra moving on into Sextans later in the month. It is an early evening object setting about 8.30 pm on July 1 and 7.30 on July 31. By then it will be 9 degrees to the upper left of Mercury.

(4) Vesta is too close to the Sun for observation until late July, when it will rise soon after 6.30 am. It will then have a magnitude 8.4 and be in Gemini, 18 degrees to the lower right of Venus.

(7) Iris is at opposition on July 4 in Sagittarius a couple of degrees from the 3.5 magnitude star xi2 Sgr. Iris will then be in the sky all night with a magnitude 8.7. By the end of July it will have faded to magnitude 9.3.

-- Brian Loader

3. 'Closest Mars' Hoax Email Around Again

The Earth catches up on Mars and passes it by every 26 months. Emails announcing that Mars will be unusually close this year arrive more often. Some of them imply, on a quick reading, that Mars will appear as big as the full moon. A more careful reading finds that Mars seen in a telescope magnifying 100x or more will appear as big as the full moon does to the naked eye.

We pass by Mars in January-February 2010. At that time it will be an eye-catching orange 'star' near the Praesepe cluster in the northeast sky at dusk. It is nearly 100 million km from us then, around the greatest distance that an opposition can be. So you'll need to magnify it 130x to make it look as big as the full moon does to the naked eye.

-- Ed.

4. Jack Dunlop QSM

Congratulations to John (Jack) Dallin Dunlop of Napier. Jack was awarded the Queen's Service Medal for services to astronomy and the community in the Queen's Birthday Honours. Jack did much of the local organising for the RASNZ Conference held in Napier in 1980.

5. Most Distant GRB Seen from NZ

In May Grant Christie recorded the fading light of a gamma ray burst (GRB) that turned out to be the most distant recorded by a NZ observer. The GRB after-glow was seen on a stacked image set with a total exposure time of 45 minutes taken with Auckland Observatory's 40-cm telescope. The red magnitude was 20.8 +/- 0.2.

Spectra of the GRB obtained with one of the giant telescopes at the European Southern Observatory in Chile showed that the GRB's light was red-shifted by 4.1. Using the currently accepted expansion rate of the universe the light travel time was 12.1 billion years. The GRB was designated GRB 090516.

In March the Yock-Allen telescope in Marlborough recorded GRB 090328; see the April Newsletter Item 9. In 2003 GRBs were seen from Mt John in March and April. They had light travel times of 11.5 and 11.2 billion years respectively.

-- from notes forwarded by Phil Yock.

To convert red shift to light travel time, etc, see" class="blue">Convertions

6. 5th Australasian Conference on General Relativity and Gravitation

ACGRG5, a regional Australia/NZ conference for professional researchers in gravity held every 2-3 years, will be take place at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, on 16-18 December, 2009.

To mark the International Year of Astronomy, this event is being run jointly with ICRANet (Italy) as part of their IYA series "The Sun, the Stars, the Universe and General Relativity". It is anticipated that there will be a couple of public lectures in conjunction with the conference.

Although registration is only due to open later in the year, a preliminary webpage is up at

-- note from David Wiltshire

7. RASNZ in Wikipedia

Peter Jaquiery writes that he has started an RASNZ entry on Wikipedia:

Peter invites anyone who can fill in some of the details (especially the history) to do so.

8. South Africa Queries SKA´s Size and "Affordability"

After hosting a big international meeting of radio astronomers in February (Australasian Science, April 2009, p 13), the Director of the South African bid to host the giant Square Kilometre Array has acknowledged to 'Australasian Science' that plans for nearby countries to host outstations of the 2000-3000 antennas required to give the instrument its requisite sensitivity and resolution might need to be "flexible".

'Australasian Science' understands that such a possible shift was not raised in the meeting and certainly wasn´t hinted in the public statement issued in the name of the meeting, which concluded with a generally optimistic (but contestable) view that the global financial crisis won´t affect funding for the enormous instrument costing ~A$3 billion.

One undercurrent, never stated openly in scientifically polite circles, has emerged as a result of the bloody coup in Madagascar, one of the outstation countries nominated by South Africa. Another proposed outstation country, Kenya, had already had a violent change of government in December.

'Australasian Science' asked South Africa´s SKA Director, Dr Bernie Fanaroff, to explain how they would handle the evident political instability in the region, and noted that Zimbabwe, South Africa´s immediate northern neighbour, was not listed as an outstation host.

"We hope that the situation in Madagascar will normalise sooner rather than later," Fanaroff responded. "The Madagascan scientists and students have been particularly enthusiastic about the project. "The configuration beyond a few hundred kilometres allows for considerable flexibility. We believe that creating a network of dishes in many African countries would greatly enhance the scope for VLBI [Very Long Baseline Interferometry], but that will of course depend on affordability. So it is still possible to involve countries which are currently not in the list of partners. There has been discussion of that, because other countries have expressed interest. "You should perhaps also ask about the affordability of extending the SKA beyond (say) several hundred kilometres."

Fanaroff did not respond about Zimbabwe, but this deeply troubled state is obviously in no position to share any resources in such a massive venture. Fanaroff´s statement raised the possibility of a radically changed specification for the array in order to accommodate a reduction in scale and variation in distribution of antennas, and that this might be more "affordable". Implicitly, this could be desirable if the global economic crisis eats into the agreed funding timetable (site decision 2011-12, construction funding 2012-13).

As Fanaroff invited, his statement was referred for comment to the two most relevant authorities - the Director of the SKA Program Development Office in England, Prof Richard Schilizzi, and South Africa´s competitor for siting the SKA, Australia, led by SKA Director, Prof Brian Boyle.

Schilizzi responded: "Reducing the scale of the array to several hundred
kilometres will reduce the achievable angular resolution proportionately
(i.e. by a factor of 10).That would make the high angular resolution
science impossible.  The sensitivity is proportional to the collecting
area, the system temperature of the receivers and various other factors.
The sensitivity would not change with a reduction in overall scale of the
array provided the collecting area is not reduced or system temperature
increased etc.  "This is not being discussed in the SKA Collaboration. It
will most naturally come up when we have completed the costing of the SKA
design at the end of PrepSKA."

South Africa has therefore been told to get on with meeting the detailed specifications for the array that had been devised, revised and agreed over several years by the multinational collaboration, and to hold off raising such significant changes until the two bids are assessed independently.

The South African and Australian governments had announced in February an agreement to cooperate in technical development of the SKA, but it appears this had not been invoked by South Africa in Fanaroff´s floating of a significant change in planning. Boyle confirmed to 'Australasian Science': "Australia continues to develop a compelling case for hosting the SKA on the basis of the specifications and criteria as originally outlined".

-- by Peter Pockley in 'Australasian Science' June 2009, 13 forwarded by Roland Idaczyk and by Marilyn Head. For the original article see

9. Astrometry Finds a Planet Orbiting Smallest Star

A long-proposed tool for hunting planets has netted its first catch: a Jupiter-like planet orbiting one of the smallest stars known.

The technique, called astrometry, was first attempted 50 years ago to search for planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets. It involves measuring the precise motion of a star on the sky and watching for a tiny wobble as the star and an unseen planet circle their centre of gravity. But the method requires very precise measurements over long periods of time. Until now it has failed to turn up any exoplanets.

Two astronomers from NASA¹s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have, for the past 12 years, used Mt Palomar's five-metre telescope to make precise measurements of 30 stars. One of the stars shows a wobble revealing it has a planet with a mass six times that of Jupiter.

The host star is VB 10, a M-dwarf only one-twelfth the mass of our Sun and 20 light years away. VB 10 is the smallest star known; just barely big enough to fuse atoms at its core and shine with starlight. Now it is the smallest star known to host a planet. In fact, though the star is more massive than the newfound planet, the two bodies would have a similar girth.

The planet, labelled VB 10b, though considered a 'cold Jupiter', is located about as far from its star as Mercury is from the Sun. Any rocky Earth-size planets that might happen to be in the neighbourhood would lie even closer in.

The wobble revealing the star is very tiny: equivalent to measuring the width of a human hair from about three kilometres away. (That's less than 5 milliarcseconds! -- Ed.)

More information about exoplanets and NASA¹s planet-finding program is at . More information about the Palomar Observatory is at

-- abridged from a JPL press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

10. 16-inch Mirrors for Sale

(This is a repeat of an advert published in February except that the price has dropped. -- Ed.)

Matthew Lovell of Telescopes and Astronomy writes: We are gathering numbers for those who wish to purchase a completed 16-inch BK7 F4.5 Mirror. Great for those who want to build a 16-inch Binocular Telescope! At the current exchange rate the price will be $1600AUD plus any postage. These mirrors test up quite accurately, and are used in many popular telescopes of their size. Please email for more information. Matthew Lovell, Telescopes and Astronomy, PO Box 292, O'Halloran Hill, SA 5158, Australia. Phone: +61 8 8381 3188; Fax: +61 8 8381 3588; Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Website:

11. Biographies, please

Marilyn Head writes: This is another call for listings for NZ astronomers on our IYA site . There are so many prominent people missing and many who are named but have nothing written about them. We envisage it being a 'who's who' of NZ astronomy and an historical record of people who have been (and are) active and held positions in local astronomical societies and, for those who want, contacts.

Send your biography to Christopher Henderson, Webmaster, IYA 2009 NZ. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . See

12. Star Parties in September

The next Waharau weekend, south of Auckland, will be Friday September 18th to Sunday 20th. For details contact David Moorhouse at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Herbert Star-party 2009 will be held at Camp Iona, Herbert, North Otago, 20 minutes drive south of Oamaru, on 18-20 September. Ross Dickie and Phil Barker are the prime organisers of the event. More details later.

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., 14 Craigieburn Street, Darfield 7510.

14. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

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

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., 14 Craigieburn Street, Darfield 7510.

15. How to Join the RASNZ

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

The annual subscription rate is $75. For overseas rates please check with the membership secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Research is the process of going up alleys to see if they are blind. -- Marston Bates.

Here's something to think about: How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery?' -- Jay Leno.

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. -- Thomas Edison

Irrigation of land with seawater desalinated by fusion power is ancient. It's called 'rain'. -- Michael McClary

These days an income is something you can't live without -- or within. -- Tom Wilson.

The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments. -- Friedrich Nietzsche.

The 'Net is a waste of time, and that's exactly what's right about it. -- William Gibson.

-- Selected from 'The Press' 21 March 2009.

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

Newsletter editor:

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