The RASNZ Email newsletter is distributed by email on or near the 20th of each month. If you would like to be on the circulation list This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for a copy.

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


1. Paul Rodmell
2. RASNZ Conference
3. The Solar System in March
4. Aurora Astronomy School 2010
5. Lord Rees Lectures -- Christchurch & Wellington
6. Special Publication Marks the Royal Society's 350th Anniversary
7. Joel Schiff Honoured
8. Digitizing of Southern Stars
10. Robert Kirshner Lecture on DVD
11. Public Solar Stormwatch
12. Solar Dynamics Observatory Launched
13. Stuck Mars Rover Gets New Job
14. Pulsing Red Giant Star Imaged
15. Fermi Shows Supernova and Cosmic Ray Connection
16. RASNZ in Wikipedia
17. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
18. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
19. How to Join the RASNZ
20. Headlines

1 Paul Rodmell

-------------- Well-known Invercargill astronomer Paul Rodmell died February 12 in his 71st year. Paul's interests and activities ranged widely. He had a particular passion for the history of astronomy, even including William Herschel's music. His series of articles on the constellations can be seen on the RASNZ's web page. And he was a regular at the Staveley and Herbert gatherings, with his trusty C8 telescope always in tow.

Paul was a Life Member of the Southland Astronomical Society, editor of its Newsletter and a very regular assistant at the observatory's public sessions. He was also involved in many other activities in Invercargill. He was an accomplished musician, playing both piano and organ, and singer. He was a member of a local choir and a great fan of opera. He also produced the newsletters of the local vintage car association and the cardiac club. Although he had had heart problems over the last few years, it was exposure to asbestos during a holiday job when he was a student that felled him in the end.

The RASNZ extends its deepest sympathy to Paul's wife Lindsey and their children and grandchildren.

-- Thanks to Bob Evans and Ross Dickie for memories of Paul.

2. RASNZ Conference

Dennis Goodman of the RASNZ's Standing Conference Committee writes:

Just a further reminder about the RASNZ Conference in Dunedin on 28-30 May. Registrations are starting to come in - good to see. We encourage you to register early for Conference - although it is still over 3 months away, it is amazing how quickly that time can fly by. It's also a good idea to book air fares early to get the best deals. Air NZ and Pacific Blue fly to Dunedin. Don't forget you will need to be in Dunedin, at the Railway Station by midday on the Friday if you are coming on the Taieri Gorge Rail journey.

We also make a further call for papers at this time. There is still room in the programme for papers and poster-papers. There is plenty of great work being done in astronomy in NZ these days, so let's hear about it - Conference is the appropriate gathering for this. Orlon Petterson from the Standing Conference Committee will also be making some approaches to members who have been carrying out good astronomical work.

Further information on Conference, the registration form etc can be found on the RASNZ Webpage - Look forward to seeing you in Dunedin.

Orlon Petterson adds: Dr Stuart Ryder of the Australian Gemini Office is our invited speaker with a feature papers on Supernovae. Bill Allan will be giving this year's Fellows lecture entitled "50 years as an amateur Astronomer".

The RASNZ standing conference committee sincerely invites and encourages anyone interested in New Zealand Astronomy to submit papers, with titles due by 31st March and Abstracts due 30 April. The paper submission form can be found on the RASNZ website Please send your submissions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

3. The Solar System in March

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for March 2010 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: Notes for April 2010 will be in place in a few days.

The southern autumn equinox will be at about 6.30 am on the morning of March 21, NZDT.

New Zealand has 2 full moons in March, on the 1st at 5.38 am and on the 30th at 3.25 pm.

The planets in march - the evening sky

Mercury starts March as a morning object, rising an hour before the Sun on March 1 with a magnitude -0.7. By March 14, the planet will be at superior conjunction, it will become lost to view in the morning twilight after the first day or two of the month.

The planet's apparition in the evening sky during the second half of the month will be very poor for viewing, with the planet setting no more than 30 minutes after the Sun at the end of March.

Venus will continue to be an elusive evening object throughout March. It sets some 30 minutes after the Sun at the start of the month, increasing to only 45 minutes later by March 31. Shortly after sunset, Venus will then be about 6 degrees above the horizon, nearly half way round from west to northwest. At the same time, Mercury at magnitude -1, will be about half the height of Venus and to the lower left of the brighter planet.

Mars will remain a prominent evening object throughout March. It transits shortly after 11 pm NZDT on the 1st and shortly after 9 pm on the 31st. The planet is well north of the equator, so its transits will be low, close to the lowest midday altitude of the Sun in mid Winter. The planet's magnitude drops from -0.6 to +0.1 during the month.

Mars will be in Cancer moving slowly, at first in a retrograde sense to the west until it reaches a stationary point on March 11. After that it will start moving forward to the east back towards Praesepe. By the end of March Mars will be just under 5 degrees from the cluster.

The 72% lit moon passes Mars on March 25. At their closest around midnight, the two will be 3.5 degrees apart.

Jupiter becomes a morning object in March following its conjunction with the Sun at the end of February. By the end of the month, the planet will rise nearly two hours before the Sun. It should then be visible some time before sunrise as a low bright object to the east before the sky becomes too bright.

The very thin crescent moon, only 1% lit, will be about 5 degrees to the left of Jupiter on the morning of March 15. This will be only some 27 hours before new moon, making it difficult to see in twilight conditions.

Saturn is well placed for viewing in the late evening during March. The planet reaches opposition on March 22. It is only just north of the celestial equator, so will be at a good altitude as seen from New Zealand and considerably higher than Mars. However, with NZDT still in force throughout March, Saturn will not transit until after midnight.

At present the monthly circuits of the moon do not take is very close to Saturn. For all that, the Moon does pass Saturn twice during the month, on the 2nd and again on the 29th. In both cases the Moon will be about 7 degrees from the planet at its closest.

Saturn's rings are still only open a slight amount, so will generally appear as a bar either side of the planet in a small telescope

Outer planets

Uranus is at conjunction with the Sun on March 17, so is not observable during the month.

Neptune in Capricornus, starts March about 2.5 degrees to the upper left of Mercury, with the two low in the sky to the east shortly before sunrise. While Mercury may be detectable with binoculars, Neptune will be very difficult.

Neptune crosses into Aquarius on March 24. By the end of the month it will rise some 3.5 hours before the Sun and be nearly 20 degrees to the upper left of Jupter, so should be visible in binoculars before the sky brightens.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres is a morning object. It starts March in Ophiuchus but moves into Sagittarius on March 3. During the month it brightens from magnitude 8.9 to 8.6. It rises after 1 am at beginning of the month and shortly before midnight on the 31st.

(2) Pallas is in Serpens throughout March, its magnitude changing from 9.1 to 8.7 during the month. It rises at the same time as Ceres on the 1st and close to midnight on the 31st, but it will be much lower in southern skies.

(4) Vesta remains in Leo throughout March with its magniutde dropping from 6.3 to 6.9. By the end of March it will transit about an hour before midnight, so be well placed for evening viewing, an easy binocular object.

(532) Herculina is at opposition on March 13, at its brightest it will be at magnitude 8.8. The asteroid is in Coma Berenices for most of March but just slips into Ursa Major at the end of the month. This means of course that it is very low in NZ skies.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroid 2010

COMET 81P/WILD 2 is expected to be at its brightest, magnitude 9.3 in late March. The comet is in Virgo, its path will take it to within 20 arc- minutes of the 4th magnitude star iota Vir at the end of the month. It will be even closer, just under 10', from a 6.4 magnitude neighbour of iota,

More details and charts are on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to Comets 2010.

-- Brian Loader

4. Aurora Astronomy School 2010

Applications are open for Year 13 and Year 12 students to apply for a place on this week-long school. Taking place at the University of Canterbury and Mt John Observatory, the school runs from April 12th -16th inclusive. The course is free, and only 20 students are accepted. Applications close 5.00pm Friday 5th March. Late applications cannot be considered. Further details and an application form are available at

-- Joan Gladwyn, Outreach Coordinator, College of Science, University of Canterbury.

5. Lord Rees Lectures -- Christchurch & Wellington

Martin Lord Rees is a successor of Sir Isaac Newton and Ernest Lord Rutherford as President of the Royal Society of London, the world´s oldest and most prestigious scientific institution. He is also UK´s Astronomer Royal and Master of Trinity College, Cambridge. He comes to New Zealand as the Rutherford Memorial Lecturer in the 350th year since the founding the Royal Society of London.

Christchurch Lecture THE NEXT 20 YEARS IN ASTRONOMY: Probing the Big Bang, Galaxies and Planets 7.30pm Monday 22 March Limes Room, Christchurch Town Hall, Christchurch

Wellington Lecture THE WORLD IN 2050 7.00pm Tuesday 23 March 2010 Wellington Town Hall, Wakefield Street, Wellington

Tickets are available to the public from the Royal Society's website Enquiries to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 04 470 5781

6. Special Publication Marks the Royal Society's 350th Anniversary

Further to the Royal Society of London's 350th anniversary, William Tobin notes that a special 350th anniversary issue of the Philosophical Transactions A available on line for free. The 'non specialist' review of gravitational lensing may interest RASNZ members at

More about the special 350th anniversary issue of the Philosophical Transactions A from the Royal Society's web page: "Personal perspectives in the physical sciences for the Royal Society's 350th anniversary", an open access, commemorative issue of Philosophical Transactions A is now available online at

In this freely available landmark issue, compiled specifically to mark the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society, leading scientists offer a personal perspective on the current status of their own area of research. Highlighted articles cover the status and potential of nuclear fusion; the revolution in theoretical chemistry over the past half century; and the challenges associated with energy security, climate change and sustainable consumption in the built environment.

This online content also incorporates two video podcasts: one by Cyril Hilsum on flat panel electronic displays and one by Richard Ellis on how gravitational lensing is being used to probe dark matter and dark energy.

The 17 contributions in this special issue present an up-to-date snapshot of key areas of the physical sciences and, together, demonstrate the continued vitality that characterizes Philosophical Transactions A.

7. Joel Schiff Honoured

Joel Schiff, mentioned last month as the co-discoverer of asteroid (12926) Brianmason, has himself received an honour from the Meteoritical Society. The citation reads "The Service Award is for advancing the Society's goals to promote research and education in meteoritics and planetary science. Joel Schiff is recognized for founding the quarterly publication, METEORITE, in 1995. The magazine serves as a forum for communication between amateurs, collectors, dealers, educators and researchers interested in meteorites."

8. Digitizing of Southern Stars

RASNZ Publicity Officer Marilyn Head writes:

Southern Stars, the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of NZ has been published continuously since 1934. There is a chance it may win a $10 000 digitisation grant from the National Library to make it available online. There is a lot of competition however, and it is unlikely it will win the most public votes on the website. But that is not the only criteria. Overseas votes will help to reinforce our submission that there is global interest in the scientific and historical data that Southern Star contains, so we hope you will take 5 seconds to register your vote for Southern Stars at: vote Please pass on to anyone/ any organisation which may be interested.


The 24th National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA XXIV) will be held over Easter 2010 (2nd-5th April) in Canberra. The convention theme is "Astronomy in the On-line Age". Presentations will span Friday to Monday and include observing, instrumentation, astroimaging, education, outreach, research, history, and other topics.

For more information see

10. Robert Kirshner Lecture on DVD

A DVD of the the public lecture given by Prof Robert Kirshner in Wellington during November last year, "Einstein's Blunder Undone" is available from the RSNZ. Prof Kirshner was the 2009 Royal Society of New Zealand Distinguished Speaker.

The lecture can be downloaded at <> or a copy of the DVD with a video of the lecture can be obtained by sending an email to href="mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." class="blue">Faith Atkins at the Royal Society of New Zealand. The RSNZ is not making a charge for them.

11. Public Solar Stormwatch

The Royal Observatory, Greenwich (ROG), in partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council¹s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Zooniverse are launching Solar Stormwatch, a new web project where anyone can help spot and track solar storms and be involved in the latest solar research.

The Sun is much more dynamic than it appears in our sky. Intense magnetic fields churn and pummel the Sun¹s atmosphere and they store enormous amounts of energy that, when released, hurl billions of tons of material out into space in explosions called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) -- or solar storms.

Solar Stormwatch volunteers can spot these storms and track their progress across space towards the Earth. Such storms can be harmful to astronauts in orbit and have the potential to knock out communication satellites, disrupt mobile phone networks and damage power lines. With the public¹s help, Solar Stormwatch will allow solar scientists to better understand these potentially dangerous storms and help to forecast their arrival time at Earth.

The project uses real data from NASA¹s STEREO spacecraft, a pair of satellites in orbit around the Sun which give scientists a constant eye on the ever-changing solar surface.

------------ Editor's note: The Royal Observatory, Greenwich, press release did not give a website contact, only the email addresses of the authors. I'm happy to forward these to anyone interested.

-- press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

12. Solar Dynamics Observatory Launched

NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, was launched on February 11. The most technologically advanced of NASA's heliophysics spacecraft, SDO will take images of the Sun every 0.75 seconds and daily send back about 1.5 terabytes of data to Earth -- the equivalent of streaming 380 full-length movies.

The Sun's dynamic processes affect everyone and everything on Earth. SDO will explore activity on the Sun that can disable satellites, cause power grid failures, and disrupt GPS communications. SDO also will provide a better understanding of the role the Sun plays in Earth's atmospheric chemistry and climate.

The spacecraft finally be placed in a circular geosynchronous orbit 36 000 km from Earth. The spacecraft will relay its readings to a ground station in New Mexico. The research is expected to reveal the sun's inner workings by constantly taking high resolution images of the sun, collecting readings from inside the sun and measuring its magnetic field activity. This data is expected to give researchers the insight they need to eventually predict solar storms and other activity on the sun.

-- from a NASA press release forwarded by Karen Pollard and from the SDO website

13. Stuck Mars Rover Gets New Job

After six years of unprecedented exploration of the Red Planet, NASA¹s Mars Exploration Rover Spirit no longer will be a fully mobile robot. NASA has designated the once-roving scientific explorer a stationary science platform after it broke through a crust and bogged in soft sand ten months ago.

The robot¹s main job in the next few weeks will be to position itself to survive the severe Martian winter. If it does survive then it will do new science from its final location. The rover¹s mission could continue for several months to years.

After Spirit became embedded, the rover team crafted plans for trying to get the six-wheeled vehicle free using its five functioning wheels -- the sixth wheel quit working in 2006, limiting Spirit¹s mobility. The planning included experiments with a test rover in a sandbox at NASA¹s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, plus analysis, modelling and reviews. In November, another wheel quit working, making a difficult situation even worse.

Recent drives have yielded the best results since Spirit became embedded. However, the coming winter mandates a change in strategy. It is mid-autumn at the solar-powered robot¹s home on Mars. Winter will begin in May. Solar energy is declining and expected to become insufficient to power further driving by mid-February. The rover team plans to use those remaining potential drives for improving the rover¹s tilt. Spirit currently tilts slightly toward the south. The winter Sun stays in the northern sky, so decreasing the southward tilt would boost the amount of sunshine on the rover¹s solar panels.

At its current angle, Spirit probably would not have enough power to keep communicating with Earth through the Martian winter. Even a few degrees of improvement in tilt might make enough difference to enable communication every few days.

Getting through the winter will all come down to temperature and how cold the rover electronics will get. Every bit of energy produced by Spirit¹s solar arrays will go into keeping the rover¹s critical electronics warm, either by having the electronics on or by turning on essential heaters.

Even stopped, Spirit continues scientific research. One stationary experiment Spirit has begun studies of tiny wobbles in the rotation of Mars. These could tell if the planet's core is liquid or solid. This requires months of radio-tracking the motion of a point on the surface of Mars to calculate long-term motion with an accuracy of a few inches.

Tools on Spirit¹s robotic arm can study variations in the composition of nearby soil, which has been affected by water. Stationary science also includes watching how wind moves soil particles and monitoring the Martian atmosphere.

Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004. They have been exploring for six years, far surpassing their original 90-day mission. Opportunity currently is driving toward a large crater called Endeavor and continues to make scientific discoveries. It has driven approximately 19 km and returned more than 133,000 images.

For more information about Spirit and Opportunity, visit:

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

14. Pulsing Red Giant Star Imaged

Near the end of their evolution sun-like stars swell into red giants: a hot dense core inside a large sphere of very thin gas. The thin gas envelope is able to store and release energy. So red giants are usually variable, pulsating in size and brightness over hundreds of days. As it pulses, the star is puffing off its outer layers, which in a few hundred thousand years create a beautifully gleaming planetary nebula.

Using an infra-red telescope array, astronomers have been able to image surface features on Chi Cygni, a red giant about 550 light years away. Chi Cygni pulses once every 408 days. At its smallest diameter of 500 million km, it becomes mottled with brilliant spots as massive plumes of hot plasma roil its surface. (Those spots are like the granules on our Sun¹s surface, but much larger.) As it expands, Chi Cygni cools and dims, growing to a diameter of 770 million km -- large enough to engulf and cook our solar system¹s asteroid belt.

For the first time, astronomers have photographed these dramatic changes in detail. They reported their work in the December 10 issue of The Astrophysical Journal. The images show that the pulsations is not only radial, but come with inhomogeneities, like the giant hotspot that appeared at minimum radius.

Imaging variable stars is extremely difficult. Such stars hide within a compact and dense shell of dust and molecules. To see the star's surface within the shell one must observed at specific wavelengths of infrared light.

The stars are also very far away, and thus appear very small. Even though red giants are huge compared to the Sun, the distance makes them appear no larger than a small house on the moon as seen from Earth. Traditional telescopes lack sufficient resolution. This investigation used the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory¹s Infrared Optical Telescope Array (IOTA) in Arizona. It combines light from several telescopes to give a resolution equivalent to a telescope as large as the distance between them. The resolution is 15 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope.

Images and movies are available online at

-- from a Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

15. Fermi Shows Supernova and Cosmic Ray Connection

New images from NASA¹s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope show where supernova remnants emit radiation a billion times more energetic than visible light. The images bring astronomers a step closer to understanding the source of some of the universe¹s most energetic particles -- cosmic rays. Cosmic rays consist mainly of protons that move through space at nearly the speed of light. In their journey across the galaxy, the particles are deflected by magnetic fields. This scrambles their paths and masks their origins. Understanding the sources of cosmic rays is one of Fermi¹s key goals.

When cosmic rays collide with interstellar gas, they produce gamma rays. Fermi now allows us to compare emission from remnants of different ages and in different environments. Fermi¹s Large Area Telescope (LAT) mapped billion-electron-volt (GeV) gamma rays from three middle-aged supernova remnants -- known as W51C, W44, and IC 443 -- that were never before resolved at these energies. (The energy of visible light is between 2 and 3 electron volts.) Each remnant is the expanding debris of a massive star that blew up between 4,000 and 30,000 years ago.

In addition, Fermi¹s LAT also spied GeV gamma rays from Cassiopeia A (Cas A), a supernova remnant only 330 years old. Ground-based observatories, which detect gamma rays thousands of times more energetic than the LAT was designed to see, have previously detected Cas A.

Older remnants are extremely bright in GeV gamma rays, but relatively faint at higher energies. Younger remnants show a different behaviour, perhaps showing that the highest-energy cosmic rays have left older remnants, and Fermi sees emission from trapped particles at lower energies.

Young supernova remnants seem to possess both stronger magnetic fields and the highest-energy cosmic rays. Stronger fields can keep the highest-energy particles in the remnant¹s shock wave long enough to speed them to the energies observed.

The Fermi observations show GeV gamma rays coming from places where the remnants are known to be interacting with cold, dense gas clouds. This suggests that protons accelerated in the remnant are colliding with gas atoms, causing the gamma-ray emission. An alternative explanation is that fast-moving electrons emit gamma rays as they fly past the nuclei of gas atoms. Further observations by Fermi should help decide which mechanism is the cause.

Images and animations of supernovae: How cosmic rays produce gamma rays (animation):

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

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. 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..

20. Headlines

Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim Man Struck By Lightning Faces Battery Charge Stiff Opposition Expected To Casketless Funeral Plan Stadium Air Conditioning Fails; Fans Protest Man Steals Clock, Faces Time Man, Minus Ear, Waives Hearing Hospitals Sued By Seven Foot Doctors Expert Says Something Went Wrong In Jet Crash Autos Killing 110 A Day; Let's Resolve To Do Better Soviet Virgin Lands Short Of Goal Again Stolen Painting Found By Tree Defendant's Speech Ends In Long Sentence William Kelly, 87, Was Fed Secretary Genetic Engineering Splits Scientists If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last a While Cold Wave Linked To Temperatures Local High School Dropouts Cut In Half Fifth Graders Get To Grill Lions Enfields Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide

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