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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. Phil Yock Honoured
2. The Solar System in July
3. Lunar Eclipse June 26-27, and Others
4. ANZ SKA Test
5. Quiet Skies Key to SKA Bid Success?
6. 50 Years of SETI
7. Herschel Finds a Hole in Space
8. Cosmic Essays
9. RASNZ in Wikipedia
10. How to Join the RASNZ

1. Phil Yock Honoured

Professor Philip Yock was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to astronomy.

Phil's advancement of NZ astronomy began with supernova 1987A. Japanese cosmic-ray researchers were keen to set up detectors in the southern hemisphere to look for high-energy particles from the supernova. They approached Phil about a collaborative effort. This resulted in JANZOS, an array of solid state detectors and Cherenkov 'light buckets' on Black Birch Range in Marlborough. Bill Allen also assisted with data collection from this programme for several years.

The Nagoya cosmic-ray researchers' interest then moved on to the Dark Matter hypothesis. This is the idea that the galaxy's 'missing mass' is due to sub-atomic stuff that doesn't interact with ordinary matter and doesn't stop light. In the jargon these are WIMPS; Weakly Interacting Massive Particles. The alternative theory is that the missing mass is caused by compact dark massive blobs of ordinary matter: mini black holes, neutron stars, white dwarfs, red dwarfs. These are often known as MACHOs: Massive Compact Halo Objects.

Since there were few known ways of detecting WIMPS, it was decided to use the then recent proposal of gravitational microlensing to search for MACHOs. The best places to look for gravitational microlensing is in dense regions of stars where the chance of a line-up between a star and a MACHO is greatest. The centre of the Milky Way in Sagittarius and the Large Cloud of Magellan were the obvious choices. This required a southern hemisphere telescope.

Phil approached Canterbury University about the possibility of collaborative programme using one of Mt John's 60-cm reflectors. The final result of this was the MOA project, Microlensing Observations for Astrophysics. Initial tests were done by Tom Love using a small CCD on Mt John's B&C telescope in 1995. Bigger CCD arrays were built by Nagoya staff and students in the years following and the B&C optics were modified to f/6.25 by Garry Nankivell and Norman Rumsey. Auckland University technicians installed a computer-controlled drive on the telescope. MOA grew to include Auckland, Massey, Victoria and Canterbury Universities on the NZ side, and Nagoya University in Japan.

In 2001 the Japanese Department of Education and Science gave the Nagoya group a grant to design, build and run a 1.8-metre reflecting telescope. The telescope optics were designed by Andrew Rakich, then at Industrial Research Limited (IRL) in Lower Hutt, now at the Large Binocular Telescope in Arizona. The telescope and dome were made by the Nishimura Company of Kyoto and the mirror by Russia's Lomo company. IRL made the 50-cm diameter correcting lenses that focus the light onto Nagoya's 80 megapixel CCD array. Through all this Phil Yock was the Principal Investigator (PI) for the NZ side of MOA. The Japanese PI, Professor Yasushi Muraki, was awarded the New Zealand Order of Merit in 2008.

More recently Phil has been involved with setting up the Spanish-funded 60-cm Boötes-3 gamma-ray burst telescope at Bill and Rosemary Allen's vineyard near Blenheim. The Yock-Allen Telescope, as it is officially known, was opened on 27 February 2009. (See the March 2009 Newsletter, Item 5, for details.)

Phil is a Fellow of RASNZ and has recently been elected to the RASNZ Council. He is also someone who derives much enjoyment from amateur astronomy and has owned backyard telescopes.

-- Alan Gilmore with notes by Grant Christie.

2. The Solar System in July

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

The planets in july

Mercury will become well placed for evening viewing by the end of the month. Above and to its right, Venus will be catching up with Mars and Saturn which are themselves in conjunction at the end of the month.

Jupiter will remain best observed in the morning sky, although by the end of July it will rise in the vicinity of 10 pm and be 20 degrees above the horizon by midnight.

The total eclipse of the sun on July 11 (July 12 in NZ) has a path arcing over the south Pacific, touching only a couple of islands until it ends at sunset in southern Patagonia. The only part visible from NZ is at East Cape where the sun will rise during the last few minutes with a very slight partial eclipse.

The evening sky

Mercury, having been at superior conjunction at the end of June, will move into the evening sky. It will move away from the Sun quite rapidly during the first part of the month, so that by mid July it will be about 6 degrees above the horizon 45 minutes after sunset. At magnitude -0.5 it should be visible very low in a direction between west and northwest.

The remainder of July will see Mercury move further from the Sun, although its brightness will diminish a little. By the end of the month the planet will set some 2 hours and 20 minutes after the Sun having an altitude of 15 degrees 45 minutes after sunset. It will then be at its best for viewing in the evening sky this year.

On July 28, Mercury will lie close to Regulus, with the two little more than half a degree apart. Mercury, above the star, will be the brighter by more than a magnitude.

Venus will also be in Leo during July, a very obvious object to the northwest. It will be some way ahead of Mercury, passing Regulus on July 10. In this case the star will be one degree to the upper left of the planet, which is brighter by a good 5 magnitudes.

While Venus is being chased across the sky by Mercury, Venus in its turn will be closing in on Mars and Saturn. By the end of the month Venus will be 8 degrees behind the other two planets, themselves forming a close pair. By then Venus will be setting after 9 pm.

On the evening of July 14, the crescent moon some 16% lit, will be 7 degrees above and slightly to the left of the planet. The previous evening the moon, an even thinner crescent, will be a little further from Venus and on the opposite side of Regulus.

Mars will continue to be visible in the evening sky, with its time of set becoming about half an hour earlier during July, near to 10 pm by the 31st. Mars also starts the month in Leo, well ahead of Venus, but joins Saturn in Virgo on July 20.

At the end of July, Mars will have caught up with and be in conjunction with Saturn. When closest, on the 31st, Mars will be one and three- quarters degrees to the upper left of Saturn, with Venus 8 degrees behind them. Mars will be slightly fainter than Saturn by 0.4 magnitudes.

The 26% lit moon will be 5.5 degrees to the upper left of Mars on July 16. The two are closest early evening.

The minor planet Vesta and Mars will continue to move on nearly parallel paths, with Vesta slowly falling behind Mars. They are 5.5 degrees apart at the beginning of the month. By July 31 the distance will have increased to 7 degrees, with Venus then closer to Vesta than is Mars.

Saturn will remain in Virgo throughout July. By the end of the month it will set about 10 pm, similar to Mars as might be expected with the two in conjunction. For both planets early evening will give the best viewing.

Also, as for Mars, the moon will be closest to Saturn on the 16th, with the two some 7.5 degrees apart. In the case of Saturn, the moon will get closer during the evening. The 3 bodies will form a near equilateral triangle before they set.

The morning sky

Jupiter will rise about midnight at the beginning of July so remain a morning object. However by end of the month it will rise near 10 pm, close to the time Mars and Saturn set. So by then Jupiter will be readily visible in the late evening sky. Even so the best time for viewing will remain in the morning throughout July. The planet stays in Pisces throughout the month.

Following its close encounter with Uranus early in June, Jupiter will be drawing ahead of the outer plant during July, especially after Uranus is stationary on the 6th. Jupiter is itself stationary on July 24, after which it will commence moving in a retrograde sense and so start to move back towards Uranus.

Although the moon does not get very close to Jupiter at present, it does pass the planet twice during the month. On the morning of July 4 it will be about 7 degrees below Jupiter and Uranus, and on the morning of the 31st the moon and Jupiter will be about 8.5 degrees apart.

Outer planets

Uranus is in Pisces and visible in the morning sky. As noted above it will be quite close to Jupiter during July, although their separation will increase until late in the month by which time both will be moving in a retrograde sense.

Neptune, also in the morning sky, will be about 30 degrees to the left of, and a little higher than, Jupiter. Although Neptune is in Aquarius throughout July, its retrograde motion will take it up to the order of the constellation Capricornus on the 31st.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres fades by more than half a magnitude during July, from 7.5 to 8.1. It remains Ophiuchus throughout the month, and is 15 degrees from Antares early in July, a distance dropping to 11 degrees by the end of July.

(4) Vesta's magnitude remains steady close to 8 during July. As already noted it is within a few degrees of Mars and later Venus. The asteroid follows Mars into Virgo on July 21.

(6) Hebe, best seen in the morning, brightens considerably during July, from magnitude 9.5 on the 1st to 8.8 on the 31st. It starts July in Aquarius, 6 degrees above Jupiter, and moves into Pisces and ends the month on the border of Cetus. By then it will be a little less than 7 degrees above Jupiter.

The comet 10P/Tempel will be 3 degrees above Hebe on the 1st. Its expected magnitude is 8.3

(8) Flora is a morning object in Aquarius throughout July. It starts the month at magnitude 10, but brightens to 9.3 by the 31st. It will then be 10 degrees from Jupiter

(15) Eunomia is in the evening sky in Sagittarius. Its magnitude fades from 9.0 to 9.6 during the month.

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

COMET C/2009 R1 (McNaught) although expected to be bright is too close to the sun for observation.

COMET 10P/Tempel is expected to have a magnitude about 8.3 to 8.1 during July. The comet moves from Aquarius into Cetus on July 4. It will be best seen in the morning. The comet will be 7 degrees above Jupiter at its closest July 10, but 14 degrees from the planet by the end of the month.

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

-- brian loader

3. Lunar Eclipse June 26-27, and Others

On Saturday June 26 New Zealand, the South Pacific and the eastern two- thirds of Australia see all of a partial lunar eclipse.

The moon begins to enter the penumbra, the fuzzy edge of Earth's shadow, around 8:56 pm but little change will be seen in the moon's appearance for an hour. Gradually it will become obvious that the lower edge of the moon is darker than the upper. The darkening will be plain around 10:17 when the moon begins to enter the umbra, the dark central shadow.

The fuzzy bight out of the moon's lower edge will grow till 11:39 when it will cover more than half the moon's width. After that it diminishes until the moon leaves the umbra at 1:00 a.m. The shading across the moon will persist for a while as the moon moves out of the penumbra. It leaves the penumbra completely at 2:21 a.m.

In summary: penumbral eclipse begins 8:56 p.m.

Umbral eclipse begins 10:17
Maximum eclipse (0.452) 11:39
Umbral eclipse ends 1:00 a.m.
Penumbral eclipse ends 2:21

See the eclipse page on for diagrams.

On December 21 New Zealand, the South pacific and eastern Australia see the second half of a total lunar eclipse. Most of the North Island will see the moon rise almost fully eclipsed. Only a small part of the upper edge will out of the umbra. By moon-rise in the South Island the moon will be completely eclipsed in the umbra. This is bound to attract a lot of attention.

Maximum eclipse is at 9:17 NZDT (8:17 UT). The moon begins to leave the umbra at 9:54 and is fully clear by 11:02. It leaves the penumbra at 0:06 a.m.

Our luck with lunar eclipses continues into 2011. On the morning of June 16 the moon will set fully eclipsed, as seen from NZ. That eclipse begins the penumbral phase at 5:23 a.m. At 6:23 it touches the umbra and is fully immersed by 7:22 when it is setting in northeast NZ. Southerners will see the setting moon at mid eclipse. The moon is likely to be quite dark in colour as it is close to the centre of the umbra.

-- Alan Gilmore with help from the Astronomical Almanacs for 2010 and 2011.

4. ANZ SKA Test

Six radio telescopes across Australia and New Zealand have joined forces to act as one giant telescope, linking up over a distance of 5500 km for the first time. The link-up was a collaboration between CSIRO's Astronomy and Space Science division, the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University of Technology in Western Australia, and Auckland University of Technology (AUT) in New Zealand. The linked telescope will make images ten times more detailed than those of the Hubble Space Telescope and has already been used to peer into the heart of a galaxy called Centaurus A.

Showing Australia and New Zealand can link telescopes this way strengthens the two countries´ joint bid to host the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) telescope. "The SKA is a truly mega-sized science project with its global reach, scale and ambition, akin to the Large Hadron Collider in Europe," said CSIRO SKA Director Dr Brian Boyle. "This successful linking of antennas shows Australia and New Zealand´s commitment to next- generation astronomical research and how seriously we are taking the SKA bid."

The giant $2.5 billion SKA will have several thousand antennas, up to 5500 km apart, working together as one telescope. Fifty times more sensitive than today´s radio telescopes, the SKA will scan the cosmos for black holes, star formation and magnetic fields in space. Australia and New Zealand are one of two regions short-listed to host the SKA. The other is Southern Africa. A decision is expected in 2012.

The newcomers to the Australasian telescope team are the New Zealand dish, near Warkworth in the hills north of Auckland, and a new CSIRO dish in Western Australia´s red dirt country, inland from Geraldton. The new CSIRO dish is the first antenna of the Australian SKA Pathfinder radio telescope.

The Warkworth dish is operated by AUT and is the first functioning research-quality radio telescope in New Zealand. Data from New Zealand radio telescope were transferred from Warkworth directly to Australia using recently established one gigabit per second connectivity via the Kiwi Advanced Research and Education Network (KAREN).

"The linking of the Warkworth antenna is a milestone for New Zealand science," said the Director of the Institute for Radio Astronomy and Space Research at AUT, Professor Sergei Gulyaev. "It shows that Australia and New Zealand can achieve the SKA´s ambitious science goals." The other telescopes used in the link-up were three CSIRO facilities in New South Wales and a University of Tasmania dish near Hobart, Tasmania. One of the linked telescope's first projects has been to study the heart of a galaxy called Centaurus A.

Lurking there is a black hole that shoots out jets of radio-emitting particles at close to the speed of light. Observing for the galaxy for 10 hours, the telescopes took enough data to fill a stack of DVDs in their cases as high as a nine-storey building. The International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research at Curtin University of Technology provided the equipment for recording the data and also analysed the data to make an image.

The resolution of the new image is 100,000 times higher than that of a ground-breaking radio image made by CSIRO last year, which is itself the most detailed image ever made of the whole galaxy.

"Centaurus A is 14 million light-years away," said Curtin University´s Professor Steven Tingay, a radio astronomy expert. "We're zooming in on the black hole at the heart of this galaxy, to learn about how these systems work."Making the new image has been like photographing a pin head from 20 km away."

For details see

-- a CSIRO press release forwarded by Sergei Gulyaev.

5. Quiet Skies Key to SKA Bid Success?

The joint New Zealand-Australia bid to host the multi-billion dollar Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project was the centre of attention at the annual international SKA forum in Amsterdam on Tuesday (June 15).

"SKA is a visionary project," Research, Science and Technology Minister Wayne Mapp said today. "It is globally funded, involving 20 countries. It will be the most powerful radio telescope in the world, with a collecting area of a square kilometre. "SKA will generate an enormous range of opportunities in technology, industry and education. We are determined to make the most of these opportunities. My Australian counterpart Senator Kim Carr and I briefed forum members on progress with our bid and at our site," he said. "The Anzac bid has clear advantages over South Africa, the other short-listed bid. We have the ideal site. Our skies are quieter and clearer. There is much less radio interference because there are fewer people, and quiet is essential to pick up faint signals from billions of light years away. New Zealand and Australia together can achieve the best possible SKA project. It is an unparalleled opportunity to do outstanding science - to actually solve some of the mysteries of the universe," the Minister said. A decision on the bid is expected late next year or in early 2012.

-- a media statement from Hon Dr Wayne Mapp, Minister of Research, Science and Technology; 17 June 2010.

6. 50 Years of SETI

Half a century ago a radio astronomer called Frank Drake thought of a way to calculate the likelihood of establishing contact with aliens. He suggested the following figures should be multiplied: how many stars are formed in the galaxy in a year; what fraction of these have planets and thus form solar systems; the average number of planets per solar system that have the potential to support life; on what percentage of those where it is possible do such biospheres actually form; what percentage of such biospheres give rise to intelligent species; what percentage of intelligent life is able to transmit signals into space; and for how long could such intelligence keeps sending signals.

This calculation became celebrated as the Drake equation -- perhaps the best attempt so far to tame a wild guess. Most of the terms remain hard to tie down, although there is a consensus that about ten stars are formed per year in the galaxy. Also, recent searches for extrasolar planets have concluded that planets are not rare.

At the AAAS, Dr Drake reflected on his search for alien signals. One reason this is hard is that radio telescopes must chop the spectrum into fine portions to study it, like tuning into a signal on a car radio. Another is the trade off between a telescope´s field of view and its magnification. Small telescopes see a lot of sky but can detect only strong signals. Large ones, which can detect weak signals, have a narrow focus. Astronomers therefore have difficulty looking both carefully and comprehensively.

Dr Drake said there may be another difficulty. Researchers tend to look for signals similar to those now made by humanity. The Earth, though, is getting quieter because the rise of spread-spectrum communication makes stray emissions less likely than in the past.

Spread-spectrum works by smearing a message across a wide range of frequencies. That has the advantages of combating noise and allowing many signals to be sent at once. But it also makes those signals hard for eavesdroppers to hear (which is why spread-spectrum is beloved by military men). If technologically sophisticated aliens came to the same conclusions, and thus used spread-spectrum technology, humans would have a hard time hearing them. Dr Drake suggests, therefore, that there might be only a narrow window of time in the development of civilisations, analogous to the past 50 years on Earth, during which noisy electromagnetic signals are generated in large amounts.

It is, however, also possible that someone is actively trying to send signals to the Earth. If that were the case, the best way to do this, reckons Paul Horowitz, a physicist at Harvard, is with a laser.

Although radio power has changed little over the decades, the power of lasers has grown exponentially. Today´s most powerful versions can shine ten thousand times brighter than the sun, though only for a billionth of a second. If aliens have made similar progress, and point a laser towards the Earth´s solar system, such brief flashes would be detectable at a distance of many light-years. Dr Horowitz has already set up one suitable detector and this, because no huge magnification is involved, is capable of looking at broad swathes of sky.

There is also potential for improvement on the radio side. For many years, the Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico, which is 300 metres across, has led the search for alien life. (Sadly, its founder, William Gordon, died on February 16th.) Now the Chinese are building a 500-metre telescope, known as FAST, in Guizhou province, and an international collaboration called the Square Kilometre Array is trying, as its name suggests, to build an array of radio telescopes totaling one square km in area in either South Africa or Australia. Both may be helpful. As indeed may a large new telescope in northern California built by Paul Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft.

Many of the terms in the Drake equation are likely to remain elusive, so it is still impossible to predict how likely such efforts are to succeed. But even after 50 fruitless years-if the eagerness in the eyes of Dr Drake and his colleagues is any guide-it still is fun looking.

-- from the economist 27 february 2010

7. Herschel Finds a Hole in Space

ESA's Herschel infrared space telescope has made an unexpected discovery: a hole in space. The hole has provided astronomers with a surprising glimpse into the end of the star-forming process.

Stars are born in dense clouds of dust and gas that can now be studied in unprecedented detail with Herschel. Although jets and winds of gas have been seen coming from young stars in the past, it has always been a mystery exactly how a star uses these to blow away its surroundings and emerge from its birth cloud. Now, for the first time, Herschel may be seeing an unexpected step in this process.

A cloud of bright reflective gas known to astronomers as NGC 1999 sits next to a black patch of sky. For most of the 20th century, such black patches have been known to be dense clouds of dust and gas that block light from passing through.

When Herschel looked in its direction to study nearby young stars, the cloud continued to look black. But wait! That should not be the case. Herschel's infrared eyes are designed to see into such clouds. Either the cloud was immensely dense or something was wrong.

Investigating further using ground-based telescopes, astronomers found the same story however they looked: this patch looks black not because it is a dense pocket of gas but because it is truly empty. Something has blown a hole right through the cloud. "No-one has ever seen a hole like this," says Tom Megeath, of the University of Toledo, USA. "It's as surprising as knowing you have worms tunneling under your lawn, but finding one morning that they have created a huge, yawning pit."

The astronomers think that the hole must have been opened when the narrow jets of gas from some of the young stars in the region punctured the sheet of dust and gas that forms NGC 1999. The powerful radiation from a nearby mature star may also have helped to clear the hole. Whatever the precise chain of events, it could be an important glimpse into the way newborn stars disperse their birth clouds.

For more see:

-- a European Space Agency press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

8. Cosmic Essays

Cosmic Essays -- A collection of popular essays on astronomy, written to mark the International Year of Astronomy 2009, by John Hearnshaw, University of Canterbury

Comic Essays is a collection of 53 popular essays in astronomy, written to celebrate the International Year of Astronomy 2009, and originally published electronically as the Cosmic Diary as a cornerstone project of IYA2009.

The 53 essays cover a wide variety of topics. The project was conceived to portray the lives of professional astronomers during 2009. The articles in Cosmic Essays include articles on: Mt John University Observatory, New Zealand The search for extrasolar planets The history of astronomy Astronomy in developing countries (such as Mongolia, Cuba, Paraguay, Uzbekistan, Mauritius and Laos) Observatories in remote corners of the world (including those in Spain, Uruguay, Thailand and the Czech Republic) Astronomical libraries Astronomical spectrographs Astronomy and society (including astro-publishing and the relationship between astronomy and the economy) Famous astronomers of the twentieth century Astronomical conferences The Starlight Reserve Initiative and many more!

The book is richly illustrated with over 150 full colour illustrations. pp 105 + vi. Cosmic Essays is published by the author, who is Professor of Astronomy at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. Published May 2010.


To order a copy, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and include your name and mailing address. Or go to ORDER FORM Price $NZ 25.00. Packaging and postage $5 in New Zealand; $10 international.

9. 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.

10. 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..


I had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: - 'No good in a bed, but fine against a wall.' - Eleanor Roosevelt The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible. - George Burns Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year. - Victor Borge Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint. - Mark Twain I have never hated a man enough to give his diamonds back. - Zsa Zsa Gabor Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat. - Alex Levine Money can't buy you happiness ... But it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery. - Spike Milligan I don't feel old. I don't feel anything until noon. Then it is time for my nap. - Bob Hope I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it. - W. C. Fields We could certainly slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress. - Will Rogers Don't worry about avoiding temptation. As you grow older, it will avoid you. - Winston Churchill Maybe it is true that life begins at fifty .. But everything else starts to wear out, fall out, or spread out.. - Phyllis Diller By the time a man is wise enough to watch his step, he is too old to go anywhere. - Billy Crystal And the cardiologist's diet: If it tastes good spit it out.

-- selected from a collection forwarded by Norman Izett.

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