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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.

Contents

1. Kepler Finds Habitable Planet
2. Terry Lovejoy Finds Sungrazing Comet
3. Stu Parker Finds Bright Supernova
4. The Solar System in January
5. Murray Geddes Memorial Prize Nominations
6. Council and Executive Nominations
7. Stardate North Island - January 20-23
8. SKANZ 2012 Conference - February 14-16
9. Stardate South Island - February 17-19
10. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9
11. Third International Starlight Conference
12. RASNZ Conference 2012
13. Vesta in Colour
14. Some Interesting Photos
15. Do We Really Need the James Webb Space Telescope?
16. Two Types of Neutron Stars?
17. New Map of the Milky Way's Magnetism
18. Optics for Sale
19. How to Join the RASNZ
20. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
21. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

1. Kepler Finds Habitable Planet

NASA's Kepler Mission has discovered the first super-Earth orbiting in the habitable zone of a star similar to the Sun. A team of researchers has discovered what could be a large, rocky planet with a surface temperature of about 22° C, comparable to a comfortable spring day on Earth. This landmark finding will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

The discovery team used photometric data from the NASA Kepler space telescope, which monitors the brightness of 155,000 stars. Earth-size planets whose orbital planes are aligned such that they periodically pass in front of their stars result in tiny dimmings of their host star's light -- dimmings that can only be measured by a highly specialized space telescope like Kepler.

This discovery is the first detection of a possibly habitable world in orbit around a Sun-like star. The host star lies about 600 light-years away from us toward the constellations of Lyra and Cygnus. The star, a G5 star, has a mass and a radius only slightly smaller than that of our Sun, a G2 star. As a result, the host star is about 25% less luminous than the Sun. The planet orbits the G5 star with an orbital period of 290 days, compared to 365 days for the Earth, at a distance about 15% closer to its star than the Earth from the Sun. This results in the planet¹s balmy temperature. It orbits in the middle of the star's habitable zone, where liquid water is expected to be able to exist on the surface of the planet. Liquid water is necessary for life as we know it, and this new planet might well be not only habitable, perhaps even inhabited.

Numerous large, massive gas giant planets have been detected previously in habitable-zone orbits around solar-type stars, but gas giants are not thought to be capable of supporting life. This new exoplanet is the smallest-radius planet discovered in the habitable zone of any star to date. It is about 2.4 times larger than that of the Earth, putting it in the class of exoplanets known as super-Earths.

While the mass of this new planet is not known, it must be less than about 36 times that of the Earth, based on the absence of a measurable Doppler (radial velocity) wobble in the host star. The masses of several other super-Earths have been measured with the Doppler technique and determined to lie in the range of about 5 to 10 times that of the Earth: Some appear to be rocky, while others probably contain major fractions of ice and water. Either way, the new planet appears to be habitable.

Text & Image: http://carnegiescience.edu/news/first_habitablezone_superearth_discovered_ orbit_around_sunlike_star

-- From a Carnegie Institution for Science (http://carnegiescience.edu) press releaser forwarded by Karen Pollard.

2. Terry Lovejoy Finds Sungrazing Comet

Terry Lovejoy, Thornlands, Queensland reported his discovery of a comet low in the dawn sky on Nov. 27.7 and 29.7 UT. The comet was found on images taken with a 0.20-m f/2.1 Celestron reflector and QHY9 CCD camera in the course of his normal comet-search program. The comet appeared as a clearly diffuse circular object approximately 1' in diameter, with a central condensation of magnitude 16 and no apparent tail.

Terry's own orbital calculations immediately suggested that the object was a "sun-grazer". His ephemeris based on that assumption enabled others with smaller fields of view to locate comet for follow-up observations. These confirmed that the comet was a Kreutz sungrazer with perihelion on December 16.02 UT at a distance q = 0.0055068 AU = 884,000 km. That meant the comet would pass just 190,000 km from the sun's surface, making it unlikely to survive.

Hundreds of tiny comets in the Kreutz group -- returning fragments of some past large object -- have been recorded by the SOHO satellite as they disintegrated close to the sun. A few larger fragments have made some of history's spectacular comets: C/1843 D1, C/1882 R1, C/1887 B1, C/1965 S1 and, less spectacularly, C/1970 K1. Some of these disappeared at perihelion. Others were seen to depart in fragments, adding to the group.

At press time C/2011 W3 (Lovejoy) clearly survived perihelion. Images of it rounding the sun -- losing its tail on the way -- can be seen on www.spaceweather.com. There is even a post-perihelion ground-based photo taken on December 17.

A SOHO image of the comet approaching the sun can be seen at http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/data/realtime/c3/1024/latest.html A pre-perhelion animation (bottom picture) is posted at http://boingboing.net/2011/12/15/comet-to-plunge-to-firey-death.html And one of it departing the sun with head and tail separated is at http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap111217.html and at www.spaceweather.com .

-- The SOHO images were pointed out by John Drummond and Glen Burgess to the nzastronomers Yahoo group. The Spaceweather animations and links were forwarded by Pam Kilmartin. The discovery and orbit information came from CBET 2930 and Minor Planet Electronic Circulars 2011-X16 and 2011-X36.

3. Stu Parker Finds Bright Supernova

Stuart Parker of Oxford, Canterbury, found a 13th magnitude supernova in the galaxy NGC 1404 on Dec. 2.570 UT. As with his previous discoveries this one was made with his 35-cm Celestron reflector and SBIG ST-10 CCD.

The object was confirmed as a supernova (SN) by spectroscopic observations at the National Astronomical Observatories of China and at the Gemini South telescope. The spectroscopy classified it as a type-Ia at, or nearly at, maximum light. The SN was designated 2011iv in IAU Central Bureau Electronic Telegram (CBET) No. 2940 on December 6. 2011iv's coordinates are R.A. = 3h38m51s.35, Decl. = -35d35'32".0 (equinox 2000.0), which is 7" west and 8" north of the nucleus of the galaxy.

Being a young and relatively nearby at 60 million light years, and largely unaffected by dust obscuration in its galaxy or ours, the 2011iv is to be repeatedly observed spectroscopically by the Hubble Space Telescope.

NGC 1404 is in Fornax. It had a 14th magnitude type Ia supernova in 2007 (SN 2007on) that was extensively studied: CBETs 1121, 1131; Stritzinger et al. 2011, A.J. 142, 156. Other work can be seen at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/chandra/news/08-018.html

Type Ia supernovae are thought to result from a white dwarf star building up a critical mass of carbon from material drawn from a nearby companion star. The carbon 'ignites' -- in a thermonuclear sense -- in one bang, producing the SN explosion. As all such explosions should be of similar size, type Ia supernovae are used as cosmological distance indicators. Thus calibration of a nearby example is very important.

See Stu's pictures at http://parkdale-supernova-factory.webs.com/

-- from comments by Stu Parker and Ian Cooper, posted to the nzastronomers Yahoo group, in CBET 2940 by Dan Green, in the Astronomer's Telegram No. 3797, and by Hon. Ed.

4. The Solar System in January

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for January 2012 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Jan_12.htm. Notes for February 2012 will be on line in a few days.

The planets in january

Venus and Jupiter will be bright and obvious objects in the evening sky, Venus fairly low to the west after sunset, Jupiter a little higher to the northwest.

Mars begins to rise before midnight during January, Saturn will rise about midnight at the end of January. Both remain principally morning objects. Mercury, also nominally a morning object, is too low in the dawn sky to observe.

Evening sky - venus and jupiter

Venus will set about 2 hours after the Sun at the beginning of January, dropping to an hour and three-quarters later, at the end of the month. This will result in Venus getting a little lower in the early evening sky, it will also move a few degrees round towards the north.

The planet starts the month in the middle of Capricornus, its movement to the east will take it into Aquarius on the 12th which it crosses during the rest of the month. On its way it will pass two other solar system objects.

On the 13th Neptune, at magnitude 8, will be just over 1° to the lower right of Venus. The only possible star that could cause confusion is a 7.5 magnitude star which will be directly below Venus, a little over half a degree from the planet.

Later in the month, on the 28th, Venus will overtake the asteroid Vesta. The two will not be as close, Vesta being 4.5° to the upper left of Venus. The asteroid will be at magnitude 8.2. The three 4th and 5th magnitude stars of psi Aqr will lead from Venus to Vesta.

In theory, both Neptune and Vesta will be bright enough to see in binoculars. But it will be at least an hour after sunset before the sky is dark enough to pick out the 8th magnitude objects. By then Venus will be very low, only some 5° to 6° above the horizon.

On the 26th, the 10% lit crescent moon will be 7.5° below Venus. Vesta, Venus and the moon will form an almost vertical line, but the moon will set only one hour after the Sun. The following evening the moon will be 11° to the right of Venus, but still a little lower than the planet.

Jupiter sets about 2 am at the beginning of January, shortly after midnight on the 31st. So the planet will be best viewed as soon as the sky is dark enough following sunset.

The planet starts January in Pisces but crosses back into Aries on the 8th. It left Aries while moving in a retrograde sense early in December but reversed its direction of motion on December 26.

The moon will pass Jupiter twice in January, on the 3rd and 30th. On the 3rd the 70% lit moon will be 7° to the lower right of Jupiter. On the 30th the 42% lit moon will be 5.5° below Jupiter.

EVENING and MORNING SKY

Mars starts to move into the evening sky in January after having been in the morning sky for the previous 10 months. It rises about 12.30 am on the 1st advancing to 10.40 pm by the 31st. By then it will have brightened to magnitude -0.5 so becoming a prominent object low to the north of east by midnight. Even so, the best views of the planet will be in the morning up to about an hour before sunrise

The planet will be slow moving, starting January in Leo. On January 15 it crosses into Virgo, but will be stationary on the 24th. After this it starts moving back in a retrograde sense to the west and towards Leo.

The 79% lit moon will be just under 10° to the upper left of Mars on January 14 as seen about 5 am. The following morning, the moon now 69% lit will be just under 12° to the upper right of Mars.

Morning sky

Saturn will be readily visible in the morning sky to the northeast before dawn during January. It rises about 2 am at the beginning of the month and close to midnight at the end. The planet will be 6th magnitude, so a little brighter than Spica, magnitude 1.1, which will be to the upper left of Saturn before dawn.

The moon, at just after last quarter, will join the planet and star on the morning of January 17, the three forming a triangle to the northeast. They should be readily visible 45 minutes before sunrise, that is at a little before 6 am.

Mercury is in the morning sky throughout January but generally too low in the dawn sky to see. On the morning of January 1 it rises about 80 minute before the Sun. 50 Minutes before sunrise Mercury will be about 5° above the horizon. It will be at magnitude -0.4 but still a difficult binocular object. The planet gets lower in the dawn sky through the rest of January.


Uranus will set a little before 1am in New Zealand at the beginning of January and about an hour before midnight by the end of the month. So it will remain quite well placed for binocular viewing in the early evening after the sky is dark. The planet is in Pisces with a magnitude 5.8.

Neptune sets a little before midnight at the beginning of January and about 10pm at the end of the month. The planet will be in Aquarius at magnitude 8.

Venus will be just over 1° to the upper left of Neptune on the evening of the 13th. The two will be very low before the sky is dark enough to see Neptune in binoculars. After mid January, Neptune is not likely to be visible in the evening twilight.

Brighter asteroids:

(1) Ceres will be in the evening sky in January at magnitude 9.1 to 9.2. It starts the month in Aquarius, moves into Cetus on January 3 and on into a corner of Pisces on January 28. By the 31st it will set about 11.30 pm. It will then be about 15° from Venus and 7.5° above Uranus.

(4) Vesta is in Aquarius throughout January. Like Ceres it is an evening object with Vesta setting about 45 minutes earlier. Its magnitude will be 8.1 to 8.2. On the evening of January 10 Vesta will be 11´ to the right of the magnitude 4 star tau Aqr. Later in the month, on the 28th it will be just above the three 4th and 5th magnitude stars of psi Aqr. At the same time Venus will be 4.5° to the lower right of Vesta.

(15) Eunomia fades from magnitude 8.6 to 9.3 during January. It will also be an evening object setting just after 2am on January 1 and just before 1 am on the 31st. It will be close to the Pleiades, just over 7° below them at the beginning of January and 4° below them at the end.

(433) Eros will brighten from magnitude 9.4 to 8.6 during January. At first it will be a morning object in Leo rising about 12.40 am. By the end of January it will rise about 10 pm. It is in Leo up to the 20th when it moves on into Sextans. The asteroid will be about 8° to the right of Regulus mid January as seen in the morning sky.

More details and charts for these minor planets can be found on the RASNZ web site. Follow the link to asteroids 2012.

-- Brian Loader

5. Murray Geddes Memorial Prize Nominations

Nominations are called for the Murray Geddes Memorial Prize 2012. The prize is awarded for contributions to astronomy in New Zealand. Normally the recipient is a resident of New Zealand. Nominations should be sent to the RASNZ Executive Secretary at the address below by 31 January 2012. R O´Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

6. Council and Executive Nominations

Call for nominations to Council. Closing date for receipt: 15 March 2012.

2012, being an even numbered year, is an election year for the RASNZ

Council. Nominations are requested for all officers and council positions. The positions for which nominations are required are: President Incoming vice-president Executive secretary Treasurer 5 Council members. In addition the fellows need to nominate a fellows representative. Affiliated Societies will elect two representatives at the affiliated societies' committee meeting held prior to the AGM.

The current president, Glen Rowe, automatically becomes a vice-president. The rules do not allow the president to serve a second consecutive term. By the terms of rule 74, nominations, including any for the fellows representative, need to be sent in writing to the Executive Secretary by 15 March 2012

The nomination must specify the name of the candidate and the office sought. It must be signed by the proposer and seconder and be accompanied by the written consent of the nominee. The address to which nominations should be sent, as soon as possible, is: RASNZ Executive Secretary, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697.

A postal ballot will be held in April 2012 for any position for which the number of candidates exceeds the number of appointees required. Rory O´Keeffe Executive Secretary

7. Stardate North Island - January 20-23

Where: Tukituki Valley, near Havelock North. When: 20-23 January 2012

StarDate is an annual event held during the month of January with as much hands on observing as the weather allows. For anyone with an interest in astronomy, StarDate provides opportunities to look through a range of telescopes, listen to a wide range of astronomy related talks and meet a variety of astronomers. Camping, bunks or tent sites available and are included in the registration fee. Individual registrations start from $60 and families from $160. The programme commences at 7pm on Friday 20 January and ends on Sunday night. For registration got to http://www.astronomynz.org.nz/stardate/stardate-2.html or contact Kay Leather at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; phone 06 377 1600 (Stonehenge Aotearoa).

8. SKANZ 2012 Conference - February 14-16

The primary aim of this SKANZ 2012 conference is to foster interaction and collaboration between Australian and New Zealand scientists and engineers, thereby helping to realise the exciting potential of the SKA. It builds on the successful SKANZ 2010 meeting and will again be hosted by the AUT University. The meeting will include sessions on SKA science, SKA precursors, wide-field science, computing for ASKAP and the SKA and transient and high-resolution science.

Where: AUT University. When: 14-16 February 2012 For details and registration see www.aut.ac.nz/skanz2012

-- Dick Manchester, CSIRO (Chair, Science Organising Committee) Sergei Gulyaev, AUT (Chair, Local Organising Committee)

9. Stardate South Island - February 17-19

Euan Mason writes: Stardate SI will be held from February 17th to 19th 2012 at Staveley, Canterbury. This celebration of the cosmos will feature our very own John Drummond as a special guest. The venue and programme are family friendly, and there is plenty of accommodation. The cost is only $12.50/person/ night, which is an absolute bargain for such a fabulous star party. For information and to register on-line, see http://www.treesandstars.com/stardate/

10. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9

The 25th National Australian Convention of Amateur Astronomers (NACAA) meets in Brisbane over Easter, April 6-9. The meeting at the University of Queensland campus is hosted by the Astronomical Association of Queensland and supported by other astronomy clubs in South East Queensland.

The sixth Trans-Tasman Symposium on Occultations and the inaugural Variable Stars South Symposium will be held as part of the NACAA programme. Those interested in attending please fill in the form at http://www.nacaa.org.au/2012/interested.

---------- For more information see http://www.nacaa.org.au Email enquiries to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or write to P.O. Box 188, Plumpton, NSW 2761.

11. Third International Starlight Conference

The Starlight Conference is at Lake Tekapo, 11-13 June 2012. From 1 December the website will be able to accept on-line registrations and on- line requests to give an oral or poster paper. Visit www.starlight2012.org for full details.

It will be a multidisciplinary conference on the scientific and cultural benefits of observing dark starlit skies. The meeting will be of interest to RASNZ members and to many other interest groups in education, tourism, environmental protection and to those interested in the cultural and ethnic aspects of astronomy. As participation will be limited, early registration is encouraged.

The Starlight Conference is jointly hosted by the University of Canterbury and by RASNZ, and is being sponsored by the University of Canterbury, by RASNZ, by the Royal Society of NZ, by Endeavour Capital Ltd and by the NZ National Commission to UNESCO.

-- Abridged from an earlier published note by John Hearnshaw.

12. RASNZ Conference 2012

Those who are members of RASNZ will have by now received the brochure and registration form with their December issue of Southern Stars.

The registration form is also available on the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz) - just click on RASNZ Conference 2012. Or it can also be accessed via RASNZ Wiki. As can the publicity brochure

At this time we are issuing an initial call for papers and poster-papers. Even if you are just thinking of presenting a paper please submit the form, and we can follow up with you at a later date.

On the Friday of Conference there will be an Astronomy Outreach Workshop. This is being co-ordinated by Ron Fisher, and again details are available on the RASNZ Webpage, via Conference.

The venue for the Conference is the Carterton Events Centre, which only opened in October of this year. This was a change made on the recommendation of The Phoenix Astronomical Society, who are hosting Conference. It certainly appears to meet our requirements. Carterton is one of the smaller centres we will have held a Conference in. But there are many, and various, accommodation options available in Carterton itself and nearby surrounding areas. Some of these are listed on the publicity brochure.

The nearest airport is Masterton, but only receives one air service a day, from Auckland. We envisage many people might fly into Wellington, and get the train through to Carterton. The timetable has been printed on the publicity brochure.

Our guest speaker is Associate Professor Wayne Orchiston. Wayne of course is a past Executive Director of Carter Observatory, and is currently Associate Professor in the Centre for Astronomy at James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland. Details of his talks are on the RASNZ Webpage. We also hope to announce a further guest speaker shortly.

The Fellow Lecture for 2012 will be delivered by Dr Edwin Budding. Ed is currently a Research Fellow at Victoria University, and also at the Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Canterbury. Ed of course also used to work at Carter Observatory.

Further updates re Conference will appear in NZAstronomers from time to time. And updates will of course be made regularly on the RASNZ Webpage, and in the RASNZ e-newsletter.

Please start planning now, and we look forward to seeing everyone in Carterton in June. Any questions, ideas, suggestions etc - please direct to: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

-- Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

13. Vesta in Colour

Vesta appears in a splendid rainbow-coloured palette in new images obtained by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. The colours, assigned by scientists to show different rock or mineral types, reveal Vesta to be a world of many varied, well-separated layers and ingredients. Vesta is unique among asteroids visited by spacecraft to date in having such wide variation, supporting the notion that it is transitional between the terrestrial planets -- like Earth, Mercury, Mars and Venus -- and its asteroid siblings.

In images from Dawn's framing camera, the colours reveal differences in the rock composition associated with material ejected by impacts and geologic processes, such as slumping, that have modified the asteroid¹s surface.

Images from the visible and infrared mapping spectrometer reveal that the surface materials contain the iron-bearing mineral pyroxene and are a mixture of rapidly cooled surface rocks and a deeper layer that cooled more slowly. The relative amounts of the different materials mimic the topographic variations derived from stereo camera images, indicating a layered structure that has been excavated by impacts. The rugged surface of Vesta is prone to slumping of debris on steep slopes.

Vesta's iron core makes it special and more like terrestrial planets than a garden-variety asteroid. Its distinct compositional variation and layering appear to derive from internal melting of the body shortly after formation, which separated Vesta into crust, mantle and core.

-- from a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

Glide over the giant asteroid Vesta with NASA's Dawn spacecraft in a new 3-D video on line at: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/video/index.cfm?id=1041 Best viewed with red-blue glasses, the video incorporates images from Dawn's framing camera from July to August 2011. It was created by Dawn team member Ralf Jaumann of the German Aerospace Centre (DLR).

14. Some Interesting Photos

Maurice Collins has created a new map of the Moon using the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter nearside mosaic and the shaded relief maps, adding labels by hand of the craters, all done using Photoshop. It was featured as Lunar Photo of the Day for 4 December. Maurice has put it up on the Moon-Wiki at http://lpod.wikispaces.com/December+4%2C+2011

Maurice gives a direct link to the full-sized map, 5350 x 5350 pix and 4.55 MB´s in size, at: http://the-moon.wikispaces.com/Maurice+Collins%27+Nearside+Moon+Map

Amazing photos by Alan Friedman from "a downtown Buffalo backyard" at http://www.avertedimagination.com/main1.htm

Five gigapixel image of the entire night sky stitched together from 37,440 exposures: http://skysurvey.org/

-- Thanks to Karen Pollard who passed the latter two along from Larry Marschall.

15. Do We Really Need the James Webb Space Telescope?

Two views in The Economist.

Against: Throwing money into space

THE Hubble space telescope, an orbiting observatory launched in 1990 by NASA, America´s space agency, has been one of that agency´s most successful missions since the Apollo moon shots in the 1960s and 1970s. It has produced a string of scientific achievements: confirming that most galaxies have a black hole in the middle; providing a front-row seat for the collision, in 1994, of a comet with the planet Jupiter; and helping to uncover the strange fact that the expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating. But beyond the science, it has also been a public-relations hit. Its beautiful images have introduced a generation to the wonders of astronomy.

So in 2002, when the agency considered plans for a successor that would study the universe in infra-red, rather than visible light, would be ready to fly in 2010 and would cost just $2.5 billion, saying "yes" was easy. Nine years later, NASA is regretting that decision. The James Webb space telescope (JWST), as the new machine is called, is still in the workshop, and its launch date has been set back repeatedly (2018 is the latest official estimate). Its cost has gone up to $8.8 billion, a figure that, if history is any guide, could rise still further. Which would be embarrassing at the best of times, but with public-spending cuts looming and NASA´s budget flat for the foreseeable future, it is causing real strains.

In July, irritated by the JWST´s rising costs, the House of Representatives tried to cut $1.9 billion from NASA´s budget for next year, in an attempt to have the project cancelled. On November 1st, after lobbying from the telescope´s defenders (particularly the American Astronomical Society), the Senate passed a bill that restored the telescope´s funding.

But it is not just politicians that are restive. Astronomers have long worried that the ballooning costs of the telescope would affect NASA´s other science projects. Officially, the space agency will say only that other missions will be delayed, but there are fears that some could be cut completely. One potential sacrifice is WFIRST, an infra-red space telescope intended for launch in 2020. This is designed to probe the nature of "dark energy", which is thought to be responsible for the quickening expansion of the universe that Hubble helped bring to the world´s attention. A string of other, smaller projects could suffer as well.

The telescope´s advocates say junking it now would be a false economy. Most of the hardware has already been built, so cancelling it, they argue, would mean throwing all that away. And they play on fears that America is in danger of losing its pre-eminence in high-budget "big science", following the closure earlier this year of the Illinois-based Tevatron, the second-most-powerful particle accelerator in the world.

The JWST, if it does eventually fly, would surely do some spectacular science. The size of its mirror-25 square metres, as against Hubble´s 4.5- and the location of its orbit far from the reflected light of Earth will allow it to study some of the earliest (and therefore faintest) events in the universe, including the formation of the first galaxies. It will also help with the search for extrasolar planets.

Hubble, of course, was also late - and around $2 billion over budget. It was lampooned after its launch when a wonky mirror meant that its images were blurred almost to the point of uselessness, and a mission by the Space Shuttle to fix the problem cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Given its subsequent record, few now begrudge the cost. With all that in mind, NASA will press on with the JWST, at least for now. All that remains for America´s astronomers to do is pray that their favourite mission is not one of those delayed, or even cancelled, to keep the new telescope on track.

-- Published 12 November, p.88. The article is at http://www.economist.com/node/21538079

++++++++

For: Observing Space

Letter in reply from Garth Illingworth, University of California, Santa Cruz; former member of the JWST Independent Comprehensive Review Panel.

SIR - Why did you use the headline "Throwing money into space" (November 12th) for your article on NASA´s new James Webb space telescope (JWST)? The JWST will be an even more powerful successor to the game-changing Hubble telescope, and, as you noted, "few now begrudge the cost" of Hubble. Furthermore, NASA is not "regretting" its decision to build a successor to Hubble. The NASA administrator has made it clear in public statements that launching the JWST is one of the agency´s three priorities.

Nor are the majority of astronomers falling on their swords. Nobody is happy to see rising costs and slipping schedules in big missions, but the implication that the JWST is crowding out other, more important missions, and is going ahead against the wishes of the astronomy community, is just wrong. The JWST was the top-ranked project in the 2000 astronomy Decadal Survey, and a cornerstone of the 2010 astronomy Decadal.

Finally, scientists are not playing "on the fears" of loss of leadership in big science. The fears are real. Not going ahead with the JWST would represent a further dramatic withdrawal from American leadership of world- leading science programmes, such as Hubble. There is no replacement, at least until China decides to demonstrate its superiority in space science.

-- published December 3, p.21. Available at http://www.economist.com/node/21540982

--------- For spirited support of the JWST see the essay by Heidi B. Hammel in 'Sky & Telescope', December 2011, p. 86.

16. Two Types of Neutron Stars?

Astronomers at the universities of Southampton and Oxford have found evidence that neutron stars, which are produced when massive stars explode as supernovae, actually come in two distinct varieties. Their finding also suggests that each variety is produced by a different kind of supernova event.

Neutron stars are the last stage in the evolution of many massive stars. They represent the most extreme form of matter: the mass of a single neutron star exceeds that of the entire Sun, but squeezed into a ball whose diameter is smaller than that of London.

In a paper published in Nature, Professors Christian Knigge and Malcolm Coe from the University of Southampton worked with Philipp Podsiadlowski of Oxford University to reveal how they have discovered two distinct populations of neutron stars that appear to have formed via two different supernova channels.

"Theoreticians have speculated before about the possible existence of different types of neutron stars, but there has never been any clear observational evidence that there is really more than one type," said Professor Coe.

The astronomers analyzed data on a large sample of high-mass X-ray binaries, which are double star systems in which a fast-spinning neutron star orbits a massive young companion. The neutron star in these systems also periodically siphons off material from its partner. During such phases, the neutron star becomes an X-ray pulsar: its brightness increases tremendously, but the resulting X-ray radiation is pulsed on the neutron star spin period. Such systems are very useful, because by timing their pulses, astronomers can accurately measure the neutron star spin periods.

The astronomers detected two distinct groupings in a large set of spin periods measured in this way, with one group of neutron stars typically spinning once every 10 seconds, and the other once every 5 minutes. This finding has led them to conclude that the two distinct neutron star populations formed via two different supernova channels.

"These findings take us back to the most fundamental processes of stellar evolution and lead us to question how supernovae actually work," Professor Knigge said. "This opens up numerous new research areas, both on the observational and theoretical fronts."

-- A University of Southampton press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

17. New Map of the Milky Way's Magnetism

Scientists at Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPA) have made significant progress toward measuring the magnetic field structure of the Milky Way in unprecedented detail. The map shows Faraday depth, which among other things, depends strongly on the magnetic fields along a particular line of sight. To produce the map, data was combined from more than 41,000 individual measurements using a novel image reconstruction technique. The work was a collaboration between scientists at the MPA, who are specialists in the new discipline of information field theory, and a large international team of radio astronomers. The new map not only reveals the structure of the galactic magnetic field on large scales, but also small-scale features that provide information about turbulence in the galactic gas.

All galaxies are permeated by magnetic fields. Despite intensive research, the origin of galactic magnetic fields is still unknown. One assumes, however, that they are built up by dynamo processes in which mechanical energy is converted into magnetic energy. Similar processes occur in the interior of the earth, the Sun, and -- in the broadest sense -- in the gadgets that power bicycle lights through peddling. By revealing the magnetic field structure throughout the Milky Way, the new map provides important insights into the machinery of galactic dynamos.

One way to measure cosmic magnetic fields makes use of an effect known as Faraday rotation. When polarized light passes through a magnetized medium, the plane of polarization rotates. The amount of rotation depends on, among other things, the strength and direction of the magnetic field. Therefore, observing such rotation allows one to investigate the properties of the intervening magnetic fields.

To measure the magnetic field of our own galaxy, radio astronomers observe the polarized 'light' from distant radio sources. Light -- more accurately radio noise -- from each source passes through a different part of the Milky Way on its way to the Earth. The amount of rotation due to the Faraday effect can be deduced by measuring the polarization of the source at several frequencies.

To get a complete picture of the magnetic fields in the Milky Way from Faraday rotation measurements, one must observe many sources distributed across the entire sky. A large international collaboration of radio astronomers have provided data from 26 different projects to give a total of 41,330 individual measurements. On average, the complete catalogue contains approximately one radio source per square degree of sky.

To weed out dud data the MPA group then applied a new algorithm for image reconstruction called the 'extended critical filter'. It was derived from a new discipline known as information field theory.

The result reveals not only the conspicuous horizontal band of the gas disk of the Milky Way, but also that the magnetic field directions seem to be opposite above and below the disk. An analogous change of direction also takes place between the left and right sides of the image, from one side of the centre of the Milky Way to the other.

A particular scenario in galactic dynamo theory predicts such symmetrical structures, which is supported by the newly created map. In this scenario, the magnetic fields are predominantly aligned parallel to the plane of the galactic disk in a circular or spiral configuration. The direction of the spiral is opposite above and below the galactic disk. The observed symmetries in the Faraday map stem from our position within the galactic disk.

In addition to these large-scale structures, several smaller structures are apparent as well. These are associated with turbulent eddies and lumps in the highly dynamic gas of the Milky Way. The new map making algorithm provides, as a by-product, a characterization of the size distribution of these turbulent structures, the so-called power spectrum. Larger structures are more pronounced than smaller, as is typical for turbulent systems. This spectrum can be directly compared with computer simulations of the turbulent gas and magnetic field dynamics in our galaxy, thus allowing for detailed tests of galactic dynamo models.

The new map is not only interesting for the study of our galaxy. Future studies of extragalactic magnetic fields will draw on this map to account for contamination from the Galactic contribution. The next generation of radio telescopes, such as LOFAR, eVLA, ASKAP, Meerkat and the SKA, are expected in the coming years and decades, and with them will come a wealth of new measurements of the Faraday effect. New data will prompt updates to the image of the Faraday sky. Perhaps this map will show the way to the hidden origin of galactic magnetic fields.

For text & images see http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de/mpa/institute/news _archives/news1112_fara/news1112_fara-en.html

-- From a Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics press release forwarded by Karen Pollard

18. Optics for Sale

Nelson Holmes advertises the following items for sale: 1. Leica zoom eyepiece 7mm-22mm with 1.25 barrel adapter; $350. 2. 7x50 binoculars, Apogee, with built-in sky filters for nebular etc; activates with a switch; also has a set of land, sea filters. $125. 3. 7x50 Japan Super Zenith 8-14 x 50mm binoculars with leather case; $100. 4. 80mm spotting scope, Sportsmaster, 20-80x with tall tripod; $295. 5. Brand new 80mm High Plains Vanguard spotting scope, 20-60x, in hardfoam lined case. Fully waterproof. 5 year warranty. Sell $386. 6. Brand new 20x80mm Konus binoculars, 2year warranty; $240. 7. Telescope Meade 60mm x 700mm, with range of eyepieces; tripod; $125. 8. Televue Everbright 2-inch diagonal with 1.25 adapter; $325.

-- Nelson Holmes <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>; ph. 09 2352010; 027 2912684.

19. How to Join the RASNZ

A membership application form and details can be found on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/InfoForm/membform.htm. 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. 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

21. 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. R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

All good wishes to our readers for the festive season and 2012.

The next Newsletter will be published about January 20.

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