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 http://www.rasnz.org.nz/ in their own newsletters provided an acknowledgement of the source is also included.

Contents

1. Sun Viewers for Venus Transit
2. The Solar System in April
3. RASNZ Annual General Meeting
4. NACAA 2012 - April 6-9
5. Third International Starlight Conference
6. RASNZ Conference June 15-17
7. 'Nomad Planets' Common?
8. The Helix Nebula in New Colours
9. ESO's 50th Anniversary
10. Globular Clusters: Survivors of an Ancient Massacre
11. IBEX Probes Interstellar Clouds
12. Superstring Theory Gives 3-D Universe
13. How to Join the RASNZ
14. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
15. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
16. Quotes

1. Sun Viewers for Venus Transit

Solar viewers suitable for observing the transit of Venus now available.

The RASNZ has sourced a supply of viewers that will be ideal for viewing the transit of Venus that will take place, and be visible from New Zealand weather permitting, on 6 June 2012.

These viewers have been safety tested by one of the world's leading authorities on solar viewing devices and provide full eye protection when observing the Sun directly. Note that the viewer should not be used in conjunction with any optical device such as telescope, binoculars, camera etc.

During the transit, Venus is of sufficient apparent diameter to be able to be seen by eye through the filter. Later in the year an eclipse of the Sun will occur and the viewer will also provide a safe and easy way to observe this event, too. Each viewer is supplied with an information sheet about these two events.

Order your Solar Viewers by going to: http://www.rasnz..org.nz/Sales/SolarViewers.html

-- Glen Rowe, President RASNZ. ----------------------------------

Jennie McCormick adds:

These handy viewers have been safety tested for RASNZ by Associate Professor Ralph Chou (School of Optometry, University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada) for use during the Transit of Venus on the 6th of June and the Partial Eclipse on November 14th this year.

Your astronomical society or group may like to place an order to sell the viewers to the local community - a perfect way to fundraise, to promote your group, or to use during your own organised events.

There is nothing like exciting astronomical 'goings on' to stir the public's imagination and to get everyone along to check out what your group gets up to.

To order online see http://www.rasnz.org.nz/Sales/SolarViewers.html

Orders for 1 to 9 viewers $2.50 each Orders for 10 to 99 viewers $2.00 each Orders for 100 or more viewers $1.50 each All prices include postage and packing.

As these events will take place during the working week, family, friends, workmates and local schools might like to order a few, so please pass on the information.

2. The Solar System in April

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for April 2012 are on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Apr_12.htm. Notes for May 2012 will be on line in a few days.

NZDT reverts to NZST on the morning of April 1.

The planets in april

Jupiter, Venus, Mars and Saturn are all visible in the evening sky during April. Jupiter and Venus will be low to the northwest at sunset and set less than 2 hours later. Mars remains easily visible all evening, while Saturn is at opposition mid month and best seen late evening.

Mercury is at its best morning sky apparition of the year during April. It will be higher and brighter in the second half of the month, easily visible some 15° up an hour before sunrise.

Planets in the evening sky

Venus will continue to set over 90 minutes after the Sun during April - up to 2 hours after in the north of NZ. 15 minutes after sunset will find Venus to the northwest about 12° above the horizon. During the month the planet will move a few degrees round to the north and become a degree lower, again 15 minutes after sunset.

Early in April, Venus will pass the southern edge of the Pleiades. It will be closest to the cluster on the 3rd and 4th of the month. On the 3rd Venus will be 24´ from Meriope, magnitude 4.2 with the brightest star Alcyone, mag 2.8, 40´ from the planet, beyond Meriope. By the next evening Venus will have moved past Alcyone to be 32´ from the star. It will also be 13´ above Atlas, mag 3.6, the second brightest star in the Pleiades. Due to twilight binoculars will be needed to see the Pleiades.

During the rest of April Venus crosses Taurus, passing 10° below Aldebaran on the 14th and ending the month 3°left of El Nath, beta Tau magnitude 1.7. The crescent moon, 13% lit will be 5° above Venus on the 25th.

Jupiter sets earlier than Venus. At the beginning of April Jupiter will be 15° to the left of Venus and 7 or 8° above the horizon half an hour after sunset and set about 50 minutes later.

During the rest of April, Jupiter gets lower in the evening sky and so steadily becoming more difficult to see. By the end of the month it will probably be lost in the twilight, setting about 30 minutes after the Sun.

Mars is well past opposition in April and so will get a little fainter and smaller as the distance between it and the Earth increases. Even so it will remain a bright object in the northern part of the sky all evening, at its highest just after 10 pm (NZST) on April 1 and soon after 8 pm on the 30th. Its magnitude drops from -0.7 to 0.0 during the month.

Mars is in Leo, moving to the west towards Regulus early in the month. The star and planet will be closest, just over 4° apart, on April 15 when Mars is stationary. For the remainder of April, Mars will be moving to the east and so away from Regulus.

The moon, a little short of full, will pass Regulus and Mars on the nights of April 3 and 4. Regulus will be between the moon and Mars on the 3rd. The following night the moon will be to the upper right of Mars. On both evenings the separation of the moon and Mars will be about 10°. On the last day of April the moon, this time 60% lit, will again be in the vicinity, 10° to the left of Regulus. The three will form a nice triangle the following evening.

Saturn is at opposition mid April, so will be highest and due north at local midnight. At opposition Saturn will be 1304 million km from the Earth, 8.72 AU. By the end of April Saturn will rise just over half an hour before sunset, so will be readily visible to the northeast by the time the sky darkens. The planet is in Virgo about 5° below Spica. Saturn will be almost a magnitude brighter than the star.

During April Saturn´s north pole is tilted just under 14° towards the Earth. This will result in the rings being reasonably well exposed to view through a small telescope. The brightest satellite, Titan magnitude 8.4, is also visible through a small telescope. It will be at its greatest distance east of the planet at the beginning, mid and end of April, some 3´ from Saturn. On the 7th and 23rd Titan will be a similar distance to the west of Titan.

Our own moon, almost full, will be closest to Spica and Saturn on the 7th. At 10 pm the moon will be 3° to the right of Spica and just over 5° above Saturn.

Morning sky

Mercury is visible in the morning sky during April. It will be highest during the second part of the month when it will also be brighter. On the 1st it will rise about 80 minutes before the Sun, by the 8th about 2 hours before the Sun and at its greatest on April 20 close to 2.5 hours earlier. Mercury also brightens from magnitude 2 to 0 during the month. At its best near the 20th of April, and an hour before sunrise, Mercury will be about 15° up, in a direction 15° north of east. At magnitude 0.0 it will be the brightest star like object towards the east.

Mercury is at greatest elongation, 27° west of the Sun on April 19. It easterly movement through the stars will take it past Uranus. When closest on April 23, Uranus will be 2° to the left of Mercury. At magnitude 5.9, Uranus will be visible in binoculars. There will be a 5.7 star just over half a degree below and slightly right of Uranus.


Uranus becomes visible in the morning sky in the second part of April following its March conjunction with the Sun. See above for its conjunction with Mercury.

Neptune will be well up in the morning sky, 25 to 30° above Mercury. The planet is in Aquarius at magnitude 7.9.

Brighter asteroids:

(4) Vesta is in conjunction with the Sun on April 9, as is (1) Ceres on April 26. So the two brightest asteroids will be too close to the Sun to observe. By the end of April they will be moving into the morning sky.

No other asteroids are within reach of binoculars during April.

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

-- Brian Loader

3. RASNZ Annual General Meeting

The 2012 Annual General Meeting of RASNZ will be held during conference as usual. However the Annual Conference will be held 15 - 17 June 2012 in Carterton. This is to place the conference after the transit of Venus and the 3rd Annual International Starlight Conference which is being held in Tekapo from 11 to 13 June. Normally the AGM should be held before the end of May but Rule 64 of the RASNZ Rules allows for Council to delay the AGM for special circumstances.

Any notices of motion need to reach the RASNZ Secretary at least six weeks before the AGM, so would need to be received by 5 May 2012. A formal notice of the AGM will be sent out in the next newsletter with details of location and time.

Rory O'Keeffe, Executive Secretary RASNZ.

4. 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.

Register for NACAA 2012 at http://www.nacaa.org.au/2012/register 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.

5. Third International Starlight Conference

The Starlight Conference is at Lake Tekapo, 11-13 June 2012. The website is accepting 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 a note by John Hearnshaw.

6. RASNZ Conference June 15-17

From Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee:

Well as I write this it is just under 3 months to Conference - and that time will fly by very quickly. Conference registrations are starting to come in now, and we encourage you to register early. Registration forms are available on the RASNZ Webpage (www.rasnz.org.nz) Likewise for those wanting to present papers/poster papers - please lodge your intentions via the paper/poster-paper form on the RASNZ Webpage. The deadline to get the early registration discount is still some weeks away, but by registering now you will make sure you don't miss out.

As with the 2010 and 2011 Conference there is no on-site accommodation. But although Carterton is a town rather than a city there are plenty of accommodation options in the town itself, or very nearby. The Standing Conference Committee has grabbed a motel within the camping ground. There are more motels and nice cabins there, and there are motels, and hotel accommodation, in the town. Plus several B & B's, backpackers and the like. The Carterton Events Centre is a nice venue, with tiered seating so everyone can easily see the screens.

On the registration form there is the train timetable for those who need public transport from Wellington to Carterton. The train station is all of 5-10 minutes walk from the Carterton Events Centre, and from some of the accommodations options.

As Orlon Petterson and Warwick Kissling put together the papers timetable information will be put on the RASNZ Webpage. But the feature papers will be those from Ed Budding (Fellows lecture), and from our guests Wayne Orchiston and Clive Ruggles. Clive will also give a public lecture late on the Sunday afternoon. All details will be on the RASNZ Webpage as they become available.

Conference takes place a little over a week following the Transit of Venus. We are anticipating several people will want to discuss the transit, present observations, findings etc. If enough interest is indicated that we should set aside time for this within the programme then we can do so. But, please tell us...

Carterton is a lovely town within the Wairarapa region. It is blessed with a nice, temperate climate, good shopping, some nice cafes, high quality wineries nearby, and also nearby is Stonehenge Aotearoa. A visit to the latter will be an option for those wishing to take it.

Again, our thanks to The Phoenix Astronomical Society for hosting the 2012 Conference. They are putting in plenty of work, so let's show our appreciation by turning up in substantial numbers.

We are also advancing with plans for the RASNZ Conferences in 2013 in Invercargill, and 2014 in Whakatane. In a few months we will call for a host for the 2015 Conference. If your Society is thinking of hosting sometime please look out for the invitation to host in July/August. And if you have any questions in advance please ask us - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - in fact use that address for any questions, queries etc.

See you at Conference.

7. 'Nomad Planets' Common?

Our galaxy may be awash in homeless planets, wandering through space instead of orbiting a star. In fact, there may be 100,000 times more 'nomad planets' in the Milky Way than stars, according to a new study by researchers at the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology (KIPAC), a joint institute of Stanford University and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

If observations confirm the estimate, this new class of celestial objects will affect current theories of planet formation and could change our understanding of the origin and abundance of life.

"If any of these nomad planets are big enough to have a thick atmosphere, they could have trapped enough heat for bacterial life to exist," said Louis Strigari, leader of the team that reported the result in a paper submitted to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. Although nomad planets don't bask in the warmth of a star, they may generate heat through internal radioactive decay and tectonic activity.

Searches over the past two decades have identified more than 500 planets outside our solar system, almost all of which orbit stars. Last year, researchers detected about a dozen nomad planets, using a technique called gravitational microlensing, which looks for stars whose light is momentarily refocused by the gravity of passing planets.

The research produced evidence that roughly two nomads exist for every typical, so-called main-sequence star in our galaxy. The new study estimates that nomads may be up to 50,000 times more common than that.

To arrive at what Strigari himself called 'an astronomical number', the KIPAC team took into account the known gravitational pull of the Milky Way galaxy, the amount of matter available to make such objects and how that matter might divvy itself up into objects ranging from the size of Pluto to larger than Jupiter. Not an easy task, considering no one is quite sure how these bodies form. According to Strigari, some were probably ejected from solar systems, but research indicates that not all of them could have formed in that fashion.

A good count, especially of the smaller objects, will have to wait for the next generation of big survey telescopes, especially the space-based Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope and the ground-based Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, both set to begin operation in the early 2020s.

For more see: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2012/february/slac-nomad-planets-022312.html

-- from a Stanford University, Palo Alto, press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

8. The Helix Nebula in New Colours

The European Southern Observatory's (ESO's) VISTA telescope, at the Paranal Observatory in Chile, has captured a striking new image of the Helix Nebula. This picture, taken in infrared light, reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are invisible in images taken in visible light, as well as bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies.

The Helix Nebula is one of the closest and most remarkable examples of a planetary nebula. It lies in the constellation of Aquarius (The Water Bearer), about 700 light-years away from Earth. This strange object formed when a star like the Sun was in the final stages of its life. Unable to hold onto its outer layers, the star slowly shed shells of gas that became the nebula, before becoming a white dwarf, the tiny blue dot seen at the centre of the image.

The nebula itself is a complex object composed of dust, ionized material as well as molecular gas, arrayed in a beautiful and intricate flower-like pattern and glowing in the fierce glare of ultraviolet light from the central white dwarf star.

The main ring of the Helix is about two light-years across, roughly half the distance between the Sun and the nearest star. However, material from the nebula spreads out from the star to at least four light-years. This is particularly clear in this infrared view since red molecular gas can be seen across much of the image.

While hard to see visually, the glow from the thinly spread gas is easily captured by VISTA's special detectors, which are very sensitive to infrared light. The 4.1-meter telescope is also able to detect an impressive array of background stars and galaxies.

The powerful vision of ESO's VISTA telescope also reveals fine structure in the nebula's rings. The infrared light can penetrate the obscuring dust and the hotter, ionized gas to show how the cooler, molecular gas is organized. The material clumps into filaments that radiate out from the centre and the whole view resembles a celestial firework display.

Even though they look tiny, these strands of molecular hydrogen, known as cometary knots, are about the size of our Solar System. The molecules in them are able to survive the high-energy radiation that emanates from the dying star precisely because they clump into these knots, which in turn are shielded by the dust and ionized gas seen in optical images. It is currently unclear how the cometary knots may have originated.

Planetary nebulae have nothing to do with planets. This confusing name arose because many of them show small bright discs when observed visually. They resemble the outer planets in the Solar System, such as Uranus and Neptune. The Helix Nebula the catalogue number NGC 7293. It is unusual as it appears very large, but also very faint, when viewed through a small telescope. Binoculars show it in dark skies.

For the Helix image see: http://www.eso.org/public/news/eso1205/ For photos of VISTA: http://www.eso.org/public/images/archive/category/surveytelescopes/

-- from an ESO press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

9. ESO's 50th Anniversary

The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the European Southern Observatory (ESO). ESO is the foremost intergovernmental Astronomy organization in Europe and the world's most productive astronomical observatory. It is supported by 15 countries: Austria, Belgium, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

ESO carries out an ambitious program focused on the design, construction and operation of powerful ground-based observing facilities enabling astronomers to make important scientific discoveries.

ESO also plays a leading role in promoting and organizing cooperation in astronomical research. ESO operates three unique world-class observing sites in Chile: La Silla, Paranal and Chajnantor. At Paranal ESO operates the Very Large Telescope, the world's most advanced visible-light astronomical observatory, and two survey telescopes. VISTA works in the infrared and is the world's largest survey telescope. The VLT Survey Telescope is the largest telescope designed to exclusively survey the skies in visible light.

ESO is the European partner of a revolutionary astronomical telescope the Atacama large Millimetre Array (ALMA), the largest astronomical project in existence. ESO is currently planning a 40-meter-class European Extremely Large optical/near-infrared Telescope, the E-ELT, which will become the world's biggest 'eye on the sky'.

-- from an ESO press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

10. Globular Clusters: Survivors of an Ancient Massacre

Our Milky Way galaxy is surrounded by some 200 compact groups of stars, containing up to a million stars each. At 13 billion years of age, these globular clusters are almost as old as the universe itself and were born when the first generations of stars and galaxies formed.

Now a team of astronomers from Germany and the Netherlands have conducted a novel type of computer simulation that looked at how they were born -- and they find that these giant clusters of stars are the only survivors of a 13 billion year-old massacre that destroyed many of their smaller siblings. The new work, led by Dr. Diederik Kruijssen of the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, Germany, appears in a paper in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Globular star clusters have a remarkable characteristic: the typical number of stars they contain appears to be about the same throughout the Universe. This is in contrast to much younger stellar clusters, which can contain almost any number of stars, from fewer than 100 to many thousands. The team of scientists proposes that this difference can be explained by the conditions under which globular clusters formed early on in the evolution of their host galaxies.

The researchers ran simulations of isolated and colliding galaxies, in which they included a model for the formation and destruction of stellar clusters. When galaxies collide, they often generate spectacular bursts of star formation (³starbursts²) and a wealth of bright, young stellar clusters of many different sizes. As a result it was always thought that the total number of star clusters increases during starbursts. But the Dutch-German team found the opposite result in their simulations.

While the very brightest and largest clusters were indeed capable of surviving the galaxy collision due to their own gravitational attraction, the numerous smaller clusters were effectively destroyed by the rapidly changing gravitational forces that typically occur during starbursts due to the movement of gas, dust and stars. The wave of starbursts came to an end after about 2 billion years and the researchers were surprised to see that only clusters with high numbers of stars had survived. These clusters had all the characteristics that should be expected for a young population of globular clusters as they would have looked about 11 billion years ago.

Dr. Kruijssen comments: "It is ironic to see that starbursts may produce many young stellar clusters, but at the same time also destroy the majority of them. This occurs not only in galaxy collisions, but should be expected in any starburst environment. In the early Universe, starbursts were commonplace -- it therefore makes perfect sense that all globular clusters have approximately the same large number of stars. Their smaller brothers and sisters that didn't contain as many stars were doomed to be destroyed."

According to the simulations, most of the star clusters were destroyed shortly after their formation, when the galactic environment was still very hostile to the young clusters. After this episode ended, the surviving globular clusters have lived quietly until the present day.

The researchers have further suggestions to test their ideas. Dr. Kruijssen continues: ³In the nearby Universe, there are several examples of galaxies that have recently undergone large bursts of star formation. It should therefore be possible to see the rapid destruction of small stellar clusters in action. If this is indeed found by new observations, it will confirm our theory for the origin of globular clusters.²

The simulations suggest that most of a globular cluster's traits were established when it formed. The fact that globular clusters are comparable everywhere then indicates that the environments in which they formed were very similar, regardless of the galaxy they currently reside in. In that case, Dr. Kruijssen believes, they can be used as fossils to shed more light on the conditions in which the first stars and galaxies were born.

Preprint: http://arxiv.org/abs/1112.1065 Images & Movies

http://www.mpa-garching.mpg.de/~diederik/1m11clusters.html A movie of two colliding galaxies based on the new simulation, covering 3.3 billion years. The galaxies eventually merge, destroying many of the stellar clusters (visible here as dots) in the process. Credit: D. Kruijssen, MPA

-- from a joint press release by the Max Plank Institute for Astrophysics in Garching and the Royal Astronomical Society in the U.K., forwarded by Karen Pollard

11. IBEX Probes Interstellar Clouds

Space scientists have described the first detailed analyses of captured interstellar neutral atoms -- raw material for the formation of new stars, planets and even human beings. The results were from the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) satellite. It directly sampled material carried from outside our solar system across the galaxy by solar and stellar winds.

IBEX was launched into an elliptical orbit around Earth in 2008. It uses a pair of special cameras to sample neutral atoms reaching Earth's surroundings from the edges of the solar system and its immediate neighbourhood.

Earth is mostly shielded from direct bombardment by interstellar atoms by the solar wind -- the blast of charged gas emanating from the Sun. It creates a protective bubble around us that deflects many charged atoms back into space. Without this bubble, called the heliosphere, more cosmic radiation would reach us. IBEX provides the first global view of the outer boundary of this protective bubble.

IBEX also provides a direct sample of the surrounding neutral gas, which blows as an interstellar wind through the solar system. Interstellar gas is the raw stuff that forms stars and planets. In the beginning there was only hydrogen and helium. These two elements formed the first stars. When those stars collapsed and died, they spewed their material, including new elements created through the process of nuclear fusion, into space. We can tell a lot about the evolution of our universe and perhaps gain insight into other galaxies and planetary systems by analyzing these atoms.

With the capacity to detect and analyze helium, hydrogen, neon, and oxygen, IBEX has been able to provide researchers with more information about our galactic neighbourhood. It has also raised some interesting questions. The IBEX observations suggest that the ratio of neon to oxygen in material emanating from outside our solar system is larger than the ratio from within our solar system and also within the Milky Way as a whole. The ratio difference may suggest that the Sun's present location differs from its birthplace. Either that or that a significant amount of oxygen might be bound up in grains of dust floating in interstellar space.

IBEX has also found that the interstellar wind blows at 23 km per second, about 3 km/s slower than previously thought. Using this, and directional information from IBEX, the researchers have been able to gain a better understanding of where the Solar System currently sits relative to nearby interstellar clouds in our galactic neighbourhood.

The nearby interstellar clouds are moving at substantial speeds. Curiously, the previously known interstellar wind speed did not match the speeds of any of the closest clouds. However, the new IBEX observations place the solar system near the edge of what is called the Local Interstellar Cloud. The solar system will leave this cloud within the next few thousand years -- just the blink of an eye on astronomical time scales. When this occurs, the heliosphere, the protective bubble surrounding us, may expand significantly since it will be less constrained by the much thinner interstellar gas outside the cloud. On its journey roughly in the direction of the centre of the Milky Way, our solar system will meander toward and into the next cloud over. It is called the G cloud as it is toward the galactic centre.

Just three and a half years into the IBEX mission, at a time when the two Voyager spacecraft are due to exit the heliosphere within the next decade, who knows what other surprises researchers will uncover about our solar system and its immediate neighbourhood?

Text & Image: http://www.lanl.gov/news/releases/ibex_probe_glimpses_interstellar_neighborhood.html

-- from a Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico, press release forwarded by Karen Pollard.

12. Superstring Theory Gives 3-D Universe

According to Big Bang cosmology, the universe originated in an explosion from an invisibly tiny point. This theory is strongly supported by observation of the cosmic microwave background and the relative abundance of elements. However, a situation in which the whole universe is a tiny point exceeds the reach of Einstein's general theory of relativity, and for that reason it has not been possible to clarify how the universe actually originated.

In superstring theory, which is considered to be the 'Theory of Everything', all the elementary particles are represented as various oscillation modes of very tiny strings.

Among those oscillation modes, there is one that corresponds to a particle that mediates gravity, and thus the general theory of relativity can be naturally extended to the scale of elementary particles. Therefore, it is expected that superstring theory allows the investigation of the birth of the universe. However, actual calculation has been intractable because the interaction between strings is strong, so all investigation thus far has been restricted to discussing various models or scenarios.

Superstring theory predicts a space with nine dimensions. This poses the big puzzle of how this can be consistent with the 3-dimensional space that we live in.

Three Japanese researchers have succeeded in simulating the birth of the universe, using a supercomputer for calculations based on superstring theory. They showed that the universe had nine spatial dimensions at the beginning, but only three of these underwent expansion at some point in time.

In this study, the team established a method for calculating large matrices which represent the interactions of strings, and calculated how the 9-dimensional space changes with time. If one goes far enough back in time, space is indeed extended in nine directions, but then at some point only three of those directions start to expand rapidly. This result demonstrates, for the first time, that the 3-dimensional space we live in does emerges from the 9-dimensional space that superstring theory predicts.

It is almost 40 years since superstring theory was proposed as the theory of everything, extending the general theory of relativity to the scale of elementary particles. However, its validity and its usefulness remained unclear due to the difficulty of performing actual calculations. The newly-obtained solution to the space-time dimensionality puzzle strongly supports the validity of the theory.

Furthermore, the establishment of a new method to analyze superstring theory using computers opens up the possibility of applying this theory to various problems. For instance, it should now be possible to provide a theoretical understanding of the inflation that is believed to have taken place in the early universe, and also the accelerating expansion of the universe, whose discovery earned the Nobel Prize in Physics last year. It is expected that superstring theory will develop further and play an important role in solving such puzzles in particle physics as the existence of the dark matter that is suggested by cosmological observations, and the Higgs particle, which is expected to be discovered by Large Hadron Collider experiments.

Preprint of Physical Review Letters paper: http://arxiv.org/abs/1108.1540

-- from a joint press release by the Japanese High Energy Accelerator Research Organization, Shizuoka University and Osaka University, forwarded by Karen Pollard.

13. 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..

14. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

The RASNZ administers the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund to assist Affiliated Societies with travel costs of getting a lecturer or instructor to their meetings. Details are in RASNZ By-Laws Section H.

For an application form contact the Executive Secretary This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

15. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

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

For an application form contact the RASNZ Executive Secretary, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. R O'Keeffe, 662 Onewhero-Tuakau Bridge Rd, RD 2, TUAKAU 2697

16. Quotes

"If we have learned one thing from the history of invention and discovery, it is that, in the long run -- and often in the short one -- the most daring prophecies seem laughably conservative." -- Arthur C Clarke.

"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." -- Alan Kay.

"Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18." -- Albert Einstein.

"I have never met a man so ignorant that I couldn't learn something from him." -- Galileo Galilei.

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice, there is." -- Chuck Reid.

"I believe that a scientist looking at non-scientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." -- Richard Feynman.

"My karma ran over your dogma." -- Unknown.

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