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. RASNZ 2009 Conference
2. The Solar System in April
3. Waharau Events in March and September
4. The Herbert Star-party in September
5. Boötes-3: A New Robotic Telescope in New Zealand
6. IYA2009 Opening Ceremonies at UNESCO, Paris
7. Order Your Galileoscopes Now
8. Biographies, please
9. Variable Stars South Newsletter Available
10. The Lonely Planet Guide
11. 2-inch thick Pyrex Scarce
12. Postgraduate Scholarships in Astronomy & Radio Astronomy
13. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund
14. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund
15. How to Join the RASNZ
16. Here and There

1. RASNZ 2009 Conference

It's hard to believe Conference is barely two months away. We have an excellent line up of speakers for Conference, and you can see the full list of speakers and abstracts on the RASNZ Webpage. We have been fortunate to secure two guest speakers this year. We have Professor Fulvio Melia from the University of Arizona - and he will speak on "Supermassive Black Holes". His visit is being supported by the Cultural Affairs of the US Embassy. We also have Dr Chris Fluke from the Swinburne Centre from Astrophysics and Computing. He will talk about the process of creating 3-D movies from science to screen. Dr Fluke's visit is being supported by the Australian High Commission.

At this point we still have a few time slots available for those wishing to present papers. But, you need to be in quick - and certainly by the end of March - if you wish to present a paper. The appropriate form can be found on the RASNZ Webpage - please complete and forward.

Opening conference will be Dr Helen Anderson, CEO of MoRST. We look forward to her address.

The After Dinner address will be given by Danny Mulheron, well known in television and acting. We are sure his address will be entertaining and informative.

Conference will also see the 're-launch of the RASNZ Variable Star` Section - to be known as Variable Star South. Director Dr Tom Richards will do the launch as part of the Friday night programme. Preceding that on the Friday will be the colloquium on 'Studying Southern Variables'. And the Monday and Tuesday following Conference see the 3rd Trans-Tasman Occultation Symposium.

Registrations - attendees should complete and forward registration forms as soon as possible - and certainly by the end of April to avoid the late fee - and also to be guaranteed meals. The venue has asked us to confirm numbers for meals by 30 April.

There are still some excellent airfares available, but in order to secure these, attendees should book as soon as possible.

We look forward to seeing everyone at Conference, in the International Year of Astronomy.

Any queries - please email 'This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.'

Dennis Goodman, Chair, RASNZ Standing Conference Committee

More on the Conference from Pauline Loader

This year's RASNZ Conference to be held May 22-24 in Wellington is shaping up to be another great conference.

On the Friday evening after the formal opening of the Conference Dr Tom Richards will be presenting the launch of Variable Stars South, the new look former Variable Stars Section. Tom has been working very hard behind the scenes to put together a great team to help provide observers of all interests and abilities to make a valuable contribution to Astronomy.

Danny Mulheron, Comedian, Actor, Director and Television personality has been booked as the after dinner speaker for Saturday evening. See http://www.nzonscreen.com/person/danny-mulheron.

We also have a great line up of other speakers from both New Zealand and Australia. These include: Dr Helen Anderson, CEO MoRST, Conference Opening Dr Grant Christie on the new GRB telescope in Marlborough. Title to be announced. Bob Evans: "The Next Aurora Season". Dr Chris Fluke: "3-d Astronomy Visualization: From Data to Documentary". David Herald on the results of Minor Planet occultation observations. Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt: "Understanding cluster dynamics with next generation radio telescopes". Dr Warwick Kissling: title to be announced Brian Loader: "Lunar Occultations of Double Stars". Professor Fulvio Melia: "Supermassive Black Holes". Biographical note. Owen Moore: "Building an Amateur Observatory in your Own Home". Graeme Murray: "New Zealand's Starlight Reserve initiative" Yvette Perrot. Title to be announced. Alan Plummer: "The VSS RASNZ legacy and the evolving BV Centauri". Dr Tom Richards: "Introducing Variable Star South". Friday night launch of the renewed VSS. Glen Rowe: "Tides and the Real World". Dr Denis Sullivan: "A physical description of gravitational microlensing events". Dr Phil Yock: "Gravitational Microlensing, and New Zealand's contribution".

Associated with the conference is the "Observing Southern Variables Colloquium" on May 22nd. This will provide participants to present and hear about the variable star work that is being done in the southern hemisphere.

The Trans-Tasman Occultation Symposium to be held May 25-26 will include workshops on the latest observing techniques software and recent results of lunar and minor planet events.

Full details of these events are obtainable on the RASNZ website http://www.rasnz.org.nz/Conference/09Conference.htm which also provides links to registration details.

All registrations are being acknowledged. If you have not yet registered please do so by April 30 to avoid paying the late registration fee.

If you have any queries about the conference, the Variable Star Colloquium or Occultation Symposium please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will make sure your query is directed to the right person.

2. The Solar System in April

The usual notes on the visibility of the Planets for April 2009 have been placed on the RASNZ web site: http://www.rasnz.org.nz/SolarSys/Mar_09.htm. Notes for May 2009 will be in place in a few days.

The planets in april

The evening sky - saturn (and mercury)

Saturn will transit as about 12 midnight (NZDT) on April 1 and about 9pm (NZST) on April 30. So it will be readily visible all evening. By April 30 it will set about 2.30am. The planet is in Leo with the somewhat fainter star Regulus some 15 degrees to its left.

Saturn's rings, and equator, are currently close to edge on as seen from the Earth and Sun. In effect Saturn is approaching an equinox.

The orbits of most of the visible satellites are virtually equatorial so these too are almost edge on. As a result a series of eclipses, occultations, transits and shadow transits of Saturn's satellites are taking place. Eclipses and shadow transits of Titan should be fairly easy to observe through a small telescope.

Titan is eclipsed by Saturn's shadow on April 5, starting at 9.18pm ending at 1.40am. The emergence from eclipse will be the easiest to observe, as it takes place a little further from Saturn than the disappearance into eclipse. Another eclipse takes place on April 21, 8.18pm to 1.12am. Shadow transits take place on April 13 between 7.22 pm and 11.56pm and again on April 29 between 6.23pm and 11.20pm. At present the shadow moves across the northern hemisphere of Saturn, that is below the rings as seen from the southern hemisphere.

Some more details on some of these events can be found on the RASNZ web site.

Mercury following conjunction on March 31 sets after the Sun. At its best only some 40 minutes later towards the end of April, so the planet is virtually unobservable from New Zealand during the current evening apparition.

THE MORNING SKY - Venus, Mars and Uranus; Jupiter and Neptune

Venus will rapidly emerge into the morning sky following its conjunction on March 28. By April 6 it will rise almost an hour before the Sun, so be visible low and to the north of east in the morning twilight.

On April 15 Venus is stationary, so its westerly movement through the stars comes to an end. As it starts moving to the east the rate at which its distance from the Sun increases will slow but continue. As a result it will rise more than 3 hours before the Sun by the end of April.

Mars will rise at close to the same time throughout April (except the clock time will change an hour as NZDT changes to NZST on April 5). The times Mars rises range from about 4.15am (NZST) at Auckland to about 4.35am (NZST) at Invercargill. The effect is that Mars will stay at close to the same altitude at the same time throughout he month.

Mars has a couple of planetary encounters during the month. In mid April it passes URANUS, the two are closest on the morning of April 16 when they are just over half a degree apart, with Uranus to the left of Mars. At magnitude 5.9 Uranus will be an easy binocular object. On the previous morning they will be less than 40 arc minutes apart but are in different constellation: Mars in Aquarius above Uranus in Pisces. By the 15th Mars will have moved into Pisces.

At the same time Venus will be about 7 degrees below the pair. Over the next few mornings Venus and Mars will close up, at the minimum they are just over 4 degrees apart on the mornings of April 24, 25 and 26 and only a little more for a day or two either side of these dates.

To add to the party the planets are joined by the waning crescent Moon on the mornings of April 22, when it will be about 9.5 degrees to the upper left of Venus, and April 23 when it will be just under 4 degrees below Venus.

Jupiter will be in Capricornus and rise shortly before 1 am by the end of April. NEPTUNE is also in Capricornus, the two are 6.5 degrees apart on April 1 reducing to less than 2.5 degrees by April 30 as Jupiter closes in on the outer planet. Neptune will then be below and to the right of Jupiter. Neptune, at magnitude 7.9 should be a binocular object. At the end of April it is also within half a degree of mu Cap, magnitude 5.1.

Like Saturn, Jupiter is at an equinox during 2009. As a result a series of mutual events of the Galilean satellites will occur. These involve either an occultation of one satellite by another or an eclipse as a satellite moves through the shadow of a second. Eclipses are usually only partial, pr oducing only a slight light change, so are not detectable visually. Occultations can be observed, the two satellites will be seen to merge and then separate again after a few minutes.

Only one occultation occurs which is visible from New Zealand during April. On the morning of April 16, Callisto will move in front of Ganymede, with the two centres closest just before 3:03am. The moons first contact at about 2:57am and separate again at about 3:08:30am. They are likely to appear single for a few minutes either side of that.

An occultation on April 6 of Callisto by Io, takes place too close to sunrise to view.

BRIGHTER ASTEROIDS: (1) Ceres is an evening object with a transit at about 11:30pm (NZDT) on April 1 and 8.30pm (NZST) on April 30. It fades from magnitude 7.5 to 8.1 during the month. Ceres is in Leo nearly 15 degrees lower than Saturn.

(2) Pallas starts April in Orion moving into Monoceros on the 18th. It is an evening object, setting about an hour after midnight on April 1 and by 10.45pm on April 30. Its magnitude varies from 8.7 to 8.9.

(4) Vesta spends April in Taurus with a magnitude 8.5. By the time the sky darkens it will only few degrees up throughout the month. At the end of April, Vesta will be about 3.5 degrees directly below Aldebaran and less than half a degree below the 3.5 magnitude star epsilon Tau.

(14) Irene brightens slightly from magnitude 9.2 to 9.0 during April. It rises at about 9.30pm (NZDT) on April 1 and about 6pm on April 30. Irene will be in Virgo some 20 to 16 degrees below Spica (mid to late evening). Throughout April the asteroid (8) Flora will be 4 or 5 degrees above Irene and about a magnitude fainter.

-- Brian Loader

3. Waharau Events in March and September

The first Waharau dark sky weekend, south of Auckland, runs from Friday March 27th to Sunday 29th. Any time after about 4pm on the Friday is fine to arrive. It is still the same cheap price of $15 for one night or $25 for both. It's getting chilly at night now so don't forget those warm hats and do wn jackets. For details contact David Moorhouse at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The next Waharau weekend will be Friday September 18th to Sunday 20th.

4. The Herbert Star-party in September

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

5. Boötes-3: A New Robotic Telescope in New Zealand

The following report was written by John Hearnshaw on March 3rd and first appeared in Canterbury University's Physics & Astronomy Newsletter.

I have just been to the opening ceremony of Boötes-3, which is a fully robotic 60-cm telescope installed by the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Granada, Spain and located in Blenheim, New Zealand. The whole project is under the guidance of Dr Alberto Castro-Tirado and it marks a new level of collaboration between astronomers in Spain and New Zealand. The opening was on 27 February.

The telescope is especially designed for detecting the optical transients of gamma-ray bursters, which are known to be highly energetic explosions of massive stars at the edges of the detectable universe. The gamma-ray bursters themselves are detected by satellites such as SWIFT, and the optical transients can then in principle be found using ground-based telescopes, provided they respond rapidly. The new telescope Boötes-3 is one of the fastest moving telescopes in the world. It can set in a few seconds once it receives the coordinates of a gamma-ray burst. Its slewing speed is as high as 50 degrees per second, so it can go from horizon to horizon through the zenith in just 3 or 4 seconds!

This amazing instrument was made by Astelco in Germany. The telescope mounting is a traditional off-axis equatorial and the optics is an f/8 Cassegrain. But the telescope structure is a light carbon-fibre material, allowing for the very fast accelerations and slew rates. In addition, there are no gears but a direct stepper motor drive, which certainly leads to a very smooth error-free setting capability. Boötes-3 has a 1024 by 1024 pixel CCD camera, so that images of the sky around detected gamma-ray bursters can be recorded within a few seconds of the event´s detection by satellite.

The telescope is located in the heart of the wine-growing region of Marlborough in the South Island of New Zealand. In fact, it has been installed at the Vintage Lane Observatory, which is the private observatory of Bill Allen, a well- known amateur astronomer in this country. Bill provided the land for the new Spanish telescope and will provide occasional maintenance of the new telescope as well as give it the necessary security.

The opening ceremony was a splendid occasion attended by some 30 or 40 people, including many of New Zealand´s astronomers and a team of astronomers from Granada, Spain, which of course included Alberto Castro-Tirado. There were about 8 speeches, including one by His Excellency the Spanish Ambassad or to New Zealand, Senor Marcos Gomez. We then enjoyed some excellent Spanish wine and wonderful eats in a delightful garden setting surrounded by the vineyard.

The project has the support from several New Zealand universities, notably from Professor Phil Yock at the University of Auckland. At the opening ceremony it was named the Yock-Allen telescope, to acknowledge the assistance from these two New Zealand astronomers for the project. The instrument will be part of a network of three 60-cm robotic telescopes operated from Spain. It is the first in the southern hemisphere dedicated to GRB observations in the optical region.

------ John Hearnshaw is one of about two dozen astronomers from different countries around the world who will write a weekly blog about their activities and the life of an astronomer. John's Cosmic Diary blog is at www.cosmicdiary.org/blogs/john_hearnshaw

6. IYA2009 Opening Ceremonies at UNESCO, Paris

William Tobin sent this report to Canterbury University's Physics & Astronomy Newsletter.

On January 15 & 16 I was in Paris as part of the Kiwi delegation at the opening ceremonies of the International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009).

In declaring 2009 International Year of Astronomy, the UN General Assembly designated UNESCO as the responsible UN agency, so the celebrations took place in the vast meeting hall at UNESCO's trifid headquarters adjacent to the Eiffel Tower.

There were over 900 invitees from some 99 countries, including the ever-smiling Hans Zinnecker (Erskine Visitor to the Department in 2005). A touching feature was that each country could send two students whose expenses in Paris were covered by the IYA2009 organisers. So the astronomical part of the New Zealand delegation comprised Stacey Kalinnikova, who is about to start tertiary studies at Massey University, Yvette Perrott, who is entering Honours year at Auckland University and who has worked with the MOA project, and myself. We were complemented by Margaret Austin in her role as former chair of the New Zealand Commission for UNESCO, but who of course has been an MP and Minister of Research Science and Technology, and is a prime mover in the campaign for Starlight Reserves, including one around Mt John.

After declarations by various science ministers, most of which were delivered by acolytes, we were treated to a variety of talks by well-known personalities including the English Astronomer Royal Lord Rees, the Nobel laureate Bob Wilson (co-discoverer of the cosmic microwave background) and the Canadian-born nuclear astrophysicist and science populariser Hubert Reeves. (It was the first time I'd heard Reeves speak in person: his talk was admirably simple and clear.) It was most unlike a typical scientific meeting in that many speakers spoke of their aspirations, many emphasizing astronomy's potential as a vector for peace. (In this respect, the '100 hours of astronomy' on 2-5 April will be particularly inspiring if widely taken up by the world's media.)

Kevin Govender from the SALT Collateral Benefits Programme gave an especially moving talk in which he said that what he hoped most was that IYA2009 would encourage people to think. He shocked most of the westerners present by recounting how as a child on a sugar-cane farm under a glorious southern sky he was prohibited from looking up because of the local belief that looking at the stars caused warts. There were films, remote observing sessions and no less than two receptions! Holland's University of Groningen had a 40-tonne truck present which is used as a travelling science centre for school kids in the same way as the Science Roadshow. The ceremonies closed with San Francisco's Kronos Quartet and the UNESCO Choir performing "Sun rings", a surprisingly melodic musical piece inspired by audiofrequency natural phenomena such as whistlers and other sounds from space.

For more on the Opening Ceremonies, consult http://ama09.obspm.fr/ama09/open.php I shall also be writing a fuller report for Southern Stars. The IYA2009 international web site is http://www.astronomy2009.org while for the 100 hours of astronomy, see http://www.100hoursofastronomy.org . For the New Zealand programme, visit http://www.astronomy2009.nz.org

--------- The fuller report mentioned by William, lavishly illustrated, is in the March issue of Southern Stars. It will also appear on the New Zealand IYA website at www.astronomy2009.org.nz

7. Order Your Galileoscopes Now

RASNZ Publicity Officer Marilyn Head reports:

It looks like the Galileoscopes will be around NZ $30.00 plus postage and packing. Unfortunately last week the Royal Society of NZ pulled out of their plan to purchase 100 and are looking at sourcing different funding. In the meantime Earth and Sky Ltd (Margaret Munro <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>) has kindly picked up the ball and will include our orders with their bulk order and get the discount.

As they now have an online service Earth & Sky will offer them on that as well, but will continue to give members of astronomical societies the discount. They will also do the posting and packing. I am sure this is the cheapest way of doing it. Postage from the US is horrendous if you order the telescopes individually.

Earth and Sky's postal address is PO Box 112, Lake Tekapo 7945, New Zealand. Telephone: 03 680-6960. Fax: 03 680-6950 http://www.earthandsky.co.nz/

------- GalileoscopeTM information from their website:

The GalileoscopeTM is a refracting telescope, or refractor: a long tube with a big lens (the objective) at the front end and a small lens (the eyepiece) at the back end. The great Italian scientist Galileo's telescopes were refractors, too, but the Galileoscope improves upon his 400-year-old design in several important ways.

The Galileoscope comes in a cardboard box measuring 50½ by 36½ by 8½ cm with a shipping weight of 0.7 kg. Here are the instrument's key optical characteristics: Objective diameter: 50 mm. Objective focal length: 500 mm (f/10) Eyepiece focal length: 20 mm. Magnification: 25x (50x with Barlow) Field of view: 1½° (¾° with Barlow) Eyepiece eye relief: 16 mm (22 mm with Barlow) Eyepiece barrel diameter: 1¼ inches (31¾ mm)

The ¼-20 mounting nut, made of zinc-coated low-carbon steel, enables the Galileoscope to be affixed to a standard photo tripod or any other mount with a ¼-20 threaded post. [That is, that the telescope doesn't come with a stand.]

For more see https://www.galileoscope.org/gs/products

8. Biographies, please

Marilyn Head writes: This is another call for listings for NZ astronomers on our IYA site http://www.astronomy2009.org.nz . There are so many prominent people missing and many who are named but have nothing written about them. We envisage it being a 'who's who' of NZ astronomy and an historical record of people who have been (and are) active and held positions in local astronomical societies and, for those who want, contacts.

Send your biography to Christopher Henderson, Webmaster, IYA 2009 NZ. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . See www.astronomy2009.org.nz

9. Variable Stars South Newsletter Available

Tom Richards, Director, Variable Stars South, writes:

The first 2009 issue of the Newsletter of Variable Stars South, RASNZ, is now available for download (2 MB) from http://www.rasnz.org.nz/vss/Newsletters/VSS%20Newsletter%202009-1.pdf

This issue includes articles about VSS and its directions, about the first research projects VSS is setting up (in which it hopes you will participate), currently well-placed variables needing attention, using DSLRs for variable star photometry, and some intriguing stars. There is also a notice about the "Studying Southern Variables" Colloquium in Wellington in May, and a VSS membership application form.

Future numbers of the Newsletter, which is available for free to anybody, will appear in the new website of VSS, www.varstars.org. The next issue is planned for May. Please note this website is not yet operational. Until it is keep an eye on http://www.rasnz.org.nz/vss/vss.htm. To keep abreast of variable star news (a fast-moving part of astronomy) and the doings of VSS, join Austral Variable Stars Observers Network at http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/AVSON/.

If you have any questions or comments about VSS and the Newsletter, please contact me at <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.> .

10. The Lonely Planet Guide

Attempts to find alien life on Earth and elsewhere

In a book called "Life, the Universe and Everything", Douglas Adams imagined a planet called Krikkit that was enrobed in a dust cloud so thick that its inhabitants could not see the universe beyond. They lived in happy isolation under an ink-black sky until, one day, an alien space ship crashed into their world and they discovered they were not alone. This, they decided, was unacceptable, so they set out to destroy the rest of lifekind.

Humanity´s problem is the opposite of the Krikkiters´. Earthlings know that the universe is vast but, paradoxically, they do not know whether they are alone in it. It is not merely the lack of abandoned flying saucers. There is no unequivocal sign of even the most humble bacterial life on any astronomical body within the range of human telescopes. That bothers a lot of people. At the AAAS meeting in Chicago, astronomers therefore discussed how planets form and the chances of finding alien life thereon.

Some 340 planets have now been found orbiting stars other than the sun and, earlier this month, a French spacecraft called COROT (illustrated) discovered the smallest yet. Most such exoplanets are gaseous giants bigger than Jupiter. These are incapable of supporting life-as-we-know-it. However CORO T-Exo-7b, as the newly located orb is known, is only slightly larger than Earth and is thought to have a rocky surface.

Sadly for those people seeking extraterrestrial life, COROT-Exo-7b lies so close to its parent star that it is far too hot for organisms of the terrestrial sort to survive. Yet astronomers are confident they will soon detect many more rocky exoplanets by using COROT and later an American craft called Kepler, that is due to be launched on March 5th. Some of these exoplanets will surely orbit their stars at a distance that allows their water to be liquid.

An exoplanet that had a large moon would be of particular interest. The moon´s presence creates tides on Earth and many exobiologists, as those hopeful scientists who aspire to study organisms on other planets are known, think these may be important for the origin and maintenance of life. Tides churn the oceans. That is reckoned to be good for life as it mixes up chemicals and organisms, encouraging small ones to grow, which provides food for large ones.

If a tide-causing moon does enhance the chance of life flourishing on a planet, then aliens may be abundant. That is because such moons should be quite common around Earth-like planets, according to Robin Canup of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Dr Canup has deduced this by using a computer to simulate the process by which the Earth acquired its moon.

The favoured story to explain where the moon came from is of an iron-rich object the size of Mars hitting the Earth while it was forming. Much of the iron in the smaller planet ended up as the Earth´s core, whereas the cloud of dust that was ejected by the impact consolidated into the body now known as the moon. The impact may even have triggered plate-tectonic activity, which causes the continents to move around. Many biologists think this, too, is good for life, because it mixes up the crustal rocks rather as the tides mix the oceans, albeit far more slowly. Dr Canup´s models of developing solar systems suggest that in any system there is about a 15% chance of the type of collision which created the Earth and moon.

It is one thing, though, to have the right conditions for life. It is another for life to form. At the moment, no one has any idea how easy it is for living organisms to come into existence, and no one has got close to replicating the process in a laboratory. Steven Benner of the Foundation for Applied Molecular Evolution, a private educational organisation based in Gainesville, Florida, may, however, have taken the first step. He announced to the meeting that he had made a biochemical "soup" capable of Darwinian evolution.

He did it by adding two synthetic nucleotides to the four natural ones that act as the letters of the genetic code in DNA. The result is a substance that is no longer DNA, but which behaves somewhat like it. Using a commonplace technique called the polymerase chain reaction, Dr Benner was able to persuade his new molecule to reproduce. Although it is not self-replicating, so cannot be considered alive, it may point to the creation of simple, artificial biological systems.

Dr Benner reckons that developing such synthetic biologies would broaden the vision of exobiologists by giving them alternatives to compare with the only natural system now available for examination. That may help them distinguish what is essential for life from the accidents of life on Earth.

This is not an idle distinction. The results of experiments by the Viking missions to Mars in 1976 initially met the mission scientists´ criteria for the detection of life. These days, though, they are interpreted as having been caused by non-biological chemical reactions. More recently, some students of Mars have concluded that plumes of methane emerging from the planet´s surface are geological rather than biological in origin, whereas others argue the opposite.

Nor, according to Paul Davies of Arizona State University, may it be necessary to look to far-distant planets to find aliens. He thinks that living things with an origin (and, therefore, biochemistry) independent of the one that resulted in humans may exist in a "shadow biosphere" on Earth itself.

Most organisms, Dr Davies points out, can be seen only under a microscope, and only an infinitesimal fraction of such microbes have been investigated by researchers. Dr Davies speculates that some microbes may use different nucleotides to the familiar four of DNA and he is urging biologists to scour inhospitable-looking places such as hydrothermal ocean vents and contaminated lakes to see whether some of the life that exists there takes such an unfamiliar form.

It will be a tricky task. Even species of bacteria that belong to the "normal" tree of life are often difficult to culture in the laboratory, which is one reason their study has been neglected. But that does not mean it is not worth looking, for if such a shadow biosphere does exist, it means life has got going on Earth more than once. That would suggest the process is easy, and encourage the hunt for aliens elsewhere. It is to be hoped, though, that if such aliens do turn up they do not spend their lives composing moving poetry and waging war on the rest of the universe.

-- From The Economist 2009 February 21, p.78-9

11. 2-inch thick Pyrex Scarce

The following has been gleaned from discussions in the nzastronomers group:

Corning stopped making rolled Pyrex sheet about 2 years ago. The rolled sheets were the source of the 2-inch (50 mm) thick disks used to make the larger Dobsonian mirrors. It is understood that Corning used to make the rolled sheet in the US, in England and in France. The French plant was the last to shut down. The equipment they use to make the material was worn out and they decided not to invest in refurbishing it. In addition to the cost of refurbishing the equipment Corning also cited competition from other sources of low expansion borosilicate (Pyrex like) glass. Unfortunately the other suppliers of borosilicate use a process that lends itself only to making sheets up to about 1 inch thick.

At least one telescope manufacturer foresees switching to zero expansion glasses such as Schott Zerodur, Corning ULE or Russian Astro Sitall. All of these materials are zero-expansion and hence excellent for telescope mirror production but they cost upwards of US$80/lb (US$180/kg) for generated blanks. Big price increases will result.

An example: A 20 inch (50 cm) mirror weighs 51 pounds (23 kg). The cost is over US$4000 plus shipping just for the Zerodur blank from Schott. This is before the optician even touches it. Pyrex was about US$1000 for a 20-inch blank. That's a US$3000 plus price increase on the raw material.

-- from comments relayed to nzastronomers from James Mulherin of Obsession Telescopes and Dave Kriege.

12. Postgraduate Scholarships in Astronomy & Radio Astronomy

Victoria University of Wellington (VUW) has recently established a radio astronomy group to expand its existing astrophysical research team. It is seeking high quality applicants to undertake PhD & MSc projects in radio astronomy.

Interested students are encouraged to contact Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, in advance of the application deadlines, to discuss the full range of projects available: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Further information available at: http://www.wellingtonnz.com/

-------- A PhD scholarship is available at the Curtin Institute of Radio Astronomy (CIRA), a research institute of the Curtin University of Technology (Perth, Australia), under the supervision of Prof. Steven Tingay.

Applications are sought from high quality candidates who wish to pursue a PhD in radio astronomy using Australian and international radio astronomy facilities. Further information regarding particular projects or areas of research strength on offer can be obtained via email from Prof. Tingay (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.). WWW: http://astronomy.curtin.edu.au

--------- The Centre for Astrophysics & Supercomputing (CAS) at Swinburne University of Technology (Melbourne, Australia) invites applications for its PhD program and scholarships.

For details about postgraduate study at CAS, including available supervisors, PhD topics and how to apply, see http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/study/postgradstudy.html

13. Gifford-Eiby Lecture Fund

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

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

14. Kingdon-Tomlinson Fund

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

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

15. How to Join the RASNZ

A membership application form and details can be found on the RASNZ website 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..

16. Here and There

More typos and bloopers noted in 'The Observatory' vol. 129, p.44

IT STILL IS The Dominion Astrophysical Observatory was established in 1918. Its 1085 metre telescope was the largest in the world at the time. -- Victoria Times- Colonist, 2008 March 30, p.8.

ONE HECK-OF-AN-ACRE ...will be an area ten kilometres square, or one hectare. -- Astronomy Now, 2008 April, p.62.

STRETCHING THE TRUTH But this outburst [of GRB 080319B] took place 7.5 billion light years away, some seven times further away than the Andromeda galaxy, ... -- Astronomy and Geophysics, vol. 49, 3.6, 2008. [The Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years away.]

COULD GET BORING 1 August 2008. Total eclipse of the Sun. Maximum duration of totality 22m 27s - - Royal Astronomical Society Diary for 2008, Eclipse section.

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