Invited Speaker

Dr Heloise Stevance

Research Fellow,
University of Auckland

Originally born and raised in France, I moved to the UK to study Physics and Astronomy at the University of Sheffield. After working as a support astronomer at the Isaac Newton Group in La Palma for a year, I obtained my Masters of Physics in 2015. I subsequently started a PhD studying the 3D shape of Core Collapse Supernovae, and earned my title in Spring 2019. In July of that year, I joined the University of Auckland as a Research Fellow to research the evolution of massive stars to better understand how they die and produce Supernovae and Kilonovae.

I also started my public outreach work during my doctorate studies, in early 2016, and I have not stopped since.

Invited Speaker

Dr Pauline Harris

Senior Lecturer
Centre for Science and Society at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW)

Dr Pauline Harris is from the tribes Rongomaiwahine, Ngāti Rakaipaka and Ngāti Kahungunu. She is a Senior Lecturer for the Centre for Science and Society at Victoria University of Wellington (VUW). Dr Harris is an astrophysicist who has specialized in high energy neutrino production and inflationary cosmology.

Dr Harris’ research currently focuses on mātauranga Māori associated with Māori astronomy, Māori calendars called maramataka, as well as climate change. Currently, Dr Harris is the Chairperson of the Society for Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions (SMART). She is also the Principal Investigator for the Marsden funded project called Ngā Takahuringa ō te Ao: The Effect of Climate Change on Traditional Māori calendars.

Most recently Dr Harris has been appointed to the Matariki Advisory Group to determine the date and advise on the Matariki holiday

Fellows' Speaker

John Drummond

Fellow, Royal Astronomical Society
of New Zealand

Some pot got me into astronomy!

John Drummond has been fascinated with astronomy ever since his mother pointed the ‘Pot’ in Orion out to him when he was ten. John soon developed an interest in photography and it wasn’t long before the two passions were combined into astrophotography. He has been involved in astrophotography for many years and has had photos published in books and magazines around the world – and even on some New Zealand stamps.

He has used his telescopes at Possum Observatory, near Gisborne, (E94) to image targets for Ohio State University in order to co-discover exoplanets via the microlensing method. He helped discover one of the first known Earth-massed planets orbiting one member in a binary star system. It was published in Science. John also does astrometry of newly discovered comets – as well as those of more well-known orbits.

John completed his MSc (Astronomy) in 2016 with Swinburne University of Technology. Currently he is doing his PhD with the University of Southern Queensland’s (USQ) Centre for Astrophysics. His work is on New Zealand’s historical role in the observation and study of comets. He is also heavily involved with the Royal Astronomical Society of New Zealand and was made a Fellow in 2018. He teaches science at high school and runs an astro-tourism business – Gisborne Astro Tours (www.gisborneastrotours.co.nz ). He uses a 0.5-m (20″) GoTo Dobsonian telescope and a 0.4-m (16″) Dobsonian telescope for these visual tours of the Universe.

Nalayini Brito

The Story of ASTRONZ's unique contribution to NZ Astronomy

This talk is about ASTRONZ’s place within the NZ astronomical community, what it offers both expert and hobbyist astronomers, its operating model, what sponsorship and charitable activities it funds and plans to fund and what its vision for the future is.

Ilija Tolich

New Space New Zealand

Set up in 2016, the New Zealand Space Agency is the lead government agency for space policy, regulation and sector development. This talk will outline the NZSA’s role in supporting the New Zealand space sector, our ongoing projects, and the issues arising from a rapidly changing global space sector.

Yvette Perrott

An unusual high-frequency
galaxy cluster minihalo

Relaxed clusters of galaxies sometimes host radio minihaloes at their centres — small diffuse clouds of synchrotron emission produced by a population of high-energy electrons, the origin of which is still debated.  This emission is much brighter at lower radio frequencies and is generally only detected up to ~1 GHz, but we have detected it at 15 GHz in one unusual case.  This detection may discriminate between some of the mechanisms put forward as possibilities for producing the high-energy electrons.

Andrew Rakich

Telescope Metrology on large telescopes and next-generation active optics

The Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)1 is a 25 m telescope composed of seven 8.4 m “unit telescopes”, on a common mount. Each primary and conjugated secondary mirror segment will feed a common instrument interface, their focal planes co-aligned and co-phased. During telescope operation, the alignment of the optical components will deflect due to variations in thermal environment and gravity induced structural flexure of the mount. The ultimate co-alignment and co-phasing of the telescope is achieved by a combination of the Acquisition Guiding and Wavefront Sensing system (AGWS) and two segment-edge-sensing systems2. An analysis of the capture range of the AGWS indicates that it is unlikely that that system will operate efficiently or reliably with initial mirror positions provided by open-loop corrections alone3.

Since 2016 GMT have been developing a telescope metrology system, that is intended to close the gap between open-loop modelling and AGWS operations. A prototyping campaign was initiated soon after receipt of laser metrology hardware in 2017. This campaign is being conducted in collaboration with the Large Binocular Telescope Observatory (LBTO), and hardware was first deployed on the LBT in August 2017. Since that time the system had been run and developed over some hundreds of hours on-sky. It has been shown to be capable of reliably measuring the relative positions of the main optics over ~ 10 m to a repeatability of ~ 1-2 microns RMS. This paper will describe the prototyping campaign to date, the basic design of the system, lessons learned and results achieved. It will conclude with a discussion of future development efforts

Cameron McEwing

Calculating extragalactic distances using remote online telescope services

With the advent of affordable remote online telescope services that are accessible over the internet, the possibility for amateur astronomers and students to do authentic science and add to our knowledge of the universe has significantly expanded. This paper will look at the practicalities of using images collected from online remote telescope services, along with photometric tools (like AAVSO’s VPhot,) to calculate extragalactic distances by capturing the early lightcurves of Type 1a supernovae.

Chris Gordon

Comparing the Galactic Bulge and Galactic Disk Millisecond Pulsars

The Galactic Center Excess (GCE) is an extended gamma-ray source in the central region of the Galaxy found in Fermi Large Area Telescope (Fermi-LAT) data. One of the leading explanations for the GCE is an unresolved population of millisecond pulsars (MSPs) in the Galactic bulge. Due to differing star formation histories it is expected that the MSPs in the Galactic bulge are older and therefore dimmer than those in the Galactic disk. Additionally, correlations between the spectral parameters of the MSPs and the spin-down rate of the corresponding neutron stars have been observed. This implies that the bulge MSPs may be spectrally different from the disk MSPs. We perform detailed modelling of the MSPs from formation until observation. Although we confirm the correlations, we do not find they are sufficiently large to significantly differentiate the spectra of the bulge MSPs and disk MSPs when the uncertainties are accounted for. Our results demonstrate that the population of MSPs that can explain the gamma-ray signal from the resolved MSPs in the Galactic disk and the unresolved MSPs in the boxy bulge and nuclear bulge can consistently be described as arising from a common evolutionary trajectory for some subset of astrophysical sources common to all these different environments. We do not require that there is anything unusual about inner Galaxy MSPs to explain the GCE. Additionally, we use a more accurate geometry for the distribution of bulge MSPs and incorporate dispersion measure estimates of the MSPs’ distances. We find that the elongated boxy bulge morphology means that some the bulge MSPs are closer to us and so easier to resolve. We identify three resolved MSPs that have significant probabilities of belonging to the bulge population.

Petra Nianqi Tang

Estimating Power Spectral Density Parameters of Stochastic Gravitational Wave Background for LISA

Complementary to electromagnetic waves, the detection of gravitational waves (GWs) can lead astrophysics to dive deeper to the understanding of our Universe. Only until the last decade the detections of GWs have become possible. As we expand our search we bring on more challenges. One of these challenges is how do we resolve stochastic gravitational wave background (SGWB). My research uses the Bayesian parametric algorithms to unfold the properties of GW signals. More specifically, my research estimates the power spectral density of mock SGWB signals for the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) in the millimeter frequency band. In this talk I will discuss my computational models and some current results using Bayesian parametric models using a Python package PYMC3 and end with further research ideas.

Hamish Barker

Spectroscopy of suspected giant
eclipsing binary Asassn-21co

Transient Asassn-21co (at coordinates corresponding to GAIA DR2 source id=6647970630972147840) has been observed with low resolution slit spectroscopy (R = approximately 350) using a 200mm reflector and Littrow spectrograph. Observations commenced from middle to end of an apparent 80 day eclipse duration. A spectrum similar to a Pickles database type M3iii has been observed during eclipse, with observations and analysis of post-eclipse spectra not yet clearly indicating the likely spectral type of the possible eclipsed body.

John Hearnshaw

The New Zealand Astronomical Society: The first 50 years

I will trace the founding and development of the NZ Astronomical Society from 1920 to about 1970, using the society’s minute books as a key source. The main people involved with the early society will be discussed.

Aayushi Verma

Characterising the activity of new comets and active asteroids observed in the LOOK Project

Comets and active asteroids are small worlds in the Solar System that change rapidly on timescales of hours to days, requiring monitoring by telescopes spaced around the world. The LCO Outbursting Objects Key (LOOK) Project is a three-year Key Project, using the many robotic telescopes of the Las Cumbres Observatory (LCO) network to study the behaviour of dynamically new comets and to determine the frequency and nature of outbursts on small bodies across the Solar System.

My Master’s in Astronomy research will bring the first data from the 1.8 m telescope at UC’s Mt John Observatory into the LOOK collaboration, developing automated 1.8 m data reduction and providing calibrated photometry for LOOK targets observed during 2020-2021.

Nick Rattenbury

The Kerr-Tinsley Centre of
Research Excellence

I present here a summary of the application made by NZ academic astronomers for funding the Kerr-Tinsley Centre of Research Excellence. The CoRE application has five themes, extending from cosmological research, through stellar population, computational astrophysics to proposing New Zealand’s first space telescope mission.

Ed Budding

Dark secrets
in close binaries

Black Hole (BH) stellar binaries are normally associated with exotic high-energy sources, but are there BHs lurking among ‘classical’ close binary systems? How surprised should we be about last year’s discovery of a BH ‘hiding in plain sight’ alongside the double star HR6819?  Is this a special case, or are there others even closer?   We tagged a closer and brighter southern binary system for this arrangement, but there’s doubt about its candidacy, so let’s take a look at the evidence. Can such sneaky BHs give us any anxieties about the stability of our Galactic locality? 

JJ Eldridge

Understanding the stars that make
ripples in gravity

The 3rd observing run by the gravitational wave observatories of the LIGO/VIRGO consortia provided significant more information on the transient sources we observe in the Universe. We’ll report on our work at the University of Auckland to understand the progenitors of gravitational wave events and how we can track back the initial masses of the stars and when in the Universe those stars were formed.

John Drummond & Wayne Orchiston

New Zealand Observations of the
Great Comet of 1881 (C/1881 K1 Tebbutt)

Comet C/1881 K1 was discovered on 22 May 1881 by Australia’s leading nineteenth century

astronomer, John Tebbutt, and went on to become a spectacular naked-eye object and one of the ‘Great Comets’ of the nineteenth century. In addition, its appearance was impeccably timed, and it ended up making major contributions to cometary photography and spectroscopy. In this paper we will summarize observations of this comet made by New Zealand astronomers, including Archdeacon Arthur Stock, the astronomical observer at the Colonial Observatory in Wellington, who independently discovered it just one day after John Tebbutt. Then in order to provide an international context, we will also outline the photographic and spectroscopic observations made by northern hemisphere astronomers after this comet left New Zealand skies.

Amelia Cordwell

Asteroid Lightcurves
in the MOA-II Survey

The Microlensing Observations in Astrophysics (MOA-II) survey has performed high cadence, wide field observations of the Galactic Bulge since 2005 from the University of Canterbury Mt John Observatory.
Asteroid lightcurves can be used to determine their shapes, rotation rates and solar phase dependence. These are necessary for correctly interpreting other physical parameters and can tell us about the evolution of the asteroid population.

Amelia will discuss her work using existing MOA-II survey data to determine asteroid lightcurves and rotation rates.

Glen Rowe

The multidisciplinary domain of the astronomers on Cook's three voyages to the Pacific: a New Zealand perspective.

It is commonly known that the main purpose of James Cook’s first voyage to the South Pacific Ocean was to observe the transit of Venus in 1769. Although Cook himself was an accomplished astronomer, four other astronomers accompanied him during the course of his three voyages to the Pacific. What is less commonly known is that these astronomers also carried out observations other than celestial ones. This presentation will introduce the astronomers, their astronomical instrumentation and observations and provide an overview of the tidal, gravity and meteorological observations that they undertook in New Zealand, including the instrumentation used.

Wouter van Zeist

Riroriro: A tool for simulating
gravitational waves and evaluating
their detectability

Black Hole (BH) stellar binaries are normally associated with exotic high-energy sources, but are there BHs lurking among ‘classical’ close binary systems? How surprised should we be about last year’s discovery ofRiroriro is a Python package that simulates gravitational waves from merging black holes or neutron stars and evaluates how detectable these would be for the LIGO/Virgo observatories. It is publicly available and published in JOSS. In this talk, we present the functionality of Riroriro, its usage in research involving stellar population synthesis to predict mass distributions, and ongoing research to extend Riroriro to simulate white dwarf binaries that would be observable by the under-construction space-based observatory LISA.a BH ‘hiding in plain sight’ alongside the double star HR6819?  Is this a special case, or are there others even closer?   We tagged a closer and brighter southern binary system for this arrangement, but there’s doubt about its candidacy, so let’s take a look at the evidence. Can such sneaky BHs give us any anxieties about the stability of our Galactic locality? 

Euan Mason

A statistical model of sunspot cycles II: How good was the prediction and what is predicted for the next cycle?

At the May 2010 RASNZ Conference I presented a statistical model of the magnitudes and shapes of past sunspot cycles, and then made a prediction for cycle 24. I’ll compare the prediction with what actually happened and then make a prediction for cycle 25.