Raw video: Catamaran sinks rapidly off Northland coast after six people, kids flee to shore in life raft

Six people have been rescued from an island group off Northland's east coast after their catamaran hit rocks and sank.

Police said the 30-foot catamaran struck rocks about 5am this morning near the Mokohinau Islands east of Whangarei and north of Great Barrier Island.

The vessel sank, and six people boarded a life raft and made it to shore.

They were picked up by the Westpac Rescue and Northland Rescue Helicopters and taken to Whangarei's Kensington Hospital - they were cold, but largely uninjured.

The passengers were two adult men and four children, Police said, and the vessel was on its way from Great Barrier Island to Whangaparoa at the time.



New Zealand's 'hidden killer' on the roads - AA calls for urgent roadside drug testing

The AA is calling for urgent funding for police to randomly test drivers at the roadside for drug intoxication, calling it New Zealand's "hidden killer".

Dylan Thomsen of the AA, speaking this morning to TVNZ 1's Breakfast, said driving under the influence of drugs is very common in New Zealand, with cannabis the most prevalent drug.

P or methamphetamine intoxication was also being seen on New Zealand roads, he said.

Roadside saliva testing showed recent use, rather than long term use such as the results produced by a urine test.

The effects of drugs on drivers varied with the drug, Mr Thomsen said, with cannabis making people more inattentive and tired, while P often made drivers more aggressive and reckless.

"You've got a small device that you put into your mouth that you lick a couple of times," he said.

"You give that back to the police officer and it takes a couple of minutes for the results to come through."

The cost would be about $9 million to test about 45,000 motorists per year - New Zealand spends about $40 million per year on its drink driving enforcement.

Mr Thomsen said analysis had shown for every $1 invested, about $8 in benefits from reduced crashes could be expected.

Dylan Thompson of the AA says drug driving is a huge problem and very common on New Zealand roads. Source: Breakfast

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NASA's Tess spacecraft sets off on voyage to search for new planets near our solar system

NASA's Tess spacecraft embarked today on a quest to find new worlds around neighbouring stars that could support life.

Tess rode a SpaceX Falcon rocket through the evening sky, aiming for an orbit stretching all the way to the moon.

The satellite — the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or Tess — will scan almost the entire sky for at least two years, staring at the closest, brightest stars in an effort to find and identify any planets around them. Hundreds of thousands of stars will be scrutinised, with the expectation that thousands of exoplanets — planets outside our own solar system — will be revealed right in our cosmic backyard.

Rocky and icy planets, hot gas giants and, possibly, water worlds. Super-Earths between the sizes of Earth and Neptune. Maybe even an Earth twin.

"The sky will become more beautiful, will become more awesome" knowing there are planets orbiting the stars we see twinkling at night, said NASA's top science administrator, Thomas Zurbuchen.

Discoveries by Tess and other missions, he noted, will bring us closer to answering questions that have lingered for thousands of years.

Does life exist beyond Earth? If so, is it microbial or more advanced?

But Tess won't look for life. It's not designed for that. Rather, it will scout for planets of all sorts, but especially those in the so-called Goldilocks or habitable zone of a star: an orbit where temperatures are neither too cold nor too hot, but just right for life-nourishing water.

The most promising candidates will be studied by bigger, more powerful observatories of the future, including NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, due to launch in another few years as the heir to Hubble. These telescopes will scour the planets' atmospheres for any of the ingredients of life: water vapour, oxygen, methane, carbon dioxide.

"Tess will tell us where to look at and when to look," said the mission's chief scientist, George Ricker of Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Tess is the successor to NASA's Kepler Space Telescope, on its last legs after discovering a few thousand exoplanets over the past nine years.

Astronomers anticipate more than doubling Kepler's confirmed planetary count of more than 2,600, once Tess' four wide-view cameras begin scientific observations in early summer.

Unlike Tess, Kepler could only scour a sliver of the sky.

The total exoplanet census currently stands at more than 3,700 confirmed, with another 4,500 on the not-yet-verified list. That's a lot considering the first one popped up barely two decades ago.

Until about 25 years ago, the only known planets were in our own solar system, noted NASA's director of astrophysics, Paul Hertz.

While Kepler has focused on stars thousands of light-years away, Tess will concentrate on our stellar neighbours, dozens or hundreds of light-years away. Most of Tess' targets will be cool, common red dwarf stars, thought to be rich breeding grounds for planets.