e-News: May 2014





    To submit news items, announcements and job postings, click here
    To contact the CASCA Board, click here
    To submit comments to the Long Range Plan Implementation Committee (LRPIC), click here
    To submit comments to the Ground Based Astronomy Committee (GAC), click here
    To submit comments to the Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (JCSA), click here

Career Opportunities with the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (Deadline July 1, 2014)

The Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope Corporation (CFHT) operates a major optical telescope on Maunakea on the island of Hawai’i. We are launching a project that will transform the observatory into an advanced, modern and unique facility capable of shedding light upon the biggest questions confronting 21st century astrophysics. The Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) project involves upgrading the current 3.6 meter general-use facility with a new telescope of 10 meter aperture, new enclosure, and incorporating dedicated leading-edge technology and highly-multiplexed spectrometers. The MSE project team will lead the development and coordination of international partnerships and plans, to ultimately bring this ten year duration, > $200M project to a successful conclusion.

We are searching for the following talented team members to join us as we take these conceptual plans to a scientific reality:

Project Manager

The Project Manager will be responsible for the overall management and technical direction of the MSE development and for the construction being carried out by CFHT. Responsibilities include preparing the construction proposal, maintaining the integrity of the project schedule and the deliverables, and promoting the MSE project to international communities. Professional qualifications: An advanced degree in physical science or engineering, or equivalent knowledge and experience; an established track record of success in managing large technical projects; and experience with development, procurement and deployment of new scientific instrumentation or facilities. Experience in the management of international scientific projects is highly desirable.

Project Scientist

The Project Scientist will be responsible for leading the scientific development of the MSE in collaboration with team members. Responsibilities include the development of a detailed science case, science requirements and operational concept for the MSE; development of the commissioning plan and leading the commissioning work. Candidates must have a Ph.D. in astronomy, with an excellent record of research publications in peer-reviewed journals and international recognition within their field. Previous experience with scientific instrumentation or facility development and in astronomical research observations that are closely aligned with the science case for the MSE is highly desirable.

These positions are based at the observatory headquarters in Waimea, Hawaii. We offer competitive, comprehensive benefits package including off-island relocation assistance and private school (K-12) tuition support for dependent children. Salary is dependent upon qualifications and experience.

For more information and to apply please visit us at: cfht.hawaii.edu/jobs

Please apply by 30 June 2014 as the first review of applications will start on 1 July 2014. The position will remain open until filled.

This email has been forwarded to CASCA members as a service to the community. Unless explicitly stated, this does not imply an endorsement of its contents by CASCA or the CASCA Board.

Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) Project Office Now Open for Business (May 14, 2014)

The Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) project, formerly know as the “Next Generation CFHT”, has opened a Project Office at CFHT’s headquarters in Waimea, Hawaii, with the goal of generating a Construction Proposal over the next three years.

The Project Office is the culmination of over five years of design and feasibility studies that have demonstrated the opportunity to achieve compelling and dramatic science through upgrading CFHT into an advanced, modern and unique facility. MSE, a 10 m dedicated wide field spectroscopic telescope, will be capable of observing up to ~3200 separate objects simultaneously at spectral resolutions ranging from ~2000 – 20,000, within a ~1.5 square degrees field of view. By leveraging the exceptional image quality of the CFHT site, MSE will yield stunning new research capabilities to tackle problems ranging from dark matter, dark energy and cosmology, to galaxy evolution and structure, the archaeology of the Milky Way, stars and stellar systems, and exoplanets. Intended to support both individual programs and large scale surveys of unprecedented scale, MSE will complement the other Maunakea observatories as well as those planned for deployment worldwide and in space.

Contact Information:

  • CFHT Executive Director, Doug Simons (simons@cfht.hawaii.edu)
  • MSE Project Manager, Rick Murowinski (murowinski@mse.cfht.hawaii.edu)
  • MSE Project Scientist Alan McConnachie (mcconnachie@mse.cfht.hawaii.edu).

Additional Information:

Odd planet, so far from its star… (May 13, 2014)

An international team led by Université de Montréal researchers has discovered and photographed a new planet 155 light years from our solar system.

MONTRÉAL, May 13, 2014 – A gas giant has been added to the short list of exoplanets discovered through direct imaging. It is located around GU Psc, a star three times less massive than the Sun and located in the constellation Pisces. The international research team, led by Marie-Ève Naud, a PhD student in the Department of Physics at the Université de Montréal, was able to find this planet by combining observations from the the Gemini Observatories, the Observatoire Mont-Mégantic (OMM), the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and the W.M. Keck Observatory.

A distant planet that can be studied in detail

GU Psc b is around 2,000 times the Earth-Sun distance from its star, a record among exoplanets. Given this distance, it takes approximately 80,000 Earth years for GU Psc b to make a complete orbit around its star! The researchers also took advantage of the large distance between the planet and its star to obtain images. By comparing images obtained in different wavelengths (colours) from the OMM and CFHT, they were able to correctly detect the planet.

“Planets are much brighter when viewed in infrared rather than visible light, because their surface temperature is lower compared to other stars,” says Naud. “This allowed us to indentify GU Psc b.”

Knowing where to look

The researchers were looking around GU Psc because the star had just been identified as a member of the young star group AB Doradus. Young stars (only 100 million years old) are prime targets for planetary detection through imaging because the planets around them are still cooling and are therefore brighter. This does not mean that planets similar to GU Psc b exist in large numbers, as noted by by Étiene Artigau, co-supervisor of Naud’s thesis and astrophysicist at the Université de Montréal. “We observed more than 90 stars and found only one planet, so this is truly an astronomical oddity!”

Observing a planet does not directly allow determining its mass. Instead, researchers use theoretical models of planetary evolution to determine its characteristics. The light spectrum of GU Psc b obtained from the Gemini North Observatory in Hawaii was compared to such models to show that it has a temperature of around 800°C. Knowing the age of GU Psc due to its location in AB Doradus, the team was able to determine its mass, which is 9-13 times that of Jupiter.

In the coming years, the astrophysicists hope to detect planets that are similar to GU Psc but much closer to their stars, thanks, among other things, to new instruments such as the GPI (Gemini Planet Imager) recently installed on Gemini South in Chile. The proximity of these planets to their stars will make them much more difficult to observe. GU Psc b is therefore a model for better understanding these objects.

“GU Psc b is a true gift of nature. The large distance that separates it from its star allows it to be studied in depth with a variety of instruments, which will provide a better understanding of giant exoplanets in general,” says René Doyon, co-supervisor of Naud’s thesis and OMM Director.

The team has started a project to observe several hundred stars and detect planets lighter than GU Psc b with similar orbits. The discovery of GU Psc, a rare object indeed, raises awareness of the significant distance that can exist between planets and their stars, opening the possibility of searching for planets with powerful infrared cameras using much smaller telescopes such at the one at the Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic. The researchers also hope to learn more about the abundance of such objects in the next few years, in particular, using GPI instruments, the CFHT’s SPIRou, and the James Webb Space Telescope’s FGS/NIRISS.


About the study

The article Discovery of a Wide Planetary-Mass Companion to the Young M3 Star GU Psc will be published in The Astrophysical Journal on May 20, 2014. The team, led by Marie-Ève Naud, doctoral student at the Department of Physics of the Université de Montréal and member of the CRAQ, consisted mainly of UdeM students and researchers, including Étienne Artigau, Lison Malo, Loïc Albert, René Doyon, David Lafrenière, Jonathan Gagné, and Anne Boucher. Collaborators from other institutions also participated, including Didier Saumon, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico; Caroline Morley, UC Santa Cruz, California; France Allard and Derek Homeier, Centre for Astrophysical Research, Lyon, France; and Christopher Gelino and Charles Beichman, Caltech, California. The study was made possible with funding from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

See the article in The Astrophysical Journal

About the CRAQ

The Centre for Research in Astrophysics of Québec is a partnership between the Université de Montréal, McGill University, and the Université Laval. The CRAQ brings together all researchers working in the field of astronomy and astrophysics of these three institutions, as well as other collaborators from Bishop’s University, the Canadian Space Agency, the Cégep de Sherbrooke, and the private sector (Photon etc., ABB Bomem Inc., Nüvü Caméras). The CRAQ is funded through the program Regroupements stratégiques of the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies (FRQ-NT). The CRAQ constitutes a unique grouping of researchers in astrophysics in Québec bent on excellence and whose varying and complementary fields of expertise allows them to be innovative, creative and competitive in several scientific fields, thus offering graduate students a wide variety of subjects in both fundamental and applied fields of research.

Additional information




Marie-Ève Naud
CRAQ – Université de Montréal
514 343-6111, ext 3797

René Doyon
Director, Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic
Professor, Department of Physics
CRAQ – Université de Montréal
514 343-6111, ext 3204


Olivier Hernandez, Ph. D.
CRAQ – Université de Montréal / Head of Media Relations
514 343-6111, ext 4681 | olivier@astro.umontreal.ca | @OMM_Officiel  | @CRAQ_Officiel

eNews: March-April 2014





To submit news items, announcements and job postings, click here
To contact the CASCA Board, click here
To submit comments to the Long Range Plan Implementation Committee (LRPIC), click here
To submit comments to the Ground Based Astronomy Committee (GAC), click here
To submit comments to the Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (JCSA), click here

Course Development Work — Content Expert/Curriculum Developer, Thompson River University (Deadline: March 25, 2014)

Announcement of Course Development Work
Content Expert/Curriculum Developer

Course number and name: ASTR 1141: Introductory Astronomy: The Solar System

Deadline for application: Applications will be reviewed beginning March 25, 2014. The position will be open until filled.

Project Type: New web-based course

Brief description of the project:
Thompson Rivers University, Open Learning (TRU-OL) is looking for a qualified content expert/curriculum developer to develop ASTR 1141: Introductory Astronomy: The Solar System. This introductory course provides a history of astronomy and the solar system, and is intended for non-science majors. Topics include: Telescopes and observing the night sky, ancient astronomy, space exploration, the Earth/Moon system, formation and evolution of the solar system, the planets, minor members of the solar system and the Sun.

Course Development Process:
The content expert/curriculum developer will work under the guidance of an instructional designer, and in collaboration with the course development team, to complete the following course development process:
1. Planning phase, including development of a detailed blueprint or course framework that includes reviewing learning outcomes and mapping out course activities, assessments and updated resources
2. Development of content, learning activities and authentic assessments, which are relevant and appropriate for a web-based course.
TRU-OL uses a collaborative approach to course development that involves interactive planning meetings and review sessions as needed.
The content expert/curriculum developer is expected to make effective use of any prescribed resources identified (ideally electronic resources, including TRU’s e-Library collection and article databases), and other materials and media as appropriate. TRU respects intellectual property laws and expects curriculum developers to accurately cite sources and identify material that may require copyright clearance.
Anticipated completion date of the project: October 31, 2014

Selection criteria:
The successful candidate will be selected on the basis of the following criteria:
– Relevant educational and professional credentials in physical sciences and/or physics (Master’s degree required, Ph.D. preferred).
– Appropriate and current knowledge, experience, and content expertise, preferably including distance education and post-secondary education experience.
– Recent and substantial experience in astronomy.
– Demonstrated ability to write in a clear and consistent style, with grammatical accuracy.
– Ability to meet deadlines.
– Demonstrated ability to work in a collaborative and consultative manner.
– Experience or training in facilitating online instruction an asset.

Submit cover letter including details of how you meet the selection criteria, CV or resume, *copies of transcripts, *instructional writing sample(s), and contact information for at least two references directly to cdol@tru.ca, at TRU Open Learning.
*Note: If you are currently working, or have in the recent past worked, for TRU or TRU-Open Learning, it is not necessary to submit transcripts.
*Include one or two brief examples of your instructional writing (e.g. lesson outlines, learning activities, and elements of evaluation) with your application, or indicate the name(s) of any TRU Open Learning or BCOU courses that you have written. Response to this notification signifies that you are willing and able to comply with the aforementioned terms and conditions of the project work. Thompson Rivers University is committed to the principle of employment equity.

CASCA’s Dunlap Award Presented to Dr. Matt Dobbs (March 25, 2014)

The Dunlap Award for Innovation in Astronomical Research Tools is awarded biennially to an individual or team for the design, invention, or improvement of instrumentation or software that has enabled significant advances in astronomy. CASCA is pleased to announce Prof. Matt Dobbs, from McGill University, as the inaugural recipient of the Dunlap Award.

Prof. Dobbs received his Ph.D. in experimental Particle Physics from the University of Victoria in 2002. Following an Owen Chamberlain Fellowship at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, he moved to McGill University where he is presently an associate professor in the Department of Physics and an associate member of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. A Canada Research Chair, Prof. Dobbs was awarded a Sloan Fellowship in 2009.

An internationally recognized figure in experimental cosmology instrumentation, Prof. Dobbs is a leader in the design and implementation of systems using Superconducting Transition-Edge Sensor (TES) bolometers. Because TES bolometers can be fabricated lithographically in large arrays, they have allowed a leap forward in experimental sensitivity for CMB experiments. Prof. Dobbs’ design and end-to-end implementation of multiplexed TES readout systems for the South Pole Telescope, PolarBEAR, EBEX and other telescopes have contributed directly to groundbreaking advances in CMB research, including galaxy cluster surveys with the Sunyaev Zel’dovich effect and ultra-deep measurements of CMB polarization.

Please join us in congratulating Prof. Dobbs on the receipt of the 2014 Dunlap Award.

Laura Ferrarese, President, on behalf of the CASCA Board
Patrick Cote, Chair, on behalf of CASCA’s Awards Committee

CASCA’s Qilak Award Presented to Dr. Howard Trottier (March 24, 2014)

CASCA is pleased to announce Prof. Howard Trottier of Simon Fraser University (SFU) as the recipient of the 2014 Qilak award.

Prof. Trottier received a Ph.D. from McGill University in 1987. He has been a professor of physics at SFU since 1993, specializing in studies of lattice Quantum Chromodynamics.

For many years, Prof. Trottier has shown a remarkable dedication to education and public outreach. A past president of the RASC Vancouver centre, he is presently serving as Director of Telescopes. Prof. Trottier and his alter ego — MrStarryNights — have had a profound impact on astronomy education in British Columbia. Since 2007, Prof. Trottier has organized the Starry Nights program — popular gatherings of astronomy enthusiasts at SFU’s Burnaby campus. Starting in 2009, Prof. Trottier has held daytime workshops for thousands of school-age children in which participants learn the basics of telescope optics and usage; thanks to his tireless fundraising efforts, over 150 tripod-mounted refracting telescopes have been donated, about half to public schools, and half to individual families with young children. Another initiative born out of Prof. Trottier’s vision and fundraising efforts is SFU’s Astronomical Teaching Observatory, currently under construction at the Burnaby Mountain campus and to be opened in the fall of 2014. The associated Science Outreach Centre, inaugurated in January 2014, is already providing space and support for both astronomy and general science workshops for thousands of elementary, middle and high school students during daytime visits from nearby schools, for home-school families, and community groups.

Please join CASCA in thanking Dr. Trottier for his selfless dedication to improving public understanding and appreciation of science and astronomy.

Laura Ferrarese, President, on behalf of the CASCA Board
Patrick Cote, Chair, on behalf of CASCA’s Awards Committee

CASCA/RASC’s Plaskett Medal Presented to Dr. Andrew Pon (March 19, 2014)

The J.S. Plaskett Medal is awarded annually by CASCA and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) to the Ph.D. graduate from a Canadian university who is judged to have submitted the most outstanding doctoral thesis in astronomy or astrophysics during the preceding two calendar years. We are pleased to announce Dr. Andrew Richard Pon as the 2014 recipient of the J.S. Plaskett Medal.

Dr. Pon completed his doctoral studies at the University of Victoria in 2013 under the supervision of Dr. Douglas Johnstone (UVic, NRC-Herzberg). His thesis, entitled “Shocks, Superbubbles, and Filaments: Investigations into Large Scale Gas Motions in Giant Molecular Clouds”, covers a wide range of topics in star formation — including gravitational collapse, turbulent heating, and Galactic ecology. This work bridges theory and observations, and crosses traditional boundaries between the detailed investigation of individual nearby star-forming regions and the much larger scale studies of galactic-scale star formation.

Dr. Pon is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leeds, where he is continuing his studies of turbulent dissipation and shock heating in molecular clouds.

CASCA congratulates Dr. Pon on the receipt of the 2014 J.S. Plaskett medal.

Carlyle S. Beals Award Presented to Dr. Harvey Richer (March 18, 2014)

The Carlyle S. Beals Award is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in research — either a specific achievement or a lifetime of research. CASCA is pleased to announce Prof. Harvey B. Richer, from the University of British Columbia, as the recipient of the 2014 Carlyle S. Beals Award.

Prof. Richer received his Ph.D. in 1970 from the University of Rochester, where he studied the physical properties of carbon stars under the supervision of Prof. Stuart Sharpless. Soon afterwards, he joined the faculty at the University of British Columbia where he has remained ever since. An internationally recognized expert on stellar populations in the Milky Way, star clusters and external galaxies, Prof. Richer was a pioneer in the study of globular clusters with CCDs, carrying out a number of landmark studies of these important stellar systems beginning with CFHT in the mid 1980s and continuing until the present day with the Hubble Space Telescope. Notable highlights from his more than 140 refereed publications include the discovery of young globular clusters in the outer halo, and a series of papers characterizing the faint but extensive white dwarf populations belonging to the globular clusters M4, NGC 6397 and 47 Tucanae.

In addition to his research on globular clusters and their constituent stars, Prof. Richer has worked on wide range of topics in astrophysics, including the mass function of the Galactic halo, optical counterparts of X-ray sources, and ground-layer adaptive optics systems for ground-based telescopes.

CASCA congratulates Prof. Richer on a distinguished career of scientific achievement and community service.