2015 Martin Award

CASCA is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2015 Peter G. Martin award is Dr. Laura Ferrarese of NRC-Herzberg.

Dr. Ferrarese received her PhD in 1996 from Johns Hopkins University, and became a tenured professor at Rutgers University 8 years later. In 2004, Dr. Ferrarese moved to Canada as a senior research officer at NRC-Herzberg, and was promoted to Principal Research Officer in 2012. She has been honoured with several prize and guest lectureships across North America such as the 2014 CASCA/RASC Helen Sawyer Hogg lecture, and was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal in 2012.

Dr. Ferrarese is an internationally recognised leader in galaxy dynamics and scaling relations, supermassive black holes, active galactic nuclei, and the extragalactic distance scale. In particular, her seminal work on the relationship between the masses of supermassive black holes and the stellar velocity dispersions of the bulges in their host galaxies is among the most highly cited papers in astronomy and astrophysics. Since that time, she has taken on leadership roles in several major galaxy surveys with the Hubble Space Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope.

CASCA congratulates Dr. Ferrarese on the receipt of the 2015 Martin award.

2016 Plaskett Medal

CASCA is pleased to announce Dr. Jonathan Gagné as the 2016 recipient of the J.S. Plaskett Medal.

Dr. Gagné completed his doctoral studies at l’Université de Montréal under the supervision of Dr. David Lafrenière and Dr. René Doyon. His thesis, entitled “La recherche de naines brunes et étoiles de faible masse dans les associations cinématiques jeunes du voisinage solaire”, identifies and characterizes new substellar mass objects that belong to nearby young associations of stars. Dr. Gagné developed a powerful new algorithm to select highly probable substellar objects in young associations that is now widely used by the community. He also carried out an all-sky survey to identify, follow-up and characterize actual candidates, more than doubling the number of confirmed brown dwarfs.
Dr. Gagné is now widely recognized as a leading figure in the study of nearby young substellar objects.

Dr. Gagné is currently a Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science, where he will work to identify and characterize young brown dwarfs with only a few times the mass of Jupiter.

CASCA congratulates Dr. Gagné on the receipt of the 2016 J.S. Plaskett Medal.

2016 Qilak Award for Astronomy Communications, Public Education and Outreach

CASCA is pleased to announce Dr. Jaymie Matthews, from the University of British Columbia, as the 2016 recipient of the Qilak Award.

After obtaining his Ph.D. from the University of Western Ontario in 1987, Dr. Matthews held positions at Western and l’Université de Montréal before moving to the University of British Columbia as a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow in 1988. He obtained tenure at UBC in 2000, and has been a full professor there since 2008.

Dr. Matthews’ dedication and boundless enthusiasm for communicating with the public about astronomy are illustrated by the dozens of outreach activities in which he participates annually, ranging from public presentations, to radio interviews, to campus tours, to TV show consultations. Beyond his legendary teaching reputation at UBC, he has given courses aimed at younger children as well as special lectures in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, the First Nations Summer Science Programme, and the Canadian Association of Physics (CAP) undergraduate lecture series, among many others. In recognition of these efforts, Dr. Matthews received the CAP Education Medal in 2002, was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2006, and received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

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

Alan Nursall, Featured Speaker at the CASCA-2017 EPO Session

By Sharon Morsink (CASCA EPO Committee member & CASCA-2017 co-organizer)
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2017)

This year’s CASCA conference in Edmonton will feature an invited talk by Alan Nursall in the Education and Public Outreach session. Alan is the President and CEO of Telus World of Science Edmonton, Edmonton’s Science Museum. He also hosts a weekly science segment on Discovery Channel Canada’s show Daily Planet. Past positions include Science Director at Science North in Sudbury. He holds an MSc in geography and meteorology from the University of Alberta. He has extensive science communication experience through his work at science centres and on television.

In a recent interview he was asked “Why is it important to get people excited about science?” His answer: “People always say, `Science takes the beauty out of everything.’ No, it doesn’t! Science is gorgeous. We need to have a continuous, ongoing discussion about how we understand our world, and science is one of the lenses.”

Alan Nursall’s talk will inspire us to continue to communicate our love of astronomy to the public.

Time Dependence of the RXTE X-ray Spectrum of Hercules X-1/HZ Hercules

(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2017)

by Mohammed Hassan Abdallah
Thesis defended in September 2016
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Calgary
Thesis advisor: Dr. Dennis Leahy


We study the time dependence of the energy spectra (i.e. of the spectral model parameters, and the interpretation) of the X-ray binary system Hercules X-1/HZ Hercules (Her X-1/HZ Her) over the superorbital/35-day cycle. The results are discussed separately in two parts: one for the data during the main high state and one for the data obtained during low state and short high state. We made use of data collected by RXTE/PCA instrument in the standard-2 mode during the period from July,1996 to August of 2005 (MJD = 50290 to 53584) acquired as a result of 23 study proposals for observing the HZ Her/Her X-1 system. Observations made while the system was in anomalous low state (ALS) were removed, as the ALS are believed to be caused by a change in the status of the disc which results in disappearance of the 35-day superorbital cycle. In our data there are two anomalous low states (MJD = 51226:4 to 51756:9 & MJD = 52950:6 to 53159:4). Due to the rapid change of count rates and energy spectra during eclipse and dips periods, we remove these periods from our analysis. The main results during main high state are directly linked to the disc precession and its effect in occulting the central source and surrounding emission regions, while results obtained for the low state and short high state are related to the changing visibility of the irradiated face of HZ Her which contributes to the observed spectra by the reflected emission off of its heated face.

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

SKA logoBy/par Bryan Gaensler, Canadian SKA Science Director
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2017)

For more information on the SKA, subscribe to the Canadian SKA email list, and visit the Canadian SKA WWW site.

“Canadian Radio Astronomy: Surveying the Present and Shaping the Future”

A meeting will be held over September 13-14, 2017, in Montréal to assess the present and future landscape of Canadian radio astronomy, defined broadly to span the frequency range from ~50 MHz to ~100 GHz, utilising instruments such as CHIME, the JVLA, ALMA, the various SKA pathfinders and precursors, and more. The meeting will be an opportunity for the entire Canadian astronomy community (including students and postdocs) to present and discuss their frontline research with current radio facilities, the status of planned facilities, and the community’s scientific priorities for the next generation of observatories such as the ngVLA and SKA. There will be a strategy session on the afternoon of the second day, where we will have an initial discussion on possible radio contributions to the next Long Range Plan. To register, please fill out this form by March 31st, 2017.

Canadian SKA Pre-Construction Activities

NRC Herzberg has continued its work on pre-construction for the SKA1-Mid correlator/beamformer (CBF), the single pixel feed digitisers, and the band 2 and band 5 low noise amplifiers, with the focus remaining on completing Critical Design Reviews by December 2017.

The Mid.CBF and Low.CBF teams initiated discussions to see if there was a possibility of converging the NRC and CSIRO/ASTRON correlator/beamformer designs and of sharing development pieces. The functional requirements for SKA1-Mid and SKA1-Low are sufficiently different that full convergence is not possible, but the teams have agreed to share design pieces.

The single pixel feed digitisers will undergo a Detailed Design Review (DDR) within the Dish Consortium over January 30-31, 2017 prior to building pre-production units for on-site testing later this year.

The band 2 low-noise amplifier (LNA) specifications have been ratified by the Dish Consortium, and the band 2 feed design from EMSS South Africa passed its DDR in Nov 2016. NRC is proceeding to supply LNAs for the pre-production units for on-site testing. The band 5 change request to split the 3:1 band into two 1.85:1 bands 5A and 5B was approved, and prototype LNAs are being prepared by NRC for consideration in a competitive design of these split bands.

The construction and operating cost review, mandated from the SKA Board, is being led by SKAO with nine ‘streams’ of examination:

  • Reuse of precursor or pathfinder designs
  • Alternative antennas
  • Reduced operating model
  • Critical review of consortia cost estimates
  • Review of identified cost reduction options
  • Over-specified requirements
  • Over design
  • Explore SDP savings
  • Procurement model

The consortia are supporting this effort, and went through full day cost reviews discussions in February 2017, leading to recommendations to the SKA Board meeting in March 2017.

Canadian SKA Science Activities

The University of Toronto and the University of Cape Town are jointly hosting a major science conference, “Fundamental Physics with the Square Kilometre Array”, to be held in Mauritius over May 1-5, 2017. The purpose of this meeting is to engage the theoretical physics (as opposed to astrophysics) community in the science case and design considerations for the full array (further details).

The SKA project maintains 11 international science working groups and another 2 focus groups. Membership of science working groups and focus groups is open to all qualified astronomers. If you are interested in joining one of these groups, please contact Bryan Gaensler (bgaensler@dunlap.utoronto.ca).

The 2016 SKA Engineering meeting was held in Stellenbosch in October 2016. Twelve Canadians attended, representing NRC, CADC, and MDA. The 2016 SKA Science meeting was held in Goa in November 2016. Six Canadians attended, representing Toronto, NRC, McGill ,and Calgary. The 2017 SKA Engineering meeting will be held in Rotterdam in June 2017.

CFI Proposal on Radio Astronomy Data Services

A $9.4M funding proposal has now been submitted to the 2017 round of the CFI Innovation Fund program, with the goal of developing the tools and infrastructure needed to support a Canadian SKA Data Centre. The proposal is entitled “Unlocking the Radio Sky with Next-Generation Survey Astronomy”, and is a partnership between U. Toronto (lead), U. Alberta, UBC, U. Manitoba, Queen’s U., McGill U., CADC and NRAO, along with selected other international collaborators. If successful, the proposal will fund 14 staff and $3.6M of equipment over five years, through which the proposing team will derive and archive advanced data products for major new surveys with the VLA, CHIME and ASKAP. Results are expected in around June 2017.

Murchison Widefield Array

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is one of three designated SKA precursors. Construction is now well advanced for MWA phase 2, which will improve the sensitivity of the array by an order of magnitude. The legal process to add the University of Toronto as a partner to MWA phase 1 is now complete, providing Canada with one seat on the MWA Board as part of a North American consortium. Bryan Gaensler has taken up this seat and is participating in Board meetings. The next step is to establish a new legal framework for MWA phase 2, in which Canada will participate in its own right rather than in partnership with the USA. The process of developing the relevant documentation has commenced.

ACURA Advisory Council on the SKA

The Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) coordinates activities and discussion on the SKA through the ACURA Advisory Council on the SKA (AACS); see skatelescope.ca/canada-and-the-ska/committees-working-groups/ for a listing of AACS membership. AACS meets several times per year, with its next meeting in June, 2017. For further information or to propose AACS agenda items, please contact the AACS Chair, Bryan Gaensler (bgaensler@dunlap.utoronto.ca).

SKA Regional Centres

In 2016, the SKA Board endorsed the concept of SKA Regional Centres (SRCs) as its preferred model for meeting and managing the challenges posed by the extremely high data rates, data volumes and data analysis requirements of SKA Phase 1. As such, the essential functions of a network of SRCs are to:

  • provide access to SKA data products, subject to SKA data access policies;
  • provide the computational resources for processing, including science analysis and data visualisation;
  • provide a common platform for the continued development and certification of software and data analysis tools;
  • provide a long-term science archive for SKA data products; and
  • provide local user support to their communities.

The SKA Office has now established an SKA Regional Centre Coordination Group (SRCCG), with representation from member countries/regions interested in hosting an SRC. The responsibilities of the SRCCG include defining a minimum set of requirements for individual SRCs, developing an accreditation process for the SRCs, developing a process to ensure that software tools are interoperable across the SRC network, and investigating models for the future governance of the collaborative network of SRCs. The SRCCG began monthly meetings in September 2016; Séverin Gaudet (NRC) has been appointed as the Canadian representative.
To provide input to the SRCCG and to shape a vision for an SRC in Canada, the AACS has formed a Canadian SKA Regional Centre Advisory Committee (CSRCAC), chaired by Erik Rosolowsky (U. Alberta). CSRCAC has now established its terms of reference, and held its first meeting in February 2017. A range of initial issues have been discussed, including consultation with the local astronomical community, the need to engage with other Canadian stakeholders (CANARIE, Compute Canada, CADC, CFI), and the potential for collaboration with other countries/regions.

International SKA Lanscape

The SKA Board (for which Greg Fahlman and Bryan Gaensler are the two Canadian directors) met most recently in July 2016 and November 2016; both meetings were held at SKA HQ at Jodrell Bank, UK). A meeting of the SKA Members (at which Greg Fahlman represented NRC) took place via videoconference in December 2016. The SKA Board’s Executive Committee (of which Bryan Gaensler is a member) meets monthly.

Notable outcomes from the last two SKA Board meetings have included:

  • A decision to undertake a review of the existing SKA design and to explore and capitalise on a range of cost-saving measures, in order to ensure the delivery of SKA1 against the defined cost cap of €674M (2016 Euros). This includes drawing on cost reduction options already identified and further exploiting potential cost-saving and risk-reduction technology developments and solutions provided by SKA precursor and pathfinder facilities. This work is being performed under the guidance of a Cost Update Subcommittee (CUS) of the Board, comprising all SKA Board Science Directors. The CUS aims to preserve the transformational science capabilities of SKA1, while minimising impact on the project schedule and allowing expansion of the telescopes as additional funding becomes available. The SKA Office will present preliminary recommendations on a cost update to the March 2017 Board meeting.
  • Extensive ongoing discussion of a proposed budget and business plan for the SKA Organisation (SKAO) through 2019 and into the transition into an intergovernmental treaty organisation (IGO).
  • Consideration of a staged construction plan for SKA1.
  • Approval of the top-level principles governing SKA operations, including recognition of the advantages of appointing CSIRO and SKA South Africa as preferred bidders for the operation of the two telescope sites in Australia and South Africa, respectively.
  • Receipt of a comprehensive review from the SKA Management Review Panel, and initiation of activity to implement the resulting recommendations.
  • Consideration of an SKA Observatory Development Program, aimed at pursuing advanced instrumentation for future SKA upgrades.
  • Discussion of the formation of a new international Phased Array Feed technology consortium.
  • Ongoing overviews of the SKA Headquarters and Site Hosting agreements, and of the design and construction of the SKA Headquarters.
  • Ongoing discussion of costing, scheduling, construction plans, engineering reports, operations plans, hosting agreements, and transition planning from a company limited by guarantee into an intergovernmental organisation (IGO).

The SKA Board meetings for 2017 will be in March, July and November.

Negotiations to form an IGO to replace the current SKA Organisation are ongoing. Negotiation meetings have taken place in Rome in October 2015, January 2016, April 2016, September 2016 and February 2017. Canada has not participated in these negotiations, but Gilles Joncas (ACURA) and Greg Fahlman / Sean Dougherty (NRC) have attended these meetings as observers. If the Canadian government decides not to participate in the IGO, an alternative option for Canadian astronomy is associate membership in the SKA IGO. Note that at present associate membership is a poorly understood concept, envisioned as a matter of negotiation between the IGO Council and the petitioning State.

For further information on international SKA activities, see the latest SKA Newsletter and the bi-monthly SKA Organisation Bulletin.

Astrosat Observatory Update

By John Hutchings (NRC)
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2017)

M31 FUV F1 7981sec

ISRO’s Astrosat observatory is in regular operations and all instruments are working well. The UVIT telescopes, for which Canada supplied the photon-counting detectors, are performing well above spec and have no sign of degradation after 18 months in orbit. The accompanying image shows the centre of M31 in the FUV (roughly 150nm wavelength), from a program of Denis Leahy. The hot population around the nucleus, dust clouds, and young clusters in the spiral arms, are evident. Other Canadian observing programs range from X-ray binaries to star-forming galaxies, AGN, and galaxy clusters.

Refinements in drift correction and distortion corrections by CSA’s science support, Joe Postma, are producing matched images with 0.9” to 1.0” resolution in various filters, and the ability to do time analysis of fluxes. UVIT and the three X-ray instruments all observe together, allowing for multi-wavelength investigations. Canada has guaranteed 5% of observing time, and cycles will be for a full year, beginning this October. Expect a call for proposals around June. Astrosat will also be open for a quota of international proposals in future, and discussions are under way for a single TAC process. Proposal pressure from India remains high.

The CASCA/ACURA TMT Advisory Committee (CATAC) Is Up and Running

From/de Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2017)

In early 2017, the CASCA/ACURA TMT Advisory Committee (CATAC) was formed to provide advice and a forum for communication regarding the TMT project. Specifically, the ACURA/CASCA mandate to the committee is to:

  • Provide advice to CASCA and ACURA on the current state of the TMT project.
  • Act as a conduit for consulting with and informing the Canadian Astronomical community about the state of the TMT project;
  • Advocate and advance Canadian participation in the TMT project;
  • Encourage Canadian scientific participation and leadership in the TMT;
  • Advise on strategic development of technology for the TMT in Canadian Industry;
  • Provide technical assistance to the 2020 (and subsequent) CASCA Long-range Plan Committees.

The full terms of reference can be found on the CATAC website.

The committee is in complete agreement with earlier advice that TMT will be most competitive and desirable if it is constructed on Maunakea as planned. Every effort should be made to make this happen. However, should this prove impossible, the TIO Board has decided that TMT would move to an alternative site, at Observatorio Roque de los Muchachos (ORM, La Palma). This decision is currently expected in October of 2017. The immediate and urgent objective of CATAC is to obtain a deep understanding of the implications, should TMT need to relocate to ORM. To this end, we have been holding weekly meetings via telecon or webex, many of which are open to CASCA members. The schedule of meetings is given on our website, and meetings open to the public are announced on the CASCA email exploder. Any CASCA member wishing to attend these meetings should send email to Luc Simard (Luc.Simard@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca) to be added to the list. Minutes and other documentation are also made available on the CATAC website.

One of CATAC’s most important roles is to keep the community informed as the project progresses, and to ensure that your voice is heard. We are consulting widely and inviting experts to our meetings to advise on technical issues. As well as attending meetings, you are encouraged to contact the Chair at mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca at any time.

CATAC is using information from these meetings to prepare a report that will be delivered to CASCA and ACURA. This report will consist of a factual narrative, with Findings and Recommendations. We will present a draft of this report at the CASCA meeting in Edmonton, May 30-June 1. Together with the LRPIC we are planning an extended discussion session which will, among other things, consider the implications of these recommendations in the broader context. We look forward to working with and for you to secure a bright future for the Canadian astronomical community.

CATAC Members:

  • Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo) Chair
  • Sarah Gallagher (Western University), Vice-Chair
  • Stefi Baum (University of Manitoba)
  • Chris Wilson (McMaster University)
  • Ray Carlberg (University of Toronto)
  • David Lafrenière (Université de Montréal)
  • Harvey Richer (UBC)


  • Greg Fahlman (General Manager of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
  • Don Brooks (Executive Director of ACURA, non-voting, ex-officio)
  • Bob Abraham (CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
  • Doug Welch, (Science Governor for Canada on TIO Governing Board, non-voting, ex-officio)
  • Tim Davidge (NRC, observer)
  • Luc Simard (NRC, observer)

Report from LRPIC

From/de John Hutchings
(Cassiopeia – spring/printemps 2017)

LRPIC holds discussions monthly, or more often when needed, and is active on emails to keep current with LRP developments. The group of members and observers includes the following: R. Thacker, M. Sawicki, M. Dobbs, N. Murray, R. Abraham, M. Balogh, B. McNamara, C. Wilson, C. Heinke, I. Stairs, S. Ellison, JJ Kavelaars, and J. Hutchings. This group ensures direct participation in activities of JCSA, GAC, AACS, CATAC, CASCA, and the Coalition, as well as connection with several individual LRP projects.

At present there are several issues of concern and uncertainty within the LRP, with particular implications for TMT (CATAC, potential alternatives), SKA (significant cost cap problems, treaty formation, non-treaty members, regional data centres), MSE (completion of design reviews this year, Maunakea issues and alternatives), and space astronomy (future commitments, input to government space policy, Treasury Board submissions), where WFIRST and CASTOR are currently under close scrutiny.

As noted in recent CASCA mailings, LRPIC will announce details of an open Webex meeting in April, and also a session at the CASCA meeting in Edmonton. This is an important time for Canadian astronomy and the LRPIC wishes to encourage as many people as possible to attend these discussions.

Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) Update


By/par Patrick Hall, MSE Management Group Member
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2017)

The MSE project continues to move ahead. The major focus of the MSE project office in the first quarter of 2017 has been to prepare for an extensive set of subsystem conceptual design reviews in Spain, Canada, Hawaii, and France in the second quarter of 2017. Components to be reviewed are the telescope structure, the enclosure, the high resolution spectrograph, the fibre transmission system, two fibre positioner system concepts, the top end assembly, and the low/moderate resolution spectrograph. A project-wide system conceptual design review and cost review will follow later in 2017.

On Maunakea, the geotechnical firm Fewell have completed drilling sample boreholes beneath CFHT to assess the structural strength of the soil; results are pending. The activity was monitored by ASM Affiliates for any archeological issues; none were found.

The MSE Science Advisory Group has been appointed. The SAG is charged with advising the MSE Project Scientist on any and all aspects of the science-related development of MSE. Its members are: Andrew Hopkins (Australia), Kim Venn and Sarah Gallagher (Canada), Zhao Gongbo and Peng Yingjie (China), Nicolas Martin and Olivier Le Fèvre (France), Brent Tully and Ken Chambers (Hawaii), Gajendra Pandey (India), and Arturo Manchado (Spain). The first charge to the SAG has been to review the MSE Science Requirements Document – available at http://mse.cfht.hawaii.edu/docs/ – and prioritize the science capabilities for first light. Their report is expected for the April 3 meeting of the Management Group.