ALMA Matters


From/de Gerald Schieven
(Cassiopeia – Winter/hivers 2017)

New ALMA Director

After a competitive selection process that began in January 2017, the international governing board of the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) has selected Dr. Sean Dougherty as the new ALMA Director for a 5-year term beginning in late February 2018. Dougherty is currently the director of the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory, Canada’s national radio astronomy facility, run by NRC Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics. He has served as a member of the ALMA Board representing North America for four years and was the chair of the ALMA Budget Committee for the last two years.

SPICA Status Report

By/par David Naylor, SPICA Canadian HoN and Co-I and Doug Johnstone, SPICA Science Team
(Cassiopeia – Winter/hivers 2017)


This SPICA Status Report is a revised version of a note that was sent to the Canadian SPICA community e-mail distribution list in early November. Since that time we have learned that the ESO M5 selection process has been delayed by a few months and is now expected to take place in February 2018. We remain very optimistic that SPICA will be selected at that time! Canadian astronomers interested in following the developments of SPICA and not already on the SPICA e-mail distribution list should contact David Naylor or Doug Johnstone.
As you may recall, one year ago, 5 October 2016, the SPICA proposal for a mechanically cryo-cooled infrared space telescope was submitted to ESA’s M5 Cosmic Vision call. In total, thirty-five proposals were submitted to that call. We learned on 7 June 2017 that thirteen proposals, including SPICA, made it through the technical and programmatic review, a hurdle designed to ensure that the required technology was feasible and within the M5 budget envelope.  Since that time, these remaining mission concepts have been undergoing rigorous scientific review.
As part of the review process, on 20 October the ESA review committee sent out a list of written questions to each mission team with responses due by 31 October. The questions which the SPICA project received were well posed, but all relatively easily addressed. The final step in the review process was a face to face meeting that took place on in Paris on 8 November. The SPICA PI, Peter Roelfsema, was allowed to take two scientists with him to face the review panel. Accompanied by Takashi Onaka (JAXA) and Martin Girard (CNES), the SPICA team appeared before the ESA panel. Peter Roelfsema reports that the review panel “posed solid/direct questions, mostly for deeper clarification on the answers we had already given, that in my opinion we could address really well. From our side there was no insecurity, no hesitation and we stayed to the point and direct at all times.” Further, “I can safely say that both in the written answers earlier this month as well is in today’s interview we did exactly what was needed – bring across that we have a well-conceived mission, with solid and well-founded science goals, with an open mind as to necessary work and/or adaptations that will need to be done as we learn more in the next years, and all that backed by a very knowledgeable and motivated consortium. I am sure we, again, significantly reinforced our path towards the M5 shortlist.”
According to the ESA M5 review schedule, ESA was to have announced the winning proposals selected for mission studies in December. However, we have recently learned that complications with the M4 decision process have led to a delay in the M5 decision, which is now expected in February 2018. Assuming that SPICA is selected at that time, an outcome for which we remain optimistic, what will follow will be an intense and active three year phase of instrument development to ensure that the Technology Readiness Levels (TRL) of the various subsystems are at the required level (TRL5/6) before the final mission selection, which is due to take place in February 2021.
There is considerable optimism and excitement about the SPICA mission. At the recent consortium meeting in Rome, attended by myself and Doug Johnstone, many of us were taken off guard by the outright confidence of our PI. Furthermore, these recent SPICA team interactions with ESA have all been very positive. Canada was a founding member of the SPICA team, and although it has been a long journey, dating back to our first meeting (also) in Rome in 2009, it appears that very exciting news is imminent.
You may recall that under the current work package breakdown Canada has been assigned the critical high resolution spectrometer (a Martin-Puplett polarizing Fourier transform spectrometer). This builds on Canadian excellence both in academia and industry. The return from this investment to Canadian scientists like yourselves will be more than four times that awarded to the Canadian Herschel SPIRE team. Herschel was, of course, an amazing success, in part due to the great Canadian scientists involved. Indeed, it is most definitely the success of the Herschel mission that has spurred on the SPICA consortium in making its case to ESA.
Finally, as with all missions, CSA funding will depend upon strong support from the scientific community. Missions must be identified in the Long Range Plan (LRP) and must have a strong cadre of scientists who can exploit the scientific return on what will be a significant investment. Your role in this regard is essential.  Toward this end, a series of refereed SPICA science papers have been published (see below) and the next SPICA consortium meeting, Groningen in March 2018, will devote an entire day to science talks. Finally, an open international conference dedicated to SPICA science is being planned for February/March 2019; Doug Johnstone is part of the SOC. 
Clearly these are exciting times for SPICA. On behalf of the mission thank you for your continued support!
SPICA Canada
SPICA Science

CRAQ Summer School Announcement / Annonce d’École d’Été

By/par Robert La Montagne
(Cassiopeia – Winter/hivers 2017)

La version française suit

The Centre for Research in Astrophysics of Quebec (CRAQ) is announcing its annual Summer School, which will be held on June 19-21, 2018 in Montreal, Quebec.


This year’s topic will be “Large-Scale Astrophysics: galaxies and beyond”. This 3-day school will focus on our understanding of galaxies, including galaxy dynamics and populations, their environments and the use of galaxies as cosmological probes. The summer school will include formal lectures from local and international experts in the field.

The CRAQ Summer School is principally aimed at graduate students in the field of physics, astronomy, and astrophysics, although students who have completed an undergraduate program in physics will also be accepted.

There is no registration fee. However, we cannot offer traveling funds or cover lodging expenses. Lodging at a reasonable cost will be made available to the participants on the university campus.

Additional information about the program, registration and accommodation will be available soon on this site.

Email contact:

Le Centre de recherche en astrophysique du Québec (CRAQ) annonce son école d’été annuelle, qui aura lieu du 19 au 21 juin 2018 à Montréal, Québec.


Le thème de cette année portera sur « L’astrophysique à grande échelle : les galaxies et au-delà ». Cette école d’une durée de 3 jours, se concentrera sur notre compréhension des galaxies, incluant la dynamique et les populations de galaxies, leur environnement et l’utilisation des galaxies comme sondes cosmologiques. Cette école d’été comprendra des présentations formelles offertes en anglais par des experts locaux et internationaux dans le domaine.

L’école d’été du CRAQ s’adresse principalement à des étudiants aux cycles supérieurs dans le domaine de la physique, de l’astronomie et de l’astrophysique. Les étudiants ayant complété un programme de premier cycle en physique seront également acceptés.

Il n’y a aucun frais d’inscription. Cependant, nous ne pouvons offrir de subside pour couvrir les frais de déplacement ou d’hébergement. Des chambres à coût abordable sur le campus universitaire seront disponibles pour les participants.

Les informations additionnelles à propos du programme, de l’inscription et de l’hébergement seront disponibles bientôt sur le site.


A Call to Action for Canadian Astronomy in Space

By/par Jeremy Heyl
(Cassiopeia – Winter/hivers 2017)

Over the next few months, the federal government is developing a new long-term plan for the Canadian Space Agency. We believe that the government wants to make a major and possibly transformational investment in space exploration. However, they want to see broad support from the community before they will act.

We developed “A Vision for Canadian Space Exploration” that calls for a sustained, competitive and comprehensive program of science in space over the next decade (see document here) to keep Canada competitive economically, technologically and scientifically. We have presented this vision to members of parliament, the Canadian Space Agency and the responsible ministers.

Now is your chance to drive major change in how astronomy is done in Canada. Canadian astronomers have led globally through partnering in and building the best ground-based facilities. Now astronomy from space plays a larger and larger role in the latest discoveries. Please reach out to your member of parliament to let them know that Canada should invest in space exploration with a sustained program of competitively chosen missions. Let them know how space astronomy can inspire our communities, develop new technologies and train the next generation of innovators for Canada.

Ilaria Caiazzo
Sarah Gallagher
Jeremy Heyl

JCMT Update

By/par Chris Wilson
(Cassiopeia – Winter/hivers 2017)


Anyone on Maunakea in December 2017 will have a chance to see an unusual sight: the JCMT operating without its iconic membrane. (A fantastic picture of the JCMT under “normal” conditions by William Montgomerie is included in this article.) The observatory is planning a month-long observing campaign to see if they can commission the POL-2 polarimeter to operate at 450 microns. If anyone gets a good picture, I would love to see it!

The JCMT continues to perform well and to produce exciting new science results. A recent press release highlights an exciting discovery from one of the large programs, the JCMT Transient Survey of an 18-month recurring twinkle in the submillimetre emission from a young star, which suggests the presence of an unseen planet. The variation was discovered by Hyunju Yoo, graduate student at Chungnam National University and advisor Jeong-Eun Lee, Professor at Kyung Hee University (South Korea) during their analysis of monthly observations of the Serpens Main star-forming region. Their paper was published in ApJ November 1, 2017.

Three of the original seven Large Programs on the JCMT have finished collecting all their data: SCOPE, a continuum survey of pre-stellar evolution focusing on Planck cold cores; MALATANG, a survey of spectral lines (HCN and HCO+) tracing highly excited dense gas in 19 nearby galaxies; and S2COSMOS, a sensitive 2-degree square map of the COSMOS field at 850 microns. The remaining four programs are progressing well. All programs passed their mid-term review last spring.

Observing for some of the nine new large programs began in August 2017 at the start of semester 17A. One of these programs, “HASHTAG”, a deep map of M31 at 850 microns with CO J=3-2 maps in selected regions, has already completed all its CO observing, while other programs (such as JINGLE-II, an extension of the JINGLE nearby galaxy survey to starburst and green valley galaxies) are waiting for their sources to become available in the winter semester. The remaining four programs from the initial large program call have first priority on the telescope during large program nights, which make up 50% of the observing time on the telescope. Summaries and more details on all programs can be found here.

Just as a reminder, all JCMT data (PI and large programs) become public one year after the end of the semester in which the data were taken. Also, although the original call for new members in the large programs has closed, many of the teams continue to accept students and postdocs as new members.

The Board of the East Asian Observatories (EAO) struck a Mid-Term Review Committee to discuss the future of the JCMT. The committee met in July and delivered their report to the Board in October 2017. This report will provide useful input to the EAO Board as they consider whether to renew their contract to operate the JCMT for a second 5-year term. The current JCMT agreement extends until early 2020. The UK university consortium was successful in obtaining a second round of funding to contribute to JCMT operations for an additional three years (taking them to 2021). The current round of Canadian funding from NSERC lasts until March 2019.

The next call for PI proposals for JCMT semester 18B will be issued in mid-February with proposals due in mid-March. Depending on whether or not we can identify new sources of funding in Canada, this call for proposals could be the last call that is open to Canadians PIs.

The DAO 100 Project

By/par James di Francesco
(Cassiopeia – Winter/hivers 2017)

Next year, 2018, will mark the 100th anniversary of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory. Several celebratory events are being planned to commemorate this historic event. One planned event, the DAO100 Project, will greatly benefit from your contribution. Thank you to all those who have very kindly sent us contributions already!

We wish to celebrate the 100th anniversary by collecting vivid accounts of life at the observatory from its current and former staff, postdocs, students, and visitors over the past several decades. We are looking for your best stories here and invite you to kindly contribute to this ambitious enterprise. Highlights of the collected material will be shared as part of other events planned for the 100th anniversary, and woven into an article to be published in the Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

To stimulate ideas about your contribution, please consider the following about your DAO experiences:

  • When were you at DAO and what role did you play while here?
  • What was the most memorable interaction you had with others at DAO?
  • What was your favourite project?
  • What contribution (e.g., scientific discovery, instrumentation development, computational project, technical or administrative activity) from your time at DAO do you remember most fondly?
  • What was the funniest thing that happened to you during your time here?
  • Was there anything special about DAO you’d like to impart?
  • What significance did DAO play in your life?

Of course, these are just suggestions, and anyone is free to submit any anecdote or particularly meaningful pictures they’d like to share. All contributions will be properly credited to the submitters. (Some light editing may be required, but we will strive to preserve the spirit of all comments and consult with you where necessary to ensure clarity.)

Submissions of any length are welcome but we ask that you focus your recollections to avoid an intended submission from becoming too ambitious to complete. Please send any and all submissions to by 7 January 2018. Also, please share this invitation with your colleagues so we can get the widest possible distribution.

President’s Message

2014-06-27-Prof. Roberto Abraham

By/par Roberto Abraham, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Autumn/l’automne 2017)

Dear CASCA Members,

It’s been a busy summer! Here are some activities that have been going on over the past few months:

CHIME First Light

About two weeks ago, Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, installed the final piece of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), triggering the official First Light for this exciting new radio telescope. Congratulations to the many people involved in CHIME at UBC, McGill, Toronto, and NRC.

CHIME is incredibly innovative and its science is hugely exciting, so it is no surprise to see that its First Light generated a lot of buzz in both the astronomical community and in the media. I can’t wait to see the exciting science it will produce. The process by which CHIME came into existence is also interesting because it is another success story for the CASCA Long-Range Plan process. I was on the LRP2010 committee (chaired by Chris Pritchet at the University of Victoria) and well remember the extensive discussions about CHIME that led to it being declared the top mid-scale priority in the plan. This prioritization evidently played an important role in securing its funding. I’m not a radio astronomer (yet), and I’m no lover of committees (in general), but I must say it is incredibly satisfying watching the CHIME team deliver the goods and knowing that the work the community put into LRP2010 helped make CHIME happen. By being organized, disciplined, and working together, harnessing the many strengths of both Canadian Universities and the NRC, we can build the groundwork for more Canadian success stories in astrophysics. And if you are getting the impression from this buildup that the Canadian community is starting to gear up for LRP2020, well, of course you’re right. Witness (for example) the very successful recent workshop held in Montreal last week on “Canadian Radio Astronomy – Surveying the Present and Shaping the Future”. So, please start thinking about what you want the future to look like, because the planning for LRP2020 will be starting quite soon.

TMT Progress

After nearly five months of hearing evidence, the contested case hearing for the Thirty Meter Telescope Project has concluded and State Hearings Officer and former Judge Riki May Amano has recommended that a permit be issued to the University of Hawaii to allow construction of the TMT. In parallel with this progress in the legal domain, support for the TMT has been growing in Hawaii. Oahu public support for TMT construction is now almost 80 percent, and the most recent polling indicates that Hawaii Island residents support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. This is great news! Very serious consideration of the backup site (La Palma) continues but we now have many reasons to be optimistic about the prospect of TMT construction at our first-choice site in Hawaii. Challenges remain but this should not come as as a surprise to anybody. (Beyond a certain scale, essentially all ambitious scientific infrastructure projects have to deal with some combination of logistical, financial, and scheduling hurdles. The trick is to have a robust plan in place to manage the challenges.) CASCA members interested in learning how the TMT project is progressing, and on the plans for future instruments, should participate in the community Webcast with senior TMT management being organized by CATAC (see Michael Balogh’s CATAC report in this issue for details). Future webcasts will organized to help keep the community up to date on the considerable progress being made on the TMT.

Perhaps it is not out of place to remind ourselves that the privilege of observing on Mauna Kea has been a huge benefit to many of us. Let’s be grateful for, and respectful of, this privilege. Over the summer, I sat down with a couple of books and did some reading about the fascinating history of the people of Hawaii. Since I’ve been a regular visitor to the islands for 25 years, I’m truly ashamed that it took me this long to read a book on this subject. As the legal process winds down, I hope more astronomers take some time to learn more about the history of the islands. (Though it’s somewhat dated, I can recommend “Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands” by Gavan Daws. If you have other suggestions, please do email me with them.)

Space Science and the Canadian Space Agency

After years of talking about it on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) advisory committee, the JWST Early Release Science proposal deadline has come and gone. The selection committee is meeting in a few weeks and will divide about 500 hours worth of observing time between about 15 proposals, chosen from the 106 submitted. The JWST General Observer call for proposals will come out in two months with a proposal deadline of next March. The lesson you should draw from all this is that THE JWST ERA IS ALMOST HERE!

The Canadian Space Agency has played an important role in the development of the JWST mission and, when the spacecraft launches in 2018, I think that all Canadians will be justifiably proud to learn that a team of Canadian academic, governmental, and industrial scientists, engineers and technicians built one of JWST’s key instruments (the NIRISS spectrometer, whose Principal Investigator is René Doyon at the Université de Montréal), not to mention the critical Fine Guidance Sensor that points and guides the telescope.

Unfortunately, JWST will have a very limited lifetime. It is designed to have at least a five-year lifetime after launch, and carries only enough fuel to maintain orbital positioning for a little over ten years. Of course, most space-based endeavours have long lead times, and investments in space missions frequently begin to pay off many years into the future (and, when it comes to flagship missions, sometimes decades into the future). The spectacular near-term future we are anticipating with JWST is thus the product of investments begun many years ago. But what about the decades after JWST? We need to ensure that post-JWST Canada continues to innovate, lead, and inspire.

Operating in synergy with the CASCA Long Range Plan, and with a particular eye toward LRP2020, a number of Canadians have begun thinking about ways to lay out a roadmap to such an exciting post-JWST future. Professors Sarah Gallagher (Western) and Jeremy Heyl (UBC), working with graduate student Ilaria Caiazzo (UBC), have put together a very thoughtful white paper which I think everybody should read. This White Paper, together with the various Topical Team reports now being prepared by the CSA, show how space-based astrophysical research should operate in the country at a variety of levels, from low-cost, agile balloon-based missions that perform end-to-end experiments on a timescale relevant for the training of graduate students, to focused mid-scale missions that target high-risk/high-return subjects such as primordial gravitational waves from the first few moments after the Big Bang, all the way up to proposed participation in (and potentially leadership in) much more infrequent but highly ambitious facilities that will keep our astronomical research and space industrial communities vibrant long after JWST. The key to to this future is increased funding for the Canadian Space Agency, and the immediate audience for our recommendations is the government’s newly-formed Space Advisory Board. The Space Advisory Board’s first report, titled “Consultations on Canada’s Future in Space: What We Heard”, is now available here.

This report summarizes the feedback Space Advisory Board members received from stakeholders during the public consultations on Canada’s future in space. There are exciting plans, but how do we turn these plans into reality? By now you should not be surprised to learn that LRP2020 will be an important component in this. In the meantime, we need to keep delivering the message to the government. And this inevitably brings me to the my final topic: activities by the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy.

Coalition Activities

In late August, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy prepared a pre-budget submission and submitted this to the government. There are two main recommendations in the submission:

Firstly, we offer a recommendation for increased funding for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) that is very much in-line with the White Paper noted above. The Coalition believes Canada has the resources to achieve international leadership in space-based astronomy, matching its existing success in ground-based astronomy, and that such a future includes leadership in a future space mission.

Secondly, as noted by the report on the Fundamental Science Review (the Naylor Report), Canada needs a mechanism for funding “big science” projects, which tend to involve multiple international partners, have price tags in the billions, take years to conceive and build, and have lifespans measured in decades. The lack of such a funding mechanism could mean lost opportunities for Canadian astronomy in the future, including those priority projects identified in our pre-budget submission. Therefore, getting a nimble mechanism in place remains a top priority for the Coalition. You will be hearing more about formal CASCA Board support for the Naylor Report soon, along with some suggestions for things you can personally do to help draw attention to this important report.

In addition to providing the government with a formal document as part of the pre-budget submission process, we also wrote to Ministers Bains and Duncan on August 30 to reinforce the priorities noted above. The co-chairs of the coalition (myself, on behalf of CASCA, Don Brooks, on behalf of the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, and our industry co-chair Guy Nelson, CEO of Empire Industries) plan to visit Ottawa in October/November to follow-up on the priorities identified in this letter. As with our last visit to Ottawa, we will make an effort to meet with politicians on both sides of the bench.

Let me conclude this message by thanking you, on behalf of the CASCA Board, for your support of our society. We promise to work hard on your behalf. If you have any suggestions for things we could be doing better, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Roberto Abraham

Dr. Ingrid Stairs awarded the Rutherford Memorial Medal in Physics of the Royal Society of Canada

Dr Ingrid Stairs from the University of British Columbia has been awarded the 2017 Rutherford Memorial Medal in Physics from the Royal Society of Canada

CASCA is pleased to announce that Dr. Ingrid Stairs from the University of British Columbia has been awarded the 2017 Rutherford Memorial Medal in Physics from the Royal Society of Canada. The citation reads

“Ingrid Stairs is a leading world expert in finding and using radio emitting neutron stars (pulsars) to study and test theories of gravity. Pulsars, particularly those in binary systems, provide unique laboratories in which to study Einstein’s theory of gravity and any possible deviations from this theory. Professor Stairs has exploited this in numerous situations and continues to do so by developing sophisticated pulsar instrumentation.”


Update from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) / Compte rendu de l’Agence spatiale canadienne (ASC)

By/par Denis Laurin, Senior Program Scientist, Space astronomy,
Space Exploration Development, Canadian Space Agency

(Cassiopeia – Autumn/l’automne 2017)

English version below

Opportunités pour études

Il y a presque un an, l’ASC avait accueilli de nombreux participants à l’Atelier canadien sur l’exploration spatiale (ACES 2016) à Montréal. Les résultats de l’atelier sont toujours disponibles sur le site FTP de l’ASC. Parallèlement à l’atelier, l’ASC a soutenu les équipes thématiques (ET), dont trois équipes en astronomie spatiale, quatre en exploration planétaire et une en santé spatiale. Les présidents des ET ont livré leurs rapports, qui seront condensés en un rapport sur les priorités scientifiques de l’exploration spatiale (ES) cet automne ou hiver par l’ASC. Les rapports des ET, tels que soumis par les présidents des ET, sont disponibles sur le site FTP mentionné ci-dessus. Ces produits de l’ACES et les rapports des ET seront des références clés pour les prochaines demandes de propositions (DDP) d’études de l’ASC en exploration. Un préavis de ces demandes d’études a été publié sur le site Web de Travaux publics (un message avait été envoyé le 31 mars aux membres de la CASCA afin d’informer la communauté de la publication de ce préavis.) L’ASC suit le plan annoncé. Déjà, une DDP pour une étude portant sur le concept CASTOR et une autre pour une contribution potentielle à LiteBIRD sont publiées. Des DDP pour des études de maturation scientifique et des études pour des concepts de missions suivront. Un message aux membres de la CASCA sera envoyé une fois que les DDP publiées. Encore une fois, les résultats de l’ACES et les rapports des ET guideront les sujets admissibles à ces études.

Un préavis pour un appel d’offre potentiel du programme de subventions VITES 2017 a été annoncé ( permettant un renvoi de commentaires et suggestions (date limite le 6 septembre).

JCSA comité consultatif mixte ASC et CASCA

Les membres du comité sont présentement:

  • Jason Rowe, Bishop U. (co-président)
  • Denis Laurin, CSA (co- président)
  • Chris O’Dea, U. du Manitoba
  • Renée Hlozek, U. de Toronto
  • Locke Spencer, U. de Lethbridge
  • Chris Willott, CNRC Herzberg
  • Daryl Haggard, U. McGill

La dernière rencontre a eu lieu après la CASCA à Edmonton. La prochaine réunion sera par télécom en novembre ou décembre.

Requests for Studies

Almost a year ago CSA hosted the Canadian Space Exploration Workshop (CSEW 2016) in Montreal. The output of the workshop is still available on the CSA FTP site. In parallel to the workshop, CSA supported Topical Teams (TT), with three teams in space astronomy, four in planetary exploration, and one in space health. The TT Chairs have delivered their reports, which will be condensed into a CSA Space Exploration (SE) science priorities report in the Fall or Winter. The TT reports, as submitted by the TT Chairs, are available on the FTP site mentioned above. These CSEW products and TT reports will be key references for upcoming CSA SE Studies Request for Proposals (RFP). An Advanced Notice (AN) of these Studies RFP was published on the Public Works website (a message was sent to CASCA emailer to inform the community of the publication of this AN on March 31.) CSA is following the announced plan. Already a study RFP targeting the CASTOR concept and a RFP for potential contribution to LiteBIRD are posted. Next are RFPs for Science Maturation Studies and for Mission Concept Studies. A message to CASCA emailer will be sent once the RFPs are posted. Again, the CSEW results and TT reports will guide the subjects eligible for these studies.

There was an Advanced Notice for a potential FAST 2017 grants AO (, enabling feedback on the program (which closed 6 September).

JCSA the joint CASCA and CSA Consultation Committee

The current membership is comprised of:

  • Jason Rowe, Bishop U. (co-Chair)
  • Denis Laurin, CSA (co-Chair)
  • Chris O’Dea, U. of Manitoba
  • Renée Hlozek, U. of Toronto
  • Locke Spencer, U. of Lethbridge
  • Chris Willott, NRC Herzberg
  • Daryl Haggard, McGill U.

The last meeting was at CASCA in Edmonton. The next planned meeting will be by telecom in November or December.

CHIME First Light

By/par Cherry Ng, Andre Renard, and Seth Siegel
(Cassiopeia – Autumn/l’automne 2017)

CHIME, the $16M new Canadian radio telescope, saw its “First Light” on September 7th and was celebrated at a ceremony in Penticton, BC involving Federal Minister of Science, Kirsty Duncan.

The telescope is designed to simultaneously tackle major astrophysics and cosmology topics, including studying the nature of dark energy by making unprecedented maps of the distant universe, studying pulsars, and determining the origin of the mysterious phenomenon of Fast Radio Bursts.

Now that all the major components are in place, the first data from the instrument is starting to be collected. “After years of work it’s fantastic to finally see the graphs showing real sky data coming through the system on all channels.” says Nolan Denman, a graduate student at the University of Toronto, who produced the first light plots after an overnight session collecting data during the transit of Cygnus A (a nearby galaxy that is bright at radio wavelengths and is a useful source for calibrating the instrument). This new instrument will serve as a powerful tool to explore a number of interesting cosmological and astrophysical topics.

CHIME first light.  Cross-correlation of the signal measured by two CHIME antennas on different cylinders during the transit of Cygnus A.  Top panel shows the magnitude, real, and imaginary component of the cross-correlation.  Bottom panel shows the phase.  Radio waves from Cyg A reach the two antennas at slightly different times.  As the source moves across the sky, the delay between antennas changes.  This results in the fringe pattern observed in the real and imaginary component, with the envelope tracing out the antenna beam pattern.  Note that this is just one pair of antennas (or baseline) at a single frequency; in total CHIME measures the cross-correlation for over 2 million baselines at 1024 frequencies.

CHIME first light. Cross-correlation of the signal measured by two CHIME antennas on different cylinders during the transit of Cygnus A. Top panel shows the magnitude, real, and imaginary component of the cross-correlation. Bottom panel shows the phase. Radio waves from Cyg A reach the two antennas at slightly different times. As the source moves across the sky, the delay between antennas changes. This results in the fringe pattern observed in the real and imaginary component, with the envelope tracing out the antenna beam pattern. Note that this is just one pair of antennas (or baseline) at a single frequency; in total CHIME measures the cross-correlation for over 2 million baselines at 1024 frequencies.


CHIME will probe the fundamental nature of dark energy, the mysterious agent invoked to explain the accelerated expansion of the universe. To accomplish this, it will produce a three-dimensional map of the 21-cm emission from neutral hydrogen that covers the entire northern sky and spans redshifts 0.8 to 2.5. This will enable a measurement of Baryon Acoustic Oscillations (BAO) in the large scale distribution of neutral hydrogen — a relic that originates from sound waves propagating in the baryon-photon plasma of the early universe. The size of the BAO feature will be used as a standard ruler to measure the expansion history of the universe during the epoch when dark energy generated the transition from decelerated to accelerated expansion.

Two further key science projects are currently under commissioning and will soon be conducted simultaneously alongside the cosmology experiment. These include a blind survey for Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs), energetic single pulses of radio emission arriving in random directions from unknown sources well beyond our galaxy. FRB appears to be a new class of radio transient with unknown astrophysical origin and have drawn a lot of attention among the astrophysics community. “There are currently more theories in the literature than the number of known FRB sources” said graduate student Utkarsh Giri at the Perimeter Institute. So far progress in resolving the mystery has been limited by the low survey efficiency of traditional single dish telescopes. With its huge field of view and broad frequency coverage, CHIME is a nearly ideal instrument for finding and studying many of these bursts. Like what McGill postdoc Emmanuel Fonseca said, “It has taken almost 10 years to observe 25 FRBs with different telescopes; CHIME is expected to detect 25 FRBs within one week of operation.” Pinning down the FRB event rate will be crucial for determining the origin of FRBs and all eyes are on CHIME to revolutionize the field.

The other commensal project that CHIME will carry out is pulsar timing. CHIME will monitor the pulses from all known pulsars in the Northern hemisphere visible from Penticton, every day. Among other things, this information will aid in the search for gravitational waves – travelling ripples in space-time – passing through our galaxy.


CHIME is a transit telescope that surveys the northern half of the sky every day as the earth rotates. It is composed of four cylindrical reflecting surfaces that resemble snow-board half-pipes and have a total collecting area equivalent to five hockey rinks (8,000 square meters). It records the information from all the radio waves falling across its surface with over a thousand antennas. “These cloverleaf-shaped antennas are compact and have an excellent broadband coverage. They are made out of conventional low loss circuit boards and can be mass produced economically.”, said Meiling Deng, a graduate student at UBC who has led the design of these antennas.

CHIME at night.  The telescope consists of four parabolic cylinders that are 20 m wide and 100 m long with a focal length of 5 m.  The telescope has no moving parts, instead relying on the earth's rotation to move the sky across its field of view.  The focal line of each cylinder is populated with 256 dual-polarization antennas that feed into a custom 2048-input radio correlator.

CHIME at night. The telescope consists of four parabolic cylinders that are 20 m wide and 100 m long with a focal length of 5 m. The telescope has no moving parts, instead relying on the earth’s rotation to move the sky across its field of view. The focal line of each cylinder is populated with 256 dual-polarization antennas that feed into a custom 2048-input radio correlator.

The CHIME correlator is a sophisticated digital network and signal processing instrument that converts the massive amount of information that is contained in the radio waves incident on the cylinders into an image of the overhead sky. Measured in number of analog inputs (N=2048) squared times bandwidth (400 MHz), the CHIME correlator is the largest radio correlator in the world — and it was built for a comparatively low price. The correlator employs 128 field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to digitize the analog radio signals collected by the antennas and channelize their full bandwidth into 1024 narrow frequency bins. The FPGAs are interconnected through custom, full-mesh backplanes that enable a massive reorganization of 6.6 Terabit/second of data into the format required to compute the N2 correlation matrix of the signals measured by the antennas. The data is then transmitted over more than a thousand fiber optic cables to a supercomputer.

Using the data from the FPGAs, the CHIME supercomputer correlates the inputs into “visibility” matrices used to created detailed sky maps, and performs real-time beamforming which is used for the FRB and pulsar applications. This requires a huge amount of computing power, which was made possible thanks to the existence of low cost Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) from AMD, which were developed primarily for computer games, but are increasingly leveraged by scientists to perform complex calculations. In total CHIME has 1024 high end GPUs, spread out over 256 servers. Together they are able to perform over 7 quadrillion (a million billion) operations per second.

Undergraduate and graduate students played a key role in the assembly, testing, and on-site installation of the instrument. “My favourite part of working on CHIME has been interacting with all the wonderful people involved in this project. The team’s enthusiasm and devotion is contagious” said Emilie Storer, an undergraduate student at McGill who participated in the testing of FPGA motherboards.

People at work. (Top left) Postdoc Emmanuel Fonseca and summer intern Tristan Simmons raising feeds onto the focal line; (top right) Postdoc Cherry Ng connecting some of the 2048 50m-long coaxial cables; (bottom left) Graduate student Juan Mena Parra installing FPGA motherboards; (bottom right) Graduate student Nolan Denman assembling GPUs in the X-engine.

People at work. (Top left) Postdoc Emmanuel Fonseca and summer intern Tristan Simmons raising feeds onto the focal line; (top right) Postdoc Cherry Ng connecting some of the 2048 50m-long coaxial cables; (bottom left) Graduate student Juan Mena Parra installing FPGA motherboards; (bottom right) Graduate student Nolan Denman assembling GPUs in the X-engine.

Future of CHIME

CHIME is now in its commissioning phase, in preparation for science operations. This new telescope will bring Canada to the forefront of an emerging important and technically challenging domain of radio astronomy. More information on CHIME can be found here.