Report from the LRPIC

From / de John Hutchings
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

The LRPIC meets regularly to monitor LRP projects and priorities, and our recent reports to CASCA are posted on the website. There are now three major ground-based facilities approaching key points of their development: TMT, SKA, and MSE. TMT still awaits approval to build on the Mauna Kea site, and also at the alternative site at La Palma. Progress continues with design work and telescope hardware among the partners, while there is welcome news of NSF’s plan to support both TMT and GMT. SKA is moving to formalize its move to a treaty organisation, although Canada and some others await acceptance as associate members. The MSE project also is moving towards a more formal partnership as it begins final study work prior to construction funding. All three of these major facilities, in which Canada has long played a reading role, will require funding and approval to retain our share and future. The timing and process for these funds will require careful planning. LRPIC notes the successful commissioning of CHIME and the ongoing plans to be a partner in CCAT-prime.

As widely discussed at CASCA, the status of our LRP plans for space facilities is very unsatisfactory. The CSA budget and mandate have both declined in recent years, under more than one government, to being unable to support any significant space science program, and being directed in detail by the government. Consultation and lobbying continue, as CSA-funded studies proceed for mission opportunities that have no guaranteed future. The recent debacle over joining WFIRST is well-known as an example of how badly things have gone, and got some attention in the Globe and Mail. We are working with the Coalition for Astronomy (ACURA, CASCA, and industry) in lobbying on a broad front.

Meantime, JWST, funded when CSA space science was viable, remains as our only partnership in space for the next decade, with no new future facilities committed. Projects that are ready to move ahead include leadership in the wide-field-UV CASTOR telescope, significant participation in SPICA, and valuable smaller partnerships in LiteBIRD, XARM, Ultrasat, and others.

We remind you of the open discussion email list for LRP matters:

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh, CATAC Chair
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)


In April, CATAC submitted recommendations on the three design choices for the Wide Field Optical Spectrograph (WFOS), the result of a five month period of information gathering and community consultation. As one of only two first light instruments, the success of WFOS is critically important to the success of TMT. Our recommendation was that, while all three designs are exciting and capable of delivering excellent science, the Xchange design provides the best match to the top-level specifications. Moreover, the flexibility of this design, relative to the survey-oriented fibre design, is preferred. The final report is available on our web page.

Following this report, the instrument underwent a cost and risk review. At this review it was decided that the slicer design would not be pursued any further. Both the Xchange and fibre designs were found to significantly exceed the cost cap, and the instrument team has been charged with looking at how the designs can be altered to reduce cost. Neither design has a significant technical advantage or disadvantage; both have risks that will require some work.

The design work is expected to be completed by early July, to allow the SAC to make a recommendation by their July 26 meeting. In addition, a sub-committee of the TMT SAC has been formed to re-visit the science specifications that were originally defined for WFOS over a decade ago. The recommendations made by the sub-committee will also be discussed by the full SAC at that next meeting. The other TMT communities are undergoing a consultation process similar to the one held in Canada, and this information will be considered as well. There is still time for your voice to be heard, and if you have comments or concerns about WFOS please contact any CATAC member.

Work is also underway to select the third instrument to be built for TMT. Eight white papers have been submitted to the SAC, and these are currently being reviewed by a SAC subcommittee that includes representation from all the partners.

Science Forum

At the CASCA meeting in Victoria, it was announced that the next TMT Science Forum will be held December 10-12 in Pasadena, California. This will be an important meeting, likely coming after the pending legal decisions in Hawai’i have been resolved. We hope that many Canadians will consider attending this meeting. It is likely that some funding will be made available to help those who need it; an announcement will be made in the coming months.

Funding and Construction Developments

Gary Sanders (Project Manager) and Christophe Dumas (Observatory Scientist) summarized the current state of the project very well in their presentations at the CASCA AGM. There is lots of design and construction activity underway as we await the outcome of the permitting processes on both Maunakea and the alternate site in the Canary Islands.

As announced earlier this year, the US National Science Foundation (NSF), NOAO, TMT International Observatory and GMT Organization are working together to develop Key Science Programs that will be presented to the Decadal Review process in the US. If this is ranked highly by the Decadal Review Panel, NSF has communicated that they will be prepared to support a significant share (at least 25%) of both GMT and TMT, to provide access for the US community. This is a welcome development that provides a path to full construction. There remain issues to be resolved, including the timing of any funding and the Canadian share in the project. CATAC will continue to keep you informed as the situation develops; in the meantime, feel free to contact any CATAC member if you have questions or concerns.

SOFIA Cycle 7 Call for Proposals

By / par Arielle Moullet
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

The SOFIA project has released two calls for proposals (CfP) for observing time in the Cycle 7 period.

The regular call solicits proposals of any size and combination of instruments. A total of 400 hours of observing time and approximately $4 million of funding is available to support these programs.

A complementary call for proposals for “SOFIA Legacy Programs” (SLP) has also been released, soliciting large coherent programs aimed at high-impact science that also have a significant promise of valuable archival data sets. Programs up to 100 hours of observing time are solicited in this category. In addition to observing time, these programs are invited to deliver higher level data products (including supporting data, software and theory). Nominally, two SLP programs are expected to be selected per cycle, with observations carried out over two cycles, and a third year included for completion of the higher-level data processing and analysis. Up to $1 million per cycle is available for support of the SLPs.

The main parts of the Cycle 7 (April 27, 2019 – April 27, 2020) calendar are:

  • CfP release: June 1, 2018
  • CfP update: July 16, 2018
  • Proposal Deadline: September 7, 2018 (9 p.m. PDT)
  • Selections announced: November 2018

The Call for Proposals documents can be found here and here.

Any questions about the Cycle 7 Calls for Proposals can be directed to

ALMA Matters – ARCADES, New Horizons, and Cycle 6


From / de Gerald Schieven
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

ARCADES, A New Facility for ALMA Data Reduction/Analysis

NRC’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre is pleased to announce a new project which aims to make all aspects of ALMA data analysis easier. The ARCADES (ALMA Retrieval with the CANFAR Data System) project has several different components which we are starting to roll out. The first component is aimed primarily at astronomers who have some experience with ALMA’s data reduction software, CASA. For this component, we are making available one-click virtual machines on the CANFAR computing environment which have CASA pre-loaded and easy mechanisms to download raw ALMA data. These virtual machines will have ample computing power and storage space, and are fully interactive (e.g., for running CLEAN). We are looking for several beta testers for this system – please contact Helen Kirk if you are interested.

New Horizons in Planetary Systems 13-17 May 2019

Members of the Millimetre Astronomy Group at Herzberg and their counterparts at NRAO are jointly organizing (as part of their roles within the North American ALMA Science Centre) a science conference entitled “New Horizons in Planetary Systems” to be held from 13-17 May 2019 in downtown Victoria BC.

The meeting is planned to have a broad scope, including planetary systems in formation within protoplanetary disks, minor objects in the solar system, debris disks and exoplanets. Experts will be asked to provide insights from all these fields to enhance our understanding of how planets form and evolve. Although it is organized by the NAASC, the meeting is not ALMA-centric, with a strong focus on the impact of the New Horizons mission flyby of a KBO in January 2019, as well as experts from TESS and other facilities who will be asked to provide a multi-chromatic picture of the current understanding in their fields. Invited speakers have been asked to provide broadly accessible talks.

Confirmed invited speakers include:

  • Brett Gladman (UBC): theory of planet formation
  • Grant Kennedy (U Warwick): debris disk constraints on planet formation
  • Heather Knutson (Caltech): exoplanet atmospheric composition
  • Emmanuel Lellouch (Observatoire de Paris): solar system objects, constraints on formation
  • Karin Öberg (Harvard U): protoplanetary disk composition and chemistry
  • John Spencer (SWRI): New Horizons KBO flyby: first results

We will also host a public talk on New Horizons by Deputy Mission Scientist Kelsi Singer (SWRI).

For more information, contact LOC Chair Brenda Matthews. Pre-registration will open in July with registration and abstract submission in October 2018.

Cycle 6 Canadian Submission Statistics

A record 1839 proposals were submitted requesting over 33K hours of ALMA time in Cycle 6, corresponding to an oversubscription rate of 4.8. Canadian PIs also submitted a record 44 proposals, requesting nearly 1000 hours. Canadian astronomers have full access to the North American fraction of ALMA time (~33%). The results from the Cycle 6 proposal review process are expected to be released in late July. Cycle 6 runs October 2018 through September 2019.

ALMA Publications

Over 1000 refereed publications have now appeared using ALMA data. Of these, more than 13% have had authors or co-authors from Canadian institutions.

President’s Message

By / par Rob Thacker, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

I can’t begin this President’s message without first acknowledging the important and amazing work done by all the officers, committee members and staff of the Society. Thank you all so much. Whether it is volunteer work or paid, your service to the Society is absolutely fundamental to making us move forward on numerous important issues! While I would not normally single out an individual, I am compelled to thank the now Past-President Bob Abraham for setting an incredibly high bar for activity in the President’s capacity! Thank you Bob!

My first few days in the Presidency have been something of a whirlwind and it has been hard not to feel overwhelmed! As many of you are aware, especially following this year’s town hall meeting at CASCA, our space astronomy portfolio is in a dire situation with no official major commitment to new missions since 2009, other than the replacement for Hitomi, XARM, following the unfortunate events of 2016. The recent dropping of Canadian participation in WFIRST has been a major concern for our community and is particularly disconcerting as we consider moving towards missions with significant Canadian leadership, such as CASTOR.

This series of events has reinforced the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy’s view that moving our space astronomy needs forward with government is a major priority. Hence the Coalition, represented by Guy Nelson (Empire Dynamic Structures), Don Brooks (UBC), Sarah Gallagher (Western) and myself, made a visit to Ottawa on June 12th to discuss space astronomy in detail with the NRC, CSA and Ministry for Innovation, Science & Economic Development. Since the Coalition maintains a non-partisan position we also met with Conservative Science Critic Matt Jeneroux. The tone of the meetings was constructive, and we repeatedly emphasized the need for long term and sustained funding of space. But ahead of the upcoming Budget consultation process it was equally important for us to listen for what was being asked. Perhaps as might be expected, we need to outline the benefits we provide to society and economics to garner the major investment we need. It is also worth remembering that there are many other fields of space-based science that face similar funding problems to us.

At the same time we are seeing concern growing about how we develop and maintain our ground-based projects. I have already been involved in ACURA discussions about MSE, while writing letters of support for Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic as it, yet again, faces the threat of closure. As we build towards LRP2020 there are a great many issues to think about. TMT continues to evolve towards a site decision, the outcome of which will have ramifications across many areas. The SKA is moving towards some key decision points on Phase 1, while the precise level of Canada’s participation still needs to be negotiated. Plus I’m sure we can all appreciate that Dr Greg Fahlman’s replacement at Herzberg will enter the position at a highly critical time, so it is no surprise the community is strongly interested to see who is eventually chosen for this key position in Canadian astronomy.

In terms of action, over the next two months, the Coalition for Canadian astronomy will submit our response to the pre-Budget consultation process as well as exploring some new avenues of communication with important policy makers. The members of the Coalition are cautiously hopeful we can move things forward, but as many of you know following the length of time it took to gain funding for TMT participation, persistence and a coherent and uniform message will be needed. We anticipate we may well end up asking the community to help with the lobbying effort – stay tuned!

Despite these uncertainties over funding, our community continues to make strides on many fronts. Having worked closely with the Equity and Inclusivity Committee over the past 18 months, I am incredibly impressed by the work they are doing to provide information to help us improve our working environment. As emphasized in numerous workshops on equity issues, improving participation and working climate is a benefit for everyone.

I am truly honoured and frankly very proud to serve the CASCA community. I really look forward to meeting and working with you all over the coming two years. As always, there’s a lot to get done!

CASCA 2018 Teachers’ Workshops Report / Rapport sur les Formations pour Enseignants Offertes durant CASCA2018

By / par Julie Bolduc-Duval, Discover the Universe / À la découverte de l’univers
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

La version française suit

As in previous years, CASCA, through Discover the Universe, and CFHT decided to offer a professional development opportunity for local teachers during the CASCA annual meeting. For the first time, two workshops were organized instead of one: a 4-hour evening workshop for elementary/middle school teachers and a full-day workshop for secondary school teachers.

Both workshops were huge successes with good participation and excellent feedback from teachers. A total of 50 teachers participated, with 30 in the elementary workshop and 20 in the secondary workshop.

A few points stand out from the feedback we received. Teachers appreciated:

  • getting many ideas for activities to do with their students;
  • the friendliness and expertise of the speakers;
  • the opportunity to participate in a high-quality free workshop;
  • learning about astronomy knowledge from a local First Nations speaker (for the
    elementary workshop);
  • learning about current astronomy research (for the secondary school workshop).

Some participants even mentioned this had been the best professional development opportunity they ever had the chance to participate in.

While offering two workshops requires more time and energy from our small team and the LOC, as well as a higher budget, it proved to be a very positive change. We were able to adapt the content of the workshops to both levels more appropriately. We hope to continue offering two workshops in the future if the settings and budget allow it.

We wish to thank the LOC for the tremendous help in the logistics organizing the workshop. In particular, we were able to provide free meals to all workshop participants thanks to the fundraising efforts of the LOC and the contribution from CFHT.

Workshop organizing team: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (CFHT), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Karun Thanjavur (UVic), Lauri Roche (RASC)

Workshop presenters: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (CFHT), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Pierre Chastenay (UQAM), Nick Claxton (UVic), Michelle Bannister (Queen’s University, Belfast)

La CASCA, grâce au programme À la découverte de l’univers, et le Télescope Canada-France- Hawaii ont décidé encore cette année d'offrir des formations en astronomie pour les enseignants locaux lors de la rencontre annuelle CASCA2018. Pour la première fois, deux formations ont été organisées au lieu d'une seule: une formation de quatre heures en soirée pour les enseignants du primaire et une journée entière de formation pour les enseignants du secondaire.

Les deux formations ont été de grands succès avec une bonne participation et une excellente rétroaction des enseignants. Au total, 50 enseignants ont participé, dont 30 au niveau primaire (capacité maximale) et 20 au niveau secondaire.

Quelques points ressortent des commentaires que nous avons reçus. Les enseignants ont

  • obtenir plusieurs idées d'activités à faire avec leurs élèves;
  • l’accessibilité et l'expertise des présentateurs;
  • la possibilité de participer à une formation gratuite de haute qualité;
  • entendre un conférencier autochtone local parler des connaissances astronomiques de sa
    communauté et comment intégrer ces connaissances en classe (niveau primaire);
  • apprendre sur la recherche actuelle en astronomie (niveau secondaire).

Certains participants ont même mentionné que c'était la meilleure formation pour enseignants à laquelle ils avaient eu la chance de participer.

Même si offrir deux formations exige plus de temps et d'énergie de la part de notre petite équipe et du LOC, ainsi qu'un budget plus élevé, cela s'est avéré être un changement très positif. Nous avons été en mesure d'adapter le contenu des formations aux deux niveaux de façon plus appropriée. Nous espérons continuer à offrir deux formations à l'avenir si l’occasion et le budget le permettent.

Nous souhaitons remercier le LOC pour l'aide considérable apportée à la logistique pour l'organisation des formations. En particulier, nous avons pu fournir des repas gratuits à tous les participants grâce aux efforts de collecte de fonds du LOC et à la contribution financière du TCFH.

Équipe d'organisation des formations: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (TCFH), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Karun Thanjavur (UVic), Lauri Roche (RASC)

Présentateurs: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (TCFH), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Pierre Chastenay (UQAM), Nick Claxton (UVic), Michelle Bannister (Université Queen's, Belfast)

Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) Update

By / par Sarah Gallagher, MSE Science Advisory Group Member
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

As many readers will have heard at CASCA 2018, the MSE collaboration continues its work towards preliminary design starting in 2019. The MSE Management Group has added two institutions from the United States as observers: Texas A&M University and the National Center for Optical-Infrared Astronomy (NCOA). Including recent discussions with Texas A&M, the partnership has identified about half the resources (cash and in-kind contributions) needed for preliminary design, and are discussing possible contributions from NCOA beginning in 2019. The partnership will continue to identify and secure resources while preliminary design activities get underway.

The preliminary design phase will be governed by a Statement of Understanding (SOU) to be signed by the current MSE participants – Canada, France, Hawaii, China, Australia, and India – and endorsed by future participants when they join the project. The MSE SOU specifies the (non-binding) contributions that Canada anticipates providing during preliminary design, and the framework within which participant contributions will be converted into a "Beneficial Interest" in MSE.

As was the case in the early days of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) partnership, the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) has been approached to be the Canadian signatory to the MSE SOU. The ACURA Board is considering this request in recognition of MSE's strong support in the 2010 Long Range Plan and 2016 Mid-Term Review, and the significant role Canadians have played to date in developing the Detailed Science Case. Without a signatory to the MSE SOU, Canada will be downgraded to Observer status and lose voting rights on the MSE Management Group. If you support Canadian involvement in MSE during the preliminary design phase leading up to the next Long Range Plan, contact your institution's ACURA representative and let them know. A slightly dated list of representatives can be found here.

Preparation for CFI Proposal

Ultimately, maintaining a role in MSE will require that Canada make further cash and/or in-kind contributions to the preliminary design phase within the next few years. To support this aim, we are engaged in planning for a CFI proposal submission for the next round (anticipated in 2019). If you are interested in contributing to this effort, the relevant points of contact are Colin Bradley (Victoria Engineering Professor and CFI Project Manager for MSE; Enclosure), Michael Balogh (Waterloo; Low/Medium Resolution Spectrographs), Sarah Gallagher (Western; Software), and Kim Venn (Victoria; Fiber Transport System). Additional industrial partners to support these design components are also needed; sharing your connections would be greatly appreciated. The points of contact can also help develop promising leads for industrial partners.

Status of Science Team Membership

In response to the call for new science team members, the MSE Science Team now has 203 participants, including 31 Canadians from 15 institutions in six provinces. The Project Office is currently organizing team members into Science Working Groups in preparation for Design Reference Survey work that will begin within the next couple of months. If you signed up for the Science Team but have not been receiving e-mails, please contact MSE Project Scientist Alan McConnachie.

MSE Project Scientist Search

After successfully shepherding MSE through the conceptual design process, Alan McConnachie will be stepping down as Project Scientist at the end of 2018, though he will continue his involvement with the Science Team. The Canadian MSE team would like to thank Alan for his excellent leadership during his tenure as Project Scientist. He deserves significant credit for bringing the project to the stage where the external reviewers were “very impressed by the level of sophistication that the MSE project team has brought to this project”. A search for a new Project Scientist is underway.

The MSE website may be accessed here. Questions or comments about MSE governance can be directed to your MSE Management Group Members, Greg Fahlman and Pat Hall. Scientific questions or comments can be directed to your MSE Science Advisory Group Members, Sarah Gallagher and Kim Venn.

Looking Back at the CASCA 2018 Meeting

From / de Karun Thanjavur
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

18-0452_HAA_CASCA_WEB Banner_ENG_Final
Victoria was the venue of this year’s annual general meeting of the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA). CASCA 2018 was co-hosted by the NRC-Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics (HAA) and the Dept. of Physics & Astronomy at UVic, with substantial volunteer help from members of the Royal Astronomical Society, Victoria Chapter, and the Friends of the DAO. The meeting ran from 22-26 May at the Victoria Conference Centre, situated in the heart of this scenic city. Victoria was chosen to host the conference this year to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1.8m Plaskett Telescope at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) in Victoria. This article summarizes highlights from the various science and centennial sessions, as well as the special events hosted during the conference.

With well over 300 registered participants, this year’s meeting ranked as one of the bigger CASCA meetings on record. The meeting kicked off to a great start with a vibrant graduate students workshop, which included a hands-on exercise on the Gemini Observatory’s Fast Turnaround Program, and an introduction to the high performance computing (HPC) resources for research offered through West Grid/Compute Canada. The afternoon session focussed on networking with industrial partners through a “pechakucha” and rapid fire presentations by the representatives of the industries. The workshop ended with a wine and cheese mixer for the graduates students and the industrial reps, which was then followed by the conference welcome reception for all attendees.

The first day’s proceedings of CASCA 2018 got underway on Wednesday with an eloquent welcome to the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations territory by Tsawout Elder Victor Underwood. Following this territorial welcome, and in a reciprocal gesture of respect and recognition, astronomer Dave Balam (DAO) presented a plaque to Chief Harvey Underwood of the Tsawaout First Nation (TFN) to commemorate the naming of asteroid 402920 as Asteroid Tsawout (see related Globe and Mail article). Dave named this asteroid that he had discovered in 2007 for the TFN, one of the five bands which constitute the Saanich Nation in the Coast Salish lands. The Plaskett Telescope on Observatory Hill sits on the territorial lands of the Tsawout First Nations and was their winter camp, says Dave. This is the reason he has chosen to name the asteroid for the TFN. The plenary session continued with opening remarks by UVic President Dr. Jamie Cassels and NRC/HAA General Manager, Dr. Greg Fahlman, followed by two very interesting centennial talks. First, Peter Broughton (author of “John Stanley Plaskett – a northern star”) offered a biography of John S. Plaskett after whom the 100 year-old telescope in named. Dennis Crabtree then gave a fitting summary of the many major achievements of the Canadian astronomical community over the past century.

The fully packed conference schedule shows the diversity and depth of the centennial and science sessions, which followed over the next four days of the conference. The more detailed conference program with the titles, authors and abstracts of all the centennial and science sessions has also been posted on the CASCA2018 website, which will remain live for the next year (till May 2019). The centennial sessions were offered as plenary sessions while the science sessions ran as concurrent two and at times three parallel sessions. The over subscription rate for contributed talks was a remarkable 3-to-1 in this conference. It is to the credit of the Science Organizing Committee for having allocated the talks well taking into account gender balance, geographical distribution and other diversity and inclusivity policies adopted by CASCA. In addition to these science sessions, teachers workshops (both elementary and secondary schools) were also organized and very successfully run by Julie Bolduc-Duval (Discover the Universe) and Mary Beth Laychak (CFHT) with assistance from other members of the CASCA Education and Public Outreach committee. Of special note was a presentation on the traditional knowledge of the First Peoples regarding the thirteen phases of the Moon given by Dr. Nick Claxton, an indigenous educator from the UVic education department.

Related to education and public outreach (EPO), we were fortunate to have had a moving yet very powerful message from Elder Dr. Barney Williams of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on the role of education in reconciliation. As a survivor of the residential school system, he was eminently suited to eloquently warn us of the dangers of racial superiority, and to turn the horrors of his own childhood experiences into a message of hope toward reconciliation and mutual respect amongst all peoples based on education.

Several special events were offered during the course of the conference. On the first day, Bob McDonald (CBC Radio, Quirks and Quarks) gave an excellent and well attended public lecture, intriguingly titled “What if everything you know is wrong?”. The conference banquet marked the end of the second day. Held at the Royal BC Museum, the atypical banquet was set up as a series of food stations featuring various cuisines distributed throughout the permanent exhibits of the First Nations and the city of Victoria. Judging by the feedback from participants later, the intention to encourage the conference participants to walk around and mingle during the banquet worked well. On Friday evening, the DAO centennial celebration was held with a special cake (shaped expertly as the Plaskett observatory), dome tours, public lectures and an open house of the Centre of the Universe. The skies too cooperated well and the 200+ attendees were able to enjoy viewing Venus and Jupiter through the RASC 16″ telescope.

The Plaskett telescope, circa 1915.

The Plaskett telescope, circa 1915.

The Plaskett telescope, today.

The Plaskett telescope, today.

The meeting was a huge success judging by the verbal feedback of many participants. Our sincere thanks go to all members of the LOC and to many volunteers for their contributions and to all our sponsors (shown on the CASCA 2018 website) for their generous financial support. We now look forward to the next annual general meeting hosted by McGill University in Montreal June 17 – 20, 2019.

SPICA Update

From / de David Naylor, SPICA Canadian HoN and Co-I, University of Lethbridge
and / et Doug Johnstone, SPICA Science Team, NRC-Herzberg

(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

SPICA Satellite

SPICA Satellite

On 7 th May 2018, SPICA was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as one of three candidate missions to be studied in parallel over the next three years in preparation for a final 2021 down-select for ESA’s fifth medium class mission in its Cosmic Vision science programme. If successful in the 2021 down-select, SPICA would be built to launch around 2030. SPICA is a joint European-Japanese project that offers significant gains in far-infrared spectroscopic and survey capabilities. Detailed information about SPICA and its three instruments can be found here and here.

Canada was a founding member of the SPICA/SAFARI consortium and through its contributions over the last decade is now positioned to build the mission critical high resolution polarizing Fourier transform spectrometer (Martin-Puplett Interferometer – MPI) for the SAFARI instrument. This MPI builds on Canada’s contribution to the Herschel/SPIRE instrument and was recognized by the SAFARI consortium as an area of excellence both in Canadian academia and industry. The return from this investment to the Canadian astronomical community will be several times more than that awarded to the Canadian Herschel/SPIRE team. Herschel was, of course, an amazing success, in part due to the significant contributions from the Canadian scientists involved. Indeed, the recent success of SPICA is regarded by many as a direct result of the success of Herschel.

As stated in the SPICA Press Release that accompanied its ESA selection:

“The promise of SPICA is made possible by the combination of a number of significant innovations. A key component is the use of a large 2.5 metre diameter telescope that is cooled to almost 270 degrees below zero, to reduce the background radiation emitted by the telescope itself to the absolute minimum. With such a low background the extremely sensitive Transition Edge Sensors (TES), developed both in the Netherlands at SRON as well as in partner institutes in the UK and the US, can be used to their full potential. The combination of the cold telescope and the ultrasensitive detectors will make SPICA the most sensitive observatory in the mid- and far-infrared ever – with this extreme sensitivity the SPICA instruments will be able to take the spectral fingerprints of objects out to the farthest reaches of the universe.

The observatory will have three instruments covering the full mid- and far-infrared, the wavelength domain between 12 and 350 microns. A combined mid-infrared camera and spectrometer will be provided by a large Japanese consortium led by the University of Nagoya, a French-led European consortium will build a compact imaging polarimeter, and a large SRON-led international consortium will design and implement the largest and most complex instrument, the far-infrared spectrometer SAFARI.

SPICA will be used by the world-wide astronomical community. As is the custom for other great ground based and space observatories all astronomers can propose observations. A panel of independent specialists will rate the proposals according to their scientific quality and determine if and how much time will be awarded for the observations. Proposers will have about a year proprietary access to the measurement, after that period the data are made public to be used by anyone that is interested.”

David Naylor and Doug Johnstone attended the SPICA/SAFARI consortium meeting in Groningen at the end of May, where they were able to partake in the celebration of this significant milestone and actively engage in discussions around the critical paths forward. David Naylor provided an extremely well received report on the progress of the Canadian SAFARI instrument activities. Doug Johnstone also provided an update on the science case for time-domain research with SPICA.

In order to promote the science capabilities of SPICA and build additional enthusiasm and support amongst the international research community, there will be a dedicated international science conference next year on the island of Crete, “Exploring the Infrared Universe: The Promise of SPICA”, 20-23 May 2019. While the project is still over a decade away, the next three years are pivotal in defining the instrumental requirements and observing modes, and we strongly encourage Canadian participation at this meeting.

The recent success of SPICA at ESA in Europe and the strong support for SPICA at JAXA in Japan bodes well for the mission. Canadian astronomers wishing to become more active with SPICA science should contact David Naylor or Doug Johnstone in order to be added to the Canadian SPICA mailing list and/or to be put in contact with like-minded researchers within the SPICA consortium.

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

By/par Bryan Gaensler, Canadian SKA Science Director
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2018)

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

International SKA Update

Canada is one of 10 member countries of the SKA Organisation, and is represented on the SKA Board of Directors by Greg Fahlman (NRC) and Bryan Gaensler (University of Toronto). The SKA Board met most recently in October 2017 via videoconference, and in November 2017 in Bologna. The SKA Board’s Executive Committee (of which Bryan Gaensler is a member) meets monthly.

Notable outcomes from these meetings have included:

  • Appointment of Dr Catherine Cesarky (former Director General of ESO) as the new chair of the SKA Board.
  • Assessment of the “Deployment Baseline” for SKA1, which corresponds to the telescopes currently deliverable at a funding level of €674M (2016 euros). The SKA Board has expressed confidence that the current Deployment Baseline will provide transformational science capabilities. Furthermore, re-instatement of the omitted capabilities, up to the full restoration of the Design Baseline, is planned, either during or after the construction phase, should additional funding become available. Ongoing cost oversight will take place within the SKA Office’s regular activities. The Board now looks to the science community, and particularly to the SKA Science and Engineering Advisory Committee (SEAC) to regularly review the Deployment Baseline and to confirm its ability to deliver transformational science. Prof Kristine Spekkens from the Royal Military College of Canada is a member of the SEAC.
  • Review of the upcoming suite of critical design reviews (CDRs) and subsequent CDR closures, which will take place from April 2018 to March 2019.
  • Reports on site activity in South Africa and Australia. In South Africa, a major milestone has been reached with the completion of land acquisition in the SKA core in the Karoo. The MeerKAT project remains on track to have a 64-antenna array ready to commence large survey project science at the beginning of April 2018. In Australia, the Heritage Agreement with the Wajarri Yamatji traditional owners, which will allow land surveys and low impact activities to proceed, is expected to be signed soon. The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory’s solar/battery power station is now operational.
  • Discussion of planning for SKA Science Processing Centres and science archives.
  • The issuance of a non-binding “request for information” (RfI), distributed to parties interested in participating in SKA procurement.
  • Planning for transition of the SKA Organisation into an Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO), including plans to establish a Transition Oversight Committee, to co-ordinate transition activities between the Board and the Convention Preparatory Task Force (CPTF). The CPTF will be formally established after the signing of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory Convention and will represent the interests of the IGO until the SKA Observatory Council is formed. Currently, the Convention is expected to be signed in September 2018.
  • Discussion on plans for SKA1 construction.
  • Ongoing updates from France, Germany, Portugal, Japan, Korea, Spain and Switzerland on their SKA-related activities and on their potential interest in participating in the SKA project.
  • Discussion with NRAO on the relationship between the SKA and planning for future US Radio Astronomy facilities.
  • Approval of an SKA Code of Ethics and Whistleblowing Policy.
  • Ongoing discussion of finances, engineering reports, business development, communications, governance, operations, and construction of the new SKA Headquarters at Jodrell Bank.

Upcoming SKA Board meetings will be in April 2018 (Sweden), July 2018 (South Africa) and November 2018 (United Kingdom). Meetings of the SKA Members (i.e., the funding agencies; currently Greg Fahlman represents NRC) will take place immediately preceding each of these Board meetings.

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

Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy

The Canada Foundation for Innovation has awarded $9.4M (including provincial and other matches) to the project “Unlocking the Radio Sky with Next-Generation Survey Astronomy”, led by Bryan Gaensler. This has led to the creation of the Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy Data Analysis (CIRADA), a program to develop the tools and infrastructure needed to support a Canadian SKA Data Centre, with direct application to the VLA, CHIME and ASKAP. Technical staff are already being appointed to CIRADA, and the project will formally commence in April 2018.

SKA Science and Science Engagement

The meeting “Canadian Radio Astronomy: Surveying the Present and Shaping the Future” was held in Montreal in September 2017. See here for copies of presentations from the meeting, and here for a summary of the meeting published in Nature Astronomy.

Canadian astronomers continue to participate in almost all SKA science working groups. The working groups on transients, pulsars, the Milky Way and the cradle of life are all currently chaired by Canadians (Michael Rupen, Ingrid Stairs, Erik Rosolowsky and Doug Johnstone, respectively). An SKA lunch event will be held on May 24, 2018 at the CASCA annual meeting in Victoria. The next SKA General Science Meeting and Key Science Project Workshop will take place at the new SKA Headquarters at Jodrell Bank over September 3–7, 2018.

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is the precursor of SKA-Low and is a powerful science facility in its own right (see MWA for details). MWA phase 2, which improves the sensitivity of the array by an order of magnitude, is now operating. Canada, through the University of Toronto, is a full member of the MWA project, with representation on the MWA Board. Any Canadian astronomers wishing to join the MWA Consortium and to consequently gain access to MWA data, software tools and science collaborations should contact Bryan Gaensler.

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.

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 here for a listing of AACS membership. AACS meets several times per year, with its next meeting on April 26, 2018. For further information or to propose AACS agenda items, please contact the AACS Chair, Bryan Gaensler.

SKA Technology Development

NRC Herzberg continues to be a major participant in pre-construction efforts for the SKA, principally through NRC leadership of the Central Signal Processing consortium and their contractor MDA, and also through NRC participation in the DISH and Telescope Manager design work.

A new frequency slice architecture has also been developed for the Mid-Frequency Correlator/Beamformer (MID.CBF). This has now been formally accepted as the MID.CBF reference design, and has resulted in €20M in cost reductions. The overall CSP design is highly scalable, with a plan for a technology refresh and addition of enhanced capabilities within the first 5-10 years of operations. Detailed design documents have now been submitted for review, and preparations are now taking place for the CSP critical design review. The five sub-elements of the CSP program are now undergoing critical design reviews, and the element review for the overall CSP program will occur in June 2018. Discussion has commended on plans for beyond CDR, including a bridging plan and then construction.