President’s Report

By Bob Abraham, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2016)

Well, this is my first President’s Message, and even though I’ve only been in the job for ten days, it’s been enough time to learn two things:

(1) Many things that Chris Wilson made look effortless are hard work! We all owe her our thanks.

(2) Being the President of CASCA is like getting dropped into the deep end of the pool. In the last ten days I’ve met with the ACURA Board and Council, worked with the JCSA and the LRPIC committees to define a strategy for moving forward on the space-based component of the plan crafted by the MTR panel, crafted a letter to the CSA’s Space Advisory Board, and have begun working with my Coalition for Astronomy Co-Chairs to devise a stategic plan for communicating our message to the Canadian Government. That message will contain the story of our community’s many successes, relay our ambitious goals for the future, and make clear how we give back to Canada in a myriad number of ways.

CASCA is a wonderful community and it’s an honour to serve you all. Our work together is made infinitely easier because of the hard-working and dedicated members of the society that do things like serve on the CASCA board and on its many committees, and because so many people pull together to organize and run national meetings. A big thank you to you all, and I look forward to serving you for the next two years.

Past-President’s Report

Wison

From/de Christine Wilson
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2016)

Hi, everyone,

I have recently returned from the 2016 CASCA meeting in Winnipeg, which was a big success! The prize winning talks were uniformly excellent. Chris Pritchet (Beals Award) gave a comprehensive talk on the progenitors of Type IA supernovae that extended from the 1993 calibration of the stretch factor that allows these objects to be used as standard candles to very recent work suggesting that single degenerate binaries are likely not the progenitors. Peter Stetson (Dunlap Award) regaled us with a historical overview of photometry, starting with the first “computers” up to his current massive and impressive “Homogeneous Photometry Project”, punctuated by periodic questions for the audience of “Who under the age of 50 knows [xxx]?” and including props such as a photographic plate and (if memory serves) a piece of a photoelectric photometer. Jaymie Matthews (Qilak Award) gave an entertaining talk on his various outreach activities, including a collaboration with a shadow puppeteer and Science 101 for residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community. Jonathan Gagné (Plaskett Medal) described his major proper motion survey to search for young brown dwarfs in nearby moving groups by combining the WISE and 2MASS near-infrared surveys and using Bayesian analysis to prioritize targets for follow-up observations.

A highlight for many of us was the banquet talk by Wilfred Buck from the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre on Ininew (Cree) constellations and the legends around them. CASCA’s new Diversity and Inclusivity Committee organized a special plenary session that was very well attended where participants were led to consider various scenarios around these issues and possible ways to act and respond. The public lecture was given by the 2015 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Professor A. McDonald, who spoke about the building and research with SNO, future research plans with SNO-lab, and what it is like to be in Stockholm during prize week. And of course the meeting was filled with contributed talks, special invited talks, and time for looking at posters. I want to congratulate the winners of the 2016 student presentation awards: best talk was won by Fraser Evans (McMaster University) for his talk “Red Misfit Galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey” and best poster was won by Nicholas Fantin (Queen’s University) for his poster “Identifying Halo White Dwarfs within the NGBS Field”.

In other news, John Hutchings of NRC-Herzberg was presented with the John H. Chapman Award of Excellence from the Canadian Space Agency in recognition of his exceptional contribution to the Canadian Space Program. The award was presented in a ceremony at the 17th Conference on Astronautics of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI ASTRO 2016) in Ottawa, Ontario. John has led Canada’s participation in landmark missions, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope on India’s ASTROSAT. The fact that he was able to lead so many major projects to fruition while maintaining excellent relations with international partners and a highly productive research career, is testimony to his skills, passion and perseverance. Congratulations to John on this award!

The report of the Mid-Term Review panel has been finished and released in electronic form to the community. The first draft of the French translation has been received and so we should be proceeding to print hard copies of the report very soon. I want to thank the chair of the MTR panel, Rob Thacker, and all the MTR panel members for all their time and effort to put together this excellent report. The Long Range Plan Implementation Committee has developed a 2-page summary of the report that is available for use in outreach to politicians, senior university administrators, and others who may not wish to read the whole report. The two-page summary is available in both English and French in the Long Range Plan area of the CASCA web site.

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has continued our outreach efforts with the new Federal Government with a letter to all new and returning MPs congratulating them on their election and introducing them to our community and Long Range Plan.

As I described in an earlier report, the Westar Lectureship is being re-instated under the guidance of the Education and Public Outreach Committee and the CASCA Board. The aim is to have the first Westar Lecture held this fall, possibly in the Yukon. Keep an eye on your inbox for information on how to apply to be a Westar Lecturer or nominate another excellent public speaker.

For updates on the various facilities that our community is involved in, such as TMT, SKA, and WFIRST, please see the committee reports on the CASCA web site or other articles in this issue.

Finally, as out-going President, I would like to thank the members of the CASCA Board and also all the CASCA committee members for their hard work on behalf of our community. I look forward to supporting our new President, Bob Abraham, and to working with the new Vice-President, Rob Thacker, and our two new Directors, Kristine Spekkens and Erik Rosolowsky.

Have a great summer!
Chris Wilson

President’s Report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Printemps/spring 2016)

Hi, everyone,

Spring is in the air, and that means it is time to start planning your trip to the next annual CASCA meeting, to be held this year in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Registration is now open and the abstract submission deadline is April 8. More information is available on the meeting web site. The graduate student workshop will be on May 30th, 2016 with the CASCA meeting itself May 31st – June 2nd, 2016. In addition, there will be a half-day meeting on the status and future of ground-based submillimetre astronomy in Canada on Friday, June 3rd. The meeting will be held at the historic Fort Garry Hotel, located in the heart of Winnipeg, within easy walking distance of many attractions such as The Forks and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Our new Diversity and Inclusivity Committee has drafted a meeting Code of Conduct that is being reviewed by the CASCA Board. There will also be a special plenary session on diversity and inclusivity at the meeting itself.

The Westar Lecture series is planned to resume in 2016. The new model for this series will combine a Westar lecture by an astronomer with hands-on teacher training activities offered by Discover the Universe. An ad hoc Westar committee has been formed to coordinate planning; the committee consists of Lorne Nelson for the CASCA board, Julie Bolduc-Duval for Discover the Universe, and Phil Langill from the Unviersity of Calgary. The EPO Committee will select the initial lecturers. We are planning to target more remote sites without good connections with a local university, possibly in northern Canada.

Many of you will have seen the announcement on February 16, 2016 that Vicky Kaspi has been awarded the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council. It is great to see a member of our community recognized with this high-profile national award! Vicky is also the first woman ever to be awarded the Herzberg medal. Congratulations to Vicky on this well-deserved award!

Spring is also the time when we announce our CASCA award winners. Our winners this year are

  • Chris Pritchet (University of Victoria) for the Carlyle S. Beals Award for groundbreaking research
  • Peter Stetson (NRC Herzberg) for the Dunlap Award for Innovation in Astronomical Research
  • Jonathan Gagné (Carnegie Institute for Science) for the J. S. Plaskett Medal for the most outstanding doctoral thesis
  • Jaymie Matthews (University of British Columbia) for the Qilak Award for astronomy communications, public education, and outreach
  • Ralph Pudritz (McMaster University) for the Executive Award for outstanding service

Congratulations to all our award winners and I look forward to seeing you at the CASCA meeting in Winnipeg!

Work on the report from the Mid-Term Review panel is very nearly finished. An initial draft was released to the community for a two-week comment period on February 23. The final revisions are nearly done and we expect to release the final report (electronically, English only) any day now. The report will be translated into French and printed in both official languages, which will take additional time.

Early in the new year, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy reached out to the new Federal Government, with letters to key ministers followed up by a face-to-face meeting with the Minister for Science, Kirsty Duncan, in Ottawa on February 25. We took this opportunity to introduce the minister and her staff to our long range planning process and to highlight key facilities from that plan, including the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, and WFIRST. The tone of the meeting was very cordial and the new minister appears very interested in hearing about the exciting science that our community does, which is very encouraging.

In facility news, the TMT situation continues to evolve slowly, with meetings by the TIO Board in February 2016 and the beginning of a process to review possible alternative sites for the telescope (see contribution from Ray Carlberg in this newsletter). The Canadian Space Agency celebrated the successful launch on March 17, 2016 of Hitomi (formerly known as ASTRO-H), a new Japanese X-ray telescope with which Canada is involved. The CSA has also released a Request for Proposals for Phase 0 studies for the WFIRST mission, which is an important and necessary step towards ultimately securing Canadian participation in this Dark Energy mission.

Finally, one of the annual tasks of the CASCA President as chair of the Canadian National Committee for the IAU is to submit our “Annual Performance Review” to the National Research Council. This report is important as it helps to justify the payment of our annual membership dues (29,000 Euros in 2016) to the IAU. This year we continued our tradition of excellence and achieved a rank of 3 out of 28 Canadian National Committees across a wide range of disciplines that submitted reports for 2015.

President’s Report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Hivers/Winter 2015)

Hi, everyone,

Well, the end of term is in sight but like many of you, I am still swamped with marking and student meetings. So this will again be a short report noting a few important highlights.

Our next annual meeting will be held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The graduate student workshop will be on May 30th, 2016 with the CASCA meeting itself May 31st – June 2nd, 2016. The meeting will be held at the historic Fort Garry Hotel, located in the heart of Winnipeg, within easy walking distance of many attractions such as The Forks and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. More information is available on the meeting web site. Registration will open in January.

Work on the report from the Mid-Term Review panel is well underway; the committee estimates that roughly 90% of the document has been written. The panel is holding weekly telecons and I think the report is converging quite quickly. While there is a certain amount of polishing that will be needed, the panel is working to have the full report completed early in the new year.

I am sure that many of you continue to follow the latest news on the TMT from Hawai`i. In early December, the Hawai`i Supreme Court invalidated the Conservation District Use Permit issued by the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) to the University of Hawaii – Hilo to build TMT on Maunakea. This means that TMT will need to apply for a new permit in Hawai`i in order to build on the Maunakea site, with September 2016 the earliest possible date on which a new permit could be obtained. We continue to monitor the situation and will share information as it becomes available and can be made public.

Members of the ACURA Advisory Committee on the SKA helped to organize a workshop on “Canada and the SKA” that was held at the University of Toronto December 10-11, 2015. The meeting was an opportunity for the Canadian community to assess its main interests and activities for the SKA, and to identify areas for synergy and coordination. There was good turnout by astronomers from a number of Canadian universities and NRC-Herzberg, as well as participation by a number of potential industrial partners and a number of international astronomers as well. If you missed the workshop, the talks are expected to be made available soon on the conference web site.

The CASCA Board held two meetings this fall, a short one in October and our longer mid-year meeting in December. These meetings are held electronically to save time and travel costs. We also discuss issues as they arise via email and igloo (a community forum software). The new Diversity and Inclusivity Committee has been established; its first chair is Dr. Brenda Matthews from NRC-Herzberg and you can find the membership and terms of reference on the CASCA web site. Another task at this time of year is identifying new members to serve on CASCA committees: a big thank you to everyone who has agreed to serve our community in this way!

One of the major areas of discussion over the past 18 months has been the Westar trust and the Westar Lectureship. In my previous report, I described how the Board had committed a portion of the income from the Westar funds to support the Discover the Universe Initiative. A big focus over the next 6 months will be working to re-establish the Westar Lectureship series. The Westar lectures occurred quite regularly in the 2000s but as far as I can tell was overtaken in 2009 by the International Year of Astronomy and never restarted. The CASCA Board is working with our EPO committee and Discover the Universe to implement a new model that combines a Westar lecture by an astronomer with hands-on teacher training activities offered by Discover the Universe. Expect to see a call for volunteers in early 2016.

Happy holidays!

President’s Report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Autumn/Automne 2015)

Hi, everyone,

As usual, the start of term crush has worked its usual “magic” and so this will again be a short report noting a few key highlights.

The IAU held its General Assembly in Honolulu in August. Canadians were well represented among the participants and invited speakers. Approximately 40 Canadian researchers became new members of the IAU at this meeting. Two Canadians were elected to high-level IAU committees: Bill Harris from McMaster University to the Membership Committee and JJ Kavelaars from NRC Herzberg to the Finance Committee.

I am sure many of you are following the latest news on the TMT from Hawai`i. As I write this, construction is still on hold and protesters continue to be present on the summit access road much of the time. The situation makes the news periodically, in Canada most recently on the CBC news program “As it happens”. The situation remains difficult for people on both sides of the issue and we need to be patient and let the parties closer to the situation try to work out a solution.

The Mid Term Review panel has continued working over the summer. They held a face-to-face meeting in Montreal in July, which included a meeting with staff at the Canadian Space Agency, and are beginning to draft up their report. The final report is scheduled to be released in late fall 2015.

The ACURA Advisory Committee on the SKA has also been active over the summer. There will be a meeting “Canada and the SKA” held in Toronto December 10-11, 2015. This meeting will be an opportunity for the Canadian community to assess its main interests and activities for the SKA, and to identify areas for synergy and coordination. The meeting will be held in conjunction with a meeting on the Murchison Widefield Array December 7-9, 2015. Registration is now open at http://mwatelescope.org/toronto/

Coming up this fall, expect to see a call for nominations for CASCA’s various awards to appear soon with a deadline likely late November or early December. This will be an earlier deadline than in previous years with the aim of allowing award winners to be identified early enough that it is more likely that they will be able to attend the CASCA AGM to be held in Winnipeg in 2016. The CASCA Board is also moving to establish a new Diversity Committee and will be looking for members for this new committee soon. The Board has also committed some funding from the Westar Fund to support a new application to the NSERC PromoScience program by Discover the Universe and the Dunlap Institute.

To close, I want to note four of our society’s members who have been honoured this past month. Roberto Abraham from the University of Toronto has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Julio Navarro from the University of Victoria has been awarded the Henry Marshall Tory Medal from the Royal Society of Canada. This medal is for outstanding research in any branch of astronomy chemistry, mathematics, physics, or an allied science. Matt Dobbs from McGill University and Sara Ellison from the University of Victoria have been named to The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada. Congratulations to Sara, Matt, Julio, and Bob on these well-deserved awards.

President’s Report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2015)

Hi, everyone,

The undeniable highlight of the past 3 months was the announcement by the Federal government on April 6, 2015 that it would fund Canada’s share of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). TMT construction funding appeared as a line item in the Federal budget that was released on April 21, 2015, with funding for the past year and the next five years set out in some detail. TMT also merited its own two pages in the budget document.

This announcement was the culmination of at least seven years of activity by many players, including the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy, university presidents, ACURA, CASCA, individual astronomers, and the general public. I want to take this opportunity to summarize the activities that I personally was involved in or was aware of over the past year that helped us achieve such a successful conclusion.

Over the summer of 2014, a number of Canadian astronomers wrote to Minister Holder. Some also met with their individual MPs and/or with their University President or Vice-President Research. These efforts resulted in some initial discussion of the TMT at the U15 meeting of university presidents in August. Also in August, the Coalition made Pre-Budget Submission on the TMT. In July there was also a very good article by Ivan Semeniuk on the TMT in the Globe & Mail that generated some follow-up media interest on radio and television. In September the Coalition sent copies of the TMT two-pager and brochure to all MPs.

The TMT Planning Team held monthly telecons over the summer and early fall of 2014 and was heavily involved in the outreach to Holder and the preparation of the pre-budget submission. However, as the lobbying became more confidential, political, and requiring rapid responses, more and more of the work and discussion was done by the Coalition co-Chairs (Don Brooks, Guy Nelson, and myself) along with ACURA Executive Director Ernie Seaquist, our TSA lobbyist Duncan Rayner, and TMT Canadian Project Scientist Ray Carlberg. Also in the fall I believe there were parallel discussions and lobbying efforts going on among key university presidents. However, I have only indirect knowledge of these efforts and likely the details are known only to the presidents involved. So I will not say anything further except that the strong support by key university presidents and their willingness to interact with government on our behalf was certainly an essential part of the effort that resulted in a successful outcome on TMT.

On October 20, 2014, the three Coalition co-Chairs traveled to Ottawa for meetings with staff in the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Finance, and the Privy Council Office. Those meetings were very professional and cordial, and my impression was that the level of interest in the TMT project was highest in Finance and the PCO, despite the fact that they did not have as much history with the TMT as did Industry. In late October/early November, Industry co-chair Guy Nelson participated in a large Canadian delegation trip to China; although we did not manage to get TMT into any of the announcements during that trip, he made valuable contacts among staff members, including in the Prime Minister’s office, which were likely very useful later on. The coalition followed up with a letter to all MPs in November.

In November the Coalition was requested to come to Ottawa for a meeting with the Prime Minister’s Office; although we were not able to settle on a November meeting date, we did have a meeting with the PMO December 16, 2014. In late November, I wrote personally to the Prime Minister about the TMT as CASCA President, as it occurred to me that he might not have been reached individually by any of the other letters.

In January 2015, a very good and positive story on the TMT appeared in the Toronto Star, highlighting that we were approaching a now or never decision for Canada’s participation and saying that the TMT is something Canada should be doing. The Coalition sent an email-blast to all MPs in late January with the links to the Star article. There was a similar article about Canada’s potential role in the TMT in Nature in March. In late March we received a request for some more information on the TMT from a staff member in the PMO. On March 31, 2015, the Coalition had its first firm indication that we were going to have a positive outcome on the TMT, and after several hectic days, by April 6 most of us, including representatives from the RASC and other amateur communities, were in Vancouver to hear the Prime Minister announce Canada’s commitment to the TMT. At the request of the government, I also attended the 2015 Budget Stakeholders Lock-Up in Ottawa on April 21, presumably to be available to answer any media questions afterwards. In the event there was no media interest in the TMT that day, the news-worthy event having probably been the earlier announcement on April 6.

With hindsight, the December 16th meeting with the PMO was a real turning point. We were scheduled to meet with two mid-level staff members, but at the last minute a very high-level and well-connected staff member joined the meeting and asked a lot of very focused and interested questions. He said very positive things, such as the TMT is exactly the type of project that a federal government should be doing, because it can’t be left to the private sector, an individual university, and so on. This person likely played a key role in moving the TMT through the process. I happened to see him after the Budget Lock-Up and was able to say thank you in person.

So that is a brief history of the TMT efforts in Canada over the past year. We had a little celebration at the CASCA Banquet in Hamilton where a number of individuals were thanked publicly and invited to speak, and we had a wonderful set of TMT cupcakes (see photos elsewhere in this issue) for people to enjoy. In addition, the CASCA Board formally recognized Don Brooks and Guy Nelson as Patrons of the society, in recognition of their hard work on are behalf as coalition co-chairs over many years.

While TMT was obviously the big news story of the past three months, there have been other important activities going as well. The Mid Term Review panel has been very active. A series of three town hall meetings were held in Montreal, Toronto, and Victoria from March 24-26, 2015. On April 20, the MTR panel held a face-to-face meeting at the Toronto Airport Sheraton to review the results from the town halls and to come up with a preliminary list of recommendations. These preliminary recommendations were presented to the community at the CASCA Annual General meeting in a special one-hour session on May 27, 2015. The MTR panel will focus on writing the report over the summer, with the release of the final report planned for late fall, 2015.

The 2015 CASCA annual meeting was held in Hamilton, Ontario from May 24-27 hosted by McMaster University. The graduate student workshop this year focused on Statistics in Astronomy and was led by Dr. Eric Feigelson (Penn State Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics). By all accounts this was a big success. The main meeting featured a variety of interesting contributed and invited talks as well as a number of lunch sessions focussing on particular telescopes, including a very well attended information session on the SKA on Monday. The CASCA Board and student awards for the best poster by a graduate student were both one by Alexandre Fortier from Université de Montréal for his poster “On the Origin of DQ White Dwarfs”. The CASCA Board award for best student talk was won by Paolo Turri from the University of Victoria for his talk “Precision photometry from the ground: observations of the double subgiant branch of NGC 1851 using GeMS MCAO”, while the CASCA student award for best student talk was won by Nicholas MacDonald from Boston University for his talk “One Epoch at a Time: Discovering Jet Structure in Blazars through Radio Map Stacking”.

President’s Report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Spring 2015)

Hi, everyone,

The past three months have been a bit quieter than the fall, but as you will see from this report, the pace of activities will be picking up as we move into the spring.

I would like to start by thanking the 361 members of CASCA who renewed their membership and paid their dues before December 1, 2014. I would like to encourage the remaining members 159 members to pay their dues as soon as possible! Just as a reminder, you must be a member of CASCA to present at a CASCA annual meeting. (The ability for non-members to be sponsored once every 5 years is meant primarily for undergrads and other special cases.) Also, you must be a member to be eligible for a CASCA award or to nominate someone for an award. If you do not intend to renew your membership (perhaps you have moved to a new job out of the country?), you can resign from the society by emailing our secretary, James di Francesco.

The 2015 CASCA annual meeting will be held in Hamilton, Ontario from May 24-27 and is hosted by McMaster University. The graduate student workshop, Board meeting, and welcome reception will take place on May 24, with the scientific sessions on May 25-27. Invited speakers include Sara Ellison (Victoria), Avery Broderick (Perimeter/Waterloo), Alyson Brooks (Rutgers), and Bryan Gaensler (Dunlap/Toronto) as well as our various prize and award speakers. Registration for the meeting is now open; I encourage you to register by April 1, 2015, as after that date the cost of registration will rise. Abstract submission is also open and abstracts are due by April 1. Students who are presenting at the meeting (either an oral or poster presentation) will be eligible for partial travel support. The deadline for reserving your room at the special meeting rate at the Sheraton Hotel is April 23.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) continues to occupy a lot of time and energy. In terms of lobbying activities, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has not undertaken any major new initiatives, but is more in a mode of responding to inquiries as they appear. I believe there is significant effort going on behind the scenes by some of the university presidents on our behalf but do not know any details. The announcement in February that the 2015 Federal Budget would be delayed until at least April was a real surprise and led to questions from community members about what impact this might have on our TMT participation. My understanding is that a budget announcement in April will not cause any difficulties. I also believe our TMT partners will be able to wait a little longer should the budget or the relevant details relating to the TMT not appear until May, as they realize we have no control over the timing of these things. I remain cautiously hopeful that we will be successful in obtaining funding for the TMT.

The Mid-Term Review (MTR) of the 2010 Long Range Plan is now well underway. The MTR panel has met 3 times by telecom in preparation for the town hall meetings, which will occur March 24-26. There will be three town hall meetings: in Montreal on Tuesday, March 24; in Toronto on Wednesday, March 25; and in Victoria on Thursday, March 26. Please try to attend one of these town hall meetings if you can; they are an important opportunity for you to raise issues with the MTR panel and for the panel to hear about the concerns and priorities of our wider community. A list of discussion questions has been circulated and is posted on the town hall area of the CASCA web site; I also encourage you to read the white papers that are posted as well. There will be an MTR information session as part of the CASCA meeting in Hamilton; however the panel has decided not to hold a separate MTR session immediately after the CASCA meeting.

As you will see from the MTR white papers, there are a number of facilities and initiatives underway in our community with various levels of progress (e.g. CCAT, MSE, WFIRST, etc.). I am going to discuss just two of these in a bit of detail here and will try to provide updates on the most timely of the other projects in future reports. The first I will discuss is the Square Kilometre Array (SKA): there have been some major developments and progress related to the SKA in the last three months. Given the potential construction timeline for the SKA, I feel it is important to provide a few highlights here. The second is the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), which has transitioned in the past 6 months from a national facility operated jointly with the UK to a new partnership among East Asian countries, UK universities, and Canadian universities.

The SKA Organisation issued a press release March 9 describing the outcomes of the recent rebaselining exercise for SKA Phase 1. SKA1 LOW, based in Australia, consists of over 100,000 dipole antennas with a collecting area of 0.4 square kilometres and operates from 50-350 MHz. SKA1 MID, based in South Africa, consists of 200 antennas with a collecting area of 33,000 square metres and operates from 350 MHz – 14 GHz. SKA1 MID will include the 64 MeerKAT dishes. Construction is planned to start in 2018. The full press release on the rebaselining outcomes can be found here: SKA press release. An SKA Key Science Workshop will take place in Stockholm August 24-27; see the workshop website SKA Workshop for more details about the meeting.

The past three months have also seen the transfer of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) to the new East Asian Observatory (EAO). Two consortiums of universities from the UK and from Canada are partnering with EAO in the operation of the JCMT for the next two years. The Canadian consortium universities are Alberta, Lethbridge, McMaster, Saint Mary’s, Waterloo, and Western. The observatory has begun a five-month period of pilot observations as semester 15A; during this period, proposal PIs must be from one of the consortium universities or the East Asian partner countries (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan). The call for both PI and survey proposals for semester 15B is expected to be announced April 1, with proposals due May 15, 2015. The new JCMT web site can be found here: JCMT website.

I would like to end by congratulating our 2015 award winners. Laura Ferrarese is the 2015 receipient of the Peter G. Martin Award for Mid-Career Achievement. Paul Delaney is the 2015 recipient of the CASCA Qilak Award for Astronomy Communications, Public Education, and Outreach. Anne Archibald is the 2015 winner of the J.S. Plaskett Medal, awarded for most outstanding Ph.D. thesis by a graduate of a Canadian university. Congratulations to you all!

President’s report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2014)

Hi, everyone,

This has been a busy fall for CASCA, ACURA, and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy, with major lobbying efforts on behalf of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). The three Coalition co-chairs (Don Brooks representing ACURA, Guy Nelson representing industry, and myself representing CASCA) traveled to Ottawa on October 20 to meet with staff members in the offices of the Minister of Industry, the Minister of Finance, and the Privy Council Office. We will be going back to Ottawa for additional meetings reaching out to different branches of the government on December 16. In November, Guy Nelson joined a Canadian trade mission to China, which gave him additional opportunities to raise the need for TMT funding with politicians involved in that visit. The individual co-chairs have also been busy writing letters to provide updates on the TMT project to other high-level politicians and their staff. In parallel, individual astronomers have had considerable success meeting with their university presidents and raising the TMT issue with them. Several of the key university presidents are now engaged with the TMT issue and are working to make this project a reality. The rules and application deadlines for the first round of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) were published in early December, which has been very helpful in clarifying the structure of this new funding program. While it may be that some part of the TMT funding can ultimately flow from CFREF, it seems clear that CFREF funding is unlikely to be the sole or even a major source of funds for the TMT construction project.

You might be wondering whether, with all the work we have been doing, we have been given any hints as to the likely success of obtaining TMT construction funding. The reality is that we will only learn whether or not we have been successful on the day that the 2015 federal budget is announced. The secrecy surrounding the federal budget is not new; indeed, we were in a similar situation in 2003 when we needed additional funding for ALMA. I remain cautiously hopeful that we will be successful in obtaining funding for the TMT.

Another important focus of our community this year is the Mid-Term Review (MTR) of the 2010 Long Range Plan, which is now well under way. There have been a very good number of white papers submitted to the MTR panel, with just a few late ones expected as I write this. The white papers are available in the MTR area of the CASCA web site and I urge you to have a look at the ones the overlap with your particular interests.

The MTR panel will be holding three town hall meetings in late March: in Montreal on Tuesday, March 24; in Toronto on Wednesday, March 25; and in Victoria on Thursday, March 26. Please try to attend one of these town hall meetings if you can; they are an important opportunity for you to raise issues with the MTR panel and for the panel to hear about the concerns and priorities of our wider community.

The CASCA Board has been hard at work for you this fall. We sent out a call to Canadian astronomers who were not yet members of the International Astronomical Union inviting them to apply for membership in advance of the 2015 IAU General Assembly, and over 40 people responded positively. We committed some of the surplus that had built up in the Westar fund to supporting the “Discover the Universe” initiative for the next three years, providing some much needed continuity as they wait to hear the results of the next round of NSERC PromoScience grants. We are also working with the EPO committee to decide how to rejuvenate the Westar public lecture series. We are continuing to work on completing the translation of key pages for the French version of the website and trying to do a better job keeping the English and French websites synchronized, for example by posting English-language press releases and job advertisements on both websites. We have completed the renewal of the members of the various CASCA committees and are starting to explore possible areas for collaboration with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).

I also want to draw your attention to the 2015 CASCA annual meeting, which will be hosted by McMaster University. The dates of the meeting are May 24-27, with an MTR session held for part of the day on May 28. You can expect to hear more information about the meeting in February via the email exploder. The 2016 AGM will be hosted by the University of Manitoba and Brandon University in Winnipeg.

Finally, congratulations to Sara Ellison, who in October was awarded the Rutherford Medal in Physics from the Royal Society of Canada.

Message from the CASCA president

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president

Hi, everyone,

The start of term is upon us, with all the work that entails, and so this will be just a short report to update you on some of the things that have been going on over the last three months. More information on many of these topics is available elsewhere in this newletter or in the society web pages.

First, I would like to welcome Joanne Rosvick and Magdalen Normandeau as our new Cassiopeia editors! I am very grateful to them for taking this on and I look forward to working with them.

The Mid Term Review (MTR) is now underway with the solicitation of White Papers in preparation for the town hall meetings that will occur early in 2015. The panel has already requested a number of reports from CASCA committees and individuals involved in proposed or established facilities and missions. But any member of the community is welcome to submit a white paper. Length will be as in the LRP – 4 pages text maximum. Up to 5 additional figures allowed. Deadline for submissions is 28 November 2014. Please see the MTR part of the CASCA web site for more details.

Lobbying efforts for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) are well underway. A thoughtful article by Ivan Semeniuk on the TMT appeared in the Globe & Mail in late July and generated additional media coverage. A number of CASCA members wrote letters to their MPs and to Minister Ed Holder, under whose department the TMT falls, and many or all of us received replies from the Minister’s office in August. Individual CASCA members have also been busy meeting with their university Presidents and/or Vice-Presidents research to update them on the TMT issue and I can report that the TMT was discussed at the U15 meeting of university presidents in August. Also in August, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy made a Pre-Budget Submission on the TMT to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. I think it is safe to say that TMT as a project and an issue is now quite well-known both within the government and in the universities. We are continuing to raise the issue of TMT with the government this fall. Ultimately, though, we will only know whether or not we are successful in getting funding for TMT when the 2015 federal budget is announced. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the TMT Ground-Breaking ceremony which will happen on October 7 and is supposed to have a live-stream which we hope to link to the CASCA web site.

The Long Range Plan Implementation Committee is continuing its monitoring of the broad suite of activities underway in our community. The Canadian CCAT construction proposal will meet with an expert CFI panel on September 29. A complication to the Canadian effort was the failure of NSF to provide partial funding for CCAT through its recent MSIP program. However, the CCAT team continues to be hopeful that new partners will join the telescope to allow its construction in a timely manner. There is an update on progress with the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer elsewhere in this issue and so I will not say anything more about that here. The ACURA Advisory Committee on the SKA has a new chair (Bryan Gaensler) and is being expanded to nine members in anticipation of accelerated developments with that project over the next couple of years.

In the wider world, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has started on an ambitious program to reform its Commission structure with a deadline of October 15, 2014. Also, the deadline for proposing for an IAU Symposium for 2016 is now October 31, 2014.

And last but not least, two of our society’s members have been honoured this past month. Harvey Richer from UBC has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Christian Marois from NRC Herzberg has been elected to the College of New Scholars of the Royal Society of Canada. Congratulations to both Harvey and Christian on a well-deserved award.

President’s Report (June 18, 2014)

This is my first report as your newly elected President. I’m very honoured to be asked to take on this role, but I admit to feeling a little overwhelmed at all the things that need attention.

I would like to start by thanking our outgoing President, Laura Ferrarese, for the outstanding job she has done over the past two years. She has played a major role in our efforts so far to find funding for the TMT and most recently she has coordinated the start of the very important Mid Term Review (MTR) of our 2010 Long Range Plan. She oversaw a complete revamping of our society’s web site and has done a fantastic job of communicating with the members of our society through a variety of channels, including taking charge of the CASCA twitter account during the Quebec City AGM. I look forward to the benefit of her experience as she continues on the CASCA Board as Past President.

I would also like to welcome the new members to the CASCA Board. Bob Abraham is our new Vice-President, and Sarah Gallagher and Stephane Courteau are our new directors. I look forward to working with you all over the next two years.

We have just finished a wonderful CASCA annual general meeting in Quebec City. The science was exciting, the food was excellent, and the setting (including the weather) was beautiful! I want to thank again the LOC chaired by Laurent Drissen for all their hard work and dedication that paid off in a very successful meeting.

Immediately after CASCA we had a kick-off meeting for the Mid Term Review process. Further information about this meeting is given in the article in this issue by committee chair Rob Thacker. The individual presentations will be posted to the MTR area of the CASCA web site.

The most urgent task currently facing our community is to secure funding to enable our participation in TMT, our highest priority for a new ground-based facility. As you may recall, funding for TMT was not included in the February 2014 federal budget. As a result, Canada is currently an associate member of the TMT International Observatory (TIO), which voted to begin construction at their May 22, 2014 meeting. The members of the TIO are currently the University of California, Caltech, Japan, and China, with India and AURA as additional associate members. The coming year will be a ramp-up year for construction spending and so the window is still open for Canada to join the TIO if we can secure construction funding in the coming year.

Many of you may not be aware of the schedule and process that is followed in developing the federal budget; the following is my personal (probably incomplete) understanding gleaned from recent discussions and past experience. For a federal budget, which is typically released in February, most of the work is done in the preceding summer and early fall. Summer is the time when MPs are typically in their home ridings, and so this is the time when individual visits by voters (us!) are easiest to make. August 6, 2014 is the deadline this year for any “pre-budget submissions”; the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy will prepare a pre-budget submission on TMT.

To fund TMT as a line item in the Federal Budget requires a “Memo to Cabinet”; this Memo would be prepared by the National Research Council under direction by Industry Canada and submitted to Cabinet by the Minister. My understanding is that Industry Canada has to ask NRC to prepare this Memo to Cabinet, i.e. that NRC cannot submit a memo without a request from above. We are not allowed to know anything about the existence or progress of a Memo to Cabinet; this was rather frustrating during our wait for the 2014 budget but is a long-standing policy (I remember similar rules during the work to obtain funding for ALMA over 10 years ago).

A potential new player in the funding arena is the Canada Research First Excellence Fund, which was announced in the February 2014 budget. No details are available yet as to how this fund will be distributed. However, under advice from the office of the Minister of State for Science and Technology, ACURA is exploring whether it may be a possible route for some of the funding needed for TMT. It seems likely at this time that individual universities may have substantial say over how these new funds are allocated, which means that interactions with university Presidents and university priorities may be important.

So at this point you may be thinking, “Is there anything I can do to help?” I would say the answer to that is “Yes”. The Coalition is pursuing what I would call a “tiered” strategy and the overall strategy is still being developed. One approach is to reach out to the Presidents of our universities for support; this will almost certainly be required for the new Excellence Fund and may be important as well for nudging a memo to cabinet forward. The second approach is to write to and meet with individual MPs. In early June, Laura Ferrarese wrote to a subset of about 40 astronomers with strong connections to CASCA and/or the LRP process to ask them to contact their MPs and university Presidents. Once we have a more complete strategy in place, I anticipate sending out a more general call to CASCA members via the email exploder. So stay tuned!

Chris Wilson