(Past) President’s Report (June 18, 2014)

Hello everyone,

I have just came back to Victoria after a week in beautiful Quebec, where this year’s CASCA AGM has taken place. Several factors contributed to make this a memorable meeting. First of all, the many exciting talks, including those of this year’s CASCA awards recipients: Harvey Richer (Beals), Peter Martin (Executive), Matt Dobbs (Dunlap), Andy Pon (Plaskett) and last but most certainly not least, Howard Trottier (Qilak), whose energy and enthusiasm left us all wanted to do more and better in engaging children of all ages in what is arguably the most fascinating of all sciences. Then, on Tuesday morning, the announcement that Sidney van den Bergh, a true giant and pivotal figure in Canadian astronomy, has been co-awarded the 2014 Gruber Cosmology Prize for his contributions to the field of near field cosmology: congratulations, Sidney, you have our deepest thanks and appreciation. Finally, the special TMT reception, organized by the Pasadena TMT Project Office, that took place on Monday evening.

The CASCA attendees surrounding the TMT mirror assembly on June 11, 2014 in Quebec.

The CASCA attendees surrounding the TMT mirror assembly on June 11, 2014 in Quebec.

During the reception, Greg Falhman, Ernie Seaquist and Laurent Drissen unveiled a polished mirror assembly, one of the 492 segments that will ultimately comprise TMT’s 30-meter primary mirror. When the curtain lifted and the translucent golden hexagonal mirror was revealed, there was a collective gasp from the audience. But after the initial excitement, I am sure the question on everybody’s mind was: after all this years, and all these efforts, how can we possibly not have yet secured a place in what will surely be one of the most groundbreaking and revolutionary projects ever undertaken?

TMT represents far more than just a telescope. It is a project that we co-founded, almost 15 years ago, partnering with our colleagues in the United States. It is a project we built from the ground up, working with Canadian engineers and industry to tackle a disarming array of seemingly insurmountable technical obstacles. Through hard work and ingenuity, we have transformed TMT from an exciting concept to a marvel of precision engineering. It is a project Canadian scientists and engineers (in academia, industry and government) have brought to such a high level of maturity that major international communities — China, India and Japan — have been enticed to join forces with us in what will undoubtedly be a remarkable journey of discovery and exploration.

And yet, today, Canada is at risk of being reduced to a spectator role as a new generation of scientific discoveries unfolds. In May 2014 TMT transitioned from the design/preconstruction to the construction phase and a new partnership, the TMT International Observatory (TIO), was formed by Caltech, UC, China and Japan, all of whom have committed funds towards construction. India is expected to commit by fall. A ground-breaking ceremony will take place on Maunakea on October 7, 2014. To join the TIO as a full member, Canada must secure construction funds — $300M distributed over nine years — in the coming year. Of those $300 million, about half are needed to construct the unique calotte enclosure designed by Dynamic Structures Ltd. The other half includes ~$75M for the construction of NFIRAOS, TMT’s AO system, mostly done at NRC, and an equal amount as a cash contribution to the TIO. Those $300M will buy us close to 19% of the observing time at the telescope.

For the past many months, ACURA and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy have been carrying out an extensive campaign in support of TMT. Activities include regular written updates and in-person meetings with the Minister of Industry, James Moore, the Minister of State for Science and Technology, Ed Holder, as well as other Government officials. A nation wide campaign aimed at securing the support of University presidents is well under way. ACURA holds regular meeting with NRC officials. These activities are aimed to support the submission of a Memorandum to Cabinet (MC) requesting construction funds. A pre-budget submission is being prepared by the Coalition, with the help of our Temple Scott consultant, with a deadline of August 6. The final MC is due in the fall — this is a confidential document prepared by NRC on request by Industry Canada. An alternative (or perhaps complementary) avenue of funding that has recently emerged as a viable possibility is Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) — a $1.5B program (over 10 years) announced in the 2014 Federal Budget “to help Canadian post-secondary institutions excel globally in research areas”. A CFREF request will of course need to be agreed upon by Universities Presidents.

In all this, there is an important role for CASCA to play. Now more than ever, it is imperative for the community to speak with a single voice and express unequivocal and unwavering support for the project: in the words of a man who knew how to get stuff done, we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. This is a call to action: write to Minister Holder, visit your MP office, schedule a meeting with your University VPR and/or President. Do it now. Take a copy of the TMT Brochure and Digest with you, and tell them that TMT is an investment in the future not just for the Canadian astronomical community, but also for Canada’s international scientific reputation: a hard-won reputation of which Canadians are justly proud.


I could not conclude this message without mentioning some other news. After five years of feasibility studies, a project office has now officially been established for ngCFHT, now renamed Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE). The goal is to generate a Construction Proposal over the next three years. Things are moving forward on the space astronomy front as well: a Request for Information (RFI) has been issued by the CSA to industry and academia to explore possible contributions to NASA’s WFIRST mission. And of course, as we work towards securing new projects, we must say goodby to old ones. After more than 10 years in what was originally planned as a 1-year mission, the CSA will withdraw support to MOST on September 9, 2014. At the end of September, NRC will withdraw funding from the venerable James Clark Maxwell Telescope. Plans to keep Canadian involvement in JCMT for at least two additional years — through a combination on in-kind contributions and University funds, are under way and the outlook is promising.

Anyway, speaking of things that must come to an end, this will be my last report as President. So allow me to take this opportunity to thank the CASCA Board for their dedication and commitment, welcome our new Board members, Bob Abraham and Sarah Gallagher, and wish all the best to our new president, Chris Wilson. And finally, a huge THANK YOU to you all, for your support and your confidence in me during the past two years. I feel truly fortunate and proud to be part of this community.

Ciao,
Laura

President’s Report (March 15, 2014)

Hello everyone,

this is a short report to keep you apprised of activities related to the Mid Term Review (MTR) of the 2010 Long Range Plan.

It has been almost five years since the LRP was published, and some notable steps towards realizing the LRP goals have been taken. For instance, new instrumentation for CFHT is in the works: after a slight delay, Spirou has been given the go ahead and provided ~$2M in financial support, while new filters (including an improved u-band and narrow-band CaH&K, [OIII] and Halpha filters) are being procured for MegaCam. Work towards ngCFHT continues. JWST is moving ahead as planned, and all Canadian hardware has been delivered to NASA. Since 2010, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has been a formal partner is Astro-H, for which Canada is building the metrology system. On the SKA side, Canada is participating, through NRC, in several pre-construction activities that are intended to be part of the capital construction phase, including signal processing, dishes, and receiver systems. CHIME has been fully funded and is already under construction.

On other fronts, things are not moving quite as fast, or not at all. Funding for CCAT is not yet secured. On the HPC side, ComputeCanada has undergone a significant reorganization. A new President and CEO was appointed on March 10, and last November, ComputeCanada announced the creation of the Advisory Council on Research, which includes two astronomers (Rob Thacker and James Wadsley), and through which we hope the voice of our community will be heard. This leads us to the two elephants in the room: TMT and participation in a dark energy mission, the top two ranked ground- and space-based initiatives in the LRP. As we all know, there was no mention of TMT in the 2014 Federal budget. What nobody knows yet is how this will affect our continuing partnership in the project; the hope is that some of the dust will settle after the TMT Board meeting to be held next month. As for a dark energy mission, efforts are being diverted from Euclid to WFIRST and we now have a Canadian representative on the WFIRST-AFTA Science Definition Team (Mike Hudson). In addition, CSA has awarded a significant technology contract in support of the proposed CASTOR mission, which aims to carry out short-wavelength imaging to complement the IR imaging of Euclid and WFIRST.

More details can be found in the reports of the CASCA committees, on CASCA’s “Projects and Initiatives” pages, as well as on Cassiopeia.

Four years into the process, it is time for a comprehensive review of the progress towards achieving the LRP goals, so we can identify any areas of deficiencies or where progress has been slow and advise on a course of action to ensure, as much as possible, that the LPR plan is brought to completion. The scope of the Mid Term Review is therefore to identify strategic changes in funding models, governance, or operational schemes that would increase the effectiveness in implementing the LRP plan and/or maximize the return on the investments already made; to evaluate the loss of scientific and/or technical knowledge, and recommend ways of mitigating the impact if any LRP goals are no longer considered viable; and to identify and evaluate — in the context of the original LRP plan — new projects that have emerged since the LRP was published.

This task will be carried out by a MTR panel, in consultation with the community. The MTR panel is chaired by Dr. Rob Thacker, of Saint Mary’s University. The panel members were chosen by the CASCA Board, in consultation with Rob, to ensure expertise in all areas — technical and scientific — covered by the LRP:

  • Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo)
  • David Crampton (NRC-Herzberg)
  • Matt Dobbs (McGill University)
  • Kristine Spekkens (Royal Military College)
  • Michael Strauss (Princeton University)
  • Marten van Kerkwijk (University of Toronto)
  • Rob Thacker (Saint Mary’s University, Chair)
  • Kim Venn (University of Victoria)
  • Christine Wilson (McMaster University)

I will share a small but significant detail with you all. When I sent the invitation to join the panel to Michael, David, Matt, Kristine, Michael, Marten, Rob, Kim and Chris, I was fully prepared to have to engage in some arm twisting. There was no need: without exception, they all were eager to serve, in spite of the fact that the task at hand is not trivial, that the stakes are particularly high, and the time commitment is significant (I made no secret of any of this!). Their willingness to be part of the process is a strong testament to their dedication and commitment to the community, and I feel very fortunate and privileged to be able to count on such an outstanding team for such an important task.

As for a timeline, the MTR activities will start at the CASCA AGM in June 2014, and culminate with the release of the MTR report in the fall of 2015. Here are the main milestones:

  1. On June 12, immediately following the AGM, the MTR panel will hold a full day meeting, to which the entire membership is invited. A preliminary schedule for the session can be found on the CASCA webpages. During the meeting, the panel and the community will hear presentations from the chairs of the LRPIC, JCSA, GAC and CDC as well as from the leads of all projects prioritized in the LRP. There will also be a call for contributed talks on projects that might have emerged since the LRP or that should be discussed by the panel. Ample blocks of time will be dedicated to all-hands discussion. If you wish to submit an abstract for a contributed talk, please fill in the form: the panel will get back to you after all abstracts have been received.
  2. In July-August 2014, white papers will be solicited from all leads of the projects prioritized in the LRP and a few selected new initiatives (if any), with a deadline of December 2014. The list of white papers being solicited will be posted, and the papers themselves will of course also be posted once received by the panel. Note that even if there will be no open call for white papers, if you feel that one should be submitted on an issue not already covered, please contact the MTR panel chair and state your case.
  3. In January/February 2015, three townhall meetings will be held in the Toronto/Vancouver/Montreal areas, following the same format as the townhall meetings held during the 2010 LRP. All townhall meetings will be webcasted.
  4. Preliminary conclusions of the MTR panel will be discussed at the 2015 CASCA meeting in Hamilton, Ontario. A final report will be issued in late fall of 2015. The report will not be as extensive as the original LRP, and will not include unwarranted revisions or expansions that are inconsistent with the original plan. It might, however, recommend revised strategies aimed at ensuring that the plan is completed, and include new initiatives when these are aligned with and enhance the original plan.

Throughout the entire process, community consultations will take place through a dedicated website. I strongly urge you to participate in the process — the LRP and MTR are perhaps the two single most important initiatives for the health of the Canadian Astronomical community, and your opinions must be heard.

I will send more news as they become available and I hope to see many of you at CASCA 2014!

Cheers,
Laura

President’s Report (June 15, 2013)

 

Hello everyone,

since I wrote my last report two months ago, I have had the opportunity to attend three meetings that are directly relevant to the strategic planning for Canadian astronomy. Two of these meetings focused specifically on CFHT: the ngCFHT workshop, which took place in Hilo, HI, on March 27-29, 2013, and the triennial CFHT Users’ Meeting, held in Campbell River on May 6-8.  The third meeting was, of course, the 2013 CASCA AGM, which took place on the campus of the University of British Columbia on May 28-30. The following reflects my notes and impressions from these meetings.

 

The Future of the Canada France Hawaii Telescope

CFHT is at a crossroad. Until now, the telescope has maintained world-wide competitiveness – in spite of its modest size in a landscape dominated by 8m class facilities – thanks to its wide-field imaging capabilities. This is changing. HyperSupremeCam (HSC) at Subaru outperforms MegaCam by an order of magnitude in exposure time and 10% to 15% in image quality. DECam, now in full operation at the 4m Blanco telescope, boasts nearly 4 times MegaCam’s field of view. PanSTARRS 1+2 and, especially, LSST (on track for a 2014 start of construction) will eventually completely dominate the wide-field imaging game. These facilities will be game changers. Dome venting (which is underway) and/or upgrades in MegaCam detectors (which have been proposed) will keep the CFHT competitive in the near term, but, in my view, do not represent CFHT’s long-term future.

At the CFHT Users’ Meeting, the Director, Doug Simons, laid out a three-step plan for the telescope: 1) implement new capabilities to keep CFHT competitive in the very near-term; 2) expand the existing partnership; and 3) transform the telescope into a new facility.

Proposals for new capabilities for CFHT will be tended in August 2013, and a selection will be made in late fall/winter. Upgrades to the MegaCam and/or ESPaDOnS detectors, the purchase of narrow-band filters for MegaCam, a 4D Superconducting MKID Camera, and upgrades to the Pueo AO system are some of the ideas floated at the meeting. Before then, we can look forward to SITELLE, an imaging Fourier transform spectrometer with an 11’×11’ field of view and wavelength range between 350 and 850 nm. SITELLE is scheduled to be delivered at the telescope this summer, and will be offered on a shared risk basis in 2014A.

Doug made it clear that the future of CFHT must proceed through expansion of the current consortium with a view towards exploiting the strengths and synergies of the existing facilities on Mauna Kea. CFHT has been working towards this goal for several years already, with Brazil, China, Korea and Taiwan currently buying nights on the telescope. Doug announced that China has expressed an interest of becoming a full partner. This opens an exciting possibility, since the additional funding could be used to cover the operating costs for UKIRT, which is looking for a new owner to take over after September 30, 2013. The advantages are obvious, not least the fact that if (when) CFHT is redeveloped, UKIRT could provide needed telescope access to the Canadian optical community while the CFHT site is under construction.

Which brings us to point 3) in Doug’s presentation. Currently the only proposed long-term future for CFHT is ngCFHT: a 10m telescope, to be built on the existing CFHT pier, equipped with a highly multiplexed, wide field, medium to high resolution spectrograph. The project is proposing to start redeveloping the site in late 2017, with first light expected in ~2021. At both the Users’ meeting, and at the ngCFHT workshop, the case was made by numerous speakers that such facility would outperform all existing or planned wide-field spectroscopic instruments, including BigBoss, AAT/Hermes, VISTA/4MOST, and VLT/MOONS. I was mostly impressed by the diversity of the science cases ngCFHT can address: from exoplanets to cosmology, and everything in between (see http://www.ngcfht.org/science-study for a partial list).

The ngCFHT workshop was attended by close to 100 participants from Canada, France, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US, many of whom not directly associated with the feasibility study for the project. Although there is no question that the scientific enthusiasm behind ngCFHT is significant, funding is an issue (the cost estimate is ~$200M, to be divided amongst all partners), and of course it remains to be seen whether ngCFHT will remain the only route forward, or whether other ideas will emerge. But one thing is certain: we must act soon – now – or we risk being left behind in the burgeoning field of wide-field spectroscopic surveys.

 

The CASCA Annual General Meeting

The 2013 CASCA AGM took place on the campus of the University of British Columbia on May 28-30. The scientific level of the meeting was very high – with many excellent talks and posters on topics from exoplanets to stellar chronology to the recent Planck results. Presentations were made on future facilities, including SKA, SPICA, CCAT, the Artic Telescope and ngCFHT (TMT was, regrettably, absent), as well as current facilities, in particular JCMT, ALMA, Gemini and CFHT; a lunch discussion focused on the implementation of the LRP and generated some interesting discussion about the future of CFHT and Space Astronomy projects (slides can be found on the LRP Implementation committee webpage. Additionally, I would like to remind everyone that the latest reports from all CASCA committees, containing several statements relevant to the issues discussed here, are posted on the Committee pages on the CASCA website).

In terms of current ground-based facilities, with the exception of ALMA, the outlook is not especially positive. The STFC Council will cease operational support for JCMT on September 30, 2014; consequently, JCMT, like UKIRT, is looking for a new owner, and a Prospectus is expected to be released this summer. As for Gemini, the director Markus Kissler-Patig reported some good news (Flamingos2 has now been installed at Gemini South and is undergoing commissioning, while GPI will be delivered later this summer) but also spoke of a significant (20%) budget cut. In spite of this, Gemini is taking steps to ensure its competitiveness: Markus outlined a plan that facilitates the use of visiting instruments; operationally, the SAC and Board are considering a proposal to allocate 20% of the telescope time to Large Projects (a good idea, in my opinion, as mounting large observing campaigns at Gemini is almost impossible under the current multi-national TAC structure).

At the “business meeting” the membership approved CASCA’s Ethics Statement as well as the new amended by-laws required to comply with the new Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act. There are two important changes in the new by-laws (which have not yet been submitted but are expected to take effect within the next year). The first is a change in the structure of the CASCA Executive. The 1st and 2nd vice presidents (now serving a one-year term) will be replaced by a single vice-president, serving for two years. To compensate, the number of directors will be increased from three to four. The second change is in the mechanism to select new Board members. While the Nominating Committee will continue to propose nominees, volunteers will be solicited from the community well in advance of the Committee deliberations.

Finally, it was announced that the 2014 CASCA Meeting will be hosted by Université Laval and take place in downtown Québec City on June 8-11. Two bids to host the 2015 meeting have been received and are being considered.

 

Additional Activities

Since the last report, there has been a new development concerning the review process of NSERC Discovery Grants. In the 2012-2013 competition, none of the six astronomers serving on the panel was working at a Canadian Institution (five worked in the US, one in France). This is of obvious concern. The CASCA Board has been in communication with NSERC on this issue; copies of all correspondence can be found in the CASCA Board webpage. The Canadian Association of Physics (CAP) has also been informed. At this time, the situation is not yet resolved.

A second development concerns High Performance Computing (HPC). Since the last report, the newly appointed Compute Canada (CC) CEO, Bill Applebe, has left the organization, and has been replaced (on an interim basis) by the CEO of Westgrid, Jill Kowalchuk. In a recent email communication, Jill indicated that CC is in the process of forming a Research Advisory Committee, and that this will include a CASCA representative. This is great news, as the lack in the current CC governance of a voice speaking for researchers across Canada has been a serious concern for the membership.

Finally, the CASCA Board is making preparations for a Mid Term Review (MTR) of our Long Range Plan. An MTR panel will be formed (we are in the process of identifying a Chair), and we are planning two Town Hall meetings to be held in June next year (one possibly in Québec immediately following the AGM, and one in Western Canada). Papers describing progress on the LPR priorities, as well as outlining new initiatives that might have emerged since the LPR, will be solicited before then.

 

Until next time, I wish everybody a very happy and productive summer.

Laura Ferrarese,

President of CASCA,

Victoria, June 15, 2013

President’s Report (March 31, 2013)

 

Hello and welcome to the new CASCA website! I hope you will find these pages easy to navigate, and all information readily available. Compared to our old website, the improvements are many, but perhaps the most important is that this new website has been designed to encourage participation and feedback from the community. For instance, comments pertaining to ground- or space-based initiatives, as well as the implementation of our Long Range Plan, can be submitted directly — through on line forms — to the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC), the Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (JCSA), or the LRP Implementation Committee (LRPIC). Dedicated web forms are available to submit comments to the CASCA Board, announcements to the entire membership (through the “CASCA Exploder”), and news items for the rotating display on the front page. Please give this new website a test drive! Of course, suggestions for improvements are always welcome.

The CASCA website is not the only activity the CASCA Board has been busy with during the past months. I do realize that the membership might not always be aware of the activities undertaken by the Board, and to correct this deficiency, I intend to post regular President’s reports in conjunction with the publication of our quarterly Newsletter, Cassiopeia. This is the first such report. Having to catch up, I am afraid it’s a bit lengthy, but I hope you will find it useful.

 

CASCA Awards

Every year, CASCA recognizes outstanding achievements of members of our community, at all career stages. It is a great privilege to congratulate the recipients of this year’s CASCA awards: Dr. John B. Hutchings (Executive Award for Outstanding Service) for sustained contributions that have strengthened the Canadian astronomical community; Dr. James E. Hesser (Qilak award) for his contributions to public understanding and appreciation of astronomy in Canada; Prof. Victoria Kaspi (Martin Award) for her significant contributions to astronomical research; and Dr. Yasuhiro Hasegawa (Plaskett Medal) for the most outstanding doctoral thesis in astronomy or astrophysics of the past two years. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the members of CASCA’s Awards committee for their hard work in selecting this year’s awardees.

 

 

For more than four decades, Dr. John B. Hutchings, the recipient of CASCA’s Executive Award for Outstanding Service, has charted a course of excellence for Canadian astronomy, setting the highest standards in scientific achievements, technical contributions, and service to the community.

A native of South Africa, Dr. Hutchings joined NRC in 1967, after graduating from Cambridge University. During his long and distinguished career, Dr. Hutchings has received numerous awards and honors, including the Beals Award from the Canadian Astronomical Society in 1982, the Gold Medal from the Science Council of British Columbia in 1983, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1987. Although he formally retired from NRC in January 2012, this has had no effect on his commitment to strengthening the role of astronomy within Canada.

The author of over 450 papers in refereed journals, Dr. Hutchings is in the top 0.5% of most cited astrophysicists worldwide. He has worked on remarkably diverse topics including massive stars, stellar winds, X-ray binaries, novae, cataclysmic variables, the interstellar medium, active galaxies and quasars, radio galaxies, and high-redshift galaxy clusters. Often working on astronomy’s forefront topics, from his early career Dr. Hutchings has been an indefatigable champion of space astronomy, leading Canadian participation in a series of key missions, including the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, Astrosat and the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, and the James Webb Space Telescope.

In particular, beginning in the early 1980s, Dr. Hutchings worked tirelessly to secure Canadian participation in FUSE, negotiating access policies that enabled Canadian scientists to gain greater access than would be expected given Canada’s share of the costs, and leading the design of FUSE’s Fine Error Sensor (FES) camera, a critical system responsible for the precise tracking of the telescope that ultimately helped to open the door to Canada’s participation in JWST. From the initial phases of JWST’s mission design, Dr. Hutchings worked closely with the CSA and NASA to support negotiations that resulted in Canada being responsible for the design and construction of two of JWST’s critical instruments: the Fine Guidance Sensors (FGS), and the Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS). Dr. Hutchings has been Canadian Project Scientist for JWST from 2001 to 2012, as well as Principal Investigator for the FGS.

Finally, Dr. Hutchings has been a steady voice and leader in many national and international committees. In Canada, he is a key contributor to CASCA/CSA’s Joint Committee for Space Astronomy, and a member of CASCA’s Ground Based Astronomy committee, of the Coalition for Astronomy TMT Planning Committee, and of CSA’s Euclid Science Advisory Committee. He is currently chair of CASCA’s Long Range Plan Implementation Committee, which is actively working to establish a framework for implementing and operating Canadian astronomical facilities in the coming decade.

 

Dr. Hesser, the recipient of this year Qilak award, has been a prominent figure in Canadian and international astronomy for many years. The director of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory since 1986, Dr. Hesser is a past president of both CASCA (2004-2006) and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1987-1989), and a former vice-president of the American Astronomical Society (1991-1994). In 1997, Dr. Hesser was one of the first recipients of the prestigious Michael Smith Award, given through NSERC Canada to “honour people and groups that are inspirational in the way that they promote science to the general public”. He received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 in recognition of his services to the National Research Council and to all aspects of astronomy. In 2004, he received the CASCA Executive Award for exceptional service to CASCA, and he holds the title of Honorary President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).

With a career-long commitment to astronomy education and public outreach, Dr. Hesser has led by example to forge an effective, efficient partnership between the main organizations of professional and amateur astronomy in Canada: CASCA, RASC, and the Fédération des astronomes amateurs du Québec (FAAQ). In collaboration with others, he worked diligently to establish respectful partnerships with Canada’s Aboriginal communities to preserve and celebrate indigenous knowledge of astronomy, and to illustrate pathways by which Aboriginal youth can aspire to and enter careers in science and technology. A longtime supporter of community outreach programmes, he often gives enthusiastic talks at astronomy conferences and other venues across Canada to encourage, motivate, and inspire his professional and amateur colleagues to participate in EPO activities.

Perhaps most significantly, Dr Hesser worked tirelessly to lead International Year of Astronomy (IYA) efforts within Canada. From 2005 to well beyond 2009, he led and guided this highly visible international project by serving as project as Canada’s “single point of contact”, and as chair of the Executive Committee and Advisory Board for IYA within Canada. Under his direction, the IYA provided a “Galileo Moment” (i.e., “an engaging astronomy experience”) to more than two million people in Canada through more than 3600 separate events, from coast to coast to coast, and in both official languages. Always mindful of the need to cultivate lasting partnerships that sustain public interest in astronomy, Dr. Hesser has been a driving force behind ongoing “Beyond IYA” efforts in Canada.

 

 

The recipient of the Peter G. Martin Award, Dr. Kaspi, received her Ph.D. in 1993 from Princeton University, under the supervisor of Nobel laureate Joseph Taylor. Following postdoctoral fellowships at Caltech and JPL, she was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1997 to 2002. In 1999, she moved to McGill University, where she is currently the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology. Her numerous awards and distinctions include the Annie Jump Cannon Prize (1998), Steacie Prize (2006), Rutherford Medal (2007) and John C. Polanyi Award (2011). She is a Fellow of both the Royal Society, and the Royal Society of Canada, and in 2011 was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

The author of more than 200 refereed publications, Prof. Kaspi’s research interests focus neutron stars, radio pulsars and magnetars, with an emphasis on observational radio and X-ray astrophysics. Scientific highlights from Prof. Kaspi’s career include pioneering efforts in high-precision radio timing of millisecond pulsars, the use of binary pulsars in tests of General Relativity, the connection between pulsars and magnetars, and the study of highly magnetic radio pulsars in the field.

 

 

Dr. Yasuhiro Hasegawa, the recipient of the 2013 J.S. Plaskett Medal, completed his doctoral studies in 2012 at McMaster University. His thesis, entitled  “Planet Traps in Protoplanetary Disk and the Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems”, was carried out under the supervision of Prof. Ralph Pudritz. This work explores in detail — from both a theoretical and computational perspective — the possibility that inhomogeneous structure in protostellar accretion disks can create ‘planet traps’ where major planets are built up primarily through the capture of rapidly migrating planetary cores, followed by the accretion of dense gas.

 

 

Once again, CASCA extends its congratulations to Dr. Hutchings, Dr. Hesser, Prof. Kaspi, and Dr. Hasegawa for their important contributions.

 

2013 CASCA Annual General Meeting (AGM)

The 2013 CASCA AGM will take place on the campus of the University of British Columbia on May 28-30. The AGM will include special sessions on early science from ALMA and results from Plank, as well as dedicated sessions on Extrasolar Planets, Stellar Chronology and 21-cm Cosmology. I am excited and am very much looking forward to our two keynote Prize Lectures this year: the Helen Sawyer Hogg Public Lecture, which will be given by Professor Malcolm Longair (Cambridge University), and the Petrie Prize Lecture, which will be delivered by Professor Francoise Combes (Observatoire de Paris).

I am also pleased to announce that plans for the 2014 AGM are well underway. The AGM will take place in the second week of June in Quebec City, and will be hosted by the Universite Laval.

 

TMT and Coalition Activities

The Thirty Meter Telescope is the highest ranked ground-based initiative in the 2010 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy. Although the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has not yet guaranteed construction funds (and such funds, if allocated, will not start flowing until late in the decade), the selection of TMT amongst the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope options has signaled to the international partners that the US Government is now fully engaged. The Indian Government has indicated its intention to commit at the 10% level, while, in Japan, the TMT project has been approved at the Cabinet level, with ~$16M to be allocated over the next two years. Recently, it was announced that Yale University has also joined the project at the 5% level, which will nominally be an adjustment within the overall US share. With construction expected to start in 2014, the international partners are drafting a Master Project Agreement to be signed by all Scientific Authorities (ACURA for Canada) by July 1, 2013. The final decision on whether the project will move ahead is expected no later than April 1, 2014, by which point the Financial Authorities (NRC in the case of Canada) will be asked to sign the agreement. To do so, NRC will need the project to be approved in the 2014 federal budget.

Therefore, securing federal funds is now urgent for continued Canadian participation in the project. The Coalition, with the help of a specially appointed TMT Planning Committee, has taken several initiatives in this regard. A pre-budget submission (solicited each year by the Government) was drafted in July 2012. While no funds were requested in the 2013 budget, the submission stated that “the Coalition anticipates a funding request for the 2014 federal budget and urges the Government to fully participate in the international funding discussions that are now getting underway.” The pre-budget submission was followed by a positive meeting, on October 12, 2012, between Coalition representatives and Mr. Patrick McIntyre (Director of Policy, Office of the Minister of State for Science and Technology) and Mr. Robert Dunlop (Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Technology Sector Industry Canada). Soon after, NRC reaffirmed its commitment to the astronomy and astrophysics programs, and its intention to represent Canada on the TMT Agreement Development Team. In December 2012, a 24-page document describing the TMT project was sent to all MPs (as well as to VPs of Research and other representatives in academia); Minister Tony Clement, chair of the Treasury Board, responded with a letter requesting to be kept apprised of progress.

At this time, the Coalition is continuing its efforts to update the Federal Government and Industry Canada on TMT developments, with the goal of submitting a request for construction costs (US$299M over 8 years) in the 2014 federal budget.

 

Update on the Long Range Plan.

There has been steady progress towards achieving the top priorities outlined in the 2010 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy. The LRP Implementation Committee (LRPIC), which was established in 2011 by the CASCA Board, has been steadily monitoring progress and, if necessary, advising on re-prioritizations, in consultation with CASCA’s Ground-Based Astronomy Committee (GAC) and Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (JCSA). I’d like to thank the members of the LRPIC, GAC and JCSA for providing this essential service to the community.

With TMT, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) was the top LPR priority for large ground-based projects. Canada formally joined the SKA Organization in March of 2012, with NRC contributing financially to the SKA Detailed Design Phase. As the scientific planning for SKA ramps up, a Canadian SKA Science Advisory Committee (CSSAC) is being established. Members of the CSSAC will be appointed jointly by the Canadian SKA Consortium Board and by the CASCA Board, and will report to both.

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity-Mapping Experiment (CHIME) was the top LRP priority for “Medium” ground-based projects. CHIME will map the distribution of neutral hydrogen at redshifts between 0.8 and 2.5 in a quest to measure the evolution of dark energy. A collaboration between UBC, McGIll, and the University of Toronto, CHIME was recently awarded $4.6 million in funding through a CFI grant to UBC. Combined with funds from the provincial governments and the partner institutions, the allocation is sufficient to secure construction and operations of the radio telescope, that will be built at DRAO, in Penticton. On behalf of the CASCA Board, I would like to congratulate the CHIME team for this outstanding achievement.

Another facility that figured prominently in the LRP is CFHT. Plans for new instrumentation (still underway at the time the LRP was written) proceeded with the selection of SPIRou, a high-resolution NIR spectro-polarimeter, but have stalled following SPIRou’s Preliminary Design Review. In Dec. 2012, the CFHT Board agreed to consider SPIRou as a guest instrument if construction funds can be secured, and solicited input from the community for the development of new, low-cost capabilities that can be deployed on a timescale of 3 years or less. Proposals for such capabilities are due on August 23, 2013, and the CFHT User’s Meeting — to be held in Campbell River on May 6-8 — will be an important forum for gathering community input. Meanwhile, the Next Generation CFHT (ngCFHT) project is gaining considerable traction. ngCFHT is a 10m telescope, to be built on the original CFHT pier, equipped with a highly multiplexed, wide field, medium to high resolution spectrograph. The project is proposing to start redeveloping the site in late 2017, with first light expected in ~2021. The first ngCFHT workshop took place in Hilo, HI, on March 27-29, 2013, and was attended by close to 100 participants from Canada, France, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US.

Moving to space-based priorities, participation in Astro-H was secured by the CSA, who is funding the metrology system for the mission through a contract to Neptec. There are currently three Canadians on the Astro-H Science Working Group.

More difficult have been the negotiations to join the Euclid consortium. These continue, but must face the hard reality of a decreasing CSA budget. A dark energy mission was the top LRP priority for space-based initiatives. In spite of significant work, we have unfortunately now missed the opportunity to contribute hardware to Euclid. A different option is to provide the Euclid consortium with the (suitably processed) PanSTARRS data that is needed to enable the required level of precision in the photometric redshifts. NRC’s Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC) and an advisory group have engaged in lengthy negotiations with the PanSTARRS collaboration, although an agreement has yet to be reached. The level of funding needed to go the PanSTARRS route is within the CSA budget, but will likely require re-allocation of existing funds. The Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (JCSA) has recently undertaken a prioritization exercise and suggested to the CSA trade-offs that would allow to support Euclid participation. The door on Euclid will likely close in the summer of 2013, so time is of the essence.

A parallel space based initiative that figured prominently in the LPR, the Canadian Space Telescope, or CASTOR (Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and UV Research), was strongly endorsed by the JCSA. After submitting a final concept study in March 2012, the project is currently awaiting CSA’s approval to advance to the next design stage and to seek partnership with other interested Agencies.

Last but not least, the LPR recommended sustained funding for High Performance Computing (HPC). In Canada, all computing resources beyond desktops are centralized under Compute Canada (CC) and its regional nodes (Westgrid, SHARCNET, SciNET, HPCVL, Calcul Quebec and ACENet). This is true not just for astronomy, but for all academic disciplines, including the physical sciences, engineering, health sciences, social sciences and humanities. There are advantages and disadvantages to this centralization, but what is clear is that given the diverse needs, requirements and long-term goals of each discipline, we must be proactive in ensuring that the CASCA community is well served by the new CC structure. Compute Canada just incorporated in October 2012, and in January 2013 elected a new Board and CEO. Currently, its governance does not include a voice speaking for researcher across Canada, and this is a serious concern for the community.

CASCA’s Computation and Data Committee (CDC) is monitoring the HPC situation and has taken a number of initiatives to ensure that the new Compute Canada meets the HPC needs of the astronomical community, including participating in a recent meeting between researchers from various disciplines and CC’s CEO, Bill Applebe. Following the advice of the CDC, the CASCA Board is supporting the establishment of a CC advisory committee with representatives chosen from each research community, including CASCA; such proposal was indeed presented in a letter to the former Compute Canada Board in June 2012. The dialog is on-going.

 

Additional CASCA Board Activities.

There have been additional activities that have required significant attention from the CASCA Board.

Each year, CASCA submits a detailed report on IAU activities to NRC, who is financially responsible for the ~28,000 Euro membership fee for the 260 Canadians who are affiliated with the IAU. The 28-page report is used by NRC to assess whether the financial commitment is justified and sustainable. Personally, I was very impressed by the level of commitment and Canadian participation in IAU activities, that this year will include an IAU Symposium, “Exploring the Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems“, to be held in Victoria BC, on June 2-7 2013.

A less gratifying, but necessary activity is the major revision of CASCA’s by-laws that is required to comply with the new Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act. The Act affects all federally incorporated not-for-profit corporations, including CASCA. The new by-laws will need to be approved by the membership during the Executive Meeting at the 2013 Vancouver AGM.

Finally, the CASCA Board acknowledges that the increasingly more complex conditions under which research is being conducted require the definition of a code of conduct. To this effect, the Board is drafting an Statement of Ethics that will be submitted for approval by the membership during the 2013 Vancouver AGM.

 

To conclude this lengthy report, things are developing fast on all fronts, and will certainly have evolved, hopefully in a positive direction, by the time of the next President’s report, in June of this year. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I hope to see many of you in Vancouver!

 

Laura Ferrarese,

President of CASCA,

Victoria, March 31, 2013