CASCA Board statement on the University of California at Berkeley sexual harassment case

The Board of Directors of the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA) is appalled by the recent news that Dr. Geoffrey Marcy, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has been found to have violated the university’s Sexual Harassment Policy over a period of many years. Such behaviour has no place in our professional academic and working environment. We wish to express our concern for the women whose lives, both professional and personal, have been affected adversely by Dr. Marcy’s actions. We also feel that the sanctions that were originally levied by the University of California, Berkeley, against Dr. Marcy were inadequate compared to the damage he has caused to others.

CASCA has an Ethics Statement that states “All people encountered in one’s professional life must be treated with respect and dignity. Discrimination, harassment and abusive behaviours, be it against colleagues, students, or members of the media or the public, are never acceptable.” We have also implemented a code of conduct at our annual scientific meeting, which includes identifying one or more persons in authority and present at the meeting with whom concerns about inappropriate behavior during the meeting may be raised. We will be reviewing our own policies and procedures to identify additional measures that should be taken to protect our members.

Christine Wilson, President, CASCA


First Discovery for a New Planet Finder

TORONTO [13 August 2015] An international team that includes astronomers from the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics has discovered a first-of-its-kind “young Jupiter” exoplanet which could help explain how our Solar System formed. Called 51 Eri b, it is the first planet detected with a new exoplanet-hunting instrument called the Gemini Planet Imager (GPI).

Unlike the Kepler space telescope which detects exoplanets indirectly, the ground-based GPI lets astronomers see and study these distant worlds directly by first correcting for the blurring of the star’s image caused by the atmosphere, then by blocking out the star’s light to reveal the much fainter planet. In addition, GPI is a spectrograph, capable of analyzing light by wavelength.

The instrument was designed specifically for discovering and analyzing faint, young planets orbiting bright stars. “This is exactly the kind of planet we envisioned discovering when we designed GPI”, says James Graham, professor at UC Berkeley and Project Scientist for GPI.

Graham helped develop GPI while director of the Dunlap Institute. He and Stanford Physics Professor (and U of T alumnus) Bruce Macintosh lead the GPI collaboration and are lead authors of the SCIENCE paper announcing the discovery. Co-authors of the paper include Dunlap Fellows Jeffrey Chilcote and Jérôme Maire, as well as U of T PhD-candidate Max Millar-Blanchaer.

“With development spanning nearly a decade, GPI has required contributions from over a hundred extremely talented and devoted people,” says Chilcote, who was part of the team that developed GPI’s spectrograph. “It is simply breathtaking to see all of this hard work pay off with this exciting discovery.”

51 Eri b orbits a relatively young, 20 million year old star named 51 Eridani; the star is 100 light-years from Earth. Of all the exoplanets discovered through direct-imaging, 51 Eri b is the faintest and, at twice the mass of Jupiter, also the lowest-mass. It orbits slightly farther from its parent star than Saturn does from the Sun.

What’s more, 51 Eri b is the coolest of the exoplanets discovered through direct imaging. Its atmosphere is about 430°C—much cooler than most other exoplanets. Combined with the age of the system, this is a clue that the distant planetary system may have formed through a process called core-accretion that can also lead to smaller, rocky planets like Earth.

With its spectrograph, GPI also revealed a strong methane signal from 51 Eri b. Other exoplanets have only faint traces of methane, which makes this newly-discovered world much more like the methane-rich gas giants in our Solar System.

All of these characteristics, the researchers say, point to a planet that is very much what models suggest Jupiter was like in its infancy. According to Macintosh, “This planet really could have formed the same way Jupiter did—this whole planetary system could be a lot like ours.”

And according to Maire, a key member of the team that developed GPI’s data pipeline, “The discovery of this exoplanet, made possible by the development of high-contrast imaging techniques implemented in GPI, provides new insights into planet formation and evolution.”

The Gemini Planet Imager is installed on the Gemini South Telescope in northern Chile and began operating in late 2013. 51 Eri b is the first exoplanet to be discovered as part of the GPI Exoplanet Survey which will target 600 stars over the next 3 years.


Dunlap Institute contacts:

Dr. Jeffrey Chilcote

p: 416-946-5432


Dr. Jérôme Maire

p: 416-978-6569


Max Millar-Blanchaer

p: 416-978-3146


Chris Sasaki

Communications Coordinator

p: 416-978-6613


First announcement: Canadian SKA meeting and MWA project meeting, December 7-11, Toronto


Dear colleagues,

We are pleased to invite you to a week of radio astronomy in Toronto, Canada, over the week of December 7-11, 2015:

* MWA Project meeting, Dec 7-9, 2015, University of Toronto

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is is a low-frequency (70-300 MHz) radio interferometer that uses 128 antenna “tiles” and no moving parts to achieve massive fields of view (610 deg^2 at 150 MHz), arcminute resolution and exquisite surface brightness sensitivity. The MWA has been fully operational since Aug 2013, an so far has accumulated more than 4 petabytes of data on the Epoch of Reionization, galactic and extragalactic sky surveys, time-domain science, and heliospheric/ionospheric studies. The MWA Project meeting will feature science presentations and discussion on the first two years of MWA observing and operations, breakout groups to focus on specific aspects of data reduction and analysis, and discussions of technical progress, science priorities and observational programs for an upgrade path (“MWA phase 2”). Canada is in discussions with the MWA Board about joining the MWA project and participating in MWA phase 2. This meeting is an opportunity for the Canadian astronomy community to learn about the MWA and its capabilities, and to identify future areas for participation and collaboration.

* “Canada and the SKA”, Dec 10-11, 2015, University of Toronto

The Square Kilometre Array (SKA) will be the largest and most powerful radio telescope ever constructed, and will answer fundamental questions in astronomy, physics and cosmology. The first 10% of the SKA (“SKA1”) will consistent of two components: SKA1-MID in South Africa (350 MHz – 14 GHz), and SKA1-LOW in Australia (50-350 MHz), each of which will have spectacular scientific capabilities in its own right. Construction on SKA1 is planned to commence in 2018, with science operations to begin in 2023. Canada is one of 10 member countries of the SKA Organisation, and is an active participant in both SKA technology development and SKA science programs. As we now move toward construction and the formation of the science survey teams, there is a need for Canadian science and industry to assess their main interests and activities for the SKA, and to identify areas for synergy and coordination. This meeting will be an opportunity to learn about the status and upcoming activities for the SKA project, discuss the areas in which Canada can offer scientific and technical leadership, and to plan additional approaches that maximize Canadian return from this project.

Please register for both meetings at by Nov 30, 2015.

Please submit abstracts for talks or posters for both meetings at by Oct 30, 2015.

Hotel and other logistical information will be added to the above WWW site shortly.

* We also draw your attention to the conference “Science at Low Frequencies II”, to be held in Albuquerque, USA, over Dec 2-4, 2015. See for more information.

Key dates:

Jul 30, 2015: First announcement, registration opens
Oct 30, 2015: Abstract deadline
Nov 14, 2015: Final announcement: schedule of talks and posters announced
Nov 30, 2015: Registration deadline

Dec 7-8, 2015: MWA project meeting
Dec 9, 2015: MWA Board meeting (closed meeting), break-out groups, data-analysis workshops
Dec 10-11, 2015: Canadian SKA meeting

MEETING CODE OF CONDUCT: The organizers are committed to making this meeting productive and enjoyable for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, nationality or religion. We will not tolerate harassment of participants in any form. Acceptance of the workshop code of conduct ( is a condition of attendance and participation.

Any queries about either event should be directed to Bryan Gaensler, .

First Light for a “Made in Canada” Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence

TORONTO, ON (March 19th 2015) – On PI Day, March 14th, a team of astronomers expanded the search for extraterrestrial intelligence into a new realm when they achieved first-light with a ground-breaking instrument. While most searches have been conducted with radio telescopes, the instrument, called NIROSETI, is the first capable of detecting extremely short, extremely bright pulses of infrared light.

“Infrared light is an excellent means of interstellar communication,” said Shelley Wright, an Assistant Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego, who led the development of the new instrument while at the University of Toronto’s Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics. Interstellar gas and dust is almost transparent to near infrared, so these signals can be seen from great distances.

NIROSETI looks for short pulses based on the thinking that an advanced alien civilization attempting to communicate with us would send pulses rather than a continuous signal because an infrared laser can outshine the Sun if the signal lasts only a billionth of a second.

According to Wright, the idea dates back decades. Charles Townes, the late UC Berkeley scientist whose contributions to the development of lasers led to a Nobel Prize, suggested the idea in a paper published in 1961.

Scientists have searched the heavens for radio signals for more than 50 years and expanded their search to the optical realm more than a decade ago. But instruments capable of capturing pulses of infrared light have only recently become feasible.

“We had to wait for technology to catch up,” Wright said. “I spent eight years waiting and watching as new technology emerged.”

Then, three years ago while at the Dunlap Institute, Wright purchased newly available detectors. She and Dunlap Fellow Jérome Maire—who played a key role in developing the new instrument—tested the detectors and found that they could turn the concept into reality. “It was exciting,” said Maire, “to solve the technological challenge of building the first instrument capable of detecting an infrared signal a billionth of a second long.”

For the original release and images:

CASCA’s Ethics Statement

In light of recent events, we would like to take this opportunity to inform all interested parties that CASCA has adopted an Ethics Statement.  CASCA does not condone behaviour contrary to this statement, including sexism, abusive behaviours, and harassment in the professional workplace.

Regarding conduct towards others, the Statement explicitly states, “All people encountered in one’s professional life must be treated with respect and dignity.  Discrimination, harassment and abusive behaviours, be it against colleagues, students, or members of the media or the public, are never acceptable.  Equal opportunities must be provided regardless of “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offense for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered” (quoted from “The Canadian Human Rights Act”).”

The CASCA Board

Dunlap Institute, University of Toronto, announces new director, astronomer Prof. Bryan Gaensler (June 10, 2014)

Toronto, 10 June 2014

After an international search, the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto, announces the appointment of its new director, Prof. Bryan Gaensler, a leading international researcher in cosmic magnetism, supernova explosions and interstellar gas.

Gaensler comes to the Dunlap Institute from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) where he is the founding director. He is also an Australian Laureate Fellow at the Sydney Institute for Astronomy within the School of Physics at The University of Sydney.

“I am thrilled to be taking up the directorship,” says Gaensler. “The Dunlap is an institute with unique capacities and enormous potential. I’m excited by the prospect of developing new and innovative approaches to instrumentation, and combining this with the University of Toronto’s already impressive credentials in astronomy and astrophysics.”

For the past decade, Gaensler has made significant contributions to building long-term research capacity for observational astronomy. Much of that effort has been in the development and planning of the Square Kilometre Array which, when completed in twin locations in South Africa and Australia, will be the largest radio telescope ever built and will help answer questions about the very early Universe and how it evolved into the cosmos we see today.

“I want to understand why the Universe is magnetic,” says Gaensler, “and I aim to use explosions, flashes and flares throughout the cosmos as a unique probe of fundamental physics. The Dunlap Institute is the ideal environment for me to pursue these programs, because of its focus on groundbreaking instrumentation and on unique ways of studying the sky. I look forward to the chance to begin working with Toronto students on these projects.”

In addition to his research accomplishments, Gaensler’s achievements in teaching and mentoring resonate with the Dunlap’s commitment to training the next generation of astronomers. He has taught at MIT, Swinburne, Harvard and Sydney Universities, and has a strong reputation for advancing the careers of students and postdocs. At CAASTRO, he has implemented a successful national mentoring program; he has also led workshops for the Australian Academy of Science aimed at training researchers on mentoring and collaboration.

He is equally committed to the Dunlap’s mandate of engaging the public in astronomy, as reflected in his previous outreach efforts through public talks (including at TEDxSydney 2011), teaching in remote schools in Australia via video-teleconferencing, dozens of articles in the popular media, a bi-weekly astronomy segment on Australian radio, and his popular book Extreme Cosmos.

“The Dunlap Institute and the University are most fortunate to have Prof. Gaensler take on this important leadership role,” says Prof. Peter Martin, the Dunlap Institute’s Interim Director. Martin was instrumental in establishing the institute to carry on the legacy of excellence in astronomy and astrophysics associated with the Dunlap name. “A gifted researcher and an inspiring educator with international reach, he has a vision for astronomy in the 21st century that will ensure the institute has an enduring impact.”

Prof. Gaensler will officially join the Dunlap Institute in January 2015.

Chris Sasaki
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, U of T

Dr. Sidney van den Bergh awarded the 2014 Gruber Cosmology Prize (June 10, 2014)

It is with great pleasure that the Canadian Astronomical Society / Société Canadienne d’Astronomie recognizes and applauds the selection of Dr. Sidney van den Bergh ⎯ Researcher Emeritus at NRC Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics, in Victoria, British Columbia ⎯ as a co-recipient of the 2014 Gruber Cosmology Prize, one of the world’s most prestigious awards for astronomy. His co-recipients of the $500,000 award are Profs. Jaan Einasto (Tartu Observatory, Estonia), Kenneth Freeman (Australian National University) and Brent Tully (University of Hawai’i).

Together they are recognized by the Gruber Foundation “…for their pioneering contributions to the understanding of the structure and composition of the nearby Universe.Their work laid the foundations of Near Field Cosmology. They clarified the properties of nearby galaxies — dwarfs, spirals, lenticulars and ellipticals — through studies of their morphology, stellar and gaseous content. The early recognition of the role of dark matter, and of the filamentary clustering of galaxies together with setting the distance scale of galaxies was crucial in setting the cosmological context for our current understanding of the evolution of galaxies and large-scale structure.”

Dr. van den Bergh attended Leiden University, the Netherlands (1947 – 48), transferring on scholarship to receive his A.B. (Physics) from Princeton University in 1950, M.Sc. (Physics) from Ohio State University (1952) and his Dr. rer. nat. (Astronomy) at the University of Göttingen in 1956, followed by appointments at Ohio State University (1956-1958), University of Toronto (1958-1977) and the National Research Council (1978-1998), where he was Director of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (1978-1986). He became NRC Researcher Emeritus in 1999, a position he holds today.

“Over a career spanning more than six decades, Dr. van den Bergh has made a profound and lasting contribution to our understanding of galaxies.” said Laura Ferrarese, CASCA President. “His vast volume of work on the age and size of the Universe, and on the physical mechanisms underlying the formation and evolution of galaxies, helped lay the foundation of “near field cosmology”. It is a distinct pleasure to see this grounbreaking work recognized by the Gruber Foundation. “

Author of more than 500 refereed publications, there is hardly an area of contemporary astronomy on which Dr. Van den Bergh did not write an important paper. His pioneering research includes: the properties of variable stars and exploding stars and their application as ‘standard candles’ for the extragalactic distance scale; the nature of the oldest stellar populations in the Milky Way and nearby galaxies, including their systems of star clusters as tools for unravelling the sequence of events in the formation of galaxies; discovering the first dwarf spheroidal companions of the M31, the Andromeda Nebula; the morphological structure and stellar populations of galaxies as a function of distance and environment; the relationship between dwarf galaxies and more massive systems; and the properties of galaxy clusters in the low-redshift universe.

He also played a pivotal role in Canada’s participation in the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, which became the most influential telescope of its size in the world. As DAO Director he provided exceptionally strong scientific leadership as it began transitioning to become a national centre for Canadian astronomy. He trained 28 students (and a comparable number of postdoctoral scholars) who themselves, and their students, continue to shape Canadian—and international—astronomy to this day.

An Officer of the Order of Canada, Dr. van den Bergh has received numerous honours and awards, including CASCA’s Beals Prize, the NRC President’s Medal for Science, Fellow of the Royal Society, Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada , AAS Russell Lecturer, Canada Council Killam Prize, Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Bruce Gold Medal, and election to the Canadian Science and Engineering Hall of Fame.

CASCA congratulates Dr. van den Bergh for this well earned recognition of his outstanding contributions to cosmology and to Canadian scientific excellence.

The Gruber Cosmology Prize honours a leading cosmologist, astronomer, astrophysicist or scientific philosopher for theoretical, analytical, conceptual or observational discoveries leading to fundamental advances in our understanding of the universe. Media materials and additional background information on the Gruber Prizes can be found at:

CASCA Contacts:
Leslie Sage
CASCA Press Officer
+1 (301) 675 8957

Laura Ferrarese
CASCA President

Sidney van den Bergh
+1 (250) 656-6020

CASCA’s Dunlap Award Presented to Dr. Matt Dobbs (March 25, 2014)

The Dunlap Award for Innovation in Astronomical Research Tools is awarded biennially to an individual or team for the design, invention, or improvement of instrumentation or software that has enabled significant advances in astronomy. CASCA is pleased to announce Prof. Matt Dobbs, from McGill University, as the inaugural recipient of the Dunlap Award.

Prof. Dobbs received his Ph.D. in experimental Particle Physics from the University of Victoria in 2002. Following an Owen Chamberlain Fellowship at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, he moved to McGill University where he is presently an associate professor in the Department of Physics and an associate member of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. A Canada Research Chair, Prof. Dobbs was awarded a Sloan Fellowship in 2009.

An internationally recognized figure in experimental cosmology instrumentation, Prof. Dobbs is a leader in the design and implementation of systems using Superconducting Transition-Edge Sensor (TES) bolometers. Because TES bolometers can be fabricated lithographically in large arrays, they have allowed a leap forward in experimental sensitivity for CMB experiments. Prof. Dobbs’ design and end-to-end implementation of multiplexed TES readout systems for the South Pole Telescope, PolarBEAR, EBEX and other telescopes have contributed directly to groundbreaking advances in CMB research, including galaxy cluster surveys with the Sunyaev Zel’dovich effect and ultra-deep measurements of CMB polarization.

Please join us in congratulating Prof. Dobbs on the receipt of the 2014 Dunlap Award.

Laura Ferrarese, President, on behalf of the CASCA Board
Patrick Cote, Chair, on behalf of CASCA’s Awards Committee

CASCA’s Qilak Award Presented to Dr. Howard Trottier (March 24, 2014)

CASCA is pleased to announce Prof. Howard Trottier of Simon Fraser University (SFU) as the recipient of the 2014 Qilak award.

Prof. Trottier received a Ph.D. from McGill University in 1987. He has been a professor of physics at SFU since 1993, specializing in studies of lattice Quantum Chromodynamics.

For many years, Prof. Trottier has shown a remarkable dedication to education and public outreach. A past president of the RASC Vancouver centre, he is presently serving as Director of Telescopes. Prof. Trottier and his alter ego — MrStarryNights — have had a profound impact on astronomy education in British Columbia. Since 2007, Prof. Trottier has organized the Starry Nights program — popular gatherings of astronomy enthusiasts at SFU’s Burnaby campus. Starting in 2009, Prof. Trottier has held daytime workshops for thousands of school-age children in which participants learn the basics of telescope optics and usage; thanks to his tireless fundraising efforts, over 150 tripod-mounted refracting telescopes have been donated, about half to public schools, and half to individual families with young children. Another initiative born out of Prof. Trottier’s vision and fundraising efforts is SFU’s Astronomical Teaching Observatory, currently under construction at the Burnaby Mountain campus and to be opened in the fall of 2014. The associated Science Outreach Centre, inaugurated in January 2014, is already providing space and support for both astronomy and general science workshops for thousands of elementary, middle and high school students during daytime visits from nearby schools, for home-school families, and community groups.

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

Laura Ferrarese, President, on behalf of the CASCA Board
Patrick Cote, Chair, on behalf of CASCA’s Awards Committee

CASCA/RASC’s Plaskett Medal Presented to Dr. Andrew Pon (March 19, 2014)

The J.S. Plaskett Medal is awarded annually by CASCA and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) to the Ph.D. graduate from a Canadian university who is judged to have submitted the most outstanding doctoral thesis in astronomy or astrophysics during the preceding two calendar years. We are pleased to announce Dr. Andrew Richard Pon as the 2014 recipient of the J.S. Plaskett Medal.

Dr. Pon completed his doctoral studies at the University of Victoria in 2013 under the supervision of Dr. Douglas Johnstone (UVic, NRC-Herzberg). His thesis, entitled “Shocks, Superbubbles, and Filaments: Investigations into Large Scale Gas Motions in Giant Molecular Clouds”, covers a wide range of topics in star formation — including gravitational collapse, turbulent heating, and Galactic ecology. This work bridges theory and observations, and crosses traditional boundaries between the detailed investigation of individual nearby star-forming regions and the much larger scale studies of galactic-scale star formation.

Dr. Pon is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leeds, where he is continuing his studies of turbulent dissipation and shock heating in molecular clouds.

CASCA congratulates Dr. Pon on the receipt of the 2014 J.S. Plaskett medal.