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

Cassiopeia Newsletter – 2014 Vernal Equinox

An ALMA Update


NRC Herzberg News

Nouvelles de CNRC Herzberg

Message from the President

Les évolutions des populations A&A dans les universités canadiennes

The Evolution of A&A Populations in Canadian Universities

News from the Canadian Gemini Office

Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien

CSA News

Thirty Meter Telescope Project Update

Herschel Update

Obituary – Richard Adrian Jarrell

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.

Carlyle S. Beals Award Presented to Dr. Harvey Richer (March 18, 2014)

The Carlyle S. Beals Award is awarded biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in research — either a specific achievement or a lifetime of research. CASCA is pleased to announce Prof. Harvey B. Richer, from the University of British Columbia, as the recipient of the 2014 Carlyle S. Beals Award.

Prof. Richer received his Ph.D. in 1970 from the University of Rochester, where he studied the physical properties of carbon stars under the supervision of Prof. Stuart Sharpless. Soon afterwards, he joined the faculty at the University of British Columbia where he has remained ever since. An internationally recognized expert on stellar populations in the Milky Way, star clusters and external galaxies, Prof. Richer was a pioneer in the study of globular clusters with CCDs, carrying out a number of landmark studies of these important stellar systems beginning with CFHT in the mid 1980s and continuing until the present day with the Hubble Space Telescope. Notable highlights from his more than 140 refereed publications include the discovery of young globular clusters in the outer halo, and a series of papers characterizing the faint but extensive white dwarf populations belonging to the globular clusters M4, NGC 6397 and 47 Tucanae.

In addition to his research on globular clusters and their constituent stars, Prof. Richer has worked on wide range of topics in astrophysics, including the mass function of the Galactic halo, optical counterparts of X-ray sources, and ground-layer adaptive optics systems for ground-based telescopes.

CASCA congratulates Prof. Richer on a distinguished career of scientific achievement and community service.

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!


‘Death Stars’ in Orion Blast Planets before They Even Form (March 13, 2014)

The Orion Nebula is home to hundreds of young stars and even younger protostars known as proplyds. Many of these nascent systems will go on to develop planets, while others will have their planet-forming dust and gas blasted away by the fierce ultraviolet radiation emitted by massive O-type stars that lurk nearby.

A team of astronomers from Canada and the United States has used the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) to study the often deadly relationship between highly luminous O-type stars and nearby protostars in the Orion Nebula. Their data reveal that protostars within 0.1 light-years (about 600 billion miles) of an O-type star are doomed to have their cocoons of dust and gas stripped away in just a few millions years, much faster than planets are able to form.

“O-type stars, which are really monsters compared to our Sun, emit tremendous amounts of ultraviolet radiation and this can play havoc during the development of young planetary systems,” remarked Rita Mann, an astronomer with the National Research Council of Canada in Victoria, and lead author on a paper in the Astrophysical Journal. “Using ALMA, we looked at dozens of embryonic stars with planet-forming potential and, for the first time, found clear indications where protoplanetary disks simply vanished under the intense glow of a neighboring massive star.”

Many, if not all, Sun-like stars are born in crowded stellar nurseries similar to the Orion Nebula. Over the course of just a few million years, grains of dust and reservoirs of gas combine into larger, denser bodies. Left relatively undisturbed, these systems will eventually evolve into fully fledged star systems, with planets – large and small – and ultimately drift away to become part of the galactic stellar population.

Astronomers believe that massive yet short-lived stars in and around large interstellar clouds are essential for this ongoing process of star formation. At the end of their lives, massive stars explode as supernovas, seeding the surrounding area with dust and heavy elements that will get taken up in the next generation of stars. These explosions also provide the kick necessary to initiate a new round of star and planet formation. But while they still shine bright, these larger stars can be downright deadly to planets if an embryonic solar systems strays too close.

“Massive stars are hot and hundreds of times more luminous than our Sun,” said James Di Francesco, also with the National Research Council of Canada. “Their energetic photons can quickly deplete a nearby protoplanetary disk by heating up its gas, breaking it up, and sweeping it away.”

Earlier observations with the Hubble Space Telescope revealed striking images proplyds in Orion. Many had taken on tear-drop shapes, with their dust and gas trailing away from a nearby massive star. These optical images, however, couldn’t reveal anything about the amount of dust that was present or how the dust and gas concentrations changed in relation to massive stars.

The new ALMA observations detected these and other never-before-imaged proplyds, essentially doubling the number of protoplanetary disks discovered in that region. ALMA also could see past their surface appearance, peering deep inside to actually measure how much mass was in the proplyds.
Combining these studies with previous observations from the Submillimeter Array (SMA) in Hawai‛i, the researchers found that any protostar within the extreme-UV envelope of a massive star would have much of its disk of material destroyed in very short order. Proplyds in these close-in regions retained only a fraction (one half or less) of the mass necessary to create one Jupiter-sized planet. Beyond the 0.1 light-year radius, in the far-UV dominated region, the researchers observed a wide range of disk masses containing anywhere for one to 80 times the mass of Jupiter. This is similar to the amount of dust found in low-mass star forming regions.

“Taken together, our investigations with ALMA suggest that extreme UV regions are not just inhospitable, but they’re downright hazardous for planet formation. With enough distance, however, it’s possible to find a much more congenial environment,” said Mann. “This work is really the tip of the iceberg of what will come out of ALMA; we hope to eventually learn how common solar systems like our own are.”

Other researchers involved in this project include Doug Johnstone, National Research Council of Canada; Sean M. Andrews, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Jonathan P. Williams, University of Hawai‛i; John Bally, University of Colorado; Luca Ricci, California Institute of Technology; A. Meredith Hughes, Wesleyan University, and Brenda C. Matthews, National Research Council of Canada.

Official press release:

Milky Way amidst a ‘Council of Giants’ (March 11, 2014)

We live in a galaxy known as the Milky Way – a vast conglomeration of 300 billion stars, planets whizzing around them, and clouds of gas and dust floating in between.

Though it has long been known that the Milky Way and its orbiting companion Andromeda are the dominant members of a small group of galaxies, the Local Group, which is about 3 million light years across, much less was known about our immediate neighbourhood in the universe.

Now, a new paper by York University Physics & Astronomy Professor Marshall McCall, published today in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, maps out bright galaxies within 35-million light years of the Earth, offering up an expanded picture of what lies beyond our doorstep.

“All bright galaxies within 20 million light years, including us, are organized in a ‘Local Sheet’ 34-million light years across and only 1.5-million light years thick,” says McCall. “The Milky Way and Andromeda are encircled by twelve large galaxies arranged in a ring about 24-million light years across – this ‘Council of Giants’ stands in gravitational judgment of the Local Group by restricting its range of influence.”

McCall says twelve of the fourteen giants in the Local Sheet, including the Milky Way and Andromeda, are “spiral galaxies” which have highly flattened disks in which stars are forming. The remaining two are more puffy “elliptical galaxies”, whose stellar bulks were laid down long ago. Intriguingly, the two ellipticals sit on opposite sides of the Council. Winds expelled in the earliest phases of their development might have shepherded gas towards the Local Group, thereby helping to build the disks of the Milky Way and Andromeda.

McCall also examined how galaxies in the Council are spinning. He comments: “Thinking of a galaxy as a screw in a piece of wood, the direction of spin can be described as the direction the screw would move (in or out) if it were turned the same way as the galaxy rotates. Unexpectedly, the spin directions of Council giants are arranged around a small circle on the sky. This unusual alignment might have been set up by gravitational torques imposed by the Milky Way and Andromeda when the universe was smaller.”

The boundary defined by the Council has led to insights about the conditions which led to the formation of the Milky Way. Most important, only a very small enhancement in the density of matter in the universe appears to have been required to produce the Local Group. To arrive at such an orderly arrangement as the Local Sheet and its Council, it seems that nearby galaxies must have developed within a pre-existing sheet-like foundation comprised primarily of dark matter.

“Recent surveys of the more distant universe have revealed that galaxies lie in sheets and filaments with large regions of empty space called voids in between,” says McCall. “The geometry is like that of a sponge. What the new map reveals is that structure akin to that seen on large scales extends down to the smallest.”

Original Press Release from the Royal Astronomical Society, on behalf of York University, Toronto, Canada (RAS PR 14/16)

Media Contacts

Robin Heron
Media Relations
York University
Tel: +1 416 736 2100 x22097

Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7734 3307 x214
Mob: +44 (0)794 124 8035

Images and animations

Image 1:
A diagram showing the brightest galaxies within 20 million light years of the Milky Way, as seen from above. The largest galaxies, here shown in yellow at different points around the dotted line, make up the ‘Council of Giants’. Credit: Marshall McCall / York University

Image 2:
A diagram showing the brightest galaxies within 20 million light years of the Milky Way, this time viewed from the side. Credit: Marshall McCall / York University

Movie with sound: http://youtube/VzL7xGzfNlU (channel YorkU Astronomer)
An animation that illustrates the positions of the nearby galaxies, including those in the ‘Council of Giants’, in three dimensions. Credit: Marshall McCall / York University

Movie with no sound:
An animation that illustrates the positions of the nearby galaxies, including those in the ‘Council of Giants’, in three dimensions. Credit: Marshall McCall / York University

Further information

The new work appears in “A Council of Giants”, M. L. McCall, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Oxford University Press, in press. A copy of the paper is available from