President’s Report (June 18, 2014)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris Wilson

(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.


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

TMT Exhibits a Next-Generation Telescope Mirror Assembly in Canada (June 9, 2014)

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project will unveil a polished mirror assembly – a key piece of astronomy’s next-generation telescope – at the 2014 annual meeting of the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA). The assembly will be unveiled at a reception at 5:30pm EDT, Monday, June 9 at the Hotel Chateau Laurier, in Quebec City, Canada.

The assembly is a demonstration model of just one of the 492 mirror segments that will ultimately comprise TMT’s giant 30-meter primary mirror. TMT is a revolutionary telescope slated to begin operations in Hawaii in the 2020s.

“We are delighted that the first presentation of these sophisticated mirror assemblies is happening right here at CASCA 2014,” said Laura Ferrarese, CASCA president. “For the past decade, the Thirty Meter Telescope has been the top priority for the Canadian astronomical community, and we have worked tirelessly with our international partners to design this marvel of engineering. The science TMT will deliver will be transformative for astronomy, in Canada and worldwide.”

The polished mirror assembly displayed at CASCA, though a prototype, has nearly all of the features of a production version. The hexagonal 1.44-meter diameter mirror is made of a 45-millimeter-thick ClearCeram glass produced by the Japanese company OHARA and procured by TMT’s Canadian partners. The glass has “zero expansion” properties, meaning it retains its precise figure irrespective of changes in temperature. Within the mirror’s support assembly, 21 actuators can fine-tune the mirror’s shape for optimal telescope performance. The prototype assembly weighs about 220 kilograms.

“Given the extensive involvement by Canadian scientists and engineers in the technology development of TMT, it is fitting to offer the world a first look at a polished mirror assembly—the application of all that hard work—right here in Quebec City,” said Ernie Seaquist, executive director of the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA). An organization of 20 universities dedicated to the advancement of university research in astronomy and astrophysics in Canada, ACURA is an associate of the TMT project and one of its original members.

The production segments will include an extremely reflective mirror coating, and edge sensors that sense the height and tilt of neighboring mirror segments, allowing for precise positioning of each segment relative to the other segments. Together, 492 of these mirrors will work together as a single optical surface comprising TMT’s 30-meter-diameter primary mirror.

“Being able to showcase this polished mirror assembly to the scientific community and the general public is very rewarding,” said Eric Williams, the Optics Group leader for TMT. Williams has been working on designing and testing elements of the assembly for nine years.

TMT is identified as the highest priority project by CASCA in “Unveiling the Cosmos: A Vision for Canadian Astronomy, Report of the Long Range Plan 2010 Panel”. This plan, released in 2011, is the result of a detailed survey of the challenges and opportunities over the 2010-20 decade.

Through ACURA universities with support from the Federal Granting Councils, the National Research Council of Canada, and provincial funding, the Canadian astronomical community has contributed important work to TMT over the last decade in two key development areas.

Canada has been designing the telescope facility’s large aerodynamic enclosure. The innovative enclosure design features a circular opening that minimizes the wind-induced vibrations of the telescope structure while optimizing air-flow around the building to reduce distortion of the light collected by the telescope’s giant mirror. The contractor for the enclosure work is Dynamic Structures Ltd., based in Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, whose parent holding company is the Canadian firm Empire Industries Ltd.

Another major Canadian initiative has been the development of TMT’s “adaptive optics” system, called the Narrow Field Infrared Adaptive Optics System (NFIRAOS). Adaptive optics removes the blurring effects of the Earth’s atmosphere, greatly increasing the acuity of astronomical images and allowing astronomers to study very faint and distant objects in the universe.

To date, Canada has invested more than $30 million in TMT. The TMT project plans to begin construction later this year. As an Associate in the TMT International Observatory, Canada continues to be engaged in the project.

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

Laura Ferrarese
CASCA President

TMT Contact:
Gordon K. Squires
TMT Communications Lead
+1 (626) 216 4257

More information about TMT:

e-News: May 2014





    To submit news items, announcements and job postings, click here
    To contact the CASCA Board, click here
    To submit comments to the Long Range Plan Implementation Committee (LRPIC), click here
    To submit comments to the Ground Based Astronomy Committee (GAC), click here
    To submit comments to the Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (JCSA), click here