President’s Report


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

Hi, everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cassiopeia Newsletter – 2015 Vernal Equinox


In this issue:

President’s report
ALMA Update
Gemini News / Nouvelles de Gemini
Herschel-HIFI News
Nouvelles du CNRC Herzberg / NRC Herzberg News

Editors: Magdalen Normandeau & Joanne Rosvick

Cassiopeia is CASCA’s quarterly Newsletter, published on or near the solstices and equinoxes (March 21, June 21, September 21 and December 21). To submit a contribution please email All submissions must be received at least one week in advance to be published in the next edition. We accept plain text and Word documents. Note that the formatting of your document will not be preserved. Please include any images as attachments in your email, not embedded in the text. Please include URLs in parentheses next to the word or phrase that you wish to act as link anchors.

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:

Staff Scientist – Planetarium & Space Place

Deadline for applications is March 26, 2015.

Staff Scientist for the Planetarium and Space Place
Share your passion for science through exhibits, shows, and programs!

As the Staff Scientist in the Planetarium and Space Place at Science North, you will have a unique opportunity to engage and inspire people of all ages with the science and beauty of our universe. In the Planetarium you will develop and present live shows and programs using the Digistar-5 full dome digital theatre system. In Space Place you will use your science communication skills to develop new science exhibits and programs. Your enthusiasm and leadership will inspire and develop your team of staff and volunteers. Your passion for science will engage school children, teens, and adults with interactive science experiences.

This is a unique career opportunity to share your knowledge and to ignite a passion for science in others. No day is ever the same in this diverse and fast-paced environment.

The successful candidate will:
• have a degree in astronomy, astrophysics, physics, or a related applied science;
• have strong communication, interpersonal, and organizational skills and an ability to multi-task;
• be fluent in both spoken and written English and spoken French;
• be comfortable engaging the public in person, through social media, and through traditional media; and
• work full-time hours with evening and weekend work on a rotational basis.

Job duties:
• Initiate, develop, and implement new exhibits, programs, and shows
• Lead a team of staff and volunteers who interpret science and engage visitors in programs and activities
• Manage exhibit and program budgets
• Identify emerging trends in astronomy and physics, changes in curriculum, innovative ideas and new discoveries for inclusion in programming
• Lead Science North star parties and other special events.

This is a long-term position supported by an excellent compensation package:
• Starting at $42,600
• Annual performance and merit increase consideration
• Participation in the Science North Employee Incentive Plan
• Comprehensive group benefit package including medical, dental, vision, life/travel insurance, short and long term disability coverage
• Pension plan following one year or opportunity for continued participation in Ontario Teacher’s Pension Plan
• Professional development opportunities
• Free or discounted admission to partner attractions outside Sudbury, Science North facilities and program discounts, fitness membership contribution
• Minimum 3 weeks vacation with incremental entitlements of one week after 8 and 15 yrs of service

Interested applicants are asked to apply on line at quoting Job Number 1-015. Deadline for applications is March 26, 2015. Science North is committed to an inclusive workplace and invites applications from all qualified individuals to join our diverse team. We thank all interested candidates; only those selected for interviews will be contacted.

Science North is a registered charity.
Science North is an agency of the Government of Ontario.