Cassiopeia Newsletter – Winter Solstice d’hivers 2020

winter

In this issue / Dans ce numéro:

President’s Message
ALMA Matters
Atelier AstroComm 2021 Workshop Première annonce – First Announcement
BRITE-Constellation Mission Update
Canadian Gemini Office News / Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien
Update on CASTOR
CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope
Update from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) / Compte rendu de l’Agence spatiale canadienne (ASC)
DAO Telescope News
Graduate Student Highlights
News from the JCMT and Canadian Observing Opportunity
ngVLA Update
Long Range Plan 2020 / Plan à long terme 2020
LSST Canada Update
SKA Update
SPICA Update


Editor: 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 cassiopeia.editors@gmail.com. All submissions must be received at least one week in advance to be published in the next edition. I 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.


Update on CASTOR

By / par Patrick Côté, John Hutchings (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2020)

Since the message in the last Cassiopeia, we have the following progress to report.

  1. The CSA technical study request for proposals (STDP RFP) has had several months of delay due to COVID and consequent backlogs. However, the RFP has now been issued, with a due date of December 8. Given time for review and award of the contract, this work may not begin until March 2021. The technical work to be performed is significant and important, and the community looks forward to working with the contractors.
  2. The long-awaited Phase 0 study (which was first recommended in the 2015 MTR) has also not moved forward, but we are hopeful it will overlap with the STDP work. It is expected that this study will incorporate science teams from Canada and proposed partners. In view of the significant design and technical work already devoted to CASTOR, the Phase 0 may run quicker than usual.
  3. An optimistic launch date is late 2027, depending on agreements on international partnerships and a commitment by the Government. To that end, two informational pamphlets for CASTOR have been produced and are available for lobbying efforts by the Coalition for astronomy and promotion activities by members of the CASTOR science team. The Space Advisory Board has also been approached and informed. We are hopeful that the work may be seen as part of a post-COVID stimulus initiative that high-tech industry may need, in addition to the mission’s exciting scientific capabilities.
  4. CSA has sent a formal letter to ISRO to instigate discussions on a significant partnership in the mission. This has prompted the Canadian and Indian teams to outline mission components and options for sharing among the partners. The CSA-ISRO discussions are expected to begin within the next few weeks. It is our aim to ensure Canadian leadership in the mission but to have significant savings over the full cost to Canada.

DAO Telescope News

By / par David Bohlender (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2020)

Unlike many telescopes around the world, the DAO 1.2-m and 1.8-m telescopes operated without interruption throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Our ability to keep observing was thanks to the late-2019 implementation of robotic operation for the venerable 1.8-m Plaskett Telescope when configured for direct imaging. Robotic operation of the 1.2-m telescope and McKellar spectrograph has been available for more than 15 years. Since it has been a number of years since we have reminded Cassiopeia readers about the capabilities of the DAO Telescopes, it seems timely to do so now.

Both telescopes are scheduled on a relatively agile quarterly basis, with proposal deadlines on the first of December, March, June, and September or approximately one month before the start of each calendar quarter. They are well suited to monitoring programs and surveys requiring observations on various timescales including long individual observing runs, or programs scheduled monthly, quarterly or annually. Student projects are particularly encouraged.

The 1.8-m Plaskett Telescope offers imaging, spectroscopic, and spectropolarimetric capabilities. The imaging camera has a field of view of 24’ x 11’ with normal 2-pixel binning of the 2K x 4K E2V-1 CCD providing 0.62” pixel scale appropriate for the 2” seeing typical for the site. Robotic operation of the telescope (again, currently available only for imaging observations) is controlled by a text file containing the desired sequence of observations for a single night that the observer provides telescope staff.

The Cassegrain spectrograph has interchangeable gratings that provide spectral dispersions (resolutions) from 120Å/mm (R = 1,250) to 10Å/mm (R = 15,000). Wavelength coverage is currently limited by the 26mm length of the SITe-2 CCD. A polarimeter module, dimaPol, installed in place of the normal entrance slit to the spectrograph can provide Stokes I+V spectropolarimetry with a resolution of 15,000 for a spectral region centered on the H line. At the current time, spectroscopy and spectropolarimetry programs can only be carried out in person, although potential applicants should note that changes in the COVID-19 restrictions may restrict such operation for the next few quarters. A very modest amount of service observing support might be available based on other staff commitments.

The 1.2-m Telescope and two Coudé spectrographs permit spectroscopic observations with dispersions (resolutions) from 40.9Å/mm (R = 2,500) to 2.4Å/mm (R = 45,000). Again, the wavelength coverage is limited by the 61.4mm detector length, which in this case is the SITe-4 CCD. One of three sets of Coudé mirrors can be selected based on the spectral region of interest. For several years, approximately 70% of the scheduled observations on the 1.2-m telescope have been conducted in an unattended robotic mode. In good weather and seeing conditions, objects as faint as V = 10 can be observed. Data can be quickly processed for users if desired.

Data acquired on both of the DAO telescopes are available within minutes through the CADC’s Advanced Search interface. More than 700,000 digital datasets dating back to 2001 are currently available in the archive and older data are being added to the collection as time permits. If there are digital spectroscopic archival data of interest to users, we can readily process 1.2-m and 1.8-m spectra for them. The archive also includes a catalogue of photographic plates obtained with both telescopes, dating back to the first plate obtained with the Plaskett Telescope on 6 May 1918.

HAA staff are currently designing a new imaging camera for the Plaskett Telescope. This instrument will include a 6K x 6K drift-scan CCD as the detector and will increase the imaging field of view by a factor of approximately 4.5. The new camera will also benefit public outreach activities at the Observatory since visitors will be able view in real-time stars, nebulae, and galaxies passing through the telescope’s field of view instead of the usual static images.

Over the past year, the NRC has been conducting assessments of the current state of all of its laboratory facilities. As part of this process, an external panel carried out reviews of both DAO Telescope facilities in September. Our hope is that these reviews will make it possible for us to enhance the capabilities and operation of both DAO Telescopes by securing a modest amount of funding to upgrade spectrographs on both telescopes, enable robotic operation of the Plaskett Telescope for both imaging and spectroscopy, implement queued service observing, and perhaps even consider joining the Las Cumbres Observatory’s global network of telescopes if such access would be of interest to the Canadian community.

We would be delighted to hear your thoughts on possible future upgrades of the DAO Telescopes. In the meantime, anyone interested in applying for time on the DAO Telescopes can easily contact me at david.bohlender@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca to obtain additional information and a LaTeX template for their proposals.

LSST Canada Update

By / par JJ Kavelaars (LSST Canada collaboration)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2020)

LSST Canada reports on our continued efforts to secure national level membership for Canada in the Legacy Survey of Space and Time on the Vera C. Rubin Observatory.

As some of you have undoubtedly heard, the Canadian LSST Advanced Science Platform (CLASP) proposal to CFI was not selected for funding. The CLASP CFI proposal was to develop the significant software and hardware infrastructure that would be needed by the Canadian (and other) astronomers interested in exporting cross links between LSST alert observations and available archival datasets. The CLASP proposal received strong reviews but, as always, access to CFI funds is highly competitive and our project was not selected for funding.

Although the CLASP CFI proposal, combined with an NRC funded public archive, would have fully realized Canada’s proposed in-kind contributions to achieve LSST membership, the CFI funding was not LSST Canada’s only funding approach. The project continues to benefit from strong desire within the community and is supported by LRP2020 as a recommended ground based facility. In-kind contribution avenues continue to be pursued, including direct support from institutional partners within Canada (including University of Toronto/Dunlap Institute and University of Waterloo) and an NRC supported Public Archive for LSST operated by the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre.

We will continue to keep the community informed of our progress toward LSST membership. Canadian astronomers interested in receiving updates or in becoming LSST Canada members should subscribe to the Canadian LSST email list by sending an email to all+subscribe@lsst.groups.io.

Additionally, all astronomers interested in LSST are encouraged to join the LSST Community forum.

Graduate Student Highlights

By Carter Rhea (Chair, CASCA Graduate Student Committee)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2020)

Each month, the GSC highlights the work of an outstanding Canadian graduate student by sharing their work with our members. Since the launch in February of 2020, we have highlighted several students from around the country. In this issue, we share the highlights of new students since the last issue of Cassiopeia.

Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook under the handle casca_gsc.

Mainak Singha — University of Manitoba

Mainak’s research investigates how weakly accreting ‘Active Galactic Nuclei’ (AGN) can drive galaxy evolution processes. Most successful galaxy evolution models require the AGN to launch galactic scale outflows to drive the galaxy evolution processes. In order to trace the signs of outflows, he uses spectroscopic data (spectra) from SDSS (Sloan Digital Sky Survey). The emission lines from these spectra pin-point the evidences of ionization caused by the photons from the AGN accretion disks or the shocks from the AGN. Any asymmetry in the emission line profiles indicates the gas moving towards / moving away from us which are the signatures of outflows.

Figure 1


Figure 1 is a standard BPT diagram from SDSS DR7. The radio galaxy J142041+025930 lies in the LINER (Low Ionization Nuclear Emission Line Region) region suggesting it to be a Low Excitation radio galaxy (LERG).

Vivian Tan — York University

Vivian’s research is on the galaxies that reside within massive clusters at redshifts 0.25 < z < 0.6, in the Hubble Frontier Fields. Clusters are dynamic environments where galaxies interact and quench, which means transitioning from star-forming to quiescent. Quenching processes alter a galaxy’s morphology, which we want to measure not just with their light profiles but through their stellar mass distribution. Mapping where the stellar mass is in a galaxy is usually difficult at z > 0, but the Frontier Fields have deep multiband Hubble photometry. This means resolved stellar mass maps are possible even for galaxies as small as 108 solar masses. Galaxies with such low stellar masses have not been studied in a resolved way at z > 0. Because we can analyze morphology with resolved stellar mass maps, we found that quiescent galaxies which are less massive than 109.5 solar masses are more likely to be disk-dominated (Sersic index ~ 1 to 2), but quiescent galaxies are bulge-dominated above that mass limit (Sersic index of 4 or more). This was only found in clusters but not in the less dense “field” environments. This means different quenching processes must have occurred to transform these galaxies, and these quenching processes depend both on the galaxy’s mass and their environment.

Figure 2


Figure 2 shows the process of creating the resolved stellar mass maps through a process called SED-fitting. The galaxy is broken up into spatial bins, and a SED is fitted to photometric flux from multiple bands in each of the bins. The fitted SED can reveal what the stellar mass of that region of the galaxy is and putting it all together results in a resolved stellar mass map. Sersic index measurements for the stellar mass are obtained via parametrically fitting a 2-D Sersic profile directly to the map of stellar mass using GALFIT.

Jessica Campbell — University of Toronto

Jessica’s research focuses on the multiphase nature of our Galaxy’s magnetic field and how it connects between different phases of the interstellar medium (ISM). Whether it is the turbulent warm ionized medium (WIM) that fills much of the Galaxy or the cold neutral medium (CNM) often found in sheets and filaments, this complex ISM is permeated with high energy cosmic rays and magnetic fields. When accelerated by the magnetic field, these cosmic rays emit radio synchrotron radiation that is strongly linearly polarized. As this polarized emission passes through the foreground ISM, thermal electrons and magnetic fields in the WIM rotate the plane of polarization, an effect called Faraday rotation. These cosmic rays can also penetrate and ionize the densest regions of the ISM, causing even the predominantly neutral medium to be coupled to the magnetic field via linear 21 cm HI structures called ‘HI fibers.’ Despite the wealth of magnetic field information about the WIM and CNM, very little is known about how they relate to one another. Do the diffuse ionized and cold clumpy media share a common magnetic field? If so, how often does this occur, and under what circumstances? These are the questions driving Jessica’s research.

Figure 3


Figure 3 shows Planck dust emission at 353 GHz, where the coloured image is the total (unpolarized) intensity and the textured lines indicate the magnetic field orientation. The dust emission clearly contains the same knee and fork morphologies, and the overall field orientation is roughly parallel to the polarized filaments F1 and F3.

Robert Bickley — University of Victoria

Robert’s research focuses on the intersection between observational astronomy and machine learning, specifically, using machine vision techniques to identify galaxies that have recently undergone a merger with another galaxy. Mergers often leave behind a distinct visual signature, giving rise to unusual morphologies and leaving behind displaced streams of stars. To identify mergers using machine vision, he trains Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) on examples of mergers and non-mergers taken from a simulation (IllustrisTNG) and modified to look like real observations. He can then use the simulation data to identify where the CNNs are successful, and where they struggle.

Figure 4


Figure 4 shows how well a CNN identifies mergers and non-mergers as a function of the environment. If a galaxy has a neighbor very close by, it will have a small r_1 value. If there are no nearby neighbors, r_1 will be very large. The top panel shows the total number of post-mergers and controls (blue and orange histograms, respectively), further broken down as correctly and incorrectly classified (fp, brown: controls classified as post- mergers; tn, purple: correctly-classified controls; fn, red: post-mergers classified as controls; tp, green: correctly-classified post-mergers). The bottom panel shows the fraction of post-merger and control galaxy images correctly identified by the model.

The figure demonstrates that the model retains much of its ability to distinguish between mergers and non-mergers with a close neighbor down to 10 kiloparsecs, below which the visual degeneracy becomes prohibitive. However, such close neighbors are rare in both the simulation and the real Universe, and therefore do not present a significant source of contamination.

Long Range Plan 2020

From Pauline Barmby, Bryan Gaensler (LRP2020 co-chairs PLT2020)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2020

On behalf of Matt Dobbs, Jeremy Heyl, Natasha Ivanova, David Lafrenière, Brenda Matthews and Alice Shapley, we are pleased to present the final report of CASCA’s 2020 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy (LRP2020). The unformatted version of the report is now available on the CASCA website. A professionally-designed version and a French translation are in progress and are expected to be available early in 2021.

We thank everyone who contributed to the LRP process by writing a white paper, attending a town hall, participating in consultations, or answering our many requests for information. We would especially like to recognize the very hard work of the LRP2020 panel members over the past twenty months. We are also grateful to the agencies whose financial support enabled the LRP2020 process, and to the CASCA Board for entrusting us with the leadership of this exercise.

This will be our last Cassiopeia update. The LRP2020 section on the CASCA website contains links to all of the submitted white papers and reports as well as a summary of the process. The designed and translated versions of the report will be available there once complete.

chairs@lrp2020.groups.io

President’s Message

By / par Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2020)

The Long Range Plan is out! This final report represents two years of effort in our community to examine the state of our professional activities and ambitions from both a scientific and societal perspective. Hundreds of people in our community have contributed in a variety of ways to the generation of this finished product, ranging from co-authoring white papers, attending town hall meetings and dedicated AGM sessions, to providing feedback to the panel along the journey. A broad message of gratitude is therefore due to the entire community for your engagement and collaboration. As a Society, we owe our greatest thanks to the LRP panel for the immense undertaking of leading this process: Pauline Barmby, Matt Dobbs, Bryan Gaensler, Jeremy Heyl, Natasha Ivanova, David Lafreniere, Brenda Matthews and Alice Shapley. The French version of the LRP, as well as the typeset version with full figures and design and hard copies, are expected early in the new year.

As alluded to in my last President’s message, the next challenge in the LRP process is its implementation, and the Board (with input from the current LRPIC, as well as LRP co-chairs) has been laying out the strategy for this next step. Oversight and monitoring of both existing and future facilities will remain in the remit of our current CASCA committees: the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC, currently chaired by Stefi Baum) and the Joint Committee on Space Astronomy (JCSA, currently chaired by Locke Spencer). In order to tackle the broad ranging community-based LRP recommendations, CASCA will create a new committee, the LRP Community Recommendations Implementation Committee (LCRIC), whose portfolio will encompass the societal-level aspects of the plan, including equity, indigenous matters, outreach and sustainability. The LCRIC will work to generate an actionable implementation plan from the LRP’s recommendations, working with existing CASCA committees and striking new working groups as needed to convert the recommendations into reality over the next decade. We are just beginning the first steps in establishing this new LCRIC, but I am delighted to announce that Christine Wilson (McMaster University) has agreed to be the inaugural Chair. Given their remit, the new LCRIC, in partnership with the GAC and JCSA, will replace the previous LRPIC – I thank John Hutchings and his team for their wisdom and tireless efforts over many years.

The top (unfunded) large facilities in the LRP are the SKA and CASTOR. As discussed in my September message, the SKA is reaching a critical point with the IGO expected to take over the project imminently. Securing membership and funding for Canada has been at the top of CASCA’s agenda of effort over the last few months. I have been working closely with Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and Gilles Joncas (AACS Chair) to prepare the ground for the Coalition’s lobbying activities. These activities are now well underway with a positive first meeting with officials from ISED, and more in the planning stages. In collaboration with ACURA, the AACS has also mobilized its university connections, with several VPR briefings already completed across the country. I encourage you to look at the Canadian SKA webpage, which hosts a wealth of material on the project, its science aspirations, industry connections and societal impacts. In particular, I point you to a handy 4-page summary of the project in the Canadian context, in case you have the opportunity to discuss the project in your broader networks.

With an anticipated launch in the late 2020s, there is also significant on-going progress on planning for the CASTOR space telescope. A more complete report is provided by Pat Côté in this Edition, but the long-awaited CSA technical study request for proposals (STDP RFP) has now been issued (and, by the time you read this, closed), representing a significant step in the preparatory process. CASTOR is one of seven “Priority Technologies” in this call, and there are five different work packages within the CASTOR study. The CSA has also started working a mission development plan for CASTOR: i.e., a summary of timelines, budget requirements, milestones and action items that mark the path towards launch later this decade. CASTOR represents a truly unique and exciting component in Canada’s astronomy portfolio – the potential for a Canada-led UV-optical space telescope will not only bring terrific science returns, as well as showcasing and supporting our national expertise in several technology domains, but it will generate tremendous excitement and pride in the general public, inspiring the next generation of budding scientists and engineers.

On the digital infrastructure side, the New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO) is ramping up to eventually replace Compute Canada. Unlike Compute Canada, NDRIO is funded directly by ISED, and CASCA is an Associate Member (as is CADC). NDRIO held its first AGM at the end of September, at which the inaugural Researcher Council (RC) was announced. Erik Rosolowsky (U of A) was one of approximately 20 appointees on the new RC. Despite this success, it is the responsibility of our broader community to engage with NDRIO and communicate our needs. Notably, astronomy represents ~5% of Compute Canada users but uses ~20% of its resources. Our success as a field therefore critically relies on effective and appropriate DRI. NDRIO has outlined several steps in its initial consultation process on needs assessment within the broader community. Several white papers are under preparation within our astronomy community in response to the first step in this call. A user survey is also expected in the near future – please take the time to complete this survey when it comes your way!

Preparations for the CASCA 2021 AGM (May 10-14) continue apace – since CASCA was founded in 1971, this will be our 50th birthday party! The SOC and OOC have developed an exciting scientific and social program for CASCA 2021. With the release of the LRP, and the broad reaching issues it has assessed, the SOC has chosen a theme that will align with the LRP2020’s goals: “Canadian Astronomy: Dialing It Up To 11”. The SOC has selected a roster of invited speakers and the invitations will have been sent by the time you read this. The organizing committees have scored quite the coup with securing recent Nobel laureate Professor Andrea Ghez to present the Helen Sawyer Hogg Public Lecture. Two other ‘evening’ events have been planned. There will be a games night featuring the popular game ‘Among Us’ and the CASCA Banquet will feature “CASCA Has Talent” – a chance for CASCA members to demonstrate their non-astronomy skills. The OOC is also working on integrating daily social interactions; it won’t be quite the same as being together in Penticton, but it sounds like it will be a lot of fun nonetheless! Watch this space in the new year for more details and registration.

ngVLA Update

By / par Erik Rosolowsky (U Alberta), Joan Wrobel (NRAO)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2020)

The next-generation Very Large Array (ngVLA) Project was pleased to learn that it was one of two new projects prioritized in LRP2020 for Canadian investment in future facilities. LRP2020 recommended that Canada seek engagement with the ngVLA to guarantee a ~6% share of observing time. With this article, we are inaugurating a regular feature intended to keep Canadian stakeholders informed about ngVLA progress. If you would like to receive more updates on the ngVLA project, sign up for the ngVLA-Canada mailing list by sending a note to James DiFrancesco.

While we await the results of the US Decadal review, there have been several developments from the ngVLA Project office. For FY2021, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) continues to support the design and development effort through its funding of the ngVLA cooperative agreement. Approximately US$10M has been made available to continue work on key ngVLA subsystems including antennas, electronics and computing, almost doubling the annual expenditures from the preceding three years. Working closely with the NSF, the ngVLA Project Office is developing plans for the next three years of design and development, leading to a shovel-ready project in the mid-2020s.

In collaboration with National Research Council Canada and other international and industrial partners, the ngVLA Project has conducted five conceptual design studies for the ngVLA 18-m antenna. These studies have resulted in four alternative concepts that meet the key requirements while employing differing innovative technical solutions.

As part of the conceptual design selection, the Project has released a request for proposals for the final design and prototype of the 18m antenna. Proposals were submitted in early December, with an anticipated decision in early 2021. The proposals will be evaluated on a best-value basis, considering the estimated and modelled performance of the antenna concept to the full Project scientific and operational requirements, the costs of the design and prototype effort, and the anticipated total lifecycle costs for the ngVLA Project.

The Project office has also released a notional Envelope Observing Program, a prediction of how the community might use the facility during a typical year of full science observations. The Program adopts values for the availability of science time and antennas that are more taxing than the Project’s goals. It thus represents an upper envelope on what might actually be demanded from the facility. The Program will be used to inform studies of computing loads and design options.

News from the JCMT and Canadian Observing Opportunity

By / par Chris Wilson (McMaster University, JCMT Board Member for Canada)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2020)

Canadian PI Proposals Return for 2021

Five Canadian universities (McMaster, Alberta, Queen’s, Manitoba, and Montreal) are contributing some funds towards JCMT operations in 2021. ACURA has also contributed some funding and HAA has a separate contract to purchase observing time in 2021. As a result, researchers at all Canadian universities are once again eligible to apply as PIs for observing on the JCMT.

The special 2021A call in the fall led to a healthy oversubscription rate. The 2021B call for proposals will be released in February with proposals due in March 2021. Band 5 weather contains to remain undersubscribed and counts as “free” in the time-allocation process and so I especially encourage proposals that can use this weather band.

The replacement 230 GHz receiver called Namakanui has been made available for shared-risk observing as of semester 2020B. This receiver is on loan from ASIAA (Taiwan) and is the spare receiver for the Greenland Telescope. It is a 3-band receiver design; the 230 GHz-band cartridge is known as U’u.

Please note that I expect semester 2021B to be the last time that Canadians will be able to apply as PIs for regular observing proposals. After that time, Canadians will be able to access PI time by collaborating with our colleagues in the U.K. or the EAO partner regions (China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) to see if they would be interested to partner on a proposal. Band 5 weather contains to remain undersubscribed and counts as “free” in the time-allocation process.

The fact that the CADC continues to host the JCMT data archive is maintaining our access to JCMT large programs. Several new large programs were approved and began collecting data in 2020. Descriptions of the approved large programs are available here.

Observing

The JCMT was shut down for just over two months from mid-March to end of May due to COVID-19. However, since that time the observatory has returned to more or less normal operations. This has been facilitated by the fact that the JCMT has been observing fully remotely (from a control room in Hilo) since November 2019. I anticipate the observers and students will once again be welcome to visit to observe from Hilo and to visit the telescope at the summit once the pandemic is under control.

Science

There have been a number of high-profile results from PI programs on the JCMT over the past several months. Probably the result to get the most press coverage was the publication of evidence for phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus (Greaves et al. 2020, Nature Astronomy). The original observations were carried out with the JCMT and were followed up with ALMA. The importance is that phosphine in this instance provides hints of life in Venus’s atmosphere; however, subsequent papers looking at the ALMA data have called the detection into question. Perhaps something that JCMT can follow up with the new, more sensitive U’u receiver in the near future?

A second very interesting result from the Event Horizon Telescope team shows that the shadow of the black hole in M87, Powehi, seems to be wobbling on a timescale of ten years (Wielgus et al. 2020, ApJ). The crescent-like feature that was imaged in 2017 seems to be persistent, which implies it is a real effect caused by light bending from the black hole. The wobble gives us information on how gas is flowing around the black hole.

Finally, JCMT observations of the star Betelgeuse have revealed that its recent unprecedented dimming was most likely not due to a passing dust cloud but to the development of signicant starspots which affected its brightness (Dharmawardena et al., 2020, ApJL). This prominent star in the constellation Orion began to decrease in brightness in October 2019, and ultimately became roughly 3 times (1 magnitude) fainter than normal until it eventually returned to its original brightness. The JCMT images showed that Betelgeuse became 20% dimmer at submillimetre wavelengths, inconsistent with a foreground dust cloud but consistent with lower-temperature starspots covering 50-70% of its surface.

No Success with CFI for New 850 Micron Camera

A team of Canadian universities led by McMaster submitted a proposal for the CFI 2020 Innovation Fund competition to seek to contribute funding to constructing a new 850 micron camera for the JCMT. Unfortunately, this proposal was not successful. However, the observatory is still moving ahead with the development of this new camera, which is planned to have 20 times faster mapping speed than SCUBA-2 with dual-polarization capabilities.

JCMT website

Atelier AstroComm 2021 Workshop First Announcement

by Nathalie Ouellette (Université de Montréal)
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2020)

Communication skills are an important part of astronomers’ toolkits. We need to use them to share our research with our peers, advocate for our science, obtain funding from agencies and connect with the public and the next generation of scientists.

In this spirit, the Centre for Research in Astrophysics of Quebec (CRAQ) plans to organise an interactive virtual workshop in English on science communication, AstroComm 2021.

Date: June 16, 2021
Time: 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm (Eastern Time)
Location: Online
Open to all interested astronomers, from undergraduate students to professors
Free registration

The workshop will be delivered by Nathalie Ouellette (Université de Montréal), Julie Bolduc-Duval (Discover the Universe) and other instructors to be announced later.

The purpose of this first announcement is to gauge the interest of the Canadian astronomical community in this workshop. Here are a few topics that could be covered during the workshop:

  • public speaking for various audiences
  • scientific writing
  • creation of visual content
  • media interviews
  • social media
  • inclusive communication
  • hands-on activities for youth
  • … and more!

Participants will be required to submit a scientific communication piece (e.g. article, video, presentation slideshow, etc.) prior to the workshop that will help the instructors better target the training content. Submitted pieces do not need to be created for the workshop; they can be from previous science communication activities.

If you are interested in this activity, we invite you to pre-register using this form.

Your answers will allow us to adapt the workshop according to the needs of the community. An announcement with more details will be sent to the CASCA distribution list in early 2021. For more information, visit astrocomm-2021-workshop. If you have any questions, please contact Nathalie Ouellette.