CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2021)

Recent News

The future of the TMT project is strongly linked with the recommendations of the anticipated US Decadal Review (Astro2020). Should the US-Extremely Large Telescope (US-ELTP) program be the top-ranked priority in that review, there will be an opportunity for the US National Science Foundation (NSF) to become formally involved. The Project has been preparing for the Preliminary Design Review that would follow – this would be a thorough review of all aspects of the Project. The delay to the release of Astro2020 means this Review, and subsequent activities, are correspondingly delayed. The current estimate for publication of Astro2020 is Fall 2021.

On Aug 23, the TMT International Observatory (TIO) was informed that its land concession on La Palma had been cancelled by the Tribunal Superior de Justicia de Canarias. This was the result of an appeal by an environmental group called Ben Magec, who had also successfully appealed the first land concession in 2019. This outcome was not anticipated, and appeals to the ruling are being considered.

TMT Science Forum

The next TMT Science forum is being planned for June 26-29, 2022 at UBC in Vancouver. However, with the delay to the release of Astro2020, and the remaining uncertainty around travel restrictions in the near future, the possibility of delaying this meeting until 2023 is being considered.

CATAC Membership

Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo), Chair, mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca
Bob Abraham (University of Toronto; TIO SAC)
Stefi Baum (University of Manitoba)
Laura Ferrarese (NRC)
David Lafrenière (Université de Montréal)
Harvey Richer (UBC)
Kristine Spekkens (Royal Military College of Canada)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Don Brooks (Executive Director of ACURA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Rob Thacker (Acting CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Kim Venn (TIO Governing Board, non-voting, ex-officio)
Stan Metchev (TIO SAC, non-voting, ex-officio)
Tim Davidge (TIO SAC Canadian co-chair; NRC, observer)
Greg Fahlman (NRC, observer)

Update on CASTOR

By / par Patrick Côté, John Hutchings (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2021)

Work has continued under the space technology development program (STDP) contract with ABB and Honeywell. The detector choice for the study has been decided and sensors are now being procured from e2v. The delivered large-format sensors will be used to prototype the mosaic arrays needed for CASTOR. Separate detectors will be tested for performance after doping and coating by JPL; this will include the measurement of read-noise, dark current and QE by HAA at the University of Calgary vacuum facility that was used for the Astrosat/UVIT mission. Joint work on optical and mechanical aspects are also continuing between HAA and IIA in Bangalore. The optical design has moved forward with attention to packaging, baffling, moving parts, and overall volume. The next stage of the work underway is on the performance and testing of the Fast Steering Mirror that CASTOR will use for fine tracking. Technical meetings are being held as needed and there are biweekly meetings with the contractors and CSA.

September 9 marked the deadline for Phase 0 industrial proposals. Proposal review and evaluation will take place in the coming weeks; it is expected that a contract will be awarded soon afterwards. In parallel, a science Statement of Work will be delivered by a university-based science team, to be organized by HAA. Logistic details are still being formulated but the science development activities are expected to be carried out in parallel with the industrial Phase 0 work. Those interested in participating should get in touch with us now (core team members have already been contacted). It is expected that the Phase 0 science team will also include some members of partner teams in India, JPL, and the UK.

A university-led CFI proposal continues to be developed to fund and operate a detector lab for post-Phase 0 development of the mission.

In order to exchange technical details as the major partnership with ISRO develops, a permit is being drawn up to enable this collaboration, as required by the Export Control rules for satellites. In the meantime, meetings and correspondence between CSA and ISRO are proceeding as best they can.

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy have submitted their pre-budget memo to the government as usual, and CASTOR is explicitly mentioned, along with the expected international partnerships. Until the general election is over, no actual meeting will occur with the government, and the path forward will depend on the detailed outcome of the election.

Overall, progress is happening on several fronts, and CASTOR remains on track to fulfil the requirements for flight approval in 2023.

For more information on the mission, see here.

ngVLA Update

By / par Erik Rosolowsky (U Alberta), Joan Wrobel (NRAO)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2021)

Figure caption: Artist’s conception of ngVLA antennas at the current site of the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array on the Plains of San Agustin in west-central New Mexico. Credit: Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF

NSF Awards Funding for ngVLA Antenna Development

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) $23 million for design and development work on the Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA), including producing a prototype antenna. The ngVLA, a powerful radio telescope with 263 dish antennas distributed across North America, is proposed as one of the next generation of cutting-edge astronomical observatories.

The ngVLA will include 244 antennas that are 18 meters in diameter, with an additional 19, 6-meter dishes at the centre of the system.

The ngVLA project currently is under review by the Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey (Astro2020) of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. That report is expected this autumn. Following that report, the project will need approval by the NSF’s National Science Board and funding by Congress. Construction could begin by 2026 with early scientific observations starting in 2029 and full scientific operations by 2035.

On May 27, NRAO officials signed an agreement with the firm mtex antenna technology GmbH of Germany to develop a production-ready design and produce the prototype 18-meter antenna. Once built, the 18-meter prototype will be installed at the site of NSF’s Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) in west-central New Mexico, where it will undergo extensive testing.

Building on the scientific and technical legacies of the VLA and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), the ngVLA will have sensitivity to detect faint objects and resolving power more than 10 times greater than the current VLA. It is being designed to address fundamental questions in all major areas of astrophysics and provide a major leap forward in our understanding of phenomena such as planets, galaxies, black holes, and the dynamic sky. The ngVLA’s capabilities will complement those of ALMA and other planned instruments such as the lower-frequency Square Kilometer Array.

The ngVLA’s design is the result of extensive collaboration with researchers across the landscape of astrophysics. Through a series of workshops and science meetings beginning in 2015, NRAO worked with numerous scientists and engineers to develop a design that will support a wide breadth of scientific investigations over the lifetime of the facility. Participants from around the world – including Canada – contributed suggestions and expertise that helped guide the design.

See the NRAO press release for additional information.

Chemical Probes of Astrophysical Systems

The NRAO and the ngVLA project will convene a Special Session titled Chemical Probes of Astrophysical Systems on January 13, 2022, at the winter American Astronomical Society meeting. This Special Session will highlight recent scientific breakthroughs in astrochemistry. It will feature invited oral presentations plus contributed poster presentations. If you are attending this meeting and presenting a relevant poster, you can apply to this special session. Special Session presenters are also eligible to present elsewhere at the meeting.

ngVLA Summer Short Talk Series

Recordings from a weekly ngVLA Summer Short Talk Series that ran June through August 2021 are available online. Each presentation addressed open science questions and their connection to present and future observing facilities at all wavelengths. An audience Q&A session accompanied each presentation. The presenter lineup included 2019 Plaskett Medal winner Alexandra Tetarenko and was organized by the ngVLA Science Advisory Council.

Figure caption: Artist’s conception of ngVLA antennas at the current site of the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array on the Plains of San Agustin in west-central New Mexico. Credit: Sophia Dagnello, NRAO/AUI/NSF

No More Academic Pipelines: Rethinking Inclusion in Astronomy

By / par Hilding Neilson (David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2021)

One of the goals for academia and astronomy, specifically, is to build greater inclusion for Indigenous peoples. This is clearly illustrated in the Long Range Plan 2020. While the goal is clearly discussion, it is not obvious what inclusion of Indigenous people would be and how it might occur. In this brief article, I will discuss what Indigenous inclusion could be and how the astronomy community in Canada can approach the process. This discussion is based solely on my own experiences in academia as a Mi’kmaw astronomer.

There is a popular metaphor for discussing the lack of inclusion of people (women, BIPOC, etc.) that is one of a leaky pipeline. In this metaphor, the pipeline is usually the academic path and the leaks are people that fall out of the system for various non-academic causes. It has been recognized that the metaphor is problematic for many Indigenous peoples because of the politics of physical pipelines on Indigenous lands. Across Turtle Island, Indigenous peoples have been burdened by the growth and demand for pipelines carrying bitumen, oil, and natural gas. This burden is done on purpose because pipelines do leak and engineering these pipelines is designed to have acceptable losses through leaks that will pollute and damage the land and water. This is why we see companies try to build pipelines across Indigenous Nations instead of across Settler communities.

Even though the leaky pipeline analogy is offensive, it is also an apt analogy to describe issues with inclusion in the academy, in science, and in astronomy. It is just not apt in the way most people use it. A pipeline carries material that was ripped from the land, transported thousands of kilometres. The material that leaks pollutes the land and water along the path of the pipeline. Whatever makes it to the other end of the pipeline is burned for the benefit of those with money and power. That is the issue of the pipeline: it is not built to support the material transported but to assimilate the content in ways to support the consumer and the capitalist. This pipeline describes inclusion in academia and it supports those in power instead of diverse people.

This analogy also illustrates the challenges for inclusion of Indigenous peoples because it is built on assimilation and colonization. Astronomy can continue focus on inclusion in this way and it is entirely possible that the number of Indigenous people in academia could grow. But, from experience, this system requires a lot of sacrifice and contributes harm to Indigenous peoples in the field, especially when being Indigenous is inconvenient for those in power.

Instead of assimilation and colonization as inclusion, we should work towards a system of inclusion that centers Indigeneity instead centering Settlers and Settler needs. We have seen examples of the latter in the past few years from how the discussion of the Thirty-Meter Telescope has evolved and the inappropriate responses of a number of Canadian Astronomers (see article here) to incidents at the annual meeting of CASCA (see here). Just these two examples show that there is a lot of work to do to build an inclusive environment. So far the Canadian Astronomical Society has done no work beyond inviting speakers to discuss Truth and Reconciliation and Residential Schools and then promptly moving on and forgetting. Spending an hour listening is not action and is not inclusion. Inclusion involves change and action. To that end, I would like to suggest a model for inclusion of Indigeneity in astronomy.

This model for inclusion is built around three themes: Land, Knowledges, and Persons. These three themes should be considered together and not isolation. Being inclusive of Persons requires actions that create space for Indigenous people in academia and in STEM. This is consistent with the traditional view of inclusion in academia. Being inclusive of Knowledges is about creating stuff for Indigenous astronomy stories and methods in research and education in an equitable way and being inclusive of Land requires understanding where we live and work and our relationships on colonized lands.

These three themes cannot be considered in isolation. Being inclusive of Persons while ignoring Land and Knowledges is assimilation and being inclusive of Knowledges while ignoring Land and Persons is simply appropriation. Both issues are widely understood to be harmful and clearly the Astronomy community should avoid these issues, but it does not always do so. For instance, job advertisements and interviews risk focusing too much on only being inclusive of Persons. In my experience, I have been invited to interview because the committee wanted to be inclusive of Persons, and then arguably rejected because they did not want to be inclusive of Land and Knowledges.

Being inclusive of Land is a more challenging discussion, especially with the Canadian obsession with Land Acknowledgements. However, being inclusive of Land while ignoring Persons and Knowledges is erasure and dispossession. One example of this is seen in the history of place names. Across Canada names are largely based on english and french terms, Settlers who considered important, and names to honour Europeans places such as London, New Berlin,New Paris, etc. All of these names are designed to erase Indigeneity from the land. Even Indigenous names such as Toronto are built on erasure and the superficial reminder that it based on the Haudenosaunee word Tkaronto. One might argue Land Acknowledgements to counter this narrative and are inclusive, but simply noting we work on traditional homeland of certain nations is not change and is simply a tool to assuage Settler guilt. This is especially true if the Land Acknowledgements do not come with commitments for learning, inclusion and decolonizing. The issue of being inclusive of Land becomes more challenging when we ignore Indigenous Knowledges and Person because that inclusive become Colonization.

In the end, Indigenous inclusion is about building relationships with all three aspects: Land, Persons, and Knowledges. This is not an easy thing for academics and astronomers to do, given how much we have benefited from centuries of colonization, assimilation and appropriation and how much we continue to do so. We continue to benefit through the infrastructure and telescopes we build, through the patronage of donors, through the appropriation of the language of colonization in the fight against bright satellites. We continue to benefit when agencies such as NSERC focus on demographics through the Dimensions program or when PromoScience panels fund Settlers to deliver science content to Indigenous communities. We need new models for Indigenous Inclusion.

The Long Range Plan 2020 recommends the formation of two committees that greatly impact Indigenous inclusion: one for Indigenous people and one on land usage. It might be noted that the committee on land usage is important for both Indigenous lands and non-Indigenous lands, most if not all of the ground-based facilities discussed in the LRP report are on Indigenous lands. These committees will have significant influence on the future of astronomy in Canada and on Indigenous inclusion in astronomy. These committees will almost certainly have very little Indigenous representation since there are so few Indigenous people in Canadian astronomy and committee service is voluntary. As such all change will depend on the goodwill and intentions of settlers and based on experiences in the past few years that goodwill is varies significantly across Canadian astronomy and is very conditional on the interests of astronomers. For instance, will Canadian astronomy place Indigenous rights and inclusion over the desire for the Thirty-Meter Telescope on Maunakea as there is no clear consent?

What are some ways to build Indigenous Inclusion? I suggest here three concepts:

  1. Develop protocols for consent of land usage that centers Indigenous rights and methods for issues of usage and environmental impact. As part of those protocols, if consent is not readily available then accept that and cease fighting Indigenous peoples.
  2. Invite and equitably fund Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers to share and lead outreach and education initiatives in astronomy and science. We need to build and nurture relationships with committees and support Indigenous-centered learning over our traditional Western methods.
  3. Fund and equitably support Indigenous scholars to teach and conduct research in Canadian Physics and Astronomy departments that center and uplift Indigenous methods and concepts. I am not aware of any institution in Canada that currently does this, but I am aware of numerous that either center Settler educators in teaching Indigenous knowledges or just treat Indigenous Scholars inequitably.

These are just three quick ideas and is not meant to be complete in any way. There are more recommendation in various Long Range Plan Community Papers and US Decadal Survey papers. Furthermore, as relationships grow then recommendations and needs will also evolve so actions are truly limited to location and time. But, it is time for Canadian Astronomy to take steps of action along with continuing to listen. I do not believe that the Canadian Astronomy community as a whole is capable of taking ethical and inclusive actions to support Indigenous peoples today, but we are capable of changes that will make CASCA and Canadian Astronomy more inclusive in time for the next Long Range Plan, but we have to start now. The time for only listening is over.

ngVLA Update

By Erik Rosolowsky (U Alberta), Joan Wrobel (NRAO)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)

The design development for the ngVLA has continued over the past three months. The US National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) has selected a contractor to develop a production-ready design and produce a prototype antenna for the Next Generation Very Large Array (ngVLA). An agreement with mtex antenna technology GmbH of Germany was signed on May 27. Under the contract, mtex will prepare a production-ready antenna design based on NRAO specifications and an earlier reference design presented in 2019 to the U.S. Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020 (Astro2020). The design will be for the 244 ngVLA dish antennas that will be 18 meters in diameter.

The ngVLA Project received a favourable review in the Canadian Long Range Plan and is currently under review by Astro2020, a committee of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. The committee’s report is expected later this month. The ngVLA Project’s activities are presently focused on being ready to react to a positive Astro2020 Decadal outcome and to prepare documents for an ngVLA Conceptual Design Review in the autumn.

If you would like to review an overview presentation on the current state of the ngVLA Project, please feel free to review this presentation by project scientist Eric Murphy.

The first public tour of the ngVLA occurred in March. The tour featured presentations, interviews of ngVLA staff, and a question-and-answer session. Anyone who missed the virtual event is welcome to view it here.

Cassiopeia Newsletter – Summer Solstice / solstice d’été 2021

summer

In this issue/Dans ce numéro:

President’s Message
ALMA Matters
BRITE-Constellation Mission Update
CanTAC and Dual-Anonymous CFHT, Gemini, and NEOSSat Proposals
Update on CASTOR
CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope
Canadian Gemini Office News / Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien
Report from the LCRIC
ngVLA Update
Report from the SKA


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.


Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

By Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)

Artist’s impression of SKA1-Mid in South Africa, combining MeerKAT dishes and SKA dishes. Image credit: SKA Organisation


There have been many exciting SKA developments in recent months and the project proceeds apace, despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic across partner countries. Up-to-date Canada-specific information regarding potential science, technology, industry and societal impacts are available on the SKA Canada website, and a summary of developments through May 2021 was presented at the 2021 CASCA AGM SKA Town Hall. More broadly, frequent project-wide updates are posted on the SKA International website.

The SKA Observatory (SKAO) Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO) now controls the project. Construction of SKA Phase 1 (= SKA1) is slated to begin in early July, pending approval by the IGO Council in late June. There has been considerable recent activity among partner countries to secure their participation ahead of the construction phase: China has ratified the SKAO Convention to become the seventh Full Member alongside Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa, and the United Kingdom; France’s request to accede to Full IGO membership was approved; and Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne has signed a Cooperation Agreement with the SKAO to allow the Swiss scientific and engineering community to participate in the project until a decision is made by their government to join the IGO. These recent commitments, combined with other developments such as the appointment of telescope site directors and the inaugural meeting of the SKAO Science and Engineering Advisory Committee underscore the project’s technical and financial readiness to enter the construction phase in a few weeks.

Canada’s future participation in the SKA requires committing to SKA1 construction and operations. The Federal Budget 2021 did not provide a decision on Canada’s SKA participation, and there remains an urgent need for a Canada to make a commitment to the IGO to guarantee return on investment through participation in SKA1 construction tender and procurement. In particular, Canada’s conditional allocation of the SKA1-Mid correlator construction package, one of the largest and more desirable across the project, will be jeopardized if a commitment is not made before construction starts in July. Raising awareness about the SKA within government and universities continues to be an part of the process towards securing Canadian participation, and work in this regard is well underway (see President’s Message in this issue) by the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy. Our Government understands the SKA project timeline and the importance of Canada’s contribution to its success. Consideration is still being given to the options available for Canada to continue making contributions to the project.

There will be significant employment opportunities as SKA1 construction ramps up. Many scientists, engineers, software designers, and support and administrative personnel will be hired in the UK and the host countries (South Africa and Australia). Those interested should keep an eye on the recruitment site, which includes a “job alert” tool to set up personalized emails filtered by field of expertise, location, duration and employment type (permanent, contract, secondment, etc.). Watch this space for opportunities throughout 2021.

For more information and updates on Canada and the SKA:

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BRITE-Constellation Mission Update

By Catherine Lovekin (on behalf of the Canadian BRITE team)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)

BRITE-Constellation is an international space astronomy mission consisting of a fleet of 20x20x20 cm nanosatellites dedicated to precision optical photometry of bright stars in two photometric colours. The mission continues in full science operations, with 38 datasets available in the public domain from the BRITE public archive. As of April of 2020, all data is made public as soon as decorrelation is complete, with no proprietary period.

The BRITE mission is a collaboration between Canadian, Austrian and Polish astronomers and space scientists. The Canadian partners represent University of Toronto, Université de Montréal, Mount Allison University, and Royal Military College of Canada. The mission was built, and the Canadian satellites operated by, the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies Space Flight Lab (UTIAS-SFL). The Canadian Space Agency funded the construction of the Canadian satellites, and continues to support their day-to-day operations.

Operations

There are five BRITE satellites in the Constellation, which work together to obtain well-sampled, long term continuous (~6 months) light curves in both red and blue band passes across a variety of sky fields.

As this issue of Cassiopeia went to press, the assignments of the BRITE nanosats was:

  • BRITE Toronto (Canada): This satellite observes with a red filter. It is currently observing the Crux-Carina field for the third time.
  • BRITE Lem (Poland): Lem observes with a blue filter, but is currently idle due to unresolved stability issues.
  • BRITE Heweliusz (Poland): Heweliusz observes with a red filter. It is also currently observing the Crux-Carina field.
  • BRITE Austria (Austria): BRITE Austria observes with a red filter. It is currently observing in Sagittarius, revisiting the field for the seventh time.
  • UniBRITE (Austria): Currently out of order.

The BRITE Constellation observing program is currently set through late 2021. Details of the observing plan will be available on the BRITE photometry Wiki page.

The BRITE Austria team has encountered serious funding difficulties recently. Cuts at the Graz Technical University potentially mean the end to the operational support for the entire BRITE constellation, although 3 of the 5 satellites are still working well. The international BRITE team is currently investigating other options, including crowd funding options, to keep the satellites operating for another two years. We are still in the process of setting this up, and information will be available on the BRITE-constellation web page in the coming weeks.

Recent Science Results

“Searching for possible exoplanet transits from BRITE data using machine learning technique”, Yeh & Jiang, 2021, PASP, 133, 014401

In this paper, the authors examine photometric light curves of BRITE satellites through a machine learning technique to investigate whether there are possible exoplanets moving around nearby bright stars. Focusing on different transit periods, several convolutional neural networks were constructed to search for transit candidates. The convolutional neural networks were trained with synthetic transit signals combined with BRITE light curves until the accuracy rate was higher than 99.7%. Using this method, they were efficiently able to find ten candidate systems. Among these ten candidates, two of them, the HD37465 and HD186882 systems, were investigated in more detail.

Conferences, Resources, and Social Media

Conferences

The BRITE team does not plan to host any conferences this year.

Resources and Social Media

The BRITE Public Data Archive, based in Warsaw, Poland, at the Nikolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre, can be accessed here.

The mission Wiki (including information on past, current and future fields) can be accessed here.

BRITE Constellation is on Facebook, at @briteconstellation.

The BRITE International Advisory Science Team

The BRITE International Advisory Science Team (BIAST), which consists of BRITE scientific PIs, technical authorities, amateur astronomers, and mission fans, advises the mission executive on scientific and outreach aspects of the mission. If you’re interested in joining BIAST, contact Konstanze Zwintz, the chair of BEST.

President’s Message

By Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)

On June 10, the CASCA Board published a statement regarding the recent confirmation of the unmarked burial sites of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Reservation School. This news has been the latest heart-breaking reminder of Canada’s long history of colonial atrocities. To the full CASCA Board statement (English; and French), I add my personal thoughts and prayers to those in grief and pain, to the communities and families who have lost loved ones, and to the Indigenous members in our Society. I encourage our Society members to reach out to your Indigenous colleagues and friends in their time of sorrow.

Addressing inequity, bias and racism is a recurrent theme in CASCA’s Long Range Plan 2020. Despite its infancy, the first steps in this broad-reaching decadal initiative have now begun. As I described at the recent AGM, we have a new implementation and oversight structure that convenes the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC; welcome to Will Percival as the new Chair), the Joint Committee on Space Astronomy (JCSA), the LRP Community Recommendations Committee (LCRIC) and the CASCA Board. The Chairs of these committees have already begun regular communication over the coordination and tracking of LRP progress. Discussions with other CASCA committees will also ramp up over the coming months as we mobilize towards working on the recommendations in our charge. I refer you to the LCRIC update in this newsletter for more information on community updates. On the dissemination front, I can report that the hard copies of the LRP have been received by both the ACURA office and at Temple Scott Associates for distribution amongst our university and external contacts. However, with tele-working still in place for the vast majority of workers in Ottawa, as well as many universities, it is anticipated that the final delivery will be made in the Fall once people return to their offices and are receiving mail (major stakeholders have been previously sent electronic versions).

CASCA 2021 attracted a record number of attendees – some 500 strong from across the astronomical community. This year’s AGM additionally broke new ground for the Society with an unprecedentedly broad scope in its sessions, including an Indigenous cultural awareness session by Bob Joseph, and keynote presentations by Ninan Abraham and Astrid Eichorn on academic racism and the carbon footprint of research in the EDI and Sustainability sessions. The feedback we have received on these sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, and sends a clear message that our annual gathering should be a place where we meet to not only discuss science, but also where we consider our place in an equitable and responsible society. CASCA 2022 (“Canadian Astronomy in the Roaring 2020s”) will again break new ground, as the Society’s first hybrid meeting, with the in-person component taking place at the University of Waterloo (LOC Chair: Will Percival). In case you missed it, the video invitation to CASCA 2022 (May 10-16) presented at the end of this year’s AGM can be found here. Those who attend CASCA 2022 in-person will be able to pick up a hard copy of the LRP!

The #1 ranked space facility in the LRP is the Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research (CASTOR). As reported at the AGM, and in the dedicated article in this issue, CASTOR continues to make steady progress and gather momentum under the Canadian scientific leadership of Pat Côté and John Hutchings. A significant ramp-up in activity (both development work and promotional efforts) is expected in the latter half of 2021.

CSA is funding an extensive technical contract for CASTOR that will run until May 2023 and have also have approved a Phase 0 study to begin later this year that will run concurrently. Taken together, these studies will allow CASTOR to move to flight development, once the mission is approved and funded by the government. International partners continue to work closely with the CASTOR team: JPL have demonstrated their support by approving technical work using internal funds, the UK group have offered detector testing as part of the STDP work and the partnership with India through ISRO continues to develop, albeit with some COVID-induced delays. ACURA and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy are being kept up to date with developments so that they are briefed for engagement within universities and in Ottawa.

In ground-based priorities, the SKA project continues to progress rapidly in anticipation of the start of its construction phase. Since the SKA update at the AGM, China has ratified the SKA Observatory (SKAO) treaty convention to become the 7th Full Member, France has announced that it will accede to the SKAO, and Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne has signed a cooperation agreement with the SKAO to allow the Swiss scientific and engineering community to participate in the project until a decision is made by their government to join the Observatory. As you are all aware, the SKA was not listed explicitly in the Federal budget that was announced on April 19, and Canada is now relegated to `observer’ status, with no involvement in the governance of the project. As described by the Canadian SKA Science Director, Kristine Spekkens, at our recent AGM, there is a pressing need for commitment by the end of this month if we are to avoid the loss of our provisional industry contracts, worth tens of millions of dollars. Lobbying for SKA has been the primary activity of the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy in the last year. Our most recent meeting took place in late May with a senior Policy Advisor from Minister Champagne’s office. This is the first time that the Coalition has been able to secure a meeting with the Minister’s office since Francois Phillippe Champagne took over from Navdeep Bains as Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry in January 2021. Through a variety of communication channels, the government is fully briefed on the SKA and are aware of the project’s timelines and the stakes if we do not commit imminently.

In other news from Ottawa, on May 26 the House of Commons unanimously passed a private members motion from former Science Minister Kirsty Duncan that will create a permanent House Committee on Science and Research. However, the Committee will not be created until the next Parliament (i.e. after the next federal election). Speculation for an upcoming election is buzzing around the capital. The Government’s legislation to implement the 2021 budget (Bill C-30) has been studied at Committee in the House and the Senate, and efforts are now underway to get it passed before the mid-June summer recess. Passing that legislation is generally considered an imperative if the Liberals want to call an election for the fall. Once Parliament recesses for summer, it is not due to resume until September 20 – and that is assuming an election is not called before then. However, as perhaps the clearest signal yet that a 2021 election is likely, all parties agreed to a motion allowing MPs not running again to give their farewell addresses in the House on June 15. The Liberals also invoked their “electoral urgency” clause regarding riding nominations. Without Parliament sitting, the only means for the Liberals to trigger an election before September 20 is for the Prime Minister to ask the Governor General (or acting Governor General) to dissolve Parliament. That request would almost certainly be granted. Finally, the House of Commons Finance Committee has launched its annual pre-budget consultation, with submissions due on August 6. As we do every year, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy will make a submission to this call.

Canadian Gemini Office News

By Stéphanie Côté (CGO, NRC Herzberg / OGC, CNRC Herzberg)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)

Virtual Gemini Science Meeting in August 2021

Virtual Gemini Science Meeting coming up and you’re invited!

Gemini will be hosting a Virtual Science Meeting August 23-26 2021. It will be a combination of invited talks, observatory updates, hands-on training sessions and plenty of time for discussions. There will be a special focus on upcoming instrumentation. This meeting is meant to bridge the gap between the last Gemini Science meeting in 2018 and the next in-person meeting planned for August 2022 in Seoul Korea.

The meeting is free but you do need to register to receive the connection information. Join us for this Virtual meeting, coming soon on a screen near you!

Recent Canadian Gemini Press Releases

Fastest Spinning Brown Dwarfs

On June 8th 2021 an international team of astronomers led by graduate student Megan Tannock (Western University) and including Stanimir Metchev (Western University) and Jonathan Gagné (Planétarium Rio Tinto Alcan, IREX University of Montreal), announced the discovery of the most rapidly rotating brown dwarfs known. Brown dwarfs are often described as “failed stars”, they form like stars but are not massive enough to start fusing hydrogen into helium as stars do. Tannock and her team first measured the rotation speeds of these brown dwarfs using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. They obtained the follow-up observations with Gemini-North’s GNIRS as well as Magellan Baade Telescope in Chile. They confirmed that three brown dwarfs each complete a single rotation in roughly an hour, which is about 10 times faster than normal. This translates to equatorial rotational velocities of >100km/s. This rotation rate is so high that if these objects rotated any faster they could come close to tearing themselves apart. The AJ paper is available here.

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