CanTAC and Dual-Anonymous CFHT, Gemini, and NEOSSat Proposals

By / par David Bohlender (CanTAC Technical Secretary) and Stéphanie Côté (Canadian Gemini Office)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2021)

Beginning with the next round of proposals for CFHT, Gemini, and NEOSSat, CanTAC will require that proposals be written in an anonymous fashion.

Over the last few semesters the Canadian Time Allocation Committee (CanTAC) has been moving towards dual-anonymous (or double-blind) reviews of applications for CFHT, Gemini, and NEOSSat telescope time. Many other facilities have already implemented similar requirements for their observing proposals (HST, JWST, NASA, Chandra, SOFIA, ALMA, ESO). Under this system, the proposers are not told the identity of the reviewers and the reviewers do not know the identity of the proposers. Reviewers’ attitudes toward a submission may be affected, either consciously or unconsciously, by the identity of the author(s); withholding this information lets the reviewers focus solely on the science case of a proposal.

The identity of only the CanTAC super chair is now provided on the NRC web pages. In recent semesters CFHT and Canadian Gemini Office (CGO) staff have also attempted to remove sections of the submitted proposals that identify the applicants, previous observing runs, publications, etc., in the versions of the documents that are seen by CanTAC members and external referees. Only the CanTAC Technical Secretary (currently this article’s first author) receives copies of proposals that identify the applicant(s). This permits the Technical Secretary to contact principal investigators when necessary, and to identify potential conflicts between applicants, CanTAC members, and external referees.

CFHT’s last few calls for proposals have asked Canadian applicants to prepare their applications in a way that does not give away their identity (e.g. see the 2021B call). In recent semesters you may have received a feedback letter from CanTAC that pointed out that you had not written a properly anonymized CFHT (or Gemini) proposal. These warnings should be taken seriously for proposals you submit for semester 2022A.

Writing an anonymous proposal obviously requires some care from the authors. This is not particularly difficult and there are many on-line documents that provide helpful advice, such as the STScI Recommendations of the Working Group on Anonymizing Proposal Reviews and the ESO Dual-Anonymous Guidelines. Here are a few important points selected from these and other documents, as well as recent CanTAC experience:

  • Do not claim ownership of past work, e.g., “my previous work…” or “Our prior analysis demonstrates that…”
  • When citing references, use third person neutral wording especially when self-referencing. For example, replace phrases like “as we have shown in our previous work (Doe et al. 2021), …” with “as previously shown (Doe et al. 2021), …”
  • For thesis-related work do not identify the students. Avoid text like “These observations will be analyzed and modelled as part of the dissertation research of I. M. Observer (U. of Clearskies) and A. N. Theoretician (U. Niverse).” Instead, use an anonymized version “These observations will be analyzed and modelled as a significant component of two doctoral theses.”
  • Depending on the program element, it may be occasionally important to cite exclusive access datasets, non-public software, unpublished data, or findings that have been presented in public before but are not citable. Each of these may reveal (or strongly imply) the investigators on the proposal. In these instances, proposers must use language such as “obtained in private communication” or “from private consultation” when referring to such potentially identifying work.
  • Do not refer to previous observing programs at any observatories in an identifying fashion. For instance, rather than write “we observed another cluster, similar to the one we are proposing under HST program #XXXXX,” instead write “HST program #XXXXX has observed this target in the past…”
  • Do not include the names of the personnel associated with the proposal or their organizational affiliations in page headers, footers, diagrams, figures, or attachments uploaded as part of a proposal.
  • If you are re-submitting a proposal first written prior to dual-anonymous peer review make sure you edit it carefully to anonymize the text.
  • If you are submitting a joint application with co-investigators from other agencies you will have to carefully edit the text before submission even if the other agency TACs do not require anonymous proposals.

Here is an example of non-anonymized text from a sample proposal:

In Rogers et al. (2014), we concluded that the best explanation for the dynamics of the shockwave and the spectra from both the forward-shocked ISM and the reverse-shocked ejecta is that a Type Ia supernova exploded into a pre-existing wind-blown cavity. This object is the only known example of such a phenomenon, and it thus provides a unique opportunity to illuminate the nature of Type Ia supernovae and the progenitors. If our model from Rogers et al. (2014) is correct, then the single-degenerate channel for SNe Ia production must exist. We propose here a second epoch of observations which we will compare with our first epoch obtained in 2007 to measure the proper motion of the shock wave.

Here is the same text, again re-worked to anonymize the text:

Rogers et al. (2014) concluded that the best explanation for the dynamics of the shockwave and the spectra from both the forward-shocked ISM and the reverse-shocked ejecta is that a Type Ia supernova exploded into a pre-existing wind-blown cavity. This object is the only known example of such a phenomenon, and it thus provides a unique opportunity to illuminate the nature of Type Ia supernovae and the progenitors. If the model from Rogers et al. (2014) is correct, then the single-degenerate channel for SNe Ia production must exist. We propose here a second epoch of observations which we will compare with a first epoch obtained in 2007 to measure the proper motion of the shock wave.

To date, failure to write an anonymous request for CFHT, Gemini, or NEOSSat telescope time has not impacted the grade of your proposal(s) in any way. However, with the CGO formally requiring dual-anonymous proposals next semester, starting with proposals for semester 2022A CanTAC may choose to reject proposals that are not written in an anonymous fashion.

If you have questions you can reach out to David Bohlender (CanTAC TS), Stéphanie Côté (CGO), or the CanTAC super chair (Brian Chaboyer until 31 August 2021).

David Bohlender, CanTAC Technical Secretary

Stéphanie Côté, Canadian Gemini Office

Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre
National Research Council of Canada

Report from the LCRIC

By Chris Wilson (LCRIC chair)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)

The CASCA Board has created a new committee, the LRP Community Recommendations Implementation Committee (LCRIC for short) to oversee and co-ordinate the societal-level recommendations of LRP2020. The initial members of the committee are Etienne Artigau (CASCA Board rep), Shantanu Basu, Brenda Matthews (LRP2020 rep), Sharon Morsink, Mike Reid, and Chris Wilson (chair).

The LCRIC’s mandate and full terms of reference are available in the Committees area of the CASCA website. In brief, the LCRIC will (1) identify those recommendations for which LCRIC will be responsible for implementing; (2) develop a coherent and achievable plan to implement the community recommendations in LRP2020, including goal timelines, need for additional resources etc.; and (3) work closely with the CASCA Board to help implement and monitor the plan. This work will be done in collaboration with other CASCA committees and may involve the use of subcommittees and/or working groups. The LCRIC will also seek external advice to provide additional expertise.

The CASCA Board has asked that the LCRIC include Recommendation #1 (Develop guiding principles for telescope sites) and #46 (Create Indigenous engagement committee) among our top priorities for the coming year. The LCRIC has been meeting weekly since the CASCA AGM in May 2021 to discuss some of the issues and steps involved around these recommendations. We have also held a joint meeting with the CASCA Board and CASCA’s Equity & Inclusivity Committee (EIC) to begin discussion of some of the LRP2020 recommendations where the EIC committee will play an important role. We plan to meet with other CASCA committees over the next 3 months.

The LCRIC will invite community participation in the process of consultation and implementation of LRP2020’s recommendations. We are planning to hold a series of town halls with the CASCA community to discuss specific topics in more depth. The first of these town halls will focus on the theme of inclusion of astronomers from underrepresented groups. The second town hall will focus on the theme of training and outreach, with a particular focus on Indigenous members and communities (e.g. Recommendation #46). The third town hall will focus on the theme of land and consent, which is one of the key aspects of Recommendation #1. We will be engaging with key stakeholders in the coming weeks.

The LCRIC recognizes that transparency and consultation are very important as our community moves forward to implement the recommendations of the LRP. We will be seeking input from a diversity of perspectives, recognizing that astronomy and astronomers exist with a broader societal context. We also recognize that the CASCA community will need continuous engagement to make progress on many of the most complicated and challenging aspects of LRP2020. We welcome feedback and comments at any time, via the Public Discussion page or by email to one of the LCRIC members. Communications will be kept confidential if requested.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)


The TMT Project Office is busy preparing for an anticipated Preliminary Design Review that will occur if the NSF accepts the US Extremely Large Telescope Project proposal, that aims to provide both GMT and TMT access to the entire US community. We expect the NSF decision to depend on the outcome of the US Astro2020 Decadal planning process. The recent announcement that publication of this report has been delayed therefore also impacts the timescale of this review process.


The anticipated NSF review will be comprehensive, addressing all aspects of TMT including plans for Operations. Prompted by this, CATAC reviewed the existing Operations Plan, which was last updated in 2012, and the Operations Requirements Document. Following several weeks of discussion, including a meeting with Mark Dickinson from the USELTP, we prepared a report that included 15 recommendations. This report was submitted in confidence to the TMT Board and SAC, as well as the Boards of CASCA and ACURA. It is now publicly available on our web page, here. The recommendations include:

  • The Project provide support for both Large Programs and Fast Turnaround Programs. The latter should be available at first light.
  • The dominant mode of observing should be with adaptive queue scheduling. This should represent a majority of the allocated time, and be built from a merged list of programs from all partners.
  • The Observatory should implement mechanisms to ensure that there is oversight, monitoring, and appropriate long-term maintenance of any software or data archive intended or expected for use by the broader TMT User community, even if developed within a single partner community.
  • A readily searchable and high-functioning archive, with equally good public access to non-proprietary data, is essential for maximizing science output and providing equal access to all members of the TMT community.

Feedback on this report is welcomed.

Maunakea Management

In response to the independent evaluation of the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP), a Working Group has been established in Hawaii to develop recommendations for a governance and management structure for Maunakea. The Working Group is made up of 15 people including state lawmakers, representatives from the public and private sector, and seven members selected to specifically represent the interests of Native Hawaiians.

TMT Science Forum

The next TMT Science forum will take place a year from now, June 26-29, 2022 at UBC in Vancouver. We are optimistic that this will be primarily in-person.

CATAC membership

Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo), Chair,
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)
Sara Ellison (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)

ALMA Matters


From Gerald Schieven (ALMA)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)

Array Status

After a year (less a day) of shutdown due to the pandemic, PI science observations resumed on March 17, with at least 37 antennas in use on the 12m-Array. Observations with the Total Power array resumed shortly thereafter, and 7m-Array PI science observing resumed in early June. Because of the limited number of staff allowed at the observatory, antenna moves to the extended configurations were delayed to early June, and a series of snowstorms has further delayed the move. The plan is to move to configuration C43-7/8 as soon as possible, and to visit each long baseline configuration on a slightly compressed schedule.

Cycle 8 Proposal Submissions

Though the number of proposals submitted for Cycle 8 was down slightly from the previous two cycles (1735 compared to 1829 and 1773 for Cycles 6 and 7), the amount of time requested, over 48,000 hours, was almost 45% more than the record for any previous cycle. This is an oversubscription rate of 6.6 overall. PIs from Canadian institutions also requested a record amount of time, with an overall oversubscription rate of 6.6 (ratio of time requested to the Canadian “share” of North American time).

This was also the first cycle to use the dual anonymous peer review system, in which proposals were required to be written in such a way as not to identify the proposers in order to minimize inherent biases in the review process. In addition, all PIs (or designated co-Is) of proposals requesting under 25 hours were required to referee ten other proposals. All proposals requesting 25 or more hours, including all “large” proposals, are being reviewed by panels as was done for previous cycles. A full analysis of the success of the dual anonymous peer review system will be done once the proposal review process has completed, but early indications are that dual anonymous proposals were well received, and very few PIs failed to referee their assigned proposals. Results of the proposal review will be sent to PIs in August 2021.

Update on CASTOR

By / par Patrick Côté, John Hutchings (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2021)

CASTOR is a wide-field UV/blue-optical space telescope that was identified in LRP 2020 as Canada’s top priority in space astronomy in the 2020s. Mission development is continuing, with a significant ramp-up in activity expected during the second half of 2021. Steps taken during the last quarter include the following:

  1. A Space Technology Development Program (STDP) contract for CASTOR is now underway (“Wide-Field Astronomical Imaging in UV/Optical – Critical Technologies”). The kick-off meeting for this study was held on May 5, 2021 and attended by ~40 participants from Canadian government, industry, and academia, plus representatives from prospective CASTOR international partners. The recipient of the STDP contract is ABB, Inc, with subcontracts issued to Honeywell Aerospace and Magellan Aerospace. We are delighted that JPL will be contributing to the detector work package using internal funding; the UK is similarly involved in this work, including the selection of possible test detectors. The STDP study, which runs until May 2023, will reduce technical risk by advancing the design for several critical mission components.
  2. A Phase 0 study, which will overlap the STDP study, was approved in early May and is expected to begin in October. The combined work of these two contracts is intended to fulfil all CSA requirements to enable a smooth transition to flight Phases A to D, with launch possible in early 2028 provided the mission is approved and funded in 2023.
  3. Partnership discussions with ISRO, including involvement in the STDP opto-mechanical design work package, are ongoing but have been slowed by COVID delays. The nominal shared mission will retain Canadian leadership, with substantial cost savings.
  4. The recent CASCA meeting included a virtual CASTOR Town Hall that was attended by ~90 participants. This event included an overview of the mission, short summaries of CASTOR research programs in four science fields (Cosmology, Time Domain Astrophysics, Exoplanets and the Solar System), an update on mission development and schedule from CSA, and community plans for communications and outreach activities in the coming months. Thank you to our speakers: Melissa Graham, Daryl Haggard, Jason Rowe, Wes Fraser, James Doherty and Nathalie Ouellette.
  5. CSA has now assembled a significant CASTOR management team. James Doherty, CSA Program Lead for CASTOR, presented the CASTOR program development schedule at the virtual Town Hall on May 13. Ongoing and planned studies will feed into a CSA “Review Point, R2” in time for a CSA request for funding approval in March 2023. If successful, this would lead to flight Phases A-D beginning in October 2023. Achieving this timeline will require the full engagement of the academic community in apprising the government ahead of that time of its top ranking in LRP2020, as well as the industrial, public, and international partnership benefits of CASTOR.
  6. CASTOR will be the subject of a CaTS (Canadian Telescope Seminars) talk on June 16, as well as a “QUEST” talk for the NASA/COPAG Ultraviolet-Visible Science and Technology Interest Group on July 1.
  7. In May, ACURA was briefed on the project and plans to work with CASCA through Coalition for Canadian Astronomy to promote CASTOR as a top priority of the 2020 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy.

For more information on the mission, see the CASTOR website.

Cassiopeia Newsletter – Vernal Equinox / équinoxe du printemps 2021


In this issue / Dans ce numéro:

President’s Message
ALMA Matters
BRITE-Constellation Mission Update
Canadian Astronomy, Racism, and the Environment: Part 2
Update on CASTOR
CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope
Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy Data Analysis (CIRADA)
ngVLA Report
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 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.

BRITE-Constellation Mission Update

By / par Catherine Lovekin (on behalf of the Canadian BRITE team)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 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.


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 Orion-Taurus 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 currently observing the Orion-Taurus field.
  • BRITE Austria (Austria): BRITE Austria observes with a red filter. It is currently observing in Orion, 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.

Recent Science Results

Figure 1. Photometry of β Aur from BRITE. Panel a) Full data set. Panel b) Periodograms. Panel c) Phased light curve with the orbital period. From Strassmeier et. al. (2020).

“BRITE photometry and STELLA spectroscopy of bright stars in Auriga: Rotation, pulsation, orbits, and eclipses”, Strassmeier et. al., 2020, A&A, 644, A104

The authors use continuous BRITE photometry and STELLA optical spectroscopy to study 12 targets in the constellation Auriga. The Capella red light curve was found to be constant over 176 days with a root mean square of 1 mmag, but the blue light curve showed a period of 10.1 ± 0.6 d, which the authors interpret to be the rotation period of the G0 component. From STELLA we obtained an improved orbital solution based on 9600 spectra from the previous 12.9 yr. We derive masses precise to ≈0.3% but 1% smaller than previously published. The BRITE light curve of the F0 supergiant ɛ Aur suggests 152 d as its main pulsation period, while the STELLA radial velocities reveal a clear 68 d period. An ingress of an eclipse of the ζ Aur binary system was covered with BRITE and a precise timing for its eclipse onset derived. A possible 70 d period fits the proposed tidal-induced, nonradial pulsations of this ellipsoidal K4 supergiant. η Aur is identified as a slowly pulsating B (SPB) star with a main period of 1.29 d and is among the brightest SPB stars discovered so far. The rotation period of the magnetic Ap star θ Aur is detected from photometry and spectroscopy with a period of 3.6189 d and 3.6177 d, respectively, likely the same within the errors. The radial velocities of this star show a striking non-sinusoidal shape with a large amplitude of 7 km s-1. Photometric rotation periods are also confirmed for the magnetic Ap star IQ Aur of 2.463 d and for the solar-type star κ1 Cet of 9.065 d, and also for the B7 HgMn giant β Tau of 2.74 d. Revised orbital solutions are derived for the eclipsing SB2 binary β Aur, which replaces the initial orbit dating from 1948 for the 27-year eclipsing SB1 ɛ Aur, and for the RS CVn binary V711 Tau, for which a spot-corrected orbital solution was achieved. The two stars ν Aur and ι Aur are found to be long-term, low-amplitude RV and brightness variables, but provisional orbital elements based on a period of 20 yr and an eccentricity of 0.7 could only be extracted for ν Aur. The variations of ι Aur are due to oscillations with a period of ≈4 yr.

Conferences, Resources, and Social Media


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


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 / par Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

Happy 50th Birthday CASCA! Yes, 2021 is a special year for CASCA, as we mark our half century as a Society. For those interested in a potted history of the Society, a short summary of the background leading up to CASCA’s founding, and its early years, can be found here.

The AGM offers the ideal (virtual) venue to celebrate our 50th anniversary, and several CASCA groups/committees are organizing commemorative activities. Gordon Walker (one of CASCA’s original charter members), will give a talk at the AGM banquet reflecting on 50 years of CASCA and Canadian astronomy. The AGM organizers are also inviting all charter members (many of whom are still current members – see here for a full list) to submit video recollections, sharing their memories and perspectives from those early years. For the charter members who are unfortunately no longer with us, the Heritage Committee (Chaired by Elizabeth Griffin) will be compiling short biographies in memory of our founding colleagues. In addition to this reflection upon the past, we also want to look forwards to the next half century. The Graduate Student Committee (Chaired by Carter Rhea) will be reaching out to current graduate students and postdocs to invite them to make “futurecast” videos, speculating what Canadian astronomy will look like at our 100th anniversary in 2071. Highlights from these futurecasts will also be shared at the AGM banquet. Finally, as you will have seen via the CASCA email exploder, a competition is currently open to submit an anniversary themed Zoom background that can be used during our virtual meeting in May. Submissions are due by April 20, and may be uploaded here.

Anniversary celebrations are just one facet of our AGM, which is coming up in less than 50 days (May 10-14). Dennis Crabtree and his team have been working feverishly on preparations for a stimulating and diverse meeting, that blends science, socializing and societal priorities and promises to be a conference unlike any you have attended in the past! The roster of invited speakers is nearing completion and will likely be posted on the CASCA2021 website by the time you read this. Speaker highlights include a public lecture by Nobel Laureate Andrea Ghez and an indigenous cultural awareness session given by Bob Joseph (author of “21 Things You Didn’t Know About the Indian Act”, a copy of which will be given free to all participants). The deadline for abstract submission has now passed and 147 abstracts were received for oral contributions across the scientific, EPO, and EDI/Sustainability categories. The deadline for applications for dependent care support has been extended to April 15. Although the deadline for general registration extends until May 3, the Organizing Committee encourages people to register early for the conference as some information will be sent to only registered attendees via the Whova platform.

On the lobbying and engagement front, the Coalition for Canadian astronomy has been very active this last quarter. A commitment for membership and funding in the SKA is urgently needed (see the article by Kristine Spekkens on behalf of the AACS in this newsletter edition for further updates on the SKA). Since the SKA Observatory, an inter-governmental treaty-based organization, came into force in February, Canada’s lack of formal commitment (via membership and funding) means that our status within the project has effectively been reduced to “observer”, with no means to provide scientific, technical or governance input. Moreover, if we have not joined SKAO by July 2021 we will likely lose the highly desirable, and valuable, correlator contract provisionally allocated to Canada. Given this, our political and bureaucratic outreach has been focused on SKA membership and funding through much of Q4 2020 and Q1 of 2021, with a particular focus on the Ministers and Departments of Finance and Innovation, Science and Industry.

A commitment to the SKA might be made in the Federal budget itself. At present, there is no date for the 2021 budget, and the Prime Minister recently announced that the budget will not be in March or early April. If so, and based on the House of Commons calendar, the next earliest opportunity is the week of April 12, though it could be even later as on March 12 the Prime Minister said the budget date will be announced “in the coming weeks.” Regardless, assuming that it is within the 4-6 weeks that begin on April 12, the budget could set the stage for a late-May or June election. While all parties are suggesting they do not want an election, all are also getting ready, with candidate nominations picking up steam, campaign personnel starting to get appointed, and platform development underway. Regardless of the timing of the budget and a possible 2021 election, the messaging to decision-makers has focused on the fact all SKA partners except Canada have now formally or informally committed to the project and that a failure by Canada to do so by July will strongly compromise our return on investment.

The availability of our Long Range Plan 2020-2030 has been very timely in our engagement efforts, and is providing a valuable tool to signal our coordinated strategy for the next decade. As you know, the basic text of LRP2020 has been available on CASCA’s website since December 2020. The completion of the fully typeset+graphics version should be available in electronic version within a few weeks and a message will be posted to the CASCA exploder to alert our membership to its availability. Printed copies are expected about a month beyond the electronic version, at which point the Coalition will organize a mass mailing to targeted Ministers, MPs, Senators, and Departmental stakeholders, along with a cover letter from the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy, highlighting the major project opportunities in the LRP, such as SKA and CASTOR.

In addition to the pressing need for SKA funding, the CASTOR mission is also very much in need of our commitment. The next 9-12 months are critical, as the project intends to seek government approval in early 2022 and secure Canadian leadership in the mission. The Space Technology Development Program (STDP) study will start this month or next, and the call for a Phase 0 study is expected in the summer. More detail is available in the CASTOR update in the current newsletter, and there will be a dedicated Town Hall Session as part of the AGM (May 13). Students and postdocs are particularly encouraged to get involved in these efforts, as CASTOR promises to a flagship for Canadian space astronomy in the coming decade, with opportunities across the fields of astronomy, aeronautics, software development hardware design and manufacture.

Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Update

By/par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

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

There have been exciting developments in the SKA in recent months, and the project proceeds apace despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic across partner countries. LRP2020 has reaffirmed the SKA as a top priority for the Canadian astronomical community for the next decade, recommending participation in SKA1 construction and operations, in its network of regional data centres, and in the project’s governance. Up-to-date information regarding Canada and SKA science, technology, industry and societal impacts are available on the SKA Canada website.

The publication of the SKA1 Construction Proposal – describing the scientific goals, the baseline SKA1 design, and the broader societal impacts of the project – and the SKA1 Observatory Establishment and Delivery Plan – describing the first 10 years of Observatory operations, business support, global staffing and technology development – are the culmination of the decade-long SKA design phase. The SKA Observatory, the intergovernmental organisation (IGO) that will build and operate SKA1, was launched in February 2021 following the ratification of the Treaty Convention by Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Canada and other design-phase participants that have not yet joined the IGO as well as potential future partners have been designated Observers of the IGO Council. In this role we are witness to Council proceedings but unable to provide direct input into the project.

Canada’s future participation in the SKA requires committing to SKA1 construction and operations. Canada’s provisional allocation of the SKA1-Mid correlator construction package, one of the largest and more desirable across the project, may be jeopardized if a commitment is not made before construction starts. The IGO is expected to secure sufficient funding from other partner countries to initiate the SKA1 construction phase at its July 2021 Council meeting. There is therefore an urgent need for Canada to commit to the IGO by July 2021 to guarantee return on investment, and NRC has prepared the requisite documentation for the government to consider a participation in the project. Raising awareness about the SKA within government and universities is an important part of the process, and work in this regard is well underway (see President’s Message in this issue) by the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy. CASCA members interested in engaging in this process or who have questions about the project are encouraged to get in touch (

As SKA1 construction ramps up, a large number of scientists, engineers, software designers, and support and administrative personnel will be hired, in the UK as well as in the host countries (South Africa and Australia). Those interested should keep an eye on this website, 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:

Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy Data Analysis (CIRADA)

From / de Bryan Gaensler (CIRADA director)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

The Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy Data Analysis (CIRADA) is producing science-ready public data products for large surveys being conducted with three telescopes: the Very Large Array (VLA), the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), and the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME). These products (e.g., images, cubes, time series spectra, catalogues, databases, alerts, pipeline algorithms, and software tools) utilize Canadian Advanced Network for Astronomical Research (CANFAR) services and will be searchable and usable by professional astronomers and the general public, through the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC). CIRADA also serves as a pilot project for Canada’s planned Square Kilometre Array Regional Centre (SKA).

Currently our services include:

  1. A “Quicklook Catalogue” of 1.7 million radio sources from the first epoch of the VLA Sky Survey (VLASS)
  2. An Image Cutout Provider that allows astronomers to quickly visualize data from multiple surveys (VLASS Quicklook, GLEAM, FIRST, NVSS, WISE, PanSTARRS, SDSS I-II) at a given position in the sky and to download the data for further analysis
  3. The RM-Tools software package for radio polarimetry analysis, including 1D and 3D RM synthesis, RM-clean and QU fitting on polarized radio spectra

By the end of 2021 we will be making many more software and data products available through the CIRADA portal, including PINK, a self-organizing map (SOM) that can be used (i) to produce catalogues of double and multiple radio sources, (ii) to classify radio sources as either complex or simple sources, (iii) to find source orientations, and (iv) as an annotation tool. We will be using PINK to extend the existing VLASS Quicklook component catalogue, to produce a new VLASS single epoch catalogue, and to contribute toward source catalogues for the EMU continuum survey on ASKAP. In addition to the SOM, we will be releasing “Hydra”, a comparison and analysis tool that can be used to compare multiple source-finding algorithms on radio continuum data, and the initial catalogue produced by the VLASS Quicklook Transient Marshal. Users of our science-ready data products will be able to leverage the Cube Analysis and Rendering Tool for Astronomy (CARTA) for viewing images data and tabular catalogues directly through our portal.