2013 Qilak Award

CASCA is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2013 Qilak Award is Dr. James E. Hesser of the National Research Council.

Dr. Hesser has been a prominent figure in Canadian and international astronomy for many years. The director of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory since 1986, Dr. Hesser is a past president of both CASCA (2004-2006) and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1987-1989), and a former vice-president of the American Astronomical Society (1991-1994). In 1997, Dr. Hesser was one of the first recipients of the prestigious Michael Smith Award, given through NSERC Canada to “honour people and groups that are inspirational in the way that they promote science to the general public”. He received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 in recognition of his services to the National Research Council and to all aspects of astronomy. In 2004, he received the CASCA Executive Award for exceptional service to CASCA, and he holds the title of Honorary President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).

With a career-long commitment to astronomy education and public outreach, Dr. Hesser has led by example to forge an effective, efficient partnership between the main organizations of professional and amateur astronomy in Canada: CASCA, RASC, and the Fédération des astronomes amateurs du Québec (FAAQ). In collaboration with others, he worked diligently to establish respectful partnerships with Canada’s Aboriginal communities to preserve and celebrate indigenous knowledge of astronomy, and to illustrate pathways by which Aboriginal youth can aspire to and enter careers in science and technology. A longtime supporter of community outreach programmes, he often gives enthusiastic talks at astronomy conferences and other venues across Canada to encourage, motivate, and inspire his professional and amateur colleagues to participate in EPO activities.

Perhaps most significantly, Dr Hesser worked tirelessly to lead International Year of Astronomy (IYA) efforts within Canada. From 2005 to well beyond 2009, he led and guided this highly visible international project by serving as Canada’s “single point of contact” and as chair of the Executive Committee and Advisory Board for IYA within Canada. Under his direction, the IYA provided a “Galileo Moment” (i.e., “an engaging astronomy experience”) to more than two million people in Canada through more than 3600 separate events, from coast to coast to coast, and in both official languages. Always mindful of the need to cultivate lasting partnerships that sustain public interest in astronomy, Dr. Hesser has been a driving force behind “Beyond IYA” efforts within Canada.

2013 CASCA Executive Award winner

The 2013 recipient of CASCA’s Executive Award is Dr. John B. Hutchings, of the National Research Council of Canada.

A native of South Africa, Dr. Hutchings joined NRC in 1967, after graduating from Cambridge University. During his long and distinguished career, Dr. Hutchings has received numerous awards and honors, including the Beals Award from the Canadian Astronomical Society in 1982, the Gold Medal from the Science Council of British Columbia in 1983, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1987. Although he formally retired from NRC in January 2012, this has had no effect on his commitment to strengthening the role of astronomy within Canada.

The author of over 450 papers in refereed journals, Dr. Hutchings is in the top 0.5% of most cited astrophysicists worldwide. He has worked on remarkably diverse topics including massive stars, stellar winds, X-ray binaries, novae, cataclysmic variables, the interstellar medium, active galaxies and quasars, radio galaxies, and high-redshift galaxy clusters. For this, he has used of a wide array of space- and ground-based facilities, from X-ray and ultraviolet satellites to radio interferometers.

Often working on astronomy’s forefront topics, from his early career Dr. Hutchings has been an indefatigable champion of space astronomy, leading Canadian participation in a series of key missions, including the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, Astrosat and the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, and the James Webb Space Telescope. In particular, beginning in the early 1980s, Dr. Hutchings worked tirelessly to secure Canadian participation in FUSE, negotiating access policies that enabled Canadian scientists to gain greater access than would be expected given Canada’s share of the costs, and leading the design of FUSE’s Fine Error Sensor (FES) camera, a critical system responsible for the precise tracking of the telescope.

The FES represented Canada’s first foray into international space astronomy hardware, meeting tracking and pointing specifications far more stringent than required by any previous Canadian effort in space plasma physics or communications satellites. Moreover, the FES package helped to open the door to Canada’s participation in JWST, thus enabling Canadians to be part of one of the most technologically advanced, and scientifically exciting, astronomy projects ever undertaken. From the initial phases of JWST’s mission design, Dr. Hutchings worked closely with the CSA and NASA to support negotiations that ultimately resulted in Canada being responsible for the design and construction of two of JWST’s critical instruments: the Fine Guidance Sensors (FGS), and the Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS). Dr. Hutchings has been Canadian Project Scientist for JWST from 2001 to 2012, as well as Principal Investigator for the FGS.

Finally, Dr. Hutchings has been a steady voice and leader in many national and international committees. In Canada, he is a key contributor to CASCA/CSA’s Joint Committee for Space Astronomy, and a member of CASCA’s Ground Based Astronomy committee, of the Coalition for Astronomy TMT Planning Committee, and of CSA’s Euclid Science Advisory Committee. He is currently chair of CASCA’s Long Range Plan Implementation Committee, which is actively working to establish a framework for implementing and operating Canadian astronomical facilities in the coming decade.

For more than four decades, Dr. John Hutchings has charted a course of excellence for Canadian astronomy, setting the highest standards in scientific achievements, technical contributions, and service to the community.

2013 Plaskett Medal

Dr. Hasegawa completed his doctoral studies in 2012 at McMaster University. His thesis, entitled “Planet Traps in Protoplanetary Disk and the Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems”, was carried out under the supervision of Prof. Ralph Pudritz. This work explores in detail — from both a theoretical and computational perspective — the possibility that inhomogeneous structure in protostellar accretion disks can create ‘planet traps’ where major planets are built up primarily through the capture of rapidly migrating planetary cores, followed by the accretion of dense gas.

CASCA extends its congratulations to Dr. Hasegawa, who is currently an East Asian Core Observatories Association (EACOA) Fellow at the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) in Taiwan.


2014 Plaskett Medal

ponCASCA is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2014 J.S. Plaskett Medal is Dr. Andrew Pon.

Dr. Pon completed his doctoral studies at the University of Victoria in 2013 under the supervision of Dr. Douglas Johnstone (UVic, NRC-Herzberg). His thesis, entitled “Shocks, Superbubbles, and Filaments: Investigations into Large Scale Gas Motions in Giant Molecular Clouds”, covers a wide range of topics in star formation — including gravitational collapse, turbulent heating, and Galactic ecology. This work bridges theory and observations, and crosses traditional boundaries between the detailed investigation of individual nearby star-forming regions and the much larger scale studies of galactic-scale star formation.

Dr. Pon is currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Leeds, where he is continuing his studies of turbulent dissipation and shock heating in molecular clouds.

2014 Qilak Award

Trottier_Howard (11)finsmCASCA is pleased to announce Prof. Howard Trottier of Simon Fraser University (SFU) as the recipient of the 2014 Qilak award.

Prof. Trottier received a Ph.D. from McGill University in 1987. He has been a professor of physics at SFU since 1993, specializing in studies of lattice Quantum Chromodynamics.

For many years, Prof. Trottier has shown a remarkable dedication to education and public outreach. A past president of the RASC Vancouver centre, he is presently serving as Director of Telescopes. Prof. Trottier and his alter ego — MrStarryNights — have had a profound impact on astronomy education in British Columbia. Since 2007, Prof. Trottier has organized the Starry Nights program — popular gatherings of astronomy enthusiasts at SFU’s Burnaby campus. Starting in 2009, Prof. Trottier has held daytime workshops for thousands of school-age children in which participants learn the basics of telescope optics and usage; thanks to his tireless fundraising efforts, over 150 tripod-mounted refracting telescopes have been donated, about half to public schools, and half to individual families with young children. Another initiative born out of Prof. Trottier’s vision and fundraising efforts is SFU’s Astronomical Teaching Observatory, currently under construction at the Burnaby Mountain campus and to be opened in the fall of 2014. The associated Science Outreach Centre, inaugurated in January 2014, is already providing space and support for both astronomy and general science workshops for thousands of elementary, middle and high school students during daytime visits from nearby schools, for home-school families, and community groups.

Please join CASCA in thanking Dr. Trottier for his selfless dedication to improving public understanding and appreciation of science and astronomy.

The Canadian Astronomical Society Delighted by Canada’s Commitment to Construction Funding for the Thirty Meter Telescope

VANCOUVER, April 6, 2015 – The Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA) is delighted by Canada’s commitment to construction funding for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) international partnership, announced yesterday evening by Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre in Vancouver.

“The TMT is the top priority in Canada’s Long Range Plan for Astronomy and Astrophysics, our roadmap to continued international leadership in this field. Canada’s astronomers will point to today’s announcement for decades to come as a critical moment in furthering our excellence in the field,” said Christine Wilson, President of CASCA and Co-Chair of the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy.

The TMT is a revolutionary telescope conceived and designed by Canadian astronomers and industry working together with their partners in China, India, Japan, the University of California and the California Institute of Technology. The TMT will be almost 100 times more powerful than the current best telescope. The telescope will examine the first stars to form in the universe, the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way and the atmospheres and other properties of planets within the habitable zones of other stars.

“Canada has consistently ranked among the top three countries in the world in Astronomy and Astrophysics, and that success is directly linked to our ability to access the top facilities in the world, like the TMT. This is a great day for Canadian astronomy as we have now secured long-term access to what will be the world’s most powerful ground-based telescope,” stated Wilson.

CASCA joined with its Coalition for Canadian Astronomy partners from the university sector and industry in welcoming the Prime Minister’s announcement.

“Canadian astronomers have been responsible for some of the greatest discoveries in this field, and it is our hope that the TMT will inspire a new generation of young Canadians to pursue a career in the sciences. The science TMT will deliver will be transformative for astronomy, both in Canada and around the world. This is a once-in-a-generation project in which all Canadians can take great pride,” said Ray Carlberg, Canadian TMT Project Director.

About the Canadian Astronomical Society / Société canadienne d’astronomie
The Canadian Astronomical Society was founded in 1971 and incorporated in 1983 as a society of professional astronomers. The society is devoted to the promotion and advancement of knowledge of the universe through research and education. CASCA’s road map to international leadership in this field is the Long Range Plan for Astronomy and Astrophysics, or LRP. The LRP was created by a Blue Ribbon Panel to chart a course for Canadian astronomy. It calls for Canadian participation in the next generation of global astronomy projects, coupled with investments in technology development in Canada, the training of young Canadian scientists and engineers, and intellectual leadership in the planning and operation of facilities by Canadian astronomers.

For further information, contact:

Christine Wilson
CASCA President
(905) 525-9140 x27483

Leslie Sage
CASCA Press Officer
(301) 675-8957

Ray Carlberg
Canadian TMT Project Director
(416) 978-2198

For more information about TMT, visit tmt.org

e-News: December 2014



From the Board:

News and Announcements:

Instrument and Project Updates:

Important deadlines:

New Job Postings:

Upcoming Meetings:


      To submit news items, announcements and job postings, click


      To contact the CASCA Board, click


      To submit comments to the Long Range Plan Implementation Committee (LRPIC), click


      To submit comments to the Ground Based Astronomy Committee (GAC), click


      To submit comments to the Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (JCSA), click



e-News: November 2014



      To submit news items, announcements and job postings, click


      To contact the CASCA Board, click


      To submit comments to the Long Range Plan Implementation Committee (LRPIC), click


      To submit comments to the Ground Based Astronomy Committee (GAC), click


      To submit comments to the Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (JCSA), click



CASCA’s Ethics Statement

In light of recent events, we would like to take this opportunity to inform all interested parties that CASCA has adopted an Ethics Statement.  CASCA does not condone behaviour contrary to this statement, including sexism, abusive behaviours, and harassment in the professional workplace.

Regarding conduct towards others, the Statement explicitly states, “All people encountered in one’s professional life must be treated with respect and dignity.  Discrimination, harassment and abusive behaviours, be it against colleagues, students, or members of the media or the public, are never acceptable.  Equal opportunities must be provided regardless of “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offense for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered” (quoted from “The Canadian Human Rights Act”).”

The CASCA Board

Birth of Planets Revealed in Astonishing Detail in ALMA’s ‘Best Image Ever’

Astronomers have captured the best image ever of planet formation around an infant star as part of the testing and verification process for the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array’s (ALMA) new high-resolution capabilities.

ALMA image of the young star HL Tau and its protoplanetary disk. This best image ever of planet formation reveals multiple rings and gaps that herald the presence of emerging planets as they sweep their orbits clear of dust and gas. Credit: ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ); C. Brogan, B. Saxton (NRAO/AUI/NSF)

This revolutionary new image reveals in astonishing detail the planet-forming disk surrounding HL Tau, a Sun-like star located approximately 450 light-years from Earth in the constellation Taurus.

ALMA uncovered never-before-seen features in this system, including multiple concentric rings separated by clearly defined gaps. These structures suggest that planet formation is already well underway around this remarkably young star.

“These features are almost certainly the result of young planet-like bodies that are being formed in the disk. This is surprising since HL Tau is no more than a million years old and such young stars are not expected to have large planetary bodies capable of producing the structures we see in this image,” said ALMA Deputy Director Stuartt Corder.

All stars are believed to form within clouds of gas and dust that collapse under gravity. Over time, the surrounding dust particles stick together, growing into sand, pebbles, and larger-size rocks, which eventually settle into a thin protoplanetary disk where asteroids, comets, and planets form.

Once these planetary bodies acquire enough mass, they dramatically reshape the structure of their natal disk, fashioning rings and gaps as the planets sweep their orbits clear of debris and shepherd dust and gas into tighter and more confined zones.

The new ALMA image reveals these striking features in exquisite detail, providing the clearest picture to date of planet formation. Images with this level of detail were previously only seen in computer models and artist concepts. ALMA, living up to its promise, has now provided direct proof that nature and theory are very much in agreement.

“This new and unexpected result provides an incredible view of the process of planet formation. Such clarity is essential to understand how our own Solar System came to be and how planets form throughout the Universe,” said Tony Beasley, director of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) in Charlottesville, Virginia, which manages ALMA operations for astronomers in North America.

HL Tau is hidden in visible light behind a massive envelope of dust and gas. Since ALMA observes at much longer wavelengths, it is able to peer through the intervening dust to study the processes right at the core of this cloud. “This is truly one of the most remarkable images ever seen at these wavelengths. The level of detail is so exquisite that it’s even more impressive than many optical images. The fact that we can see planets being born will help us understand not only how planets form around other stars but also the origin of our own Solar System,” said NRAO astronomer Crystal Brogan.

ALMA’s new high-resolution capabilities were achieved by spacing the antennas up to 15 kilometers apart. This baseline at millimeter wavelengths enabled a resolution of 35 milliarcseconds, which is equivalent to a penny as seen from more than 110 kilometers away.

“Such a resolution can only be achieved with the long baseline capabilities of ALMA and provides astronomers with new information that is impossible to collect with any other facility, including the best optical observatories,” noted ALMA Director Pierre Cox.

These long baselines fulfill one of ALMA’s major objectives and mark an impressive technological and engineering milestone. Future observations at ALMA’s longest possible baseline of 16 kilometers will produce even clearer images and continue to expand our understanding of the cosmos.

“This observation illustrates the dramatic and important results that come from NSF supporting world-class instrumentation such as ALMA,” said Fleming Crim, the National Science Foundation assistant director for Mathematical and Physical Sciences. “ALMA is delivering on its enormous potential for revealing the distant Universe and is playing a unique and transformational role in astronomy.”

Original press release: https://public.nrao.edu/news/pressreleases/planet-formation-alma