BRITE-Constellation Mission Update

By / par Gregg Wade (Canadian PI for BRITE)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)


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 25 data releases to BRITE target PIs having already taken place, and many datasets available in the public domain from the BRITE public archive.

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, Bishop’s 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 operating BRITE satellites in the Constellation, collecting data on various sky fields in a coordinated programme to obtain well-sampled, longterm continuous (~6 months) light curves in both red and blue bandpasses.

As this issue of Cassiopeia went to press, here was the status of the sky assignments for the BRITE nanosats:

  • BRITE Toronto (Canada): Toronto observes with a red filter. It is currently observing the Car III field. As implied by the numeral ‘III’, the current campaign on this field represents a revisit of a previously-observed field. Attempts have also been initiated to begin observing the CygLyr III field as a switch field.
  • BRITE Lem (Poland): Lem observes with a blue filter. It is observing the Sco II field.
  • BRITE Heweliusz (Poland): Heweliusz observes with a red filter. This satellite is also observing the Sco II field.
  • BRITE Austria (Austria): BRITE Austria observes with a blue filter. It is observing the Sag V field after having recently completed the Vel/Pup V field.
  • UniBRITE (Austria): UniBRITE observes with a red filter. This satellite is also observing the Sag V field after having recently completed the Vel/Pup V field.

The BRITE Constellation observing programme complete to mid-2020 has been planned by the BRITE Executive Science Team (BEST), and details are available on the BRITE photometry Wiki page.

Recent Science Results

“Revisiting the pulsational characteristics of the exoplanet host star beta Pictoris”, by K. Zwintz et al. (A&A, in press). Zwintz et al. revisit the pulsational properties of beta Pic – host to a gas giant planet – and identify its pulsation modes from normalised amplitudes in five different passbands. They conducted a frequency analysis using three seasons of BRITE-Constellation observations in the BRITE blue and red filters, in addition to a long bRing light curve and nearly 8 years of photometric measurements from the SMEI mission. Using 2D rotating models, they fit the normalised amplitudes and frequencies through Monte Carlo Markov Chains, identifying 15 pulsation frequencies in the range from 34 to 55c/d, where two display clear amplitude variability. Using the normalised amplitudes in up to five passbands, they identify the associated modes as three l = 1, six l = 2 and six l = 3 modes. Multiple fits to the frequencies and normalised amplitudes are obtained including one with a near equator-on inclination for beta Pic, which corresponds to expectations based on the orbital inclination of beta Pic b and the orientation of the circumstellar disk. This solution leads to a rotation rate of 27% of the Keplerian break-up velocity, a radius of 1.497+-0.025 RSun, and a mass of 1.797+-0.035 MSun. The ~2% errors in radius and mass do not account for uncertainties in the models and a potentially erroneous mode-identification.

Figure 1 – Frequency analysis of the BRITE 2016/17 data in the red filter (left) and the blue filter (right): spectral window (panels a and e), original amplitude spectrum from 0 to 100 d−1 (panels b and f), zoom into the original amplitude spectrum (panels c and g) and residual amplitude spectrum after prewhitening the corresponding pulsation frequencies (panels d and h) with the residual noise level marked as horizontal dashed lines. The identified pulsation frequencies (as listed in Table 2) are marked in panels b and c as red (for the BRITE red filter) and in panels f and g as blue (for the BRITE blue filter) lines. The triangles mark the frequencies found in the ASTEP data by Mékarnia et al. (2017). Vertical dashed lines mark the positions of the respective satellite’s orbital frequency (i.e., BTr on the left and BLb on the right) and its multiples. From Zwintz et al. (in press).

Conferences, Resources and Social Media


The BRITE team is spearheading the organization of a conference entitled “Stars and their Variability, Observed from Space”, to occur in Vienna, Austria from August 19 – 23, 2019. Preregistration is available on the conference website.


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

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

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 to join BIAST, contact Canadian BRITE PI Gregg Wade:

President’s Report

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)

Dear CASCA Members,

Summer is upon us and by the time you read this the Annual General Meeting in Montreal will be over. So I think it fitting to begin this President’s Message with a huge thank you to the McGill organizers, beginning with the Co-Chairs Nicolas Cowan and Daryl Haggard, as well as the local organizing committee members, Carolina Cruz-Vinaccia, Emmanuel Fonseca, Louise Decelles, Émilie Parent, Taylor Bell, and the scientific organizing committee members, Vicky Kaspi, Andrew Cumming, Tracy Webb, Jonathan Sievers and Kelly Lepo. And I have to put in a thanks to CASCA Vice-President Sara Ellison for acting as the Board contact. The conference program is chock full of some great science and the theme of “Emerging fields in Astrophysics” is particularly apropos as LRP2020 moves ahead.


The LRP process is in full swing, and I will pass on thanks to the Co-Chairs Pauline Barmby and Bryan Gaensler, as well as the panelists Matt Dobbs, Jeremy Heyl, Natasha Ivanova, David Lafrenière, Brenda Matthews, and Alice Shapley, for taking on this immense effort. By the time you read this we will have had the initial discussion sessions at CASCA, and I can’t wait to see what kind of input we’ll get. While I can’t say there is ever a good time to write a Long Range Plan, as research is always in flux, it feels like there are an enormous number of projects looking to get started at the moment. As part of LRP2010 we reviewed over 50 different possible experiments/facilities/projects but it is clear that LRP2020 is going to eclipse that!

The response to the expression of interest for white papers was truly exceptional. With over 80 titles, and growing by the minute, the Panel is going to have its work cut out reviewing everything. I’d also like to encourage the whole community to work together as much as possible. We’re not particularly large and there is much to gain by working together on things as opposed to replicating effort.

Coalition Activities

Some of you may recall that following the Coalition visit in February we were approached by MP Hélène Laverdière about holding a reception for Canadian astronomy on ‘the Hill.’ Big thanks go to Nathalie Ouellette and René Doyon for stepping-up to interface with Madame Laverdière’s office, as well as Kristina Proulx and Duncan Rayner at Temple Scott and Associates who also helped arrange the reception. Events like this are primarily about awareness, it’s important to remember that there are many different interest groups lobbying the government, so we need to get out there and make some noise!

The reception was held on May 27th and we had representation of several LRP projects at the event, including some virtual reality demos which were a big hit! Big thanks go out to Stéphane Courteau, Matt Dobbs, Maria Drout, Kristine Spekkens and Maclean Rouble for contributing their time and talents! I had some time to give a short speech emphasizing how many world firsts Canadian astronomy has achieved, and importantly for government, the deep innovation that we contribute through our collaborations with industry. At one point we had over 40 people in the reception, and as a measure of its effectiveness we got to talk with more MPs at the event that we normally do in a couple of days of meetings.

In addition to the reception, Nathalie, Rene and I also made some of the more regular visits to MPs offices. We are continuing in the vein of ensuring our message is heard in as many different places and in as many different contexts as possible. We made a special effort to be clear on the fact that while recent investments in the CSA were most welcome, we still need a space strategy that provides clear funding avenues and opportunities for Canadian space astronomy.

With the federal election looming on October 21 we have an interesting time for lobbying ahead. In some ways it is good, those looking to get elected have reasons to listen, but in other ways bad as the focus is on electoral votes and not strategies. However, the Coalition is toying with a couple of potential awareness campaigns that might use this to our advantage. Stay tuned!

Society and Board

The Board is just about to undergo a significant change in its composition. Firstly, I have to pass on huge and heartfelt thanks, I’m sure on behalf of everyone in the society, to James Di Francesco (Secretary), Nicole St-Louis (Treasurer) for their work in these positions over six years! CASCA continues to grow as an organization and both James and Nicole have undertaken exceptionally important roles in that change. The more committees we create and the more awards we have, the more challenging these two roles have become.

In addition to James and Nicole departing, so will Erik Rosolowsky, Samar Safi-Harb and Kristine Spekkens. Great thanks to each of you for all your efforts on behalf of the society and moving forward a number of key portfolios.

At the same time, I have to acknowledge all the tremendous work being done by the various CASCA committees. Your reports and advice are central to our moving our society’s mandate forward, and I know you’re all working harder than ever as the number of pages in committee reports has risen from 34 in 2015 to 92 for the ones submitted this year! The Board has a lot of material to review in our next meeting.

I’ll end with a final thank you to all of the other members who volunteer their time to the operation of CASCA and the success of Canadian astronomy, plus our society Administrator Susan Di Francesco, our IT consultant Jennifer West. We simply can’t function without you.

Happy Summer Solstice!


Canadian Gemini Office News / Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien

By / par Stéphanie Côté (CGO, NRC Herzberg / OGC, CNRC Herzberg)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)

La version française suit


A GHOST has appeared at HAA. The Gemini High-resolution Optical SpecTrograph is the next Gemini facility instrument, and is being built by a team lead by the Australian Astronomical Observatory and including the NRC HAA for the construction of the spectrograph, and the Australian National University (ANU) for instrument control system and data reduction software. The build phase has just been successfully completed in Victoria and the full integration work is starting. The commissioning is scheduled for February 2020.

GHOST will be a workhorse instrument that will provide a wide simultaneous wavelength coverage at high observational efficiency, enabling astronomers to investigate a broad range of science from the composition of the first stars to the characterization of exoplanetary systems to abundance studies of extra-galactic globular clusters. A data reduction pipeline will be delivered with the instrument. GHOST will provide simultaneous wavelength coverage from 363 nm to 950 nm, with two selectable spectral resolution modes: standard-resolution mode with R>50,000 and high-resolution mode with R>75,000. GHOST will spatially sample each target object over a field size of 1.2 arcsec. In standard-resolution mode, GHOST will be able to observe 2 targets simultaneously over a 7.5 arcmin diameter field of view with a radial velocity precision of 600 m/s over the full wavelength. In the high-resolution mode it will provide a radial velocity precision of 10 m/s over the wavelength range from 430 nm to 750 nm.

GHOST consists of three primary components: the Cassegrain unit mounted on the telescope, the spectrograph bench located in the pier lab, and a fiber cable connecting the two. The Cassegrain unit contains the positioning arm system, the object and sky fiber IFUs, and mini-ADCs. The bench spectrograph will be isolated in the Gemini-South telescope pier lab for image and wavelength stability.

Figure 1 – The HAA optical team in front of the GHOST spectrograph bench.

Figure 2 – A view of one of the two Volume-Phase-Holographic grisms for cross-dispersion.

Even Easier than Before to Complete your Gemini Proposal

Please note that the PIT (Phase 1 Tool) will automatically calculate the required time for baseline calibrations and add it to the time request. Just enter for each target the on-source exposure time needed with overheads (acquisition time, readout time, etc.) and PIT will calculate the total time needed for the target. Note that the ITC (Integration Time Calculator) output now gives these overhead estimates. It will list them all with a breakdown of the time needed for each and give a total overhead time. In summary, calculate the required integration time, add the supplements listed by the ITC, put this total in PIT, and PIT will give a grand total time by also adding the baseline calibrations time. For Visitor instruments though, all this will not be automatic and Alopeke and Zorro PIs should include in PIT the program time for PSF standards if they need them, and TEXES PIs must include time for telluric standards in their proposals.

Relax Please!

About 25% of the Gemini queue time that is allocated to the Canadian programs is to fill the Band 3 time. This Band 3 is overfilling the queue with programs that can be observed in more relaxed observing conditions, when there are no suitable band 1 or 2 programs that could use them. Typically we do not receive many proposals requesting these relaxed conditions (such as IQ85% or IQ=Any or Cloud Cover worse than 70%.). Yet many programs just need to achieve a certain signal-to-noise to be successful without the necessity for good seeing, and can thus be completed with these relaxed conditions by integrating longer. The Gemini Integration Time Calculators (ITCs) will help you figure out how much more time you will need to achieve your same goals. Please consider submitting proposals with these relaxed conditions. The Phase1 Tool (PIT) allows you to ask for a time for Band 1/2 conditions and a different time if in Band 3 with Band 3 conditions. Please submit more proposals of all sorts actually! This semester for 2019B we received only 23 Canadian proposals all in all which is the lowest number received in at least the last 15 years. The chance of success at CanTAC is thus quite favorable for your project, and it is therefore a good opportunity to get lots of time for students close to finishing their theses who‘d like to expand into some new projects or more seasoned astronomers willing to try some more risky projects.

Recent Canadian Gemini Press Releases

On June 11 the GPI Exoplanet Survey (GPIES) team announced the results of their analysis of the first 300 young nearby stars observed in the survey. The team, led by Eric Nielsen of Standford, includes many Canadians: Rene Doyon, Julien Rameau (U de Montreal), Christian Marois, Celia Blain, Benjamin Gerard (HAA), Stanimir Metchev (UWO). From the first 300 stars, GPIES has detected six giant planets and three brown dwarfs, which represents the largest, most sensitive direct imaging survey for giant planets published to date. The analysis suggests that brown dwarfs may have formed differently than wide-separation giant planets. It has been a longstanding question as to whether brown dwarfs (objects with masses between that of a small star and a super-planet, but lacking the nuclear fusion in their cores to burn as a star) are born more like stars or planets. Stars form from the top down by the gravitational collapse of large primordial clouds of gas and dust, while planets are thought to form from the bottom up by the assembly of small rocky bodies that then grow into larger ones (core/pebble accretion).

This study finds that whereas more massive brown dwarfs outnumber less massive brown dwarfs, for giant planets the trend is reversed: less massive planets outnumber more massive ones. Moreover, brown dwarfs tend to be found far from their host stars, while giant planets concentrate closer in. These opposing trends point to brown dwarfs forming top-down by gravitational instability (like stars), and giant planets forming bottom-up (core accretion). The press release can be found here.

Join the thousands and thousands of Gemini Observatory followers on Facebook: @GeminiObservatory and Twitter: @GeminiObs


Un GHOST est apparu à HAA. Le Gemini High-resolution Optical SpecTrograph est le nouvel instrument Gemini à voir le jour, il a été construit par une équipe mené par l`Australian Astronomical Observatory et incluant le NRC HAA pour la construction du spectrographe, et l`Australian National University (ANU) pour le système de contrôle de l`instrument et le logiciel de réductions de données. La phase de construction vient tout-juste de se terminer à Victoria et le travail d`intégration débute. La mise-en-service est prévue pour février 2020.

GHOST sera un instrument majeur qui permettra de couvrir simultanément une large plage de longueurs d`ondes avec beaucoup d`efficacité, permettant aux astronomes d`étudier une vaste gamme de sujets tels que la composition des premières étoiles, la caractérisation des systèmes exoplanétaires, ou les études d`abondances d`amas globulaires extragalactiques. Un logiciel de réduction de données sera livré avec l`instrument. GHOST permettra de couvrir simultanément de 363nm à 950nm, avec un choix de deux modes de résolution spectrale : le mode de résolution standard avec R>50,000; et le mode haute résolution avec R>75,000. GHOST pourra échantilloner chaque cible sur un champ de 1.2 secondes d`arc. Dans le mode de résolution standard, GHOST pourra observer simultanément 2 cibles sur un champ de 7.5 minutes d`arc de diamètre et avec une précision de vitesse radiale de 600 m/s sur toute la plage de longueurs d`onde. Dans le mode de haute résolution GHOST pourra atteindre une précision de vitesse radiale de 10 m/s sur une étendue de 430nm à 750nm.

GHOST est consistué de 3 composantes primaires: l`unité Cassegrain montée au télescope, le spectrographe sur banc dans le labo dans le pilier du télescope, et un cable de fibres connectant les deux. L`unité Cassegrain comprend le système de bras de positionnement, les IFUs pour la cible et le ciel, et des mini-ADCs. Le spectrographe sur banc sera isolé dans le labo dans le pilier du télescope Gemini-Sud pour une plus grande stabilité spatiale et spectrale.

Figure 1 – L`équipe optique de HAA devant le spectrographe GHOST.

Figure 2 – Vue d`un des deux grismes VPH pour la dispersion croisée.

Encore plus facile qu`avant de compléter votre demande de temps Gemini

Veuillez noter que PIT (Phase 1 Tool) dorénavant calcule automatiquement le temps requis pour les calibrations de base et ajoute ce temps au temps demandé tel qu`affiché dans la demande. Il vous suffit d`enter pour chaque cible le temps d`intégration requis incluant les suppléments de temps (`overheads` tels que les temps d`acquisition, temps de lecture, etc) et PIT calculera le temps total requis pour chaque cible. Notez que les ITCs (Integration Time Calculators) donnent maintenant des estimées de ces suppléments de temps. Ils seront listés un à un avec le temps estimé pour chacun et la somme du temps total requis en supplément. En résumé, calculez le temps d`intégration requis, ajoutez les suppléments listés par le ITC, mettez ce total dans PIT et PIT donnera un grad total en ajoutant aussi les calibrations de base. Pour les instruments Visiteurs par contre cela n`est pas automatique et les PIs de demandes Alopeke and Zorro devront inclure dans PIT le temps nécessaire pour les étoiles standardes PSFs si nécessaires, et pour TEXES le temps pour les standards telluriques.

Relaxez SVP!

Environ 25% de tout le temps Gemini en queue qui soit alloué au Canada est pour remplir la Bande 3 de la queue.Cette Bande 3 sur-remplit la queue avec des programmes qui peuvent être observés dans des conditions météoroloqiues moins demandantes, lorsqu`il n`y a plus de programmes de Bande 1 ou 2 qui puissent les utiliser. Bien souvent nous ne recevons pas beaucoup de demandes de temps demandant ces conditions plus relaxes (telles IQ85% ou IQ=Any ou Cloud Cover plus que 70%.). Pourtant plusieurs programmes ont simplement besoin d`atteindre un certain signal-sur-bruit pour réussir sans aucune nécessité pour un bon seeing, et ainsi peuvent être completer adéquatement sous des conditions plus relaxes en integrant plus longtemps. Les Calculateurs de Temps d`Intégration de Gemini (ITCs) vous aideront à trouver combine de temps supplémentaire sera nécessaire pour atteindre vos objectifs. SVP pensez à soumettre des demandes avec ces conditions plus relaxes. Le Phase 1 Tool (PIT) vous permet de demander un temps pour des conditions de Bandes 1-2 et un temps différent pour la Bande 3 avec des conditions de Bande 3. En fait SVP soumettez plus de demandes de toutes sortes! Ce semestre 2019B nous n`avons reçu que 23 demandes Canadiennes en tout, ce qui est notre total le plus bas depuis au moins 15 ans. Vos projets ont donc de très bonnes chances de succès au CanTAC, et ceci est donc une bonne opportunité d`obtenir beaucoup de temps pour des étudiant(e)s près de terminer leur thèse et qui souhaitent étendre leurs intérêts vers de nouveaux projets ou pour les astronomes plus chevronné(e)s qui aimeraient tenter des projets plus risqués.

Communiqués de presse canadiens récents

Le 11 juin dernier l`équipe du GPI Exoplanet Survey (GPIES) a annoncé les résultats de leur analyse des premières 300 étoiles jeunes proches observées dans ce sondage. L`équipe, dirigée par Eric Nielsen de Standford, inclut plusieurs Canadien(nes): Rene Doyon, Julien Rameau (UdeMontreal), Christian Marois, Celia Blain, Benjamin Gerard (HAA), Stanimir Metchev (UWO). Sur les 300 premières étoiles, GPIES a détecté six planètes géantes et trois naines brunes, ce qui représente le sondage par imagerie directe le plus important et le plus sensible réalisé à ce jour pour les planètes géantes. L’analyse suggère que les naines brunes pourraient s’être formées différemment des planètes géantes à séparation large. La question se pose depuis longtemps de savoir si les naines brunes (objets dont les masses se situent entre celles d’une petite étoile et d’une super-planète, mais dépourvues de la fusion nucléaire dans leur centre pour brûler comme une étoile) se forment plutôt comme des étoiles ou des planètes. Les étoiles se forment de haut en bas par l’effondrement gravitationnel de grands nuages primordiaux de gaz et de poussière, alors que les planètes sont supposées se former de bas en haut par l’assemblage de petits corps rocheux et poussières qui s`assemblent ensuite pour devenir plus grands (accrétion de noyaux/galets).

Selon cette étude, alors que les naines brunes plus massives sont plus nombreuses que les naines brunes moins massives, la tendance est inversée pour les planètes géantes: les planètes plus massives sont moins nombreuses que les moins massives. De plus, les naines brunes ont tendance à se trouver loin de leurs étoiles hôtes, tandis que les planètes géantes se concentrent plus près. Ces tendances opposées indiquent que les naines brunes se forment par instabilité gravitationnelle (comme les étoiles) alors que les planètes géantes se forment de bas en haut (accrétion de galets). Vous pouvez lire le communiqué de presse ici.

Rejoignez les milliers et milliers de suiveurs de l’Observatoire Gemini sur Facebook: @GeminiObservatory et Twitter: @GeminiObs.

Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) Update

By / par Patrick Hall (MSE Management Group Member)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)

Updated Detailed Science Case

The Detailed Science Case for the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer: 2019 Edition is now available as arXiv:1904.04907 or from the redesigned MSE website. This document relied on input from the MSE Science Team (380 members worldwide and counting – join today!), particularly the leads of the eight science working groups.

Major pillars in the science program for MSE include (i) the ultimate Gaia follow-up facility for understanding the chemistry and dynamics of the distant Milky Way, including the outer disk and faint stellar halo at high spectral resolution (ii) galaxy formation and evolution at cosmic noon, via the type of revolutionary surveys that have occurred in the nearby Universe, but now conducted at the peak of the star formation history of the Universe (iii) derivation of the mass of the neutrino and insights into inflationary physics through a cosmological redshift survey that probes a large volume of the Universe with a high galaxy density.

The Science Team has also responded to a survey about the balance between science requirements and instrument capabilities as described in the MSE Conceptual Design, in particular as relates to the HR resolution and the LMR H-band capabilities. Later this year, the Science Team will begin work on a Design Reference Survey to demonstrate quantitatively the science and survey capabilities of MSE during the first two years of science operations.

MSE Development in Canada: SoU, ACURA, and CFI proposal

MSE has completed its Conceptual Design Phase, and a Statement of Understanding (SoU) governing the Preliminary Design Phase is ready for signature by the MSE participants. The ACURA Institutional Council will vote on becoming the Canadian signatory on this SoU at its meeting after CASCA this June. Signatories to the SoU are under no financial obligation to MSE; the SoU merely specifies how any contributions that are made from signatories will be valued by the MSE project.

To secure a substantial Canadian share in MSE, funding will have to be secured from peer-reviewed grants such as CFI. To that end, work led by U. Victoria Prof. Colin Bradley continues on a substantial (~$20M) CFI request for University and industry partners to complete design work on numerous MSE subsystems. To date, MSE internal proposals have been approved at Victoria, UBC, Waterloo, and St. Mary’s, with proposals still under review at York, McGill, Western, Manitoba, and Toronto.

Partnership Plan, Budget, Timeline, and Long-Term Planning Submissions

The MSE Management Group will soon circulate a draft partnership plan for MSE during construction and operations phases. MSE has elements of both a facility and a survey (e.g., SDSS). 80% of the observing time will be used for legacy-style surveys (durations of several years), solicited from and developed by the partner community via regular calls. 20% of the time (over 10 million fiber-hours in the first 5 years) will be used for smaller strategic programs. In the draft partnership plan, partners will be able to participate in all legacy surveys and will have access to all legacy survey data, and partners will have access to a share of the strategic survey time proportional to their contributions to the overall MSE budget. (If you have an interest in weighing in on the draft MSE partnership plan, contact either of your MSE MG reps.)

The cost of MSE based on the Conceptual Design is US$328M base cost + $86M risk cost, with the telescope and spectrographs being the largest contributors to that budget. A technically paced schedule with CFHT decommissioning in mid-2024 yields MSE science commissioning beginning in 2029. Preliminary design phase technical and partnership work will refine those numbers, but it remains the case that MSE is the only 8-meter class wide-field optical/near-infrared spectroscopic facility (as opposed to instrument) in the design stages.

To that end, MSE-related white papers and white paper notices of intent have been submitted to the LRP and the Astro2020 long-term planning exercises by the Project Office and by scientists interested in MSE. These submissions review specific science goals achievable with MSE and the design and planning work underway for it.

Speaking of which, the MSE Project Office is hiring a Systems Engineer – see the job ad here.


MSE presentations formed part of the triennial CFHT User’s Meeting held in Montreal from May 20-22. Presentations by Doug Simons (CFHT and MSE), Alan McConnachie (MSE Overview), Daniel Huber (Stellar Astrophysics and Exoplanets), Daryl Haggard (Time Domain Science), Michael Balogh (Galaxy Formation and Evolution), and Will Percival (Cosmology) can be found here.

MSE will also have a presence at the CASCA meeting in Montreal; more about that meeting in the next Cassiopeia.

For Further Information

For any questions about MSE, contact your MSE Management Group representatives – Laura Ferrarese and Patrick Hall – or your MSE Science Advisory Group members – Sarah Gallagher and Kim Venn.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)

CATAC has submitted a committee report to the LRP2020 panel. This report summarizes the recent history of Canada’s involvement with TMT, including issues related to construction and funding. It is a useful overview of our position in this important project, and is available both from the LRP panel report directory, and on our own webpage.

While the TMT International Observatory (TIO) now has the legal right to begin construction on Maunakea, there is still preparation work to be done. This includes applying for various permits which have expired and, importantly, coordinating with stakeholders including other Observatory Directors, the local police force, politicians, and residents. We expect that construction will restart sometime this northern summer.

In April CATAC published a revised draft of its recommendations on TMT instrumentation after first light. This was presented during the ACURA lunch session on Wed June 19, at this year’s annual CASCA meeting at McGill. A discussion was started at that session, but it is not too late to send us your feedback. CATAC needs to hear your ideas and ambitions so we can help ensure Canadian interests are well represented at the Board and SAC.

The next TMT Science Forum will be November 4-6 2019, in Xiamen, China. Please consider attending! ACURA will again be providing some travel support for University-based researchers to attend this meeting. Requests can be directed to

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)
Rob Thacker (CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Kim Venn (Science Governor for Canada on 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)

Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Update

By / par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)

For more information and updates on the SKA:

There have been exciting developments in the SKA project over the last six months. This article summarizes developments in the design and governance of SKA1 – the first phase of the SKA facility that is scheduled to begin construction early in the next decade – over the last ~6 months.

The SKA1 Baseline Design is mature, and the focus of the SKA Organisation (SKAO) over the last several months has been the planning and execution of SKA1 element consortia critical design reviews (CDRs; see Figure 1). Seven of the nine SKA1 element consortia have completed CDR and closeout and have since dissolved, with outstanding work being carried out by the SKAO during a Bridging Phase that is expected to last another year. Notably, the Canada-led Central Signal Processor (CSP) achieved a major milestone in late 2018 by completing its CDR, which passed with “no action” (the only consortium to have received this high rating) to mark the end of nearly six years of development work. The Low-Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA) consortium has passed CDR, and closeout is pending. Only outstanding element CDR is that for the Dish (DSH) consortium, which has been scheduled for Q1 2020 to provide enough time for prototyping lessons learned to be incorporated into the design and for outstanding IP issues to be resolved. SKA1 system CDR is scheduled for Q4 2019, an externally-reviewed bottom-up Cost Book is planned for Q2 2020 and construction is currently projected to start in Q2 2021.

Figure 1 – Illustration of SKA1 consortia and their progress towards CDR. Green circles indicate consortia for which CDR + closeout is complete; those consortia have been dissolved. The CSP consortium led by Canada is highlighted. The orange circle around the Low Frequency Aperture Array (LFAA) consortium indicates that CDR is complete but closeout is ongoing. The orange arc around DSH indicates an upcoming CDR (scheduled for Q1 2020). System CDR is scheduled for Q4 2019. An interactive infographic with up-to-date CDR information can be found at Image adapted from SKAO infographic.

As SKA1 transitions from pre-construction to construction, governance of the project will transition from the SKAO, a not-for-profit company in the UK, to an intergovernmental organisation (IGO) that is established by treaty convention. A signing ceremony for the IGO Treaty Convention and Final Record was held in March 2019, and seven countries have insofar signed the Convention to become Founding Members of the IGO: Australia, China, Italy, Portugal, South Africa, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The IGO will come into existence when the treaty is ratified by five of these signatories, and the IGO is currently anticipated to become fully functional in Q4 2020, at which time the IGO council is expected to take full control of the project. In the interim, a Council Preparatory Task Force (CPTF) is representing the interests of current and anticipated IGO signatories and drafting accession, procurement and IP policy among other goals.

It is still possible for Canada to sign and ratify the Convention to join the IGO if governmental approval is obtained, but the sovereign nature of an IGO treaty makes that option unattractive to lawmakers. Instead, it remains most likely that Canada will participate in SKA1 via some form of Associate Membership, a position that is now shared with New Zealand. The terms of Associate Membership will need to be negotiated with the IGO Council, which will not come into force until the IGO Convention is ratified. This key policy is currently being developed by the CPTF for handover to the Council when it comes into force. Governmental permission for NRC to participate in the CPTF would therefore be an important step towards clarifying Canada’s options for participating in SKA1, and negotiations on this front are progressing well.

ALMA Matters


From / de Gerald Schieven (ALMA)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)

Cycle 7 Supplemental Call and Distributed Peer Review

In Cycle 7, ALMA will offer an ACA (7m array plus total power) stand-alone Supplemental Call for Proposals. It is anticipated that the Supplemental Call will be released on 3 September 2019 with a proposal deadline on 1 October 2019. Since the Supplemental Call will follow the Main Call by five months, the Supplemental Call will maximize the scientific output of the ACA by allowing more timely science to be proposed. Proposals accepted in the Supplemental Call will be scheduled for observations between January 2020 and September 2020.

This call will also be the first test of the Distributed Peer Review (DPR) process, which the observatory is planning to use for the main call in Cycle 9. Proposals submitted in the Supplemental Call will be peer reviewed using a distributed system in which each proposal team selects a designated reviewer to participate in the review process. The designated reviewer may be the PI of the proposal or one of the co­-Is.

Each designated reviewer will be responsible for reviewing ten proposals submitted in the Supplemental Call. Each submitted proposal will be ranked by ten reviewers, and the final ordered list of proposals will be determined by an average of the ten reviewers’ rankings. If a designated reviewer does not submit their reviews and ranks by the review deadline, the proposal for which they were identified as the reviewer will be rejected.

For more information about the supplemental call and DPR process, including a list of frequently-asked-questions, see the article in the ALMA Science Portal under the Proposing tab.

Cycle 7 Proposal Statistics

The deadline for the main call for proposals for Cycle 7 was April 17. There were 1785 proposals submitted, requesting 19,338 hours of 12m array time and 9019 hours of 7m array time. This is down slightly from Cycle 6 with 1839 proposals requesting 19,705 and 13,614 hours respectively. The full report on Cycle 7 submission statistics can be viewed on the ALMA Science Portal. PIs from Canadian institutions submitted 43 proposals requesting 6,174 hours and 3067 hours of 12m and 7m array time respectively. This is also down slightly from Cycle 6, but still yielding an oversubscription rate (PI time requested vs the “nominal” Canadian fraction of North American time available) of 5.4 for the 12m array, and 2.9 for the 7m array.

New Horizons in Planetary Systems Conference

The 2019 NAASC science conference was held in Victoria, BC from 13-17 May. The conference, “New Horizons in Planetary Systems”, brought together researchers working on protoplanetary disks, debris disks, exoplanets and outer solar system science for a week of presentations and discussion about the constraints on planetary formation and evolution from all these subfields. In all, 140 researchers attended the meeting (see Figure 1). Feedback has been uniformly positive, which participants from all fields reporting how interesting they found the presentations outside their own areas of expertise. Work from ALMA and the New Horizons mission to MU69 was strongly highlighted, and the New Horizons Mission was the subject of a public talk associated with the meeting, given by Deputy Project Scientist Kelsi Singer.

Figure 1 – Conference participants.

In the News

Readers of this newsletter will have been hibernating if they missed the release, April 10, of the first ever image resolving the event horizon of a black hole. The Event Horizon Telescope is a worldwide consortium of astronomers and observatories, including ALMA which played a pivotal role in the observations. The image (seen in Figure 2) reveals the shadow of the event horizon of a supermassive black hole. Results from this campaign appeared as a series of articles published in Volume 875 of the Astrophysical Journal. The press release is available here.

Figure 2 – Image of the shadow of the event horizon of a supermassive black hole.

ADMIT Data Products

Recent recipients of ALMA data will have noticed that there are extra files along with their calibrated uv data. These are data products produced using ADMIT, The ALMA Data MIning Toolkit, which provide spectral line identification, moment maps, etc. In addition to the pipeline products, users can utilize ADMIT to perform a suite of spectral analysis tasks. More information about ADMIT can be found here.

ALMA2019: Science Results and Cross-Facility Synergies

The 2019 ALMA-wide conference, Science Results and Cross-Facility Synergies, will be held October 14-18 in Cagliari, Sardinia. The conference will focus the full breadth of ALMA science, with special emphasis on results from the first rounds of ALMA Large Programmes, the long baselines and high frequency capabilities, the new Solar and VLBI modes, as well as the synergy between ALMA and other observatories. Although the deadline is not until July 31, registration at the conference is already full and there is a waiting list.

Long Range Plan / Plan à long terme 2020

From / de Pauline Barmby, Bryan Gaensler (LRP2020 co-chairs / co-présidents PLT2020)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)

La version française suit

Long Range Plan 2020

LRP2020 is underway! By the time you read this, the first in-person events, at the 2019 CASCA annual meeting in Montreal, will have taken place. These include an overview presentation by the co-chairs and “state of the field” presentations by CASCA standing committees. Over 70 teams submitted expressions of interest for white papers, which are due on September 30, 2019. Following the white paper deadline, a series of town halls, including a special town hall focused on space astronomy, will take place in October and November.

As always, the latest news on LRP2020 is available from the webpage and the Slack workspace. The panel can be contacted at and the co-chairs at

Plan à long terme 2020

Le PLT2020 est en cours! Au moment où vous lisez ceci, les premiers événements en personne, lors de la réunion annuelle de la CASCA en 2019 à Montréal, auront déjà eu lieu. Celles-ci incluent une présentation générale des coprésidents et des présentations sur l’état du terrain par les comités permanents de la CASCA. Plus de 70 équipes ont manifesté leur intérêt aux livres blancs, qui doivent être remis au 30 septembre 2019. Après la date d’échéance pour les livres blancs, une série d’assemblées publiques, notamment une assemblée spéciale sur l’astronomie spatiale, aura lieu en octobre et novembre.

Comme toujours, les nouvelles sur PLT2020 peut être trouvé sur la page Web et à Slack. La groupe peut être contacté à et les co-présidents à

News from the JCMT

By / par Chris Wilson, McMaster University (JCMT Board member for Canada)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2019)


There have been a lot of exciting new scientific results from the JCMT in the last 6 months. Probably the most famous of these was the announcement by the team from the Event Horizon Telescope (of which JCMT is a component) of the imaging of the black hole shadow in M87. This black hole also has a Hawai`ian name, Powehi, largely due to outreach efforts by the Deputy Director of the JCMT, Dr. Jessica Dempsey.

Another big splash was the discovery of rapidly spinning jets from the V404 Cygni black hole in our own Galaxy, recently published in Nature (Miller-Jones et al., 2019). Previous work by Dr. Alex Tatarenko and her collaborators with the JCMT and the SMA had demonstrated the rapidly evolving nature of this jet and laid the groundwork for the recently-published VLBA observations.

Results continue to pour out from the JCMT large programs, including the second paper from the JINGLE nearby galaxy survey by Dr. Matt Smith et al., which describes in detail the data reductions methods used to process SCUBA-2 observations of faint but somewhat extended targets.

Observing and Proposals

The weather has improved significantly in the 19A semester, ending a period of extremely poor weather that had lasted for more than a year.

The next call for proposals (for 20A) will come out in August and will be due 15 September 2019. This call will include both PI and Large Programs. Details about the large program call can be found here.

I anticipate that Canadians will be eligible to apply for PI time on the JCMT for semester 20A. (We were not eligible in 19B because of the ramp down of operations contributions due to the end of the NSERC RTI Operations and Maintenance grant.) Band 5 weather continues to be undersubscribed and so good ideas to use this weather are strongly encouraged. By 20A we should again have a working 230 GHz-band receiver on the JCMT (see next section).

New and Future Instrumentation

The 230 GHz-band receiver, RxA3m, was retired from the telescope in June 2018 due to increasing problems with helium leaks in its cryostat, among other problems. A replacement receiver called Namakanui was originally scheduled to be on the telescope by March 2019 but due to various issues is now expected to be available in semester 19B. This receiver is based on the 3-band receiver design being used at the Greenland Telescope; the 230 GHz-band cartridge is known as U’u.

The EAO held a very successful “Submillimetre Futures” meeting in Nanjing May 20-23, 2019. A major focus of this meeting was plans for a new 850 micron camera to replace SCUBA-2. Preliminary designs suggest that a camera with a 12 arcminute-wide field of view and higher sensitivity detectors would have a mapping speed up to 20 times faster than SCUBA-2. It will also have excellent polarization capabilities. All talks from the meeting can be viewed at the meeting web site.

The EAO is soliciting White Papers in support of this new 850 micron camera, with a deadline of June 30, 2019. More information can be found on the JCMT web site and on the EAO futures discussion wiki.

A team of Canadian universities led by McMaster is preparing a proposal for the CFI 2020 Innovation Fund competition to seek to contribute funding to this new 850 micron camera.

Upcoming Meetings

The 2019 JCMT Users Meeting will be held in Taipei, Taiwan November 6-7, 2019. A JCMT workshop covering from proposing to data analysis will be held November 5 and November 8 will be set aside for Large Program side meetings. For more information, please visit the large program website.

JCMT website

2018 Plaskett Medal

CASCA is pleased to announce Dr. Gwendolyn Eadie as the 2018 recipient of the J. S. Plaskett Medal.

Dr. Eadie completed her doctoral studies at McMaster University under the supervision of Dr. William Harris. In her thesis entitled “Lights in Dark Places: Inferring the Milky Way Mass Profile using Galactic Satellites and Hierarchical Bayes”, she developed a high-level statistical method to derive the mass and mass distribution within astrophysical systems. Mass is a fundamental variable driving the evolution of galaxies like our Milky Way, but it is notoriously difficult to measure due to the fact that it is dominated by the dark matter extending well beyond the visible starlight. This challenge is compounded by incomplete data on the positions and velocities of “tracer particles” such as stars, star clusters and dwarf satellites scattered through the galaxy’s halo. Dr. Eadie developed a powerful Bayesian formulation of the problem combined with Markov Chain Monte Carlo calculations of the relevant parameters in the problem and their probability distributions. Her formulation also included a hierarchical treatment of measurement uncertainties for each tracer. She used it to place a new constraint on the mass profile and total mass of the Milky Way, and it will be a very powerful tool in the exploitation of future very large datasets from the Gaia mission and the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST). .

CASCA congratulates Dr. Eadie on the receipt of the 2018 Plaskett medal for her groundbreaking work to shed light on the dark side of our Milky Way galaxy and other corners of the Universe.