Canadian Astronomy, Racism, and the Environment – Part 2

By / par Martine and Pamela Freeman, with input from the CASCA Sustainability Committee (The CASCA Sustainability Committee, The CASCA Equity & Inclusivity Committee)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

The CASCA Sustainability Committee is a group of astronomers concerned about our field’s contributions to environmental damage. This article is the second of a 2-part series in Cassiopeia which aims to bring more awareness within the astronomical community to the connections between race and the environment. It is also part of our committee’s effort to center perspectives often neglected in predominantly-white environmental groups.

Part 2: Astronomy Activities at Home and Abroad

In our previous article (1), we summarized the growing body of evidence demonstrating that the fallout from climate change will disproportionately impact people of color and Indigenous populations both globally and within Canada. Astronomers have been coming to grips with the excessive carbon emissions associated with professional astronomy (2,3), as well as with the manifestations of systemic racism in our field (4,5). These inequities must be recognized and sustainable practices must be proposed in ways that center racial (and other forms of) equity. In this article, we briefly review how the history of Western astronomy led to systemic racism and Eurocentrist practices within the field today. We next discuss how our field’s environmental impacts play into broader global patterns, and follow with a discussion of the combined environmental and cultural impact at observatories located on Indigenous territory. We propose rough guidelines to move us toward a more equitable and sustainable future.

Much of modern astronomy in Canada was made possible by settler colonialism (the formation of a governance system through the invasion of outsiders with the aim of assimilating or erasing Indigenous peoples, 6). Some of the oldest examples include renowned observations during European expeditions to the Caribbean (7) as well as the important role astronomy played in building Canada through government-sponsored mandates for timekeeping and mapmaking (8,9). As with most institutions in Canada today, a great deal of our astronomy resources — such as observatories (10,11), university buildings (12,13), and funds (14,15) — were facilitated by colonization. The benefits from these resources have gone primarily to Europeans and Euro-descendants. In the university setting today, astronomers’ participation in the settler colonialist framework is reflected by the severe underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous faculty as well as the exclusion and devaluation of Indigenous and non-Western knowledge within academic circles (16). Systemic racism in professional astronomy is, in part, a legacy of our profession’s historic and ongoing ties with colonialism.

As in the past, astronomy today benefits from environmental damage which is particularly damaging to Indigenous, Black, and other people of color. Although our field is not on the same level as the most egregious perpetrators of environmental racism (e.g. the oil industry and chemical plants), our impacts are non-negligible and we have a responsibility to do better. Our per-capita emissions from work alone, mostly from air travel, are typically well-beyond the average working person’s total emissions (2,3). As a predominantly white institution, therefore, Canadian astronomy is part of a North American pattern in which white people produce a much higher percentage of pollution than people of color, while a higher percentage of non-white people suffer the related health effects (17). Our emissions also contribute to a global pattern where the Global South bears the brunt of a climate crisis mostly perpetrated by the Global North (see part 1 and links therein). In addition, many of our observatories are situated on unceded or contested Indigenous lands both within Canada and internationally, where they impact the local environment and contribute to the global climate crisis. In Canada, the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO), including the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), is situated on the unceded lands of the Syilx/Okanagan (18) as well as the Nlaka’pamux people (19). In addition, the Algonquin Radio Observatory (ARO) is on the unceded land of the Omàwinini (Algonquin) people, which is part of the largest land claim being negotiated in Ontario today (20,21).

Of all the Canada-affiliated observatories, those on Maunakea on Hawai’i Island are the most well-publicized example where environmental and cultural concerns intersect. Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) views on the present and future of Maunakea Observatories (e.g. TMT) are diverse, ranging from strong support to strong opposition (22) with a variety of reasoning (see 23 for a Native Hawaiian-led overview of the issues). However, an oft-cited concern among the kia’i (protectors) is the environmental degradation of the mountain, considered sacred to many people (23, 24, 25). Many Hawaiians cite the concept of aloha ‘āina when discussing Maunakea, which translates to ‘love of the land’ and describes a deep relationship to nature (26, 27). Some TMT opponents are concerned about impacts to the water, destruction of rare species on the mountain, and hazardous spills (26, 28). Although mountain management plans are attempting to mitigate such impacts (29), these concerns stem from the previous damage that astronomy’s presence has had on the mountain (23,28). Canadian astronomy also benefits from other observatories on Indigenous territory both at home and abroad. Generally, increased activity in these lands (observers’ flights, frequent truck transport, occasional waste spills, etc.) and telescopes’ electricity usage add up to a high environmental footprint (30,31,32). Environmental impacts are coupled with impacts on culture, health, and well-being for Indigenous communities (32, 33, 34).

We encourage readers to think about steps that will move our field towards an equitable and sustainable future. The Sustainability Committee is working in partnership with the Equity and Inclusivity Committee to address some of the concerns put forth in this article. While we (the authors) lack the expertise to make direct recommendations for telescopes, we suggest that existing observatories regularly assess their environmental impacts in partnership with local Indigenous representatives and in doing so, center Indigenous methods. Indigenous-led recommendations for telescope consultation (e.g. 23, 35) should be followed in the consideration of new facilities and the re-consideration of existing facilities; environmental improvements cannot be a band-aid for unethically established observatories. Progress is possible: ALMA, for example, has programs for scientists to learn from, teach, and help preserve the culture of the local Likan Antai community (10). Meanwhile, recent developments at various ESO observatories (30, 36) and Gemini (37) have reduced environmental impacts.

Beyond telescopes, we encourage readers to consider the intersection of sustainability and equity in topics such as conferences, observing, computing resources, university spaces, and the perceived correlation of success with travel (see 38 for further discussion). As a field, steps that we make to reduce our carbon footprint should also prioritize racial (and other forms of) equity. Sustainability and equity must go hand-in-hand: sustainability can help address the increasing power and wealth gaps in the world, while equitable approaches are necessary for successful sustainability efforts.



About the authors: Martine and Pamela are both white settlers on Turtle Island (North America). Martine is a graduate student at the University of Toronto, on the traditional lands of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River. Pamela is a graduate student at the University of Calgary located on the traditional lands of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Stoney Nakoda, and the Tsuut’ina First Nation, and the homeland of the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. We acknowledge our settler and white privileges and will continue learning and working towards greater equity in astronomy.

Update on CASTOR

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

CASTOR continues to move forward to fulfil its ranking as the top LRP2020 priority for space astronomy. The following steps have been taken in the past quarter.

  1. The substantial technical (STDP) contract is in final stages of being signed, and is expected to kick off officially by early April. The work will advance vital mission technology and retire risks in a) advancing the opto-mechanical design for the 1m off-axis wide-field telescope; b) designing and testing the large focal plane array concept with flight-like detectors; c) lab-testing the proposed fast-steering mirror for fine guiding; d) incorporating and adding detectors to the multi-slit spectrograph in design in India; and e) developing the concept for bright-star precision photometry of exoplanet transits. The work will be in close partnership with the Indian and JPL teams.
  2. Formal discussions are now under way between CSA and ISRO on a joint mission. The agreed concept is that of CASTOR, and an initial proposed split of the hardware and operation responsibilities has been agreed, subject to more detailed discussions. Along with the anticipated detector involvement by JPL, this will form the basis of a Canada-led proposal for funding from the government. ISRO will work in close step in a proposed schedule that will see CASTOR launched in late 2027.
  3. Plans are evolving for involving the Universities via ACURA, consultation with the government via the Coalition, and outreach activities within the CASTOR science team. CASTOR will have a town-hall event (on Thursday May 13) at the upcoming virtual CASCA Annual Meeting. Talks have been given by CASTOR team members at meetings in UK and India.
  4. CSA is on track to approve and begin a phase 0 study in parallel with the technical contract work, to refine costs and detail moving into a funded phase A-E sequence to take CASTOR to launch and operation.

This year will be an important one in defining the partnership and pitching the mission to government. With its wide range of science capability, it will be a major facility for the astronomy community, and those interested in joining in are encouraged. In particular, there exist numerous opportunities for student participation; for more information, students are encouraged to attend the CASCA town hall session and/or the CaTS (Canadian Telescope Seminar) talk in June, which will be dedicated to CASTOR.

More information on the mission may be found here.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

In our last article we provided some detail and references on the state of the TMT project, the informal NSF outreach process, US ELTP activity, and other relevant processes and discussions happening on Hawaii around land use and the issue of consent. These activities continue. As detailed in that report, the next major milestone will be the release of the US Astro2020 recommendations, in mid-2021. A top ranking in this report is essential for NSF engagement (expected to be at the level of at least 25%) and the viability of the project. Should the NSF accept the ELTP proposal, NSF will conduct an in-depth Preliminary Design Review, likely in late 2021. Acceptance will also trigger a federal Environmental Impact Statement that will take about three years to complete. In the meantime we have only a few updates:

  • Following the retirement of Gary Sanders, Fengchuan Liu has been appointed Acting Project Manager. Fengchuan has been the Deputy Project Manager at TMT since 2015; prior to that he was a Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL). He brings a lot of experience and talent to this role and is already having a positive impact.
  • At the end of 2020, the independent evaluation of the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) was released. You can access the full report here. The report was prepared for the Department of Land and Natural Resources by Ku`iwalu and includes both a self-assessment by the Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM) and a public assessment based on input to the review process. This evaluation found that the OMKM has made significant progress in several areas, and in particular is, in many regards, “effectively managing the activities and uses on Mauna Kea to better protect the natural and cultural resources''. However, they also found that OMKM has not effectively implemented the CMP in three major areas: timely adoption of administrative rules; consultation with members of the Native Hawaiian community on matters related to cultural and resources issues; and engagement with the community on education and outreach efforts. On February 4, House Speaker Scott Saiki announced that he would like to see a new management structure of Mauna Kea to replace UH. UH issued a strong response, defending their commitment to improving stewardship of Maunakea. On March 4, the Hawaii State House of Representatives passed two resolutions to form a working group which will develop recommendations for the future governance of Maunakea. We expect more key developments regarding management of these lands as the year progresses.
  • The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory recently became the first telescope on Mauna Kea to submit its site decommissioning plan for approval. The draft was approved by OMKM, and the aim is for deconstruction and site restoration work to begin in summer 2022.

Finally, we remind you that the next TMT Science forum will take place June 26-29, 2022 at UBC in Vancouver.

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)

Graduate Student Highlights

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

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

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

Mainak Singha — University of Manitoba

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

Figure 1

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

Vivian Tan — York University

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

Figure 2

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

Jessica Campbell — University of Toronto

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

Figure 3

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

Robert Bickley — University of Victoria

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

Figure 4

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

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

Long Range Plan 2020

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

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

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

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

President’s Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2020)

The recently published Canadian LRP2020 recommends, as its top priority for large ground-based facilities, “that Canada participate in a very large optical telescope (VLOT), and that this participation be at a level that provides compelling opportunities for Canadian leadership in science, technology and instrumentation”. The report notes further that this access is best implemented through “continued participation in TMT, either at the currently proposed Maunakea site or at the scientifically acceptable alternative of Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos”. This is consistent with past recommendations and reaffirms the importance of VLOT access for the Canadian optical/infrared astronomy community in the coming decades. The leadership opportunities provided by TMT (or any VLOT) depend to some degree on the final share, governance model and construction timeline. CATAC expects that there will be more certainty about those factors over the next year, but with the information available today we agree that participation in TMT (at either site) represents the best route to fulfill the goals of the LRP.

LRP2020 also recommends developing and adopting “a comprehensive set of guiding principles for the locations of astronomy facilities and associated infrastructure in which Canada participates. These principles should “be centred on consent from the Indigenous Peoples and traditional title holders who would be affected by any astronomy project”. CATAC is aware that many Canadians are very concerned about how TMT construction in Hawai’i can be consistent with these principles, and that there has been important discussion within Canada about this. CATAC has raised these concerns with the Board. Our recommendation for continued support of TMT is based in part on the following considerations:

  • First and foremost, CATAC reaffirms our position that the decision about whether or not TMT is built in Hawaii should be entirely in the hands of the Hawaiian community, and that they are the only ones who should be responsible for defining what consent means within their own constituency.
  • CATAC awaits the full development of the guiding principles recommended by the LRP, which we hope and expect will be consistent with the previous point.
  • Recent developments have led to an opportunity for renewed dialogue within Hawai’i, that CATAC believes is consistent with the views expressed in our LRP, and the white papers on Indigeneous rights submitted to that process. These discussions are taking place among diverse groups, and involve not only TMT but all astronomy on Maunakea, as well as many broader issues of Hawaiian society. We describe some of these developments below, and note there are more details in our recent report to the CASCA Board, which is available on our website. It is vitally important to give these discussions the time and space they need. They are connected to concerns that are much broader than TMT, or astronomy.

Telescope Site, Partnership and Construction Timeline

On August 13, in response to the initial planning proposal for the US Extremely Large Telescope Program (ELTP), the US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the initiation of an informal outreach process to engage people and groups interested in the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project. Hawai’i House Speaker Saiki issued a press release about this on Aug 18. This outreach is a precursor to an NSF decision about whether or not to accept the ELTP proposal and formally join the project.

This engagement on the part of the NSF is welcomed by the TMT International Observatory (TIO) Partners, and brings a new opportunity for a Hawaiian consultation process and formal review, led by a widely respected body. It also establishes a timeline of events that will take place over the next 12-18 months, each of which will provide increasing clarity over the future viability of TMT:

  • The US Astro2020 process is anticipated to release their public report in mid-2021. A top ranking in this report is essential for NSF engagement and the viability of the project. The report may make other recommendations relevant to TMT.
  • Should the NSF accept the ELTP proposal, this will trigger a federal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which will take about three years to complete. Included as part of this review would be the important Section 106 process of the National Historical Protection Act. This would have the significant effect of leading to a federally recognized record of the importance of Maunakea to Hawaiians. Information from the public consultation phase of this process will shed further light on the situation as the review progresses. We note that a federal EIS may also be required at La Palma if the NSF is a partner.
  • Upon acceptance of the proposal, NSF will also conduct an in-depth Preliminary Design Review, likely in late 2021. This is a comprehensive review of all aspects of the project, including operations and a detailed costing.

Assuming TMT construction cannot begin until the EIS has completed (which may not be the case), construction might not start before 2023. An estimate of seven years construction and three years commissioning would mean first science in 2033 or later. The main competition for TMT is the ESO Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) project. The ELT is currently under construction, and current planning anticipates technical first light (TFL ) by the end of 2025, though the COVID-19 pandemic may add some delay. It is planned that all four first-light instruments would be commissioned within two to three years after TFL. Assuming no delays to that project, the gap to TMT science could be six years. But, at this point, there is enough uncertainty in the timeline of both projects that the gap could be larger, or smaller.

In parallel with these NSF-led consultations, there are several other important discussions and activities underway in Hawaii. These include:

  • In May, 2020, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) launched an independent review of the University of Hawaii (UH) management of Maunakea as part of the Master Lease renewal process. The independent Hawaiian consultation group Ku`iwalu, has been engaged to evaluate the effectiveness of the UH and the OMKM in its implementation of the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). Some information about the process underway is available at their website. At the time of launch, the review was expected to conclude by the end of 2020, though this may be delayed.
  • An important part of Governor Ige’s proposed path forward for TMT on Maunakea is the decommissioning of “as many telescopes as possible”. This process is underway, through the OMKM. Decommissioning is a lengthy process, as it involves its own Environmental Assessment and DLNR permit preceding the physical removal of the facility and complete restoration of the site. Decommissioning of the UH-Hilo teaching telescope, Hoku Kea is expected to be completed in 2023. The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory decommissioning is anticipated to be completed in 2022.
  • Multiple groups in Hawaii are meeting to discuss broad issues such as housing, education and land ownership, including the role of astronomy. Among these groups are the Hawai’i Executive Collaborative and the ‘Aina Aloha Economic Futures. Participants in these meetings include TMT opponents. Canadians associated with TMT have also been invited to participate in some of these discussions, though the travel restrictions associated with the pandemic have significantly affected this effort.

Instrumentation Update

The TMT Exoplanet Roadmap Committee is considering the prioritization of desired exoplanet capabilities for planned second-generation TMT instruments: PSI, MICHI and HROS. The prioritization would be a function of the various instrument modes (imaging, spectroscopy, polarimetry) and their implementation (resolution, IFU, choice of wavelengths/bands). Input from the Canadian community is welcome, before mid-January. A short summary of proposed capabilities together with an Excel template for feedback are available on the CATAC web page.

Project Office Update

Dr. Gary Sanders, who has led the TMT Project as Project Manager with distinction since its inception, will retire at the start of 2021. Deputy Project Manager Fengchuan Liu, who has worked closely with Gary and co-directed the project for the last five years, will assume the Project Manager (acting) position while TMT searches for a permanent project manager.

LRP2020 Final Report

Dear Colleagues:

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

We thank everyone who contributed to the LRP process by writing a  white paper, attending a town hall, participating in consultations, or  answering our many requests for information. We would especially like  to recognize the very hard work of the LRP2020 panel members over the  past twenty months.

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

Pauline Barmby & Bryan Gaensler
LRP2020 Co-Chairs

LRP2020 final report

Dear colleagues,

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

We thank everyone who contributed to the LRP process by writing a white paper, attending a town hall, participating in consultations, or answering our many requests for information. We would especially like to recognize the very hard work of the LRP2020 panel members over the past twenty months.
The LRP2020 section on the CASCA website contains links to all of the submitted white papers and reports as well as a summary of the process. The designed and translated versions of the report will be available there once complete.

Pauline Barmby & Bryan Gaensler
LRP2020 Co-Chairs

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing discussions with all stakeholders about site access continue to delay the start of TMT construction, and in mid-July the TMT International Observatory announced that no on-site construction activity would take place this year. However, progress continues to be made on technical components, including development of instrumentation. A notable milestone was the interim Conceptual Design Review of the Wide Field Optical Spectrograph, held in July. This review provided important guidance on the work and planning needed to bring it to a full Conceptual Design level. In addition, over the summer several critical systems completed their Preliminary Design phases and are now ready to move into Final Design. These include the Engineering Sensors System, the Instrumentation Cryogenic Cooling System, and the Optical Cleaning System.

The US-Extremely Large Telescope Project (ELTP) is a collaboration between NSF’s NOIRLab, TMT and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). Its mission is to “strengthen scientific leadership by the US community-at-large through access to extremely large telescopes in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres with coverage of 100 percent of the night sky”. Over the summer, this group has submitted several proposals to the US National Science Foundation (NSF) for the design and planning of the ELTP. In response to one of these proposals, NSF recently issued a three year award to AURA and NOIRLab for the “development of detailed requirements and planning documents for user support services”. See the update here.

The TMT project will face several critical milestones in the next year or so. These will be important for defining the future of the project and addressing some of the questions and concerns that are on the minds of the TMT partners, including Canada. These milestones include:

  • The release of the US Decadal Survey recommendations, expected in the first half of 2021
  • Initial findings from any Environmental Impact Survey (EIS) conducted by the NSF as a result of its engagement in the project
  • The full cost and schedule review that is currently being undertaken by the Project Office

Success at each of these stages is necessary, though not sufficient, for the project to proceed as envisioned.

The alternative site at ORM remains under consideration. CATAC has seen a draft of a report by the Japanese partners on the scientific quality of ORM, which largely comes to the same conclusions we did in our 2017 report. For the time being, we expect the focus to remain on Maunakea until the outcome of the federal EIS is known.

Due to the ongoing discussions and assessments of building on Maunakea, and the processes needed to secure NSF as a new partner, construction may not start until 2023 or later. With a reasonable estimate that first light may not come until about ten years after that (seven years construction plus three years commissioning), science operations with TMT could commence in the mid 2030s. This schedule is not likely to be significantly different if the alternative site is selected. Currently, Canada’s share of the construction costs is estimated to be about 15%, but this will be reevaluated once the Cost Review and negotiations with the NSF are completed.

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)