President’s Message

By / par Sarah Gallagher (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hiver 2023)

Dear CASCA Community,

It has been my great pleasure to work with the CASCA Board and CASCA committees and members since the 2023 AGM to connect our society and advance our priorities as articulated in the 2020 Long Range Plan (LRP). Below, I’ll highlight some key activities to that end.

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has been active this fall lobbying the federal government in support of the CASTOR mission (, our top priority for space astronomy. We have had in-person or virtual meetings with ISED, Finance, the Office of the Chief Science Advisor, and Prime Minister’s Office. In general, the reception was encouraging, but this is a tough budget year. The CASTOR team has put together an impressive portfolio of letters of support from 13 university Vice Presidents of Research, 3 Canadian aerospace companies, and 2 international space agencies that we have submitted as follow up to the meetings. featured the CASTOR mission in a glowing profile. The 2024 budget is expected in March/April timeframe, and we’ll continue our efforts in the new year.

In an effort to increase coordination and communication with ACURA, Gilles Joncas (Executive Director) and I have been meeting monthly. I have also been meeting monthly with Bill Whelan, President of the Canadian Association of Physicists (CAP), to coordinate efforts with our sister society. We are exploring potential ways to partner as well as sharing information about what we are doing on several fronts, including lobbying, outreach, and communications. CAP sent a letter of support for CASTOR that was included with our portfolio. We have endorsed their pre-budget submission as well.

A priority for the coming year is to develop drafts of an updated CASCA mission statement, and new code of conduct and ethics and values statements in time for a vote at the AGM in June 2024. These drafts will be developed in coordination between the Board, the Equity and Inclusivity Committee, and the LRP Community Recommendations Implementation Committee, and circulated well in advance of a vote to get feedback from the community. We consider these documents to be necessary to help us prioritize CASCA activities given our limited human and financial resources.

CASCA has endorsed NSERC’s Dimensions Charter to indicate our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion (LRP Recommendation 37).

My initial commitment to CASCA was to serve for one year, but I have decided to extend this commitment to the full two year term. Working on behalf of the society with our excellent team has been rewarding so far, and I would like another year to advance more of the important work that we have underway.

I wish all CASCA members a restorative holiday break and a happy 2024!

Best wishes, Sarah

President’s Message

par Chris Wilson (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – printemps 2023)

First, some good news: the Federal government has announced its intent to seek full membership for Canada in the Square Kilometre Array Observatory! Congratulations to everyone who has worked to make this a reality. More details can be found in the SKA update in this newsletter.

The CASCA Board has held two regular monthly meetings since my last report. In this report I will focus on 2 major initiatives that are in progress: a review of our ground-based optical/infrared facilities (10m-class and smaller), and a plan for a part-time Westar Lectureship co-ordinator.

In their December 2022 report to the CASCA Board, the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC) recommended that we undertake a thorough review of existing and potential optical/infrared (O/IR) facilities that are or could be accessible to Canadian astronomers. The CASCA Board agreed that the need for this review is sufficiently urgent to scheduling it ahead of the Mid-Term Review (MTR) of the 2020 Long Range Plan that would be carried out in 2025. The O/IR review committee will be tasked with assessing science, technical readiness, schedule, and balance between community desires. I’m very pleased to announce that Doug Welch from McMaster University has agreed to chair this review committee.

In my December 2022 article, I mentioned that the Board had met with several members of the Westar subcommittee. At that meeting, we had discussed the possibility of hiring a co-ordinator to support the revision and expansion of the Westar Lectureship program, and possibly other Education and Public Outreach initiatives as well. Both an expansion of the Westar Lectureship program and an EPO coordinator paid by CASCA were recommendations of the 2020 Long Range Plan. The Westar subcommittee submitted a concrete proposal that the Board considered at our March meeting. This proposal included two options: a part-time Westar-only coordinator position, or a full-time National Outreach Coordinator, with Westar coordination being part of that role. The Board found that a full-time position is not within the scope of CASCA’s current budget without a large increase in dues or via a cost-sharing program with one or more individual universities. Therefore, the Board approved a motion to support a Westar co-ordinator at a part time level for up to 3 years. Final details of the funding available for this position will be reviewed and approved at the next Board meeting.

In other news, all current Board members have now taken some initial Indigenous awareness training by completing the course “4 Seasons of Reconciliation” offered by Reconciliation Education. We submitted our annual performance questionnaire related to IAU activities of the community to NRC in February; thanks to Rob Thacker who took this task off my hands. The CASCA Board also reviewed all applications for new IAU membership and these applications have now been passed on to the relevant IAU review committee. The Board approved an increase in the hourly rate of pay for the CASCA webmaster, who has not had a pay increase in several years. We have also been following up with CASCA members who were in arrears on their dues; thank you to everyone who has renewed recently.

The next CASCA AGM will be held June 13-15, 2023, in Penticton, B.C. This will be our first in-person meeting in 4 years, so I encourage you to attend and bring your students! The CASCA Board is looking for an institution to host the 2024 AGM; if your department is interested in volunteering, please contact CASCA Vice-President Adam Muzzin.

As a reminder, there will be 3 open positions on the CASCA Board for election at the 2023 June AGM: 2 for Director and 1 for President. Please consider standing for election yourself or encouraging other good candidates to stand. Suggestions can be sent to Rob Thacker, who chairs the Nominating Committee, or via the nomination form to the CASCA secretary, Rob Cockcroft.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge that progress continues to be slow on various aspects of Board business. A lot of the CASCA day-to-day work and planning falls on the President, who not only chairs the Board but is also the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation. Unfortunately, I have not been able to devote as much time to CASCA work as I had planned: I caught COVID in early November and have been suffering from first COVID and now long COVID symptoms for the past 4 months. I appreciate your patience if responses to emails are slow or if some aspects of CASCA business take longer to make progress. Special thanks to other members of the Board who are taking on tasks that I would normally be doing, especially Julie Hlavaceck-Larrondo who has been chairing the Board meetings and leading the organization of the optical/infrared review committee.

Wishing you all a good end of semester and looking forward to seeing many of you in Penticton in June,


President’s Message

par Chris Wilson (CASCA Acting President)
(Cassiopeia – été 2022)

I would like to start this President’s report by welcoming the new members of the CASCA Board: Adam Muzzin as Vice President, Rob Cockcroft as Secretary, and Renee Hlozek and Karun Thanjavur as new Directors. Lewis Knee has been acclaimed to a second term as CASCA Treasurer, while Laura Parker and Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo are continuing in their third year as Directors. Thanks to all of you for being willing to serve! Thank you also to the outgoing Board members: Judith Irwin (Secretary), Ivana Damjanov (Director), and Etienne Artigau (Director). A special thank you to Erik Rosolowsky (Acting Vice-President) and Rob Thacker (Acting President) for stepping up to serve in these important CASCA roles last summer.

As those of you who attended the CASCA Business Meeting in May will know, I have agreed to step in to serve as CASCA Acting President for 2022-2023. Like Rob Thacker this past year, I am in this position under Bylaw 9.1, and will not be continuing in this position beyond the 2023 AGM. Thus, in 2023 we will look to elect a new President, as well as two new Directors. More information about the elections, including how to nominate someone or be nominated yourself, will be circulated later this year.

As I have been in the Acting President position for just over a month, this message will provide a short update on a few key areas. I plan to provide a more extensive discussion in my fall message, once I have had more time to review what the CASCA Board has on its “to do” list.

Coalition activities continue to focus on the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), where things appear to be progressing well. The SKA is now one year into construction of SKA Phase 1 and continues to evolve rapidly. Canada’s scientists and engineers are participating in SKA through March 2023 via a co-operation agreement between NRC and the SKAO. To continue our leading role in SKA construction deliverables such as the SKA1-mid correlator will require the Canadian government to commit to construction and operations funding quite soon. Please refer to the excellent article by Kristine Spekkens for more information on the SKA.

Another important initiative that is gaining significant momentum is CASTOR, a Canadian-led optical-UV space telescope and the highest priority in space astronomy in the 2020 Long Range Plan (LRP2020). The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) held a virtual Canadian Space Exploration Workshop June 14-16, 2022, which I am sure many of you attended. The workshop provided an opportunity to discuss ideas for Canadian space exploration over the next 30 years and will serve as input to CSA’s planning process.

The LRP Community Recommendations Implementation Committee (LCRIC) has continued their hard work over the past three months. They hosted a well-attended webinar on “Including Indigenous voices in astronomy education” at the end of March. They have drafted a very important policy paper on land and consent (LRP2020 Recommendation #1) as it relates to new astronomical facilities that has been circulated to the community and was presented and discussed in a special session at the CASCA AGM. Sharon Morsink has taken over as chair of LCRIC for 2022-23 and I look forward to working closely with her and the rest of the LCRIC as they work to move the societal recommendations from LRP2020 forward.

I hope everyone has a healthy and productive summer,


President’s Message

par Chris Wilson (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – l’automne 2022)

The summer is generally a quieter time for society business, as many of us take the opportunity for some vacation and to attend conferences and (dare I say it) do some research. Many of our committees do not meet unless something urgent comes up. The Board skipped its July meeting but had a productive meeting on August 17.

As a regular feature of these reports, I plan to provide a short summary on the steps that the Board is taking to improve and clarify CASCA procedures and governance, for itself, for its committees, and for the membership as a whole. Over the past 3 months, the Board has re-constituted its Action Items list and is starting to work its way through items systematically. There are a lot of items, many of them simple housekeeping, but everything takes some time and attention. The Vice-President and I are each circulating a written report to the Board ahead of the monthly Board meeting, so that the meetings themselves use less time for simple reporting of events and have more time for discussion. CASCA committee membership is now mostly complete, with just a few members remaining to be finalized for LCRIC and CATAC.

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has been fairly quiet over the summer. We took the opportunity of the extensive media coverage around the JWST early images to send LRP2020 and a cover letter to about 40 ministers, staff, and department officials in July. As we do every year, we are working on a 2023 pre-budget submission, which is due October 8. When Parliament resumes Sept 19, I expect Coalition activities will ramp up; we had no meetings with government over the summer.

In TMT news, the National Science Foundation announced the beginning of the scoping process for the TMT project. To quote from an AAS email August 22, “The scoping process is a public comment period for identifying issues to be analyzed during the creation of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and for consultation under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act to evaluate anticipated effects on historic properties on the summit of Maunakea, Hawaiʻi Island, Hawaiʻi. While the scoping process is a standard procedure for all NSF large facilities construction, NSF is also working to implement the community astronomy model outlined in the most recent decadal survey. To that end, NSF also invites the public to comment on NSF’s plans to engage the public in its EIS and Section 106 compliance processes through review of and comment on NSF’s Draft Community Engagement Plan.”

Other reports on progress with our major new initiatives (TMT, SKA, CASTOR, etc.) can be found elsewhere in this issue (or the 2022 Summer Solstice issue).

I want to close this article with a few thoughts on the subject of land and consent, a topic that is the focus of Recommendation #1 from LRP2020 and was the focus of a policy document that the LCRIC shared with the membership in advance of the May 2022 CASCA AGM. It is important to acknowledge my own settler background, as that background affects my perspective on this topic.

LRP Recommendation #1 states (in part): “We recommend that the Canadian astronomical community (e.g., ACURA, CASCA, and NRC-HAA) work together with Indigenous representatives and other relevant communities to develop and adopt 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. “

In thinking about the topic of land and consent in the context of LRP Recommendation #1, probably the most important question that arises is who gives consent for a new facility to be built on Indigenous lands.

UNDRIP, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, gives the answer: Indigenous peoples and communities. This is admittedly a very general answer and does not attempt to answer questions such as: which Indigenous peoples and communities; who speaks for those Indigenous peoples and communities; what to do if there are disagreements between the groups who are asked to consent to a project; etc. But it is appropriate that UNDRIP does not address these details: it is up to the Indigenous peoples and communities to decide if and how they wish to give consent.

A secondary question that follows from the question “who gives consent” is who decides/judges/acknowledges that “free, prior, and informed consent” has been received from Indigenous peoples and communities for a new facility to be built on Indigenous lands.

In Canada, the act that established the National Research Council (NRC) mandated that NRC should “operate and administer any astronomical observatories established or maintained by the Government of Canada”. So, for projects in which Canada is involved at a national level, the decision on whether consent has been given belongs with the Government of Canada and its agencies such as the NRC.

So you may ask, what is our role, as Canadian astronomers, in the process of land and consent? Personally, I feel that it is important that Canadian astronomers be reasonably confident that consent has been given for a new facility. This confidence helps to ensure that Canadian astronomers continue to support the facility that is being constructed. Confidence can be gained by educating ourselves: by reading reports and emails shared by the facility, by CASCA and its committees or by NRC; by attending informational webinars; by participating and asking questions; and so on. As a community (through CASCA and its committees, for example), we also have a role to play in working with Indigenous peoples and communities, as well as other organizations such as NRC, ACURA, etc., to help develop the guiding principles called for in LRP Recommendation #1. The policy document circulated by LCRIC in spring 2022 is an example of the type of work that is required from our community.

But ultimately it is not up to us as individual astronomers to make the call that consent has been given. We don’t have the necessary expertise (social, political, etc.) or resources. We don’t have the connections with the local Indigenous people and communities, certainly not for new telescope facilities that will be based in distant countries.

I think the important point is that we, the Canadian astronomical community, have said through LRP2020 Recommendation #1 that it is essential to obtain consent from Indigenous peoples and communities for new facilities that Canada is involved in. The Government of Canada, through NRC and other avenues, is taking this statement from our community very seriously in evaluating potential new national telescope facilities. Our role as individual Canadian astronomers is to stay informed about what is going on, to participate and ask questions, and to continue to educate ourselves.

Wishing you all a safe fall semester,

President’s Message

par Chris Wilson (acting CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – hiver 2022)

The CASCA Board held two regular monthly meetings since my last report, as well as our semi-annual meeting in early December, which this year was two sessions of 4 hours each. Progress has been somewhat slower on some aspects of the Board’s Action Items list due to extended absences of both the President and the Secretary in November, which also resulted in the need to cancel our regularly scheduled November Board meeting.

On the committee and administration side, over the past 3 month, the Board has approved new Board representatives to the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC), Long Range Plan Community Recommendations Implementation Committee (LCRIC), and Equity and Inclusion Committee (EIC). We also approved new members for LCRIC and the CASCA-ACURA TMT Advisory Committee (CATAC). We also approved a request from the Awards Committee to move the deadline for nominations for 2023 awards to January 15, 2023. Individual Board members are also taking some Indigenous Awareness Training by working to complete the course “4 Seasons of Reconciliation” offered by Reconciliation Education.

The Board met with several members of the Westar Subcommittee of the Education and Public Outreach (EPO) Committee at our regular meeting in September. Our discussions focussed on the recommendations in their report, particularly around the potential to hire an EPO coordinator and what funding could be available to support such a hire. We identified the need to determine how much annual funding is expected to be available for Westar programs, a discussion that is complicated somewhat by the recent economic turmoil affecting investments in general. The Board expects to conclude its review of the Westar finances and to be in a position to pass some more concrete information along to the Westar subcommittee early in the new year.

The Board dealt with a number of requests from the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and IAU members related to membership transfer, inactive members, deceased members, and new applications for IAU membership. Unfortunately, a couple of requests to apply for IAU membership came in too close to the December 15 deadline to be dealt with before the IAU’s application portal closed. If you missed applying for IAU membership this year (which is free to individuals), please watch for an announcement in fall 2023. For the Digital Research Alliance of Canada (formerly Compute Canada), we have identified Catherine Lovekin (chair of CASCA’s Computation and Data committee) as the second CASCA contact for DRAC. This helps ensure that emails from DRAC are not missed, and that a person with more expertise in this area than your current President is available to attend DRAC meetings.

On the financial side, the Board approved an extra increase for the CASCA administrator’s salary for 2023. This supplemental increase of 2.5% is in recognition of the fact that inflation in Canada is running much higher than in past years. The Board also approved financial support for the annual Canadian Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics (CCUWiP), which is being held in person for the first time in 3 years at the University of Regina. Finally, starting in January, the Board will be actively contacting CASCA members who are 1 year in arrears with their dues.

Regarding the CASCA website, we had a glitch in mid-November that was linked to our website being moved to a new IP address. Apologies to anyone who was impacted by this problem (which of course happened over a weekend!), and thanks to our webmaster, Don Hutton, for fixing it promptly once it was identified. Vice-President Adam Muzzin has been taking the lead on updating parts of the website that had gotten out of date. The 2022 award winners should now all be up to date on both the French and English sides, as should the committee members. If you spot any further missing information, please let Adam or me know.

As required by our By-Laws, a list of the Board positions that will be open for election at the 2023 June Annual General Meeeting (AGM) was sent by the Board to both the Nominating Committee and to the general CASCA membership. There will be 3 open positions: 2 for Director and 1 for President. Please consider standing for election yourself or encouraging other good candidates to stand. Suggestions can be sent to Rob Thacker, who chairs the Nominating Committee, or via the nomination form to the CASCA secretary, Rob Cockcroft.

Just as a reminder, the next CASCA AGM will be held June 12-15, 2023, in Penticton, B.C. Over the next 6 months, the Board will be looking for an institution to host the subsequent AGM in spring of 2024.

There has been big news for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) over the last two months. SKA1-Low will be located on the traditional lands of the Wajarri Yamaji, who have lived there for tens of thousands of years. On November 5, 2022, the Wajarri celebrated the registration of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement for the SKA-Low site. Construction commencement ceremonies were held in both South Africa and Australia on December 5, 2022 to mark the official start of construction. In Canada, the absence of any news about the SKA in the government’s Fall Economic Statement was not unexpected. For more information, please see Kristine Spekken’s article in this issue.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) has now been accepted into NSF’s queue for Large Facilities (known as MREFC), and so NSF’s Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the TMT has begun. The PDR is an important gateway that must be passed in order for the project to proceed to the final design phase, which includes a full cost review, firm governance model, and site selection. A final design review is expected to take place roughly 18 months after the PDR. In additional news, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced that it will require formal consultation with the Native Hawaiian Community. Within Canada, CATAC has advised that Canada not host the Science Forum proposed for 2023, that had been delayed for a couple of years due to the pandemic, but recommends Canada host it in the near future, pending a return to more normal travel conditions and a successful NSF review. For more information on these and other issues, please see Michael Balogh’s article in this issue.

Finally, the Canadian Coalition for Astronomy has had a quiet few months, aside from filing a pre-budget submission for the October 8 deadline, which included recommendations for both SKA and the proposed CASTOR space telescope. For more information CASTOR, please see the article by Pat Côté in this issue.

I want to close by noting members of our community who have been honoured elsewhere. Congratulations to: Daryl Haggard (McGill), who has been awarded the 2022 Rutherford Memorial Medal in Physics from Royal Society of Canada (RSC); Ue-Li Pen (CITA and University of Toronto), who has been elected a Fellow of the RSC; Nick Cowan (McGill) and Renée Hložek (University of Toronto), who has been elected to the College of New Scholars of the RSC; and the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) team, who have been awarded the Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

Wishing you all a good break over the holidays and a smooth start to the next semester,


President’s Message

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2022)

On Some Difficult Questions for CASCA

I will centre myself often in this dialogue as identity matters, and I want to emphasize that I’m writing to encourage broader thought, these are obviously my personal views on how I believe organizations should function. I may ask some difficult questions, but they are meant to be general rather than focused, and to lead introspection.

That many of you may well find some of statements I make easier to be framed by me as a (hopefully perceived) compassionate and unthreatening white cis-gender man, also helps to position this dialogue. I’ve never considered myself an activist, but I am married to a person who is deaf, who has had to fight for so many things in their life that I can almost remember where the furrows on her brow come from. I also work with many colleagues who consider themselves activists. That simple statement about not seeing myself as an activist perhaps encapsulates my inherent whiteness, namely, to not see myself for what I am.

I wrote a President’s message in 2019 on the close proximity of CASCA to government, the high costs of the projects we are now involved in and the responsibility it places on our community. While one can argue Canada is normally a small player in major international projects, the reality is the size of those projects are becoming massive. I concluded that essay by saying “It’s one thing to say that knowledge from astronomy benefits everyone, but there’s a growing onus on astronomers to make connections that fulfil that promise.

How far have we come?

Each of you will have a different viewpoint and answer. That is the nature of community.

I’ve been asked why it was important to run the leadership panel this past November, and, other than the fact a promise was made to do that, I think it speaks to the fundamental value of dialogue. With CASCA being a (not-for-profit) corporation, ultimate authority and legal responsibility sits with the Board to determine what is appropriate. That said, I think with most of us being used to working in university collegial governance we would expect support for discussion over difficult topics, that is one of the key things universities are meant to do. However, we have a clear organizational dissonance right now, as the Letters Patent for the Society has a distinctly different flavour to a university act, which usually include statements around freedom and respect, for example. To be more explicit, we don’t have a Senate, we don’t have an Appeals Board, and multiple other structures. CASCA simply does not operate under the same principles as most universities.

What about when discussions get heated? Could we have “civility codes of conduct” to avoid offense and discomfort as distinct from equity-driven codes of conduct employed in conference environments? Obviously, this has been a major discussion on campuses for some time now. But despite our differences from a university structure, I strongly feel we should continue to follow CAUT guidelines to resist imposing any such legislation. David Robinson, CAUT Executive Director, has spoken extensively about how while a goal of civil and respectful dialogue is laudable, when policies are put in place to regulate speech and behaviour then free expression can be put at risk. These issues become most prominent during protest and dissent. CAUT usually highlights the 2014 Capilano University protest as an example where the creation of a statue was ruled as harassment of the university President, which in turn was seen as a clear violation of academic freedom and freedom of expression in a follow-on review.

To be clear: CASCA has a moral and legal obligation to ensure its operation is free from discrimination and harassment, but, at least in my view, we cannot enshrine an intrinsic right to never be offended or uncomfortable. As to the standard of this statute, that is a challenge, and one I will admit is very difficult to determine. Legally, we fall back to the reasonable and competent assessment, but from a social justice perspective that can be argued to be insufficient.

Consequently, as someone that works as a union Lead Negotiator, I am (personally) resistant to any policy which intimidates and silences by inappropriate methods of behaviour control that can be used to oppress, as the 2014 Capilano University case shows. Moreover, I wholly admit it is easy for me to say these things as someone that is implicitly a member of an empowered group and there are complicating factors, for example although many of our members have academic freedom, not all do. Arguments between individuals with academic freedom vs those without it can have an inherent imbalance. Please try to be mindful of this issue. Members of CASCA do not all have the same workplace rights.

Above all, I want to remind everyone that without questioning our values we can easily perpetuate dominant ideologies without being aware of it. There is no question that systemic white supremacy is pervasive within academia, even documents on diversity, which may have been written with good intentions, frequently centre whiteness as “normal.” Similarly, we’ve all seen the benefits of dual anonymous reviews in astronomy, we know biases are present.

This winter term I’ve been enrolled in a course “Indigenous Knowledges and Relations” co-taught by Michelle Paul and Benita Bunjun. One of the key questions we are asked as students is a moral one, namely: “Could you learn all the material in this course and still be someone that doesn’t value Indigenous Knowledges and actively works against them?” the answer is obviously that yes, you could. Why would someone? From self-interest, to systemic bias, to conscious racism we can name different possibilities. Education is but one part of a broader issue – indeed I’m currently working with Reconciliation Education to put this in place for the current and future CASCA Boards – but we have to fully process the moral and ethical questions that are implicit within that knowledge.

All of this discussion has been building to highlight one key fact about how we respond to ethical questions: it is ultimately an individual reaction. CASCA can make ethical statements about what it supports as a Society, but it is down to individual members to take those statements and incorporate them in their actions. Not everyone will come to same conclusions, we know that individuals in communities have different viewpoints. Nonetheless, I feel the single most important recommendation in the LRP is that every Canadian astronomer make a personal commitment to inclusion and reflect that in their personal ethics and values.

With that I call on everyone in the Society to be welcoming, generous and open. We are a community that is focused on education. When we argue, make it about learning, rather than mere winning.

Astronomy is important, but we don’t make the world a better place by discovering things about the universe. We make it a better place by truly sharing that discovery with all the people that make it possible, and working together with respect and true partnership.

Coalition Update

Over the past few months Coalition activities have focused strongly around the Square Kilometer Array. As many of you are aware the project continues to move ahead rapidly, please refer to the excellent updates being provided by Kristine Spekkens and the AACS. The cooperation agreement has been a great way to keep Canadian participation moving forward, but it is clear we need to signal a clear intent to the project to shift to full participation before the agreement ends in March 2023. With the agreement only having been signed last November it might seem unusual to have to be back discussing the issue with the Government so quickly, we are mindful of that issue!

I want to express a personal note of thanks to all the members of Coalition that have participated in the many meetings we’ve had in this first quarter. The community should be aware that some of our industry partners support the Coalition and participate in briefings despite not necessarily being involved in construction of a given project, in that sense the Coalition is a true partnership. That is an important and valuable interrelationship. However, I am most thankful to Kristine Spekkens for her amazing efforts in support of education around the SKA and contributions to discussions with key decision-makers.

I’m delighted to say that these meetings have gone well so far. We’ve been able to address many questions about the project and how it fits with several different Government priorities. I am hopeful that we will indeed see a commitment to the project in the time frame that the SKAO needs. It would be a tragedy if the cooperative agreement ended up becoming an off-ramp for our participation.

So long…

I will be stepping down as Interim President at the AGM as I need to lead what will likely be a very difficult negotiation for my fellow faculty members at SMU. As I write this message, I am quite literally minutes away from giving another faculty update. Juggling responsibilities since January has been a headache! Bylaw 9.1 allowed me to work in this position from last August until the next round of CASCA elections, and those will be soon upon us. We are diligently working to prepare a slate of nominations and I am happy to say we are over half-way there at this point, nominations will be presented soon.

I want to thank everyone in the Society for the conversations we’ve had over the past few months, and all the time and work you have committed to the Society, especially those serving on committees and/or the Board. I also thank our staff, Jessica and Don for all the great help they have provided, and Joanne for her continued work as Editor of Cassiopeia.

It has been an honour to serve you all.

My parting thought to each of you: Be gentle with yourself.


President’s Message

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hiver 2021)

First off, I want to thank all the members of CASCA as well as staff that devote their time to the operation of the Society. We cannot function without you, CASCA exists largely on the back of volunteer labour. The sum total of our employed staff is about 1/40th that of the AAS, because quite frankly we don’t even add up to one full time staff member. Everything that you help accomplish is quite literally above and beyond!

This report is incomplete in that I had hoped to provide a more detailed update on some internal discussions and unfortunately because one meeting got pushed so close to the holiday break and that I need get approval on a couple of things, I will have to let that go until January. My apologies.

I want to wish you good health over the holiday season. I sincerely hope you can take time to replenish reserves and rejuvenate, at least to whatever extent is possible.

On High-Performance Computing and Sustainability

Forgive me the indulgence of talking about something that is close to my heart on two accounts, high performance computing and sustainability. Following detailed analyses of emissions in Australian astronomy [1], motivated by prior discussions [e.g., 2], I’ve heard a number of people express concerns about the energy cost of high-performance computing (HPC) in astronomy. While I cannot possibly suggest a complete strategy in a short discussion, I can at least outline some of the key concerns and provide some useful background. This is an opinion piece though, rather than a detailed analysis.

I will not spend any time talking about improvements in algorithms or software. I fully accept these are absolutely fundamental areas in which energy consumption improvements are possible. Indeed, we’re already witnessing a detailed discussion about this in astronomy [3]. A wider view of the whole issue across algorithms, software and hardware is already spurring detailed thinking within hardware design circles [4].

From the outset I think we need to be clear that energy usage isn’t a discussion that happens in isolation and draws on value judgments. If it were possible to build computing centres running entirely on renewable energy, then the actual energy usage might be considered moot. Indeed, this has become a strategy for countries (e.g., Scotland) to offer data centre companies access to renewable energy to reduce their carbon footprint. Of course, in practice such approaches disguise the fact that other energy usage continues to rely on traditional more polluting energy sources. After all, getting to “net-zero” means doing so across multiple sectors. Collective action is needed, and we have to play our part in that given the emissions intensive nature of our profession [2].

Global awareness of energy consumption in data centres and HPC is growing, many of you have likely heard concerns about Bitcoin’s incredible energy usage. That said, it is fair to say that there is a recognition of the potential impact of this demand, over the past 15 years there has been a steady interest in improving energy efficiency in computing. That’s been achieved through multiple approaches, but I’ll focus on just two: data centre design and chip/server design.

Starting with chip/server design, if we look at energy efficiency increases over several decades the results are quite staggering. Comparisons are normally provided going back to the earliest machines, but let’s consider a Cray-1, from the 1970s, arguably what many consider the first supercomputer. With a performance of 160 Mflops, and a power draw of 115kW, its flops per watt work out to 1400. To provide a comparison we need to consider entire systems including their multiple overheads. Fortunately, Dr Wu Feng has been pushing for these numbers for many years and is the custodian of the “Green500” alternative to the “Top500” list of supercomputers. The most efficiency systems available today achieve 39.4×109 flops per watt, albeit using hardware optimized for Linpack calculations (more on that in a moment). An improvement of 28 million in 50 years! For comparison, the peak speed of a single CPU die, and I think 48 core Fujitsu A64FX vector processor is the most apt comparison, has only increased by a factor of around 50,000 relative to the Cray-1.

This dramatic increase in hardware energy efficiency has resulted for multiple reasons. Firstly, for many years “Dennard Scaling” meant that each time circuitry was reduced in size by a factor of 0.7x, the overall power requirement would reduce by 50% (essentially power was proportional to the area of the transistor). This allowed CPU designers to increase frequencies for many years, but by around 2005 the scaling broke down due to fundamental issues with “leakage” of power through the transistor substrate. Thus, the era of increasing clocks speeds came to a halt.

Realizing that clock speeds could no longer increase, designers turned their efforts to packaging more cores on to a single die, not a trivial feat when one considers the memory design needed. Equally importantly, they also needed to begin improving the energy efficiency of individual CPU cores. Remarkably through a series of power management and packaging advances, the energy efficiency of CPUs has improved by a factor of at least 20 since 2014.

One could make a strong argument that since 2010, energy efficiency has become the key design parameter of CPUs, to a considerable extent replacing overall performance concerns. That’s definitely the case for mobile devices. Around 2011, HPC experts were widely discussing that being able to build exascale systems with a “reasonable” power draw of 20 MW would require achieving 50×109 flops per watt, the most power efficient systems are not far from this value today, but the largest machines are still a factor of three or four away.

While I’ve focused on CPUs, quietly hiding in the background is another potential revolution in efficiency, specifically the rapid development of customized hardware/accelerators. Smartphones are already moving toward more and more special accelerators with hardware designed for specific operations. We’ve all seen general purpose GPU programming take off, and optimized matrix hardware is now common – indeed it is a significant part of the improvement in flops per watt on the Linpack results for the Top500. All of these approaches improve energy efficiency by tailoring hardware to specific calculations. The rise of freely and easily available CPU instruction set architectures (RISC-V, for example) may lead to domain specific architecture becoming increasingly more common place than it is today.

The third factor that has helped improve flops per watt in HPC systems is optimized design of the cooling system and integrated system management. There are also well documented examples of waste heat being used for heating in some jurisdictions, to the point where papers have been written about which locations would be most appropriate for this approach to maximize the benefits of the exported heat. Data centres that are the “hidden” power behind the cloud use these kinds of optimizations extensively.

That 28 million improvement in energy efficiency since the 1970s also benefits our desktops. Modern processors, especially those based on mobile designs, have far lower idle power than those from even 2016. Unless you really need to do “big compute” or GPGPU on your desktop, you can buy a mini pc that idles at a handful of watts but with 8 cores has enough power to take on some pretty heavy calculations. And as always, turning things off is a good thing, although systems are getting better and better at doing that themselves.

While energy efficiency is clearly better in modern HPC systems, we do face the issue of unmet demand. Analyses can always be made more complex. Simulations can always be made bigger for better resolution. In practice, like any other facility, the amount of time is limited. For HPC, at least in Canada, we’ve also been limited by practical issues around power supply, I doubt we will ever see academic systems using much more than 5 MW here. Commercial data centres in Canada with close to ten times that power requirement already exist, although we need to put those in the context of serving large communities.

Astronomy is moving towards the increasing use of HPC as are multiple research areas. We have a duty to understand how that fits in the wider picture of sustainability (and I’m not even going to open the offset discussion). My own bias is that, among other things, we need to think carefully about:

  1. Quotas and envelopes. To a certain extent they will happen naturally with equipment maintained by the Alliance (formerly NDRIO/Compute Canada).
  2. Optimizing calculations by using the right tools – not always easy as there is inertia in individual knowledge and skills. To a limited extent review of HPC applications used to handle this, for more open access systems that may not be possible.
  3. Being aware of creating accidentally unsustainable situations. This happened with Compute Canada through the growth of the user base. The same thing could happen with interfaces that disguise overall computing use.

I have to have a somewhat optimistic view that ultimately, we will transition to largely renewable energy generation and that these concerns will become less significant. But until such time as we have a reasonable control on emissions, it’s important to remember that the energy usage of our field is fundamentally a value question.

Wishing you all a Happy Holidays and may you share many moments of joy with friends and loved ones,

[1] “The imperative to reduce carbon emissions in astronomy,” Stevens, A. R. H., et al, Nature Astronomy, 4, 843, (2020).
[2] “Astronomy in a Low-Carbon Future,” Matzner, C. D., et al., Astro-ph/1910.01272
[3] “The ecological impact of high-performance computing in astrophysics,”, Zwart, S. P., Nature Astronomy, 4, 819, (2020).
[4] “There’s plenty of room at the Top,” Leiserson, C., et al, Science, 368, 1, (2020).

President’s Message

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2021)

Dear Members,

I’ll start by wishing you all well as the fall starts. There are a lot of nerves in the university community – trust me I know as Chief Negotiator for the Saint Mary’s Faculty Union – and I hope that you are able to work effectively with your own administrations to manage COVID-19 workplace concerns effectively.

While a message like this is inevitably quite arms-length, I sincerely hope you are all able to maintain your mental hygiene. While more and more workplaces are bringing in various support mechanisms along these lines, it can still be difficult to find time for this type of self-care when so many other tasks need to be done. I can certainly say I find it difficult, especially as the service part of my work has grown. Personally, one of the most useful things I have learned is how to avoid ruminating. If you are self-critical that can be quite a debilitating habit. I found this talk by Dr Guy Winch especially enlightening.

It has obviously been an extremely difficult summer for CASCA, but as I have indicated discussions are ongoing and I am optimistic that we seem to be moving forward. The end of August saw something of a pause on efforts as multiple people were out of the office until the start of term. I pass on my personal thanks to all those people that have taken time to talk with me, I have learned much. When trust breaks down it is difficult to quickly rebuild working relationships and as a society of volunteers, we rely immensely on labour that is provided for free. Moreover, those efforts are often provided in situations with limited authority and resources. Remember, the annual budget of CASCA is a fraction of a single faculty salary, compare that to CAUT which receives over $7m a year.

As a note, historically we have tended to not spend resources on Board member training so that we can distribute more funds for supporting conferences. As astronomy working practices are evolving so perhaps should our training expectations. With the past two AGMs functioning in virtual form the Society’s financial picture is relative stable and fees will remain flat again this year. We can thus see a potential for devoting a modest amount of funds towards this. The one challenge with this approach is that directors cycle-off on a 2-year timescale, so whatever is put in place can’t be a one-off situation. There are several resources around anti-racism, as well as other topics around inclusion, that I’ve witnessed used with other Boards quite effectively. Note, I am all too aware of “tick the box” criticisms through my union work, avoiding that is important. I’m not mentioning indigenous issues and reconciliation here as that is a very important issue for the Society which I will address on its own in a future message.

In terms of major civic issues impacting astronomy, by the time you read this we will know the outcome of the federal election. The surprise election of a conservative majority government in Nova Scotia is a stark reminder of the uncertainties of polls. To a certain extent the Coalition has prepared for a possible change of government, but there is only so much that can be done. The decision making and bureaucracy systems function at the will of the government, so we are anticipating an inevitable pause in interactions this fall, precisely how long is difficult to know. As a rough timeline, we can expect a new cabinet appointed by mid-October and Parliament to resume in November.

Rather than outlining summaries of the ongoing status of various projects, which are frequently described in more detail elsewhere in Cassiopeia, in this message I’m going to take some time to talk about the Society and what is expected of directors as well as the process by which directors are appointed.

Of course, research continues apace, and I pass on thanks to all the authors that have contributed to this edition of Cassiopeia. If I can just inject one suggestion, I encourage everyone to read Kristine Spekkens’ SKA update as a lot has been happening there. Joanne Rosvick gets another big thank you for her continued duty and diligence as editor of Cassiopeia!

And, of course, my thanks as always to those of you who continue to give your time to CASCA and to the upkeep of our wider community in general!

CASCA Office Update

I need to inform you all that our webmaster Don Hutton had a heart attack in August. He was given a stent, and while discharged after three days and back at work a few more days later, he tells me he is still tiring easily even if his cholesterol is now impressively low after a change in diet and some medication. While I appreciate that the vast majority of you will not have interacted with Don, I am sure the entire membership will join me in passing on our best wishes for a continued recovery.

Expected Duties of Directors

While a President’s report is perhaps not a great place to give a detailed breakdown of the expected duties of directors, I thought it might be prudent to outline what the typical expectations are. For CASCA, because our resources are comparatively limited compared to the number of members we have, we cannot afford to employ an Executive Director. Consequently, the Board must function perhaps more as a “management Board” than desired, arguably the role of Boards is really meant to be oversight and to a lesser extent strategic direction, among other things.

For not-for-profit boards, the generally accepted duties are as follows:

  1. Duty of Care: Directors have a duty of competence, namely the requirement to act with a certain level of skill in making decisions for the organization. The duty of care describes the level of attention required of a director, arguably one might consider it a “duty to be informed,” and to act with competence and diligence. The law doesn’t require directors to be experts, but it does expect that they act in accordance with a reasonable standard of care and to act responsibly to maintain such standards.
  2. Duty of Loyalty: Directors must act honestly and in good faith, in essence putting the best interests of the whole organization ahead of their own interests. The duty of loyalty is a personal duty of directors, it cannot be delegated to management, staff, or volunteers of the organization.
  3. Duty of Compliance (Obedience): An NFP corporation must follow applicable laws and regulations including its own bylaws. This essentially encapsulates that the organization must adhere to its stated corporate purposes in the Articles of Incorporation.

You can easily find many articles on the web that will define further legal duties, but these three high level requirements outline the key expectations of directors. Duty of Care is interesting in that the ultimate standard is that you show appropriate diligence in your role as director. Attending meetings, for example, is considered one of the parts of this requirement. Note I will say upfront that since we transitioned to monthly meetings on top of the longer quarterly meetings it has proven to be a challenge to find slots that work for everyone. Navigating four time zones across nine people each with difficult teaching schedules can be a struggle.

Duty of Loyalty encapsulates all the conflict of interest concerns we often worry about. It is perhaps the most straightforward expectation, but it can be difficult to meet. We may often not appreciate our own biases, for example. Duty of Compliance is straightforwardly understood.

Some of you may have guessed that I have an ulterior motive for the above few passages. Specifically, next year will be a significant one in terms of elections. Moreover, that process actually has to start surprisingly soon. So, I’ll finish this update with an important discussion of the upcoming elections and the bylaw processes that need to be followed.

2022 AGM Board Elections

One of the roles of the Past President is to organize nominations for the upcoming elections as Chair of the Nominations Committee. I had been looking at this with some trepidation, as for 2022 we have a significant slate of positions to fill on the Board. No less than four officer position and two director positions are potentially up for election as both the Secretary and Treasurer have the choice to offer for a second term.

The precise number of vacancies is determined not less than six months before the AGM, and for this year, November 15th is the latest date. I can say upfront that both myself and Erik, as Acting President & Interim Vice President respectively, will not be continuing beyond the AGM, as we are both in these positions under bylaw 9.1, which allows for emergency actions as needed but only until the next election cycle. Thus, both the Presidency and Vice Presidency must be filled by election in 2022. In case anyone is wondering about the normal succession process of the Vice President becoming the President, that is a policy rather than a bylaw. The bylaws themselves state clearly that office of the President is a position that is elected, in practice the succession approach means we have filled it via acclamation (this point has been emphasized at recent business meetings).

In the recent past, the Nominations Committee has frequently had to canvas people in the community and to generate nominations by that process. While always conducted, IMHO, in a spirit of openness, nonetheless the small size of the Nominations Committee has sometimes limited its awareness. I include myself in that criticism as a former member of the Nominations Committee.

With this in mind, I want to remind the community of the full process of nominations is outlined in the Society bylaws. In terms of eligibility, bylaw 5.2.1 states that directors must be ordinary members of the Society, which means those individuals that have either graduated from a PhD or been granted ordinary membership status. Bylaw 5.2.4 then outlines the Secretary puts out a call for nominations six months before the AGM, and nominations must be supported by five members eligible to vote. The role of the Nominations Committee is essentially to prepare a list of candidates and ensure consent of said individuals.

The remainder of the bylaw describes that members should be informed of the list of candidates at least 60 days before the AGM, although candidates can actually continue to be added up to 40 days before the election date. Note, some of bylaw 5.2.4 is archaic in places, in that we have moved to electronic voting, but the meaning is sufficiently clear it is not problematic. It could be changed, but it’s worth remembering every bylaw change must be filed with Corporations Canada so it is not as trivial as just changing a word document.

OK, I hope that clears up the precise nomination process. If anyone has any questions, you are of course welcome to ask myself, or Judith Irwin the society Secretary.

Wishing every one of you a safe and productive fall,


IAU et une brève mise à jour

Chers membres de la CASCA,

J’aimerais apporter une brève mise à jour concernant quelques sujets :
Tout d’abord, les sessions de la XXXIe Assemblée générale (AG) de
l’Union Astronomique Internationale (UAI) se dérouleront en ligne au
cours des 10 prochains jours. Bien que j’assisterai aux principales
sessions de travail au nom de la communauté canadienne, j’ai pensé
porter à votre attention le fait que le mardi 24 août, à 15h00 CEST, il
y aura une session pour discuter des nouvelles Résolutions de l’UAI qui
feront l’objet d’un vote par voie électronique par les membres
individuels et juniors, entre le 26 août et le 10 septembre 2021. Les
résolutions sont les suivantes :

  • Résolution B1 en faveur de la protection de la radioastronomie
    géodésique contre les interférences radio
  • Résolution B2 sur l’amélioration des théories et modèles de rotation
    de la Terre
  • Résolution B3 sur le cadre de référence céleste Gaia
  • Résolution B4 sur l’utilisation d’un système photométrique standard
    en astronomie ultraviolette (UV)

De plus, j’ai reçu un petit nombre de courriels demandant des précisions
concernant les démissions au sein du conseil d’administration de la
CASCA. Comme je l’ai indiqué dans la réponse initiale du conseil
d’administration, je suis présentement tenu par la confidentialité et je
suis absolument certain que vous comprendrez que je ne me permettrais
pas une violation éthique en ces circonstances. Étant donné les
circonstances difficiles, en tant que président je prends très au
sérieux mon devoir d’attention envers tous les membres de la société et
je tiens à réitérer ma demande sincère d’éviter toute spéculation. Bien
que nous ne puissions pas discuter ouvertement des événements récents,
cela ne signifie pas que rien ne se passe, et je peux dire que je pense
que nous avons fait quelques progrès au cours des derniers jours. Je me
dois de vous prévenir qu’une discussion plus ouverte des événements
récents ne pourra se faire avant un certain temps et j’en appelle à
votre patience. C’est la fin de l’été et de nombreuses personnes
impliquées sont en vacances.

Je vous remercie tous pour votre patience et votre compréhension, et je
vous souhaite à tous un bon semestre d’automne,


Board Response to Resignations of CASCA President and Vice-President

Chers membres,

Je suppose que vous avez déjà lu la déclaration de démission de notre présidente, Sara Ellison, et la vice-présidente Samar Safi-Harb.

C’est un coup dur pour notre Société. Je suis sûr que vous vous joignez à moi pour remercier chaleureusement Sara et Samar pour les services qu’ils ont rendus à la Société et à la communauté au cours des 15 derniers mois. Je sais que le choix de démissionner a été exceptionnellement difficile pour toutes les deux, et je demande à chacun de faire preuve de respect et d’empathie à l’égard de leur choix.

Je suis sûr que beaucoup d’entre vous se posent des questions sur les raisons précises de leur démission, au-delà des grandes lignes fournies par Sara et Samar. Malheureusement, il s’agit d’une question confidentielle dont le conseil ne peut pas discuter en détail, du moins pour le moment. Je demande respectueusement aux membres de s’abstenir de faire des suppositions ou de s’engager dans des spéculations. Le conseil d’administration vous demande de faire preuve de patience jusqu’à ce que nous soyons mieux à même de communiquer les prochaines étapes pour la société.

Le conseil d’administration s’est réuni le 3 août et, après avoir discuté des démissions, il m’a demandé si j’étais prêt à assurer l’intérim jusqu’à la prochaine AGA, conformément au règlement 9.1, ce que j’ai accepté.

Ma première action a été de commencer la recherche d’un vice-président intérimaire. Le conseil d’administration s’est mis d’accord sur une liste de personnes ayant une expérience antérieure du conseil d’administration et qui pourraient assumer ce rôle rapidement. Encore une fois, je suis sûr que vous vous joindrez tous à moi pour remercier sincèrement Erik Rosolowsky d’avoir accepté de prendre la relève. Merci, Erik !

Je promets de mettre les membres au courant dès que possible, mais je tiens à les prévenir que je ne serai pas au bureau du 4 au 12.

Je voudrais terminer en reconnaissant que le travail bénévole effectué au nom de la Société est incroyablement apprécié par l’ensemble de la communauté. Le travail bénévole du président et du vice-président, en particulier, a été généreux au point de se sacrifier. Je vous remercie encore une fois.


Rob Thacker (par intérim) Président au nom du conseil d’administration