President’s Message

par Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – été 2021)

On June 10, the CASCA Board published a statement regarding the recent confirmation of the unmarked burial sites of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Reservation School. This news has been the latest heart-breaking reminder of Canada’s long history of colonial atrocities. To the full CASCA Board statement (English; and French), I add my personal thoughts and prayers to those in grief and pain, to the communities and families who have lost loved ones, and to the Indigenous members in our Society. I encourage our Society members to reach out to your Indigenous colleagues and friends in their time of sorrow.

Addressing inequity, bias and racism is a recurrent theme in CASCA’s Long Range Plan 2020. Despite its infancy, the first steps in this broad-reaching decadal initiative have now begun. As I described at the recent AGM, we have a new implementation and oversight structure that convenes the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC; welcome to Will Percival as the new Chair), the Joint Committee on Space Astronomy (JCSA), the LRP Community Recommendations Committee (LCRIC) and the CASCA Board. The Chairs of these committees have already begun regular communication over the coordination and tracking of LRP progress. Discussions with other CASCA committees will also ramp up over the coming months as we mobilize towards working on the recommendations in our charge. I refer you to the LCRIC update in this newsletter for more information on community updates. On the dissemination front, I can report that the hard copies of the LRP have been received by both the ACURA office and at Temple Scott Associates for distribution amongst our university and external contacts. However, with tele-working still in place for the vast majority of workers in Ottawa, as well as many universities, it is anticipated that the final delivery will be made in the Fall once people return to their offices and are receiving mail (major stakeholders have been previously sent electronic versions).

CASCA 2021 attracted a record number of attendees – some 500 strong from across the astronomical community. This year’s AGM additionally broke new ground for the Society with an unprecedentedly broad scope in its sessions, including an Indigenous cultural awareness session by Bob Joseph, and keynote presentations by Ninan Abraham and Astrid Eichorn on academic racism and the carbon footprint of research in the EDI and Sustainability sessions. The feedback we have received on these sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, and sends a clear message that our annual gathering should be a place where we meet to not only discuss science, but also where we consider our place in an equitable and responsible society. CASCA 2022 (“Canadian Astronomy in the Roaring 2020s”) will again break new ground, as the Society’s first hybrid meeting, with the in-person component taking place at the University of Waterloo (LOC Chair: Will Percival). In case you missed it, the video invitation to CASCA 2022 (May 10-16) presented at the end of this year’s AGM can be found here. Those who attend CASCA 2022 in-person will be able to pick up a hard copy of the LRP!

The #1 ranked space facility in the LRP is the Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research (CASTOR). As reported at the AGM, and in the dedicated article in this issue, CASTOR continues to make steady progress and gather momentum under the Canadian scientific leadership of Pat Côté and John Hutchings. A significant ramp-up in activity (both development work and promotional efforts) is expected in the latter half of 2021.

CSA is funding an extensive technical contract for CASTOR that will run until May 2023 and have also have approved a Phase 0 study to begin later this year that will run concurrently. Taken together, these studies will allow CASTOR to move to flight development, once the mission is approved and funded by the government. International partners continue to work closely with the CASTOR team: JPL have demonstrated their support by approving technical work using internal funds, the UK group have offered detector testing as part of the STDP work and the partnership with India through ISRO continues to develop, albeit with some COVID-induced delays. ACURA and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy are being kept up to date with developments so that they are briefed for engagement within universities and in Ottawa.

In ground-based priorities, the SKA project continues to progress rapidly in anticipation of the start of its construction phase. Since the SKA update at the AGM, China has ratified the SKA Observatory (SKAO) treaty convention to become the 7th Full Member, France has announced that it will accede to the SKAO, and Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne has signed a cooperation agreement with the SKAO to allow the Swiss scientific and engineering community to participate in the project until a decision is made by their government to join the Observatory. As you are all aware, the SKA was not listed explicitly in the Federal budget that was announced on April 19, and Canada is now relegated to `observer’ status, with no involvement in the governance of the project. As described by the Canadian SKA Science Director, Kristine Spekkens, at our recent AGM, there is a pressing need for commitment by the end of this month if we are to avoid the loss of our provisional industry contracts, worth tens of millions of dollars. Lobbying for SKA has been the primary activity of the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy in the last year. Our most recent meeting took place in late May with a senior Policy Advisor from Minister Champagne’s office. This is the first time that the Coalition has been able to secure a meeting with the Minister’s office since Francois Phillippe Champagne took over from Navdeep Bains as Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry in January 2021. Through a variety of communication channels, the government is fully briefed on the SKA and are aware of the project’s timelines and the stakes if we do not commit imminently.

In other news from Ottawa, on May 26 the House of Commons unanimously passed a private members motion from former Science Minister Kirsty Duncan that will create a permanent House Committee on Science and Research. However, the Committee will not be created until the next Parliament (i.e. after the next federal election). Speculation for an upcoming election is buzzing around the capital. The Government’s legislation to implement the 2021 budget (Bill C-30) has been studied at Committee in the House and the Senate, and efforts are now underway to get it passed before the mid-June summer recess. Passing that legislation is generally considered an imperative if the Liberals want to call an election for the fall. Once Parliament recesses for summer, it is not due to resume until September 20 – and that is assuming an election is not called before then. However, as perhaps the clearest signal yet that a 2021 election is likely, all parties agreed to a motion allowing MPs not running again to give their farewell addresses in the House on June 15. The Liberals also invoked their “electoral urgency” clause regarding riding nominations. Without Parliament sitting, the only means for the Liberals to trigger an election before September 20 is for the Prime Minister to ask the Governor General (or acting Governor General) to dissolve Parliament. That request would almost certainly be granted. Finally, the House of Commons Finance Committee has launched its annual pre-budget consultation, with submissions due on August 6. As we do every year, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy will make a submission to this call.

President’s Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

President’s Message

By / par Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2020)

It’s back to school time – and for a semester the like of which we have never seen before! First of all, a warm welcome to all of the new members of our community – graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and professors alike. It is not an easy time to be starting a new position of any kind, or moving to a new place. Although we are fortunate that our profession is largely conducive to remote working, activities such as collaboration meetings, classroom interactions and student-supervisor exchanges all play a critical role in our daily work lives. Engaging our new community members will be critical in the months ahead. I encourage every one of us to think about how we can reach out to the new people in our departments (and beyond!) to make them feel welcome and included. I also want to take this opportunity to remind you that new graduate students can join CASCA for free for their first year, so please encourage your new peers/students to take advantage of this.

The Long Range Planning (LRP) process is reaching its crescendo. The main facility recommendations have now been released ahead of the full report, in order that they can be a ready tool for lobbying and funding efforts that will start to ramp up through the Fall. The full report content is expected to be released in mid-November (a reminder that there is a dedicated set of LRP web pages hosted on casca.ca, including the schedule for the next six months). Although the release of the LRP’s report represents the final lap of an (ultra?) marathon for the LRP panel, it is just the start of our work as a community. Converting the LRP’s recommendations into reality (whether that be funding new facilities, or improving astronomy’s professional climate) should be an effort in which we all engage. The CASCA Board will, of course, be reviewing the implementation process once the full report comes out. This will certainly include coordination with our Society’s committees, for example to discuss recommendations specific to topics such as equity, diversity, public outreach and sustainability. There has also already been discussion with (and within) the current LRP Implementation Committee (LRPIC, Chaired by John Hutchings), who have overseen the last decade of progress, on how we can most effectively monitor, support and facilitate recommendations. Beyond these official structures, the actions and voices of individual community members (i.e. you!) will be equally vital in converting the LRP’s recommendations into a reality. Every one of us can enact recommendations concerning our professional climate.

One of the LRP-recommended facilities which demands our immediate efforts is the Square Kilometre Array (SKA; see the latest newsletter update here), in which Canada has been a key player since its inception. The SKA is currently going through a major transformation into an inter-governmental organization (IGO) with partner countries signing a convention for membership. This process is already well underway, with 7 countries having already signed the convention, with 3 of them fully ratified. The convention will come into full force when five countries (including the 3 hosts: Australia, South Africa and the UK) have ratified, which is expected by mid-2021. Canada is not currently amongst these signatories. In order that Canada can continue to play a major leadership role in the SKA project, our membership status, and a funding commitment, are urgently needed. For example, Canada has recently been awarded a conditional contract for the mid-frequency central signal processor, one of the largest contracts awarded to date. However, this contract is conditional on our future commitment to the project, and needs to be finalized by the middle of next year. We should all be taking the opportunity to talk about the importance of SKA and other future facilities, both within our universities and to our broader contacts. Without awareness, there can be no action.

There has been much discussion about whether it is a lost cause to consider lobbying for new facility funding in the midst of the world’s current crisis. However, I see reasons to be hopeful. Our federal government, and funding agencies, have already shown willingness to dig into their rainy day coffers. The return to Parliament will be kicked off with a Speech from the Throne on September 23 and is expected to focus on a roadmap out of the pandemic. Word from Ottawa is that the Liberals are in Big Thinking (and spending!) mode, seeking to lay out a new vision to transform Canada in a post-pandemic world, without any immediate concerns for the fiscal deficit. Several of the highly ranked LRP facilities may offer appeal in this regard, both for their scientific and economic benefits. For example, The Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research (CASTOR; see the updates from Pat Côté in the 2020 Summer Solstice newsletter as well as this one) mission offers excellent opportunities for industrial partnership and technology development. As a telescope that is envisioned to be Canadian-led, CASTOR will have a field of view 100 times that of Hubble and provide the best ever view of the UV universe, and will therefore be both a cutting edge astronomical facility, as well as a source of national pride and inspiration.

In the last newsletter, Taylor Kutra, Martine Lokken and Hilding Neilson reported their positive experiences in taking/offering a mini-course on astronomy and colonization in Canada. I am delighted to hear that, this coming Fall, Hilding will be offering this course to our CASCA membership on a virtual platform. It behooves all of us to recognize and be educated on the issue of colonization, both in the context of astronomy and in Canada in general. Hilding’s course is a (currently) unique opportunity within our profession to learn from a First Nation professional astronomer with first hand understanding of the challenges and issues. As noted in the afore-mentioned newsletter article, such a course is long overdue. Now, thanks to Hilding’s community offering, one more step is being taken to disseminate this education. An announcement will be forthcoming on the CASCA exploder with more details, including the registration process.

Finally, an update on the AGM. As you all know, the original plan for 2021 was to host the CASCA AGM in Penticton, BC. However, upon discussion with the Penticton LOC (Chaired by Michael Rupen), due to on-going uncertainty over COVID-19 restrictions, we have decided that the 2021 AGM should be planned to be virtual. Since the 2022 AGM has already been confirmed to be hosted by Waterloo, Penticton aims to welcome us eventually in 2023. The online organizing committee (OOC) for CASCA 2021 is being led enthusiastically by Dennis Crabtree, and is planned for the week that had been originally identified for the Penticton meeting (May 10-14). In news from south of the border, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is also offering its winter meeting virtually and has offered CASCA members the opportunity to attend at AAS member registration fee level. If you would like to take advantage of this opportunity, keep an eye out for the announcement on the CASCA email exploder in the near future, where we will be providing instructions on how to obtain the relevant discount code that can be used for web registration.

President’s Report

By / par Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2020)

At the time of writing, I have been CASCA President for exactly one week! It is a role that I am meeting with both excitement and humility – the outgoing President, Rob Thacker, carried out his role with the utmost dedication, tirelessly working for our community and expertly navigating us through some choppy waters. So, whilst I am excited to receive the Presidential baton and continue the good work, Rob has left some rather big shoes to fill. Thank you Rob, on behalf of the Society, the Board and myself for your hard work to make the very best of our community.

The Board has some other new faces as well – we welcome Laura Parker (McMaster) and Julie Hlavacek-Larrondo (Montreal) as Directors, replacing Suresh Sivanandam and Rene Doyon. Thank you to Suresh and Rene for your valued service. The new Vice-President is Samar Safi-Harb (Manitoba), with whom I have worked in several capacities in recent years and am delighted to have as my wing-(wo)man. [As an aside, our Board is now 6/9 female!]. And finally, Bob Abraham completes his six year marathon on the Executive, having rotated through the Vice-President’s position, then to President and then to past-President. Bob – you have been an inspiration in the community, bringing wit and wisdom wherever you go. Thank you.

Since the last Newsletter in March, I think that there is not a one amongst us who hasn’t had their personal and professional lives turned upside-down by COVID-19. However, in times of crisis, our true natures rise to the fore and I am proud and inspired to live and work in a society (and Society!) that is characterized by compassion, community-mindedness and creativity. Across Canada, nightly serenades to front line workers, hearts in windows, poetry on lampposts and neighbourhood `caremongering’ have become the norm. We can be very proud that astronomers are amongst those in Canada who are seeking ways to support both professionals and the public alike in these challenging times. I wanted to highlight two examples of this, whose target audiences differ, but whose goals are united in serving communities whose regular ways of engaging have been interrupted by COVID.

First, under the ever-energetic leadership of Julie Bolduc-Duval, Discover the Universe (DU) launched a daily podcast (“astro-at-home”) aimed at children aged 8-12, delivered in both English and French, covering subjects as diverse as space robotics and the search for alien life. Many of us have school-aged children who have been home for months, adding another full time job to our lives (oh, the fun of having to retreat to a closet for a telecon!). Initiatives such as astro-at-home have not only been vital in keeping our young ones stimulated and educated, but is also a shining example of creating an opportunity out of a crisis. The astro-at-home podcasts are being delivered by a diverse crew of passionate communicators, who will surely be role models for the thousands of viewers that astro-at-home has attracted. My daughter and I were certainly amongst those so inspired.

A complementary initiative is CANVAS – the CANadian Virtual Astronomy Seminars. For researchers, the summer months normally mark the peak of the conference season, as we make our international pilgrimages to share the latest astronomical discoveries. Conference attendance is particularly important for our junior researchers, not only to advertise their work, but also to learn from others. Current travel bans obviously erase this opportunity. Spear-headed by Dennis Crabtree (NRC Herzberg), CANVAS aims to bring research talks to our home offices, by coordinating a national seminar program. By recording these presentations, which will have contributions from graduate students through professors alike, CANVAS will also provide a lasting legacy and enable research communication across the country, benefitting in particular smaller or more geographically remote centres of research. I hope that in the future CANVAS will be even more ambitious and recruit speakers from around the world – what a wonderful way to maximize scientific communication at low carbon cost.

As a society, we experienced a major milestone with this year’s AGM, the first to be hosted entirely virtually. Under the chairmanship of Michael De Robertis, some two years-worth of planning and hard work had already been invested by the York University team to host CASCA 2020. The decision to move the AGM online was made in mid-March, leaving the organizing committee a scant two months to overhaul the meeting. The Local Organizing Committee (LOC) was quickly re-shuffled to an Online Organizing Committee (OOC): Elaina Hyde, Paul Delaney, Michael De Robertis, June Parsons, Sharon Morsink, Carter Rhea, Dennis Crabtree, Chris Matzner, Maan Hani, James Taylor and Rob Thacker. It was truly a mammoth task to bring everything together on such a short timescale, but their Herculean efforts led to an AGM to be proud of – an extremely well attended meeting offered at low cost, with low carbon footprint and featuring several novel components such as iPosters, a Youtube channel for all of the prize talks and conference photos via Zoom. It may also be the only time you will get to see astronomers doing back-flips on the beach. Although CASCA 2020 was a virtual meeting by necessity, it was an excellent opportunity to experiment with technologies that might be blended with future meetings. Exploring such options is one of the primary mandates of CASCA’s newly minted Sustainability Committee (chaired by Chris Matzner). Whether it be virtual, or in person, I look forward to seeing you all next May in Penticton, where CASCA 2021 will be co-hosted by DRAO and UBC.

Despite all the upheaval of the past months, one effort that is seemingly unperturbed in its forward progress is the development of our Long Range Plan (LRP). Under the deft and indefatigable leadership of co-chairs Pauline Barmby (Western) and Bryan Gaensler (Toronto/Dunlap) a draft of the principal content was circulated to the Society in mid-May and discussed at a well-attended AGM session. The scope of the LRP is impressive, tackling not only research-driven topics, such as observatory facilities, supercomputing and data-management, but with a holistic perspective of our professional landscape. Equity and diversity, education and public outreach, funding and governance are all tackled, as well as recommendations pertaining to ethics, sustainability and indigenous matters. A reminder that the CASCA committee reports submitted for the AGM are publicly available here, and cover many of these topics, including the latest updates from facilities such as TMT and SKA. For now, Coalition lobbying activities are dormant, and a return to such activities is likely to be staged and require both flexibility and opportunism. But with the LRP on track for completion in the Fall, I am confident that whenever the opportunities do re-open, we will be ready for them.

President’s Report

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2020)

Dear CASCA Members,
The past three months have been unprecedented in our lifetimes. We’re seeing the impact of COVID-19 across all levels of our lives, be they personal, professional, community, and beyond. The academy has been comparatively quick to act to transition to online services, but adjustments to our operations will continue to have to be made.

While many observatories are understandably having to suspend operations, organizationally, CASCA can function in an – almost – entirely electronically-mediated fashion. There is one exception, the Business Meeting, but we have a strategy to handle the bylaw expressly forbidding all-electronic meetings that will still allow significant online participation. We can’t take this bylaw lightly either as we are a legal corporation. However, one of the first pieces of business in the annual Business Meeting will be a bylaw update for exceptional circumstances.

Coalition Update

It’s been a comparatively quiet period for the Coalition, largely down to TMT discussions and updates to government now being handled by the NRC. The Coalition has been in direct contact with the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development and we’ve been assured they are receiving frequent updates. Of course, many of you will have heard that the cost estimate for the project has now risen to $2.4B, while most of us appreciated this increase was inevitable the number is now public. CATAC has remained very active as you will see from their update to the community in this issue of Cassiopeia.

At the same time the SKA has moved forward notably, and the decision on the precise construction configuration is made. As hoped, no further descoping of the project is under consideration. This does mean a moderate increase in the project cost but since it has been decided before a precise ask for funds it can be handled. Canada’s proposed contribution remains around the 6% level, consistent with prior discussions of participation levels.

Where things get yet further uncertain is the release of the LRP and what will happen within the context of an economic stimulus package. Anyone doing research on the impact of the 1918/19 influenza pandemic will know that, by and large, economies recovered well. However, the precise factors involved in that recovery are debated, for example, the pandemic came shortly after a war and there was already a shortage of labour.

I hate to state the obvious, but the LRP will be released in a truly unprecedented era.

AGM

The in-person cancellation was a difficult but obviously necessary decision. While there is some expectation of an easing of restrictions on a 6-8-week timescale, we can still expect limitations on large gatherings for some time yet.

Many of you are no doubt wrestling with moving the last few days of class online so we can complete the current semester. As was already noted in the exploder email that I sent out, we have moved to form an “Online Organization Committee” or OOC (I’m pronouncing it “ook” like “look”). I’d hoped to be able to list all the members in this communique, but we’re still trying to pin down the last couple of people. Expect to hear more on this in the next few days.

I’ve had a couple of emails wondering why the planned online AGM is focused on contributed posters rather than contributed talks. In all honesty that’s down to what our organization can handle at this time. We’re already pulling in best-practice information, being in contact with the AAS, but starting with a plan that is “contained” allows us to build effectively.

The Future of CASCA

While my heart wants to talk about galaxy formation, my head is telling me that if I’m going to say anything in President’s Address I ought to talk about the future of CASCA. In addition to my Associate Dean/Outreach duties at SMU I’m also the Chief Negotiator for our faculty union. That has some interesting advantages in that I get access to some detailed organizational discussions, specifically the service vs mobilization approach to governing associations. Frustratingly, I wish I had known these things at the beginning of my Presidency. It would have been good to action a few of the concepts, but for now I’ll just say I think there are some good ideas we can utilize to make CASCA increasingly valuable and effective for our community. Tune in to the AGM for more.

So long

With my President’s term finishing at the Business Meeting in May, this marks my last Cassiopeia report! It’s been my sincere honour to serve in this role and to represent a community, that despite differences, is capable of open and frank discussions. I’ve learned a lot from many of you in my term as President, and I’m truly appreciative of that. Equally importantly, I again must thank all of you for volunteering your time, and for our staff their efforts, in support of CASCA and the wider aspirations of our community. CASCA simply doesn’t move forward without you!

With Sara Ellison stepping in the President’s office I know CASCA is headed on an even higher trajectory! Additionally, we’re writing up macro-schedules for officers, so each Board transition is hopefully getting just that bit easier. But it is a time of enormous upheaval as well, so I ask you all to be understanding and give Sara the support she’ll need during this transition period.

As we all face the threat of COVID-19 together, we need to support each other. I hope that you can find your own personal way to deal with the stresses this has brought, and to find a way to help others in your life.

I wish you all good health and, as much as can be expected, clarity of thought.

Take care everyone,
Rob

CASCA Position Statement on Satellite Constellations

The Canadian Astronomical Society/Société Canadienne d’Astronomie (CASCA) was founded in 1971 and incorporated in 1983 as a society of professional astronomers. The society is devoted to the promotion and advancement of knowledge of the universe through research and education. In this capacity, CASCA is compelled to voice concerns over upcoming satellite constellations, both in terms of their potential impact on astronomy but also in relation to the wider picture of cooperation in the use of space.

We appreciate that many of the technologies now being deployed in orbit have potential benefits to humanity such as providing communication to areas that are underserved by current infrastructure. However, proposed plans have rapidly moved beyond those originally outlined and within a few years constellations may exceed current satellite numbers by 10-fold or higher. With no international oversight over the public commons that is Earth orbit, a likely outcome is that competition between multiple actors will push collision risks higher. The European Space Agency has already had to move a satellite to reduce the collision risk with a constellation currently under deployment.

Beyond this fundamental concern about the use of the Earth’s orbital resources, current analysis suggests tens of thousands of satellites deployed in orbit could pose an acute threat to wide-field, transient and radio astronomy. While arguably many aspects of astronomy are better undertaken from space, the costs associated with that approach make it unfeasible as a general solution.

Posing this debate as either astronomy or a global service of one form or another is a false dichotomy. Working together and having cooperative agreements in place can ensure that orbital resources are used safely and to their best effectiveness for economic, social and scientific purposes. CASCA is resolutely behind achieving this goal through collaboration with the private sector, government and other scientific communities.

Professor Robert Thacker
President CASCA, on behalf of the CASCA Board of Directors

President’s Report

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2019)

Dear CASCA Members, 

This fall has been a busy few months! I hope you have had a chance to recover from the efforts of proposal writing on top of detailed LRP consultations.

Since I last communicated, we have a welcomed the new CASCA Administrator, Jessica Marsano, and I’d like to encourage you to both welcome Jessica and say a big thank you to Susan Di Francesco who officially steps down on December 31st. On the administrative side we have finally solved the headache that PayPal was presenting, and I’m glad to say as of late November we are again able to accept payments via that route. I encourage anyone to take a read of a Kafka novel and then to send an email to PayPal, as that seems appropriate preparation for dealing with them.

The awarding of this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics for work in astronomy was especially exciting, albeit with the caveats of the known issues with the Nobel awards. After much discussion within the CASCA Board we have the following to say:

The CASCA Board was delighted to see that astronomy and cosmology were the focus of this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics. The work of Jim Peebles (who was born in Manitoba) played a foundational role in many areas of cosmological physics (including the large-scale structure of galaxies and the cosmic microwave background radiation). The other laureates also richly deserve their prizes: the discovery of 51 Pegasi b by Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz opened up the field of exoplanet observations and helped turn it into the spectacularly vibrant area of astrophysics that it is today. We wholeheartedly congratulate Drs Peebles, Mayor and Queloz for their exceptional accomplishments.

Following the awarding of the prize, there has been a number of questions about which particular exoplanet should be acknowledged as the most key discovery. The existence of pulsar planets (e.g.
Wolszczan & Frail, Nature, 355, 145, 1992) and particularly large gas giants/brown dwarfs (Latham et al., Nature, 339, 38, 1989) were known prior to the 51 Pegasi announcement.

In the midst of this, the CASCA Board thought it appropriate to remind members of the work of Bruce
Campbell, Gordon Walker, and Stephenson Yang (ApJ, 331, 902, 1988) which also played an important
role in founding the field of exoplanet research. In particular, we would like to highlight their work on gamma Cephei b. Their long-term monitoring program on the CFHT from 1981 to 1993 had sufficient sensitivity to discover Jupiter-like planets, and with modern statistical methods the 1995 follow-up work of Walker et al. (Icarus, 116, 359, 1995), which included a new analysis of gamma Cephei b data, would be considered a strong detection. The estimated period of 2.52 yrs in that work is very close to the now accepted value of 2.47 yrs.

However, following the 1992 analysis which speculated that the gamma Cephei b signal was close to a
possible pulsation mode, the 1995 work was treated with some skepticism. There is no argument that
the work of Drs Mayor & Queloz, as well as their collaborators, created an unexpected and important avenue of exoplanet research, and while celebrating Mayor and Queloz, we think it appropriate to also celebrate the pioneering work of Campbell, Walker and Yang.

CASCA “Seeds” Program

I’d like to highlight the CASCA “Seeds” program that was announced at the AGM this summer: each year, the CASCA Board will allocate up to $5K of seed funding to activities spearheaded by CASCA
members that benefit the Society. All initiatives and/or events that are consistent with CASCA’s Mission Statement are eligible to receive CASCA Seed funding, though an emphasis will be placed on activities that are difficult to fund via other mechanisms. The intent of the CASCA Seeds program is to support new and/or unique opportunities for CASCA members; the same initiative is therefore unlikely to be funded more than once. 

Full details of the program and application process are available here (English) and here (Francais). We hope that some great new initiatives can grow out of this program!

Sustainability

Anyone who has read through the tremendous list of white papers submitted to the LRP process cannot
have failed to have noticed a very significant number of recommendations put squarely in the hands of CASCA as an organization. On one hand I feel buoyed by the great faith in CASCA that you are showing by making these recommendations, although on the other hand I confess that the entire suite comes across as somewhat daunting. The Board is currently working on determining what to do about these many recommendations, especially given that these recommendations are input into the LRP process, and we need to let that process take its course.

Many very important issues have been brought up, especially around ethical considerations for our field, but one concern stood out for immediate action in the view of several Board members, specifically that of sustainability. I am thus happy to notify the community that the Board has struck an ad hoc committee on sustainability and we are in the process of filling that committee as I write. We have agreed to run this committee in an ad hoc form for one year, with a view to reviewing its progress at the end of 2020.

I’d like to end by again thanking all of you – again – for your efforts in supporting CASCA and the
astronomy community. With a couple of exceptions for our staff members, we are a Society of volunteers and depend entirely on your efforts to make our activities possible.

Happy Holidays, and all the best for 2020!

Rob

President’s Report

By / par Rob Thacker (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2019)

Dear CASCA Members,

I sincerely hope the Fall term has begun well for you. A new academic year can often bring new and unanticipated challenges. Most of the messages I’ve sent so far have been ones of acknowledgement and/or updates. In this message I thought I’d discuss some difficult issues we face as a scientific community.

I’m reasonably sure that many of us see astronomy as something that should bring people together, be it families, communities, even nations. My grandfather “Dadger” taught me some of the constellations and was the first person to show me a lunar eclipse (my roots are from a small fishing village). But going broader, every culture has their own sky lore and stories. Sharing them is potentially a way to build bridges and a starting point for wider discussions.

Yet that is really a modern viewpoint reflecting astronomy’s wider perception in western societies of having philosophical impacts that outweigh the practical. Of course, astronomy does have practical value today, but it is not immediately self-evident to many. Indeed, I visit Ottawa regularly to make astronomy’s practical implications more widely understood. But go back 100+ years and western astronomy played a very distinct role in ensuring security through timekeeping and the associated surveying. Its practical significance overshadowed its philosophical implications, and in many ways, it can be seen as a tool that furthered colonial agendas.

Therein lies a significant difference between our internal perception of our field vs that held by many scholars outside it. Astronomy is not measured solely by its current research outputs, as spectacular and awe-inspiring as they may be. As the facilities we build get larger, the nature of our field and the perceptions of it change. The term “astronomy industry” may garner a rueful smile when we read it, knowing as we do that our “product” is largely knowledge, and yet outside the field it is a term often used. Once projects reach the billion-dollar level that kind of language is not surprising.

Much of what I’m going to discuss finds genesis in the current TMT situation, but I’d like to take a step back and consider astronomy’s impact elsewhere. Having visited South Africa in 2016, I have found discussions of astronomy’s role within the country to offer several distinct and thought-provoking perspectives. See [1] and references therein for a detailed discussion social and political developments related to the SKA and astronomy within South Africa.

After years of apartheid, the Mandela and later governments sought to establish a “less militaristic” path forward and astronomy was chosen as one of the key science areas. The enormous internal changes going on in the country were also set against an increasingly global perspective, and a desire to position South Africa as an active and deserving member of the global knowledge economy. To this end, South Africa’s 1996 White Paper on Science and Technology includes the following passage:

“scientific endeavour is not purely utilitarian in its objectives and has important associated cultural and social values. It is also important to maintain a basic competence in ‘flagship’ sciences such as physics and astronomy for cultural reasons. Not to offer them would be to take a negative view of our future – the view that we are a second class nation, chained forever to the treadmill of feeding and clothing ourselves.”

In [1] the funding that resulted for astronomy is argued as being a result of “canny marketing of astronomy as a national ‘feel-good’ story.” This is not so much a criticism of the intentions of scientists, but rather an acknowledgement of political aspirations in a global context, and the endeavours of a number of key actors within the government.

Hidden in the above, is one of the greatest challenges astronomy faces. The international “mega-project” nature of many projects positions the field at a policy/social interface where global aspirations conflict against local. For optical astronomy the concerns can be localized to the site and local light ordinances. These can be highly complex of course, potentially having both environmental and human (land) rights concerns. However, for radio astronomy the need for low backgrounds can create severe constraints on local communication infrastructure across large areas. For the often economically disadvantaged communities in the Karoo that desire modern communication infrastructure, is it reasonable to tell them that they must forfeit a cellphone?

The South African government has decreed that areas of land can be set aside for astronomy projects. The “Astronomy Advantage Areas” are regions of land controlled for the purposes of scientific progress, while several key areas were also directly purchased. These decisions might seem a reasonable step to us as international collaborators, and indeed were done in consultation with the San Council and other groups representing interests in the Karoo. Numerous public consultations were held by the SKA. Yet we are very distant from the local concerns and aspirations of the Karoo communities who feel their voices were not heard.

Astronomy is firmly in an era where the “costs” involved go beyond just monetary, into the social, political and legal (human rights). Of course, there remain some places without human habitation, but for most of the remote places astronomy seeks to build infrastructure, there are indigenous peoples or local residents and questions we must face. While issues surrounding a given project/region are always distinct, they can span the spectrum of development concerns from too little to too much.

For all the challenges outlined here, I remain resolutely behind the scientific goals and the value of the knowledge being sought. I have conducted hundreds of interviews in support of the amazing research we do. But the routes to gaining this knowledge are becoming ever more layered and can have impacts that we may not anticipate. Precisely how the global to local interface is approached may become the defining factor in the future success of our field.

Ultimately, it is astronomy’s very nature to seek pristine and frequently remote lands for facilities. That means the issues we see being raised in Hawai’i, South Africa and other places are likely to become bigger concerns in the future. While we might look to political routes to solve these problems for us, the harsh reality is we are the individuals that develop and propose facility concepts. Engineers take ethics courses, have ethics committees review projects and undergo community consultations, but this is not a route to avoiding conflict or demonstrations. Just consider the many hydroelectric dam projects or oil pipelines that are contested. And to make matters even more complex, no society whether western or indigenous, is always uniform in its viewpoints. That said, I appreciate the issue of differences of viewpoints can be highly nuanced for indigenous peoples and profoundly influenced by colonial legacies.

Awareness and respect of local/cultural issues combined with truly active engagement and learning is something that we must continue to build. 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.

[1] Cherryl Walker, Davide Chinigò & Saul Dubow (2019) Karoo Futures: Astronomy in Place and Space – Introduction, Journal of Southern African Studies, 45:4, 627-639

President’s Report

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

Dear CASCA Members,

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

LRP2020

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

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

Coalition Activities

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

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

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

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

Society and Board

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

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

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

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

Happy Summer Solstice!

Rob