President’s Message

By / par Rob Thacker, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

I can’t begin this President’s message without first acknowledging the important and amazing work done by all the officers, committee members and staff of the Society. Thank you all so much. Whether it is volunteer work or paid, your service to the Society is absolutely fundamental to making us move forward on numerous important issues! While I would not normally single out an individual, I am compelled to thank the now Past-President Bob Abraham for setting an incredibly high bar for activity in the President’s capacity! Thank you Bob!

My first few days in the Presidency have been something of a whirlwind and it has been hard not to feel overwhelmed! As many of you are aware, especially following this year’s town hall meeting at CASCA, our space astronomy portfolio is in a dire situation with no official major commitment to new missions since 2009, other than the replacement for Hitomi, XARM, following the unfortunate events of 2016. The recent dropping of Canadian participation in WFIRST has been a major concern for our community and is particularly disconcerting as we consider moving towards missions with significant Canadian leadership, such as CASTOR.

This series of events has reinforced the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy’s view that moving our space astronomy needs forward with government is a major priority. Hence the Coalition, represented by Guy Nelson (Empire Dynamic Structures), Don Brooks (UBC), Sarah Gallagher (Western) and myself, made a visit to Ottawa on June 12th to discuss space astronomy in detail with the NRC, CSA and Ministry for Innovation, Science & Economic Development. Since the Coalition maintains a non-partisan position we also met with Conservative Science Critic Matt Jeneroux. The tone of the meetings was constructive, and we repeatedly emphasized the need for long term and sustained funding of space. But ahead of the upcoming Budget consultation process it was equally important for us to listen for what was being asked. Perhaps as might be expected, we need to outline the benefits we provide to society and economics to garner the major investment we need. It is also worth remembering that there are many other fields of space-based science that face similar funding problems to us.

At the same time we are seeing concern growing about how we develop and maintain our ground-based projects. I have already been involved in ACURA discussions about MSE, while writing letters of support for Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic as it, yet again, faces the threat of closure. As we build towards LRP2020 there are a great many issues to think about. TMT continues to evolve towards a site decision, the outcome of which will have ramifications across many areas. The SKA is moving towards some key decision points on Phase 1, while the precise level of Canada’s participation still needs to be negotiated. Plus I’m sure we can all appreciate that Dr Greg Fahlman’s replacement at Herzberg will enter the position at a highly critical time, so it is no surprise the community is strongly interested to see who is eventually chosen for this key position in Canadian astronomy.

In terms of action, over the next two months, the Coalition for Canadian astronomy will submit our response to the pre-Budget consultation process as well as exploring some new avenues of communication with important policy makers. The members of the Coalition are cautiously hopeful we can move things forward, but as many of you know following the length of time it took to gain funding for TMT participation, persistence and a coherent and uniform message will be needed. We anticipate we may well end up asking the community to help with the lobbying effort – stay tuned!

Despite these uncertainties over funding, our community continues to make strides on many fronts. Having worked closely with the Equity and Inclusivity Committee over the past 18 months, I am incredibly impressed by the work they are doing to provide information to help us improve our working environment. As emphasized in numerous workshops on equity issues, improving participation and working climate is a benefit for everyone.

I am truly honoured and frankly very proud to serve the CASCA community. I really look forward to meeting and working with you all over the coming two years. As always, there’s a lot to get done!

President’s Report

By Bob Abraham, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2018)

Budget 2018: Mostly good news

The Federal Budget came out on February 27, and it appears to be favourable to Canadian researchers working in basic science. Funding for academic institutions for research-related activities is set to rise by $340-million in fiscal year 2018-19. By 2023, scientists can count on about $446-million more annually from the funding councils, including direct money for grants, research chairs and a new program to support interdisciplinary science and international collaboration.

The increased support for science was precipitated by last year’s Fundamental Science Review, led by former University of Toronto president David Naylor. While the increase in the budget falls well short of the $1.3-billion a year increase that the report called for, a 25-per-cent increase in funding basic research is hugely welcome. Over the past year, individual scientists and organizations such as CASCA have voiced support for the Naylor report, and support for the report has been a theme of the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy’s periodic visits to Ottawa. On the whole, I think that all this advocacy appears to have paid off.

Another notable aspect of the Federal Budget is the way it calls for a return to a basic research role for the National Research Council. This comes after years of re-purposing NRC to focus strongly on industrial applications. Details remain sketchy at the time of this writing, but as far as I can tell, these changes at NRC are likely to be good news for both CASCA members affiliated with NRC and for Canadian astrophysics as a whole. In particular, I can see many ways that NRC being directed to place greater emphasis on basic research (and on research excellence) would benefit our community. I’d like to understand the plan in detail before commenting on specifics, but perhaps it is worth emphasizing a basic point made in our Long-Range Plans: the success of astrophysics in Canada relies heavily on the partnership between Universities and the NRC. For that reason, all astronomers in Canada should keep a close eye on developments at NRC.

Budget 2018: Some bad news

While the Federal Budget appears to provide mostly good news for astrophysics, many of us were disappointed to see an absence of a strong commitment to the Canadian Space Agency in the document. The implications of a dwindling commitment to Space by Canada were the focus of a recent newspaper article by Ivan Semeniuk. I think this article makes for some interesting reading:

Lost in space: Why Canada’s diminishing role in the heavens is a problem – The Globe and Mail.

There are several reasonable interpretations of the lack of a specific call-out to the Canadian Space Agency in the Federal Budget. My personal interpretation is that the government is simply not ready to commit to a rejuvenation of the CSA because it is still formulating its space policy. The situation is laid out in the following article:

New space policy not ready.

I was particularly struck by one portion of this article, which makes the following points:

  • There is at least one external factor that appears to have contributed to a delay: the ongoing uncertainty in the U.S. space program. Like it or not, right or wrong, the government is taking a wait-and-see approach to what happens in the U.S.
  • NASA has been rudderless, without an approved Administrator since the election of the Trump government in November 2016. And now, Acting Administrator Lightfoot is retiring at the end of the month. Yes, there is a new Space Council in place led by Vice-President Pence, but the dynamics between the White House, the Council and Congress are mired in backroom politicking with no cohesive strategy forthcoming.
  • Does Canada need to wait for the U.S. picture to clear up before making any plans? Are we that dependent on their strategy?
  • I wonder the same thing. Canadian astronomy has benefited hugely from our participation in multi-billion dollar flagship missions, in which we can play a relatively small but highly significant role. I personally believe that we need to contribute significantly to international flagship missions in the future. (Our participation in the James Webb Space Telescope is a great example of Canadian academia operating synergistically with Industry in this capacity, as is our small but important contributions to the success of the Herschel and Planck missions). But, in my opinion, taking advantage of the opportunities presented by international flagship missions should only be a component of a broader Canadian space astronomy ecosystem. We can (and should) aspire to a greater degree of independence and leadership in smaller impactful missions (the proposed CASTOR mission being one good example).

    Gearing up for the next LRP

    These are my opinions, but what are yours? The Coalition’s trips to Ottawa are input-output exercises. In terms of output, we describe what our community does, provide status reports, and explain our need for additional resources. But in terms of input, we take the opportunity to really listen to what the ministry and our elected representatives are saying. One of the most clear messages conveyed to us is that a major strength of our community is its cohesion. This cohesion is manifested by our Long Range Plan, which provides a strong central focus for our community’s activity. In less than a year we will kick off the planning for LRP2020, and the topics above will no doubt be the subject of considerable discussion. Your opinions matter. When the time arrives, please take the opportunity to fully engage in the LRP process, by talking with your colleagues, contributing to a white paper, and participating in the Town Hall meetings, both locally and at the CASCA AGM.

    JWST

    While our community has significant concerns about the long term future of Canadian Space Astronomy, this should not blind us to the fact that the very near-term future is looking pretty damn good. The James Webb Space Telescope Cycle 1 proposal deadline is April 6! After being involved in this project for well over a decade, I can hardly believe that the day we can apply to use this spectacular facility is almost here. The Canadian Space Agency, working in partnership with astronomers led by René Doyon at the University of Montréal, have really delivered the goods for the present generation of astronomers, and they deserve our thanks. I can’t wait to see what gets discovered. If, like me, you find yourself a little overwhelmed by the proposal process, I recommend you make yourself a cup of tea and sit down in front of YouTube and watch the video recordings of the U de M JWST community preparation webinars.

    TMT

    Michael Balogh (chair of CATAC, the Canadian TMT Advisory Committee) has prepared an excellent summary of the progress being made with the TMT project in this issue of Cassiopeia. You should definitely take a look at it, because a key instrument, the Wide Field Optical Spectrometer (WFOS), is being redesigned and this is an excellent opportunity for you to provide the instrument team with feedback on the specifications of the instrument that would best enable your science.

    Diversity and Inclusivity

    The Diversity and Inclusivity Committee (chaired by Brenda Matthews) is preparing a summary of the results from the recent Professional Climate Survey, and the committee has also been given a draft of a proposed CASCA Values Statement to mull over. I expect we will see discussion of both items at the upcoming CASCA Annual General Meeting in Victoria.

    CASCA 2018 and 2019

    As I’m sure you are aware, the 49th annual general meeting of CASCA is being held at the Victoria Conference Centre in Victoria, BC from 22 May to 26 May 2018. The meeting is co-hosted by the University of Victoria, NRC-Herzberg, and the Astronomy Research Centre. It promises to be a spectacular CASCA AGM! You can check out the program on the CASCA 2018 website here.

    CASCA 2019 will be hosted by McGill University in Montréal, which is exciting news, as Montréal is such an amazingly fun city (my favourite, by miles).

    Signing Off

    The CASCA Presidency is a two-year term, and my time as your President is now winding to a close. The next President’s Message will appear in the Summer Cassiopeia and will be written by my successor (Rob Thacker from St. Mary’s University). It has been a privilege to serve you for the last couple of years, and I thank you for putting up with me (not to mention with putting up with these overly-long President’s messages – if you think it’s bad for you, think of poor Joanne Rosvick and Magdalene Normandeau, who had to edit them in spite of them always being late). Leading CASCA for a while has provided me with many opportunities to talk to you all and to share in your adventures, which in turn has shown me how great it is to be an astronomer in Canada. We are part of a community dedicated to excellence in science, and to making our profession better. We are joined together by many things, not least of which is our shared passion to learn more about the Universe and to share its wonders.

    Roberto Abraham
    University of Toronto
    #CASCA

President’s Message

2014-06-27-Prof. Roberto Abraham

By/par Roberto Abraham, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Winter/hivers 2017)

Professional Climate Survey

Science Minister Kirsty Duncan gave a speech at the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa on November 2 in which she touched on many topics of interest to CASCA, including some preliminary thoughts on The Fundamental Science review (a.k.a. the Naylor Report), the launch of the Canada Research Coordinating Committee and the recent appointment of Dr. Mona Nemer as the Government’s Chief Science Advisor. As will be described below, CASCA is communicating directly with the government on all these subjects. Another important topic highlighted in her speech was the need for greater representation in the sciences. In her speech, Minister Duncan noted the following:

This issue has a deep personal significance to me as someone who spent the bulk of her career as a woman in science.

During my science career, I was told the reason I was getting paid in the bottom 10th percentile was because I was a woman.

I was asked by a fellow faculty member during a staff meeting when I planned on getting pregnant.

I was asked to choose how I wanted to be treated: as a woman or as a scientist.

My travels across Canada have made it very clear to me that addressing the inequities in the research community must remain a top priority for all of us.

Minister Duncan concludes:

We must work together to right the gender, equity and diversity scales in the sciences. And when we do, science will be that much stronger for it.

I say ‘amen’ to that. In fact, I think we as a society do too. And when it comes to issues of greater inclusiveness and fairness in representation, CASCA as a professional society can have real agency in effecting changes in our own professional climate. We have taken some important steps already (e.g. by forming the Equity and Inclusivity Committee, led by Brenda Matthews), but it would be incredibly helpful to have a clearer understanding of the scope of the problem. For that reason the Equity & Inclusivity Committee put together a climate survey (available in both French and English. All CASCA members should already have received news about the survey via the society’s email exploder, but allow me to reiterate how hugely important this survey is to the health of our profession in Canada. If you don’t believe me, believe the Minister of Science. If you haven’t already completed the survey, please, please, find the time to do it.

Coalition Activities

Since the last time I wrote to you, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has continued its dialogue with the federal government, focusing on the priorities set out in the Long Range Plan. On November 28, the co-chairs1 of the Coalition and two invited guests visited Ottawa with this purpose in mind. We had two specific goal for this trip. The first was to provide updates on some key priorities which we have been invited to comment further on during our last visit (progress on the Thirty Meter Telescope and the Square Kilometre Array). The second was to advocate for greater support of the Canadian Space Agency. We met with Dr. Nipun Vats (Assistant Deputy Minister, Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development) and Michael Rosenblatt (Director, Federal Science and Technology Policy, Science Policy Branch, Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development). We also met with Katharine Wright at the Office of the Chief Science Advisor, and with Kate Young (M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Science).

To help us articulate our goals more clearly, on this trip we were joined by Prof. Sarah Gallagher (Western University) and by Deborah Lokhorst (a PhD student at the University of Toronto). Sarah recently co-authored an important white paper on space astronomy funding (together with Jeremy Heyl and Ilaria Caiazzo, both at UBC), and she was able to place Canada’s investments in Space Astronomy into a broad international (and historical) context. Deborah was tasked with explaining why federal support is needed now for priority missions identified in the Long Range Plan (such as WFIRST), in order to secure a bright future for younger generations of Canadian astrophysicists, such as herself, that will be carrying the torch once people like me have ridden off into the sunset. While this visit to Ottawa focused largely on Space Astronomy and support for the Canadian Space Agency, we did not fail to communicate how the plan represents a coherent vision for Canadian astrophysics (agreed upon by the whole community), how astrophysics (the country’s premiere science, in terms of international impact) benefits all Canadians, and how the LRP aligns with the government’s priorities.

On behalf of the CASCA Board of Directors, allow me to conclude this message by wishing you all the best for a happy holiday season, and for a productive and prosperous 2018.

1 The coalition co-chairs are Prof. Don Brooks (UBC), representing ACURA (the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy), Guy Nelson (CEO of Empire Industries), and me (representing CASCA, i.e. you).

President’s Message

2014-06-27-Prof. Roberto Abraham

By/par Roberto Abraham, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Autumn/l’automne 2017)

Dear CASCA Members,

It’s been a busy summer! Here are some activities that have been going on over the past few months:

CHIME First Light

About two weeks ago, Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, installed the final piece of the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), triggering the official First Light for this exciting new radio telescope. Congratulations to the many people involved in CHIME at UBC, McGill, Toronto, and NRC.

CHIME is incredibly innovative and its science is hugely exciting, so it is no surprise to see that its First Light generated a lot of buzz in both the astronomical community and in the media. I can’t wait to see the exciting science it will produce. The process by which CHIME came into existence is also interesting because it is another success story for the CASCA Long-Range Plan process. I was on the LRP2010 committee (chaired by Chris Pritchet at the University of Victoria) and well remember the extensive discussions about CHIME that led to it being declared the top mid-scale priority in the plan. This prioritization evidently played an important role in securing its funding. I’m not a radio astronomer (yet), and I’m no lover of committees (in general), but I must say it is incredibly satisfying watching the CHIME team deliver the goods and knowing that the work the community put into LRP2010 helped make CHIME happen. By being organized, disciplined, and working together, harnessing the many strengths of both Canadian Universities and the NRC, we can build the groundwork for more Canadian success stories in astrophysics. And if you are getting the impression from this buildup that the Canadian community is starting to gear up for LRP2020, well, of course you’re right. Witness (for example) the very successful recent workshop held in Montreal last week on “Canadian Radio Astronomy – Surveying the Present and Shaping the Future”. So, please start thinking about what you want the future to look like, because the planning for LRP2020 will be starting quite soon.

TMT Progress

After nearly five months of hearing evidence, the contested case hearing for the Thirty Meter Telescope Project has concluded and State Hearings Officer and former Judge Riki May Amano has recommended that a permit be issued to the University of Hawaii to allow construction of the TMT. In parallel with this progress in the legal domain, support for the TMT has been growing in Hawaii. Oahu public support for TMT construction is now almost 80 percent, and the most recent polling indicates that Hawaii Island residents support the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. This is great news! Very serious consideration of the backup site (La Palma) continues but we now have many reasons to be optimistic about the prospect of TMT construction at our first-choice site in Hawaii. Challenges remain but this should not come as as a surprise to anybody. (Beyond a certain scale, essentially all ambitious scientific infrastructure projects have to deal with some combination of logistical, financial, and scheduling hurdles. The trick is to have a robust plan in place to manage the challenges.) CASCA members interested in learning how the TMT project is progressing, and on the plans for future instruments, should participate in the community Webcast with senior TMT management being organized by CATAC (see Michael Balogh’s CATAC report in this issue for details). Future webcasts will organized to help keep the community up to date on the considerable progress being made on the TMT.

Perhaps it is not out of place to remind ourselves that the privilege of observing on Mauna Kea has been a huge benefit to many of us. Let’s be grateful for, and respectful of, this privilege. Over the summer, I sat down with a couple of books and did some reading about the fascinating history of the people of Hawaii. Since I’ve been a regular visitor to the islands for 25 years, I’m truly ashamed that it took me this long to read a book on this subject. As the legal process winds down, I hope more astronomers take some time to learn more about the history of the islands. (Though it’s somewhat dated, I can recommend « Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands » by Gavan Daws. If you have other suggestions, please do email me with them.)

Space Science and the Canadian Space Agency

After years of talking about it on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) advisory committee, the JWST Early Release Science proposal deadline has come and gone. The selection committee is meeting in a few weeks and will divide about 500 hours worth of observing time between about 15 proposals, chosen from the 106 submitted. The JWST General Observer call for proposals will come out in two months with a proposal deadline of next March. The lesson you should draw from all this is that THE JWST ERA IS ALMOST HERE!

The Canadian Space Agency has played an important role in the development of the JWST mission and, when the spacecraft launches in 2018, I think that all Canadians will be justifiably proud to learn that a team of Canadian academic, governmental, and industrial scientists, engineers and technicians built one of JWST’s key instruments (the NIRISS spectrometer, whose Principal Investigator is René Doyon at the Université de Montréal), not to mention the critical Fine Guidance Sensor that points and guides the telescope.

Unfortunately, JWST will have a very limited lifetime. It is designed to have at least a five-year lifetime after launch, and carries only enough fuel to maintain orbital positioning for a little over ten years. Of course, most space-based endeavours have long lead times, and investments in space missions frequently begin to pay off many years into the future (and, when it comes to flagship missions, sometimes decades into the future). The spectacular near-term future we are anticipating with JWST is thus the product of investments begun many years ago. But what about the decades after JWST? We need to ensure that post-JWST Canada continues to innovate, lead, and inspire.

Operating in synergy with the CASCA Long Range Plan, and with a particular eye toward LRP2020, a number of Canadians have begun thinking about ways to lay out a roadmap to such an exciting post-JWST future. Professors Sarah Gallagher (Western) and Jeremy Heyl (UBC), working with graduate student Ilaria Caiazzo (UBC), have put together a very thoughtful white paper which I think everybody should read. This White Paper, together with the various Topical Team reports now being prepared by the CSA, show how space-based astrophysical research should operate in the country at a variety of levels, from low-cost, agile balloon-based missions that perform end-to-end experiments on a timescale relevant for the training of graduate students, to focused mid-scale missions that target high-risk/high-return subjects such as primordial gravitational waves from the first few moments after the Big Bang, all the way up to proposed participation in (and potentially leadership in) much more infrequent but highly ambitious facilities that will keep our astronomical research and space industrial communities vibrant long after JWST. The key to to this future is increased funding for the Canadian Space Agency, and the immediate audience for our recommendations is the government’s newly-formed Space Advisory Board. The Space Advisory Board’s first report, titled “Consultations on Canada’s Future in Space: What We Heard”, is now available here.

This report summarizes the feedback Space Advisory Board members received from stakeholders during the public consultations on Canada’s future in space. There are exciting plans, but how do we turn these plans into reality? By now you should not be surprised to learn that LRP2020 will be an important component in this. In the meantime, we need to keep delivering the message to the government. And this inevitably brings me to the my final topic: activities by the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy.

Coalition Activities

In late August, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy prepared a pre-budget submission and submitted this to the government. There are two main recommendations in the submission:

Firstly, we offer a recommendation for increased funding for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) that is very much in-line with the White Paper noted above. The Coalition believes Canada has the resources to achieve international leadership in space-based astronomy, matching its existing success in ground-based astronomy, and that such a future includes leadership in a future space mission.

Secondly, as noted by the report on the Fundamental Science Review (the Naylor Report), Canada needs a mechanism for funding “big science” projects, which tend to involve multiple international partners, have price tags in the billions, take years to conceive and build, and have lifespans measured in decades. The lack of such a funding mechanism could mean lost opportunities for Canadian astronomy in the future, including those priority projects identified in our pre-budget submission. Therefore, getting a nimble mechanism in place remains a top priority for the Coalition. You will be hearing more about formal CASCA Board support for the Naylor Report soon, along with some suggestions for things you can personally do to help draw attention to this important report.

In addition to providing the government with a formal document as part of the pre-budget submission process, we also wrote to Ministers Bains and Duncan on August 30 to reinforce the priorities noted above. The co-chairs of the coalition (myself, on behalf of CASCA, Don Brooks, on behalf of the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy, and our industry co-chair Guy Nelson, CEO of Empire Industries) plan to visit Ottawa in October/November to follow-up on the priorities identified in this letter. As with our last visit to Ottawa, we will make an effort to meet with politicians on both sides of the bench.

Let me conclude this message by thanking you, on behalf of the CASCA Board, for your support of our society. We promise to work hard on your behalf. If you have any suggestions for things we could be doing better, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Roberto Abraham

President’s Message

2014-06-27-Prof. Roberto Abraham

By/par Roberto Abraham, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2017)

CASCA AGM

Many of us have just returned from a very successful CASCA Annual General Meeting in Edmonton. This was a terrific meeting and we owe our colleagues in Alberta our thanks for putting it together. This year’s CASCA AGM featured some wonderful talks (Dicke’s Superradiance, which I’d not even heard of before the meeting, turns out to be a really interesting thing) and interesting discussion sessions. Several of these sessions focused on topics of great significance for our community, such as the space astronomy funding situation and progress in the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope. We all look forward to more interesting talks and more stimulating discussion at the 2018 CASCA AGM in Victoria.

CATAC

As I described in my last President’s Message, a major focus of the CASCA Board’s recent activity has been to put into place a formal advisory structure for Canadian participation in the Thirty Meter Telescope project. I’m pleased to be able to report that the CASCA-ACURA TMT Advisory Committee (CATAC) was put into place at the start of this year, and many of you were able to witness it in action at the CASCA AGM. CATAC is being led by Prof. Michael Balogh (Waterloo), and in my opinion he has done an extraordinarily good job managing this new committee.

The specific terms of reference for CATAC are carefully spelled out in a formal document, but the gist is that CATAC has two major roles:

  1. This committee continuously assesses progress in the TMT project, making sure that TMT meets the scientific, technical and strategic goals set out in the Long-range Plan, and it feeds this information to the LRP Implementation Committee.
  2. It acts as a conduit for consulting with and informing the community about the state of the TMT project.

An initial very significant activity of CATAC has been to provide CASCA and ACURA with a detailed assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of constructing TMT on La Palma, in the form of a detailed report. The report is, I think, a model for these kinds of things. It even got written up in Nature! The findings and the recommendations in this report make for important reading and I think you should take a look at it. The high-level summary is that building TMT on Mauna Kea is clearly the preferred option for our community, but building TMT on La Palma would still result in a very exciting telescope that would deliver transformational science for the Canadian astronomical community. Some of the disadvantages of La Palma cannot be overcome (e.g. its lower altitude limits performance at longer mid-infrared wavelengths), but others can be overcome by careful planning and an appropriate funding model. The various trade-offs, strengths and weaknesses in the project are described in detail in the report… please check it out.

By creating CATAC and populating it with astronomers with different areas of expertise, and trying to be inclusive with respect to institutional geography, gender and career stage, CASCA and ACURA have set in place a credible and representative structure for community-based feedback and advice. I think this committee is firing on all cylinders (thanks again, Michael Balogh and everybody serving on CATAC) and it’s really impressive to see it work. CATAC meets frequently (approximately weekly by telecon, though in between there is considerable discussion via email and via the Slack groupware system) and it has succeeded in spreading TMT expertise and engagement over many institutions. In my opinion this aspect of the committee’s activity will have an even more enduring impact than its first report, because the more Canadians get involved in the project, the more they feel a sense of ownership in it, at least if our community’s feelings about CFHT can be taken as a guide. For this reason, I was particularly pleased by CATAC’s decision to open four meetings to CASCA members, via Webex. These open meetings included presentations by key people in the TMT project. Armed with this information, members of the community provided thoughtful advice to CATAC, who discussed this at length and synthesized the community’s feedback into the final report. This activity has already had an impact, with more thinking at the project level now being focused on hardware (such as an adaptive secondary mirror) and operational models (such as an adaptive queue) that are of particular importance to the Canadian community.

Advancing the Long Range Plan

The long description above might give you the impression that the CASCA Board did nothing but focus on TMT this year. This is far from true! We were kept busy by many other things. For example, the federal government solicited feedback from us on a number of matters of relevance to the astronomical community, and CASCA, acting in partnership with ACURA and Industry as part of the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy, responded in the following ways:

  • The Coalition provided written input to Canada’s Innovation Agenda, and to the federal government’s Fundamental Science Review Panel. The Coalition also provided a pre-budget submission the federal government, noting the commitment needed to fulfil the aspirations in the Long Range Plan.
  • On behalf of the Coalition, I met with the Fundamental Science Review Panel in Calgary. Once again, the emphasis was on the items in the Long Range Plan.
  • Last Fall, the Coalition mailed out a summary of the conclusions of the CASCA Mid-Term Review to all MPs. This Spring we sent each MP a beautifully-printed copy of the full review.

In addition to providing feedback to specific requests from the government, we also acted in a pro-active manner in a number of ways. For example:

  • On behalf of the Coalition, I flew to Ottawa to meet with representatives from the Aerospace Industry Association of Canada to consider ways in which CASCA could partner with them on topics of mutual interest.
  • On May 9 the coalition co-chairs (Don Brooks, Guy Nelson and I) traveled to Ottawa and met with Genevieve Tanguay (VP, Emerging Technologies, NRC), John Burnett (Director of Policy, Office of the Minister of Science), and Marilyn Gladu (Conservative Party Science Critic).

These latter meetings were particularly useful, not only for informing government about our aspirations in the LRP, but also for hearing back from them about ways we could better align ourselves with top-level national goals (an important component in our success). For example, in our discussions with NRC we discussed challenges to do with Compute Canada and the Canada Foundation for Innovation (which has not clearly understood the close linkage between University-based and NRC-based researchers), and we learned that NRC needs help with outreach and public communications. I think that CASCA members should try hard during our outreach activities to communicate how success in Canadian astronomy is at least partially a function of a close partnership between NRC, Universities, and Industry. I hope you can help by touching upon this theme when describing our activities to the general public.

In the coming months the CASCA Board and its various committees will continue to work hard on your behalf. There are a few big-ticket items coming up, and I expect we will be focusing considerable energy on advocacy for the space astronomy and radio astronomy portions of the Long Range Plan, and on a professional climate survey being prepared by the Equity and Inclusivity Committee.

Let me conclude by apologizing yet again for a somewhat overlong President’s Message, and on behalf of the CASCA Board, I extend to you our very best wishes for a healthy, happy, and productive summer.

Word from the president / Mot du président

2014-06-27-Prof. Roberto Abraham

By/par Bob Abraham, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Winter/hivers 2016)

Dear CASCA Members,

The last six months have been eventful ones for our association. The federal government has solicited feedback from Canadians on a number of matters of relevance to our community, and CASCA and its Coalition for Canadian Astronomy partners have responded by providing written input to Canada’s Innovation Agenda, and to the federal government’s Fundamental Science Review Panel (whom I also met with in Calgary). We also provided input to the government via the pre-budget submission process, mailed out a summary of the conclusions of the CASCA Mid-Term Review to all MPs, and are about to send each MP a beautifully printed copy of the full review (the production of which has been overseen by Rob Thacker, who has an eye for these things). We have made it a priority to learn more about the aspirations of our industry partners, particularly in the Space Astronomy sector, and reached out to the Aerospace Industry Association of Canada to consider ways in which CASCA could partner with them on topics of mutual interest. Many of you also participated in the Canadian Space Agency’s Space Exploration Workshop, in which CASCA members played a prominent role, and which ended on an optimistic note regarding the future of Canada’s aspirations in space astronomy.

In spite of this good progress, the elephant in the room remains the Thirty Meter Telescope project, which is facing some real challenges in Hawaii. As most of you know, the crux of the matter is the decision made almost exactly one year ago by the State Supreme Court of Hawaii to invalidate the TMT’s building permit (because due process was not followed in approving the initial permit). A contested case hearing is currently underway to determine if a new permit will be issued. The project must await the outcome from this (and the inevitable appeals, should the decision be positive), so I think it will be about six months before we know whether construction can continue at the Maunakea site.

The uncertainty over the future of astronomy on Maunakea has forced the TMT project to look seriously into alternative sites (more on this below). At a more personal level, it has also spurred many of us to reflect more on issues regarding Native Hawaiian culture and sovereignty. I personally think this is bit of a silver lining, as many astronomers now have a deeper respect for, and understanding of, the issues in Hawaii. Within CASCA, this has also led to some soul-searching about what we might be able to do to connect more closely with our own aboriginal community. This culminated recently in the CASCA Board’s Decision to reinvigorate the Westar Lectureship series, and to operate the Westar lectures in tandem with teacher training seminars offered by the CASCA-sponsored Discover The Universe Program.

The overarching goal of the revitalized Westar Lectureship program is to connect the exciting developments in astronomy more closely with the general public in under-served areas of the country, with a special eye toward engaging Aboriginal Canadians whenever we can. We hope to delight people with the spectacular progress being made in our subject, fill them with pride in the fact that so much of this progress is driven by Canadians, and ignite an interest in STEM-related subjects. The first Westar Lectureship in the new series occurred last month in Ayamdigut (Whitehorse). By all accounts it was a tremendous success, and CASCA offers its congratulations to Westar Lecturer Dr. Christa Van Laerhoven, University of Toronto graduate students Jielai Zhang and Heidi White (who organized the teacher training seminar), and Julie Boldoc-Duval, who coordinated much of the activity as part of the Dunlap/CASCA Discover the Universe program. The Westar Lectureship has had a great start, and we very much hope that many CASCA members will step-up and volunteer to be Westar Lecturers in the future.

Returning now to TMT, it’s clear that the situation is serious, though how serious will only be known once the legal situation in Hawaii becomes clearer. In the meantime, the project is focusing on learning more about the properties of an alternative site on La Palma in the Canary Islands (see Anecdote 1 below). CASCA organized a ‘tiger team’ committee to look at the qualities of several alternative sites. This committee did a great job, looking carefully at a lot of data in a short time, and we owe them our thanks. The conclusions have been summarized in a mailing sent to the CASCA exploder, and it’s fair to say that the lower altitude of La Palma is a source of concern to those astronomers who see their ground-based future as heavily weighted toward activity in the mid-infrared. On the other hand, it looks like building on La Palma may result in significant cost savings, which may make the project much more affordable (an important factor, as the delay in construction is costing money, leaving the project short of funds).

If you’ve read this far and have concluded that a lot is going on while we wait for the legal situation in Hawaii to untangle itself: you’re right. Don’t even get me started on things like the fallout from the shuffling of Canadian members on the TMT board of directors. I think a lot of this gets down to the understandable fact that impassioned and smart people who have given years of their lives to the TMT project find it incredibly frustrating to be stuck playing the waiting game. I’ve spoken to most of the principals in the international partnership, consulted with all the relevant CASCA committees, and spoken to many of you personally about TMT, and it’s clear that there is a huge range of views on how best to handle the uncertainty while we await the convergence of the legal process in Hawaii. However, one thing that everybody in Canada that I’ve spoken to agrees on is the importance of operating within the framework of the Long Range Plan (LRP). The LRP gives us a degree of coherence that other disciplines envy, and this coherence has led to much of our success (which is bibliometrically analyzed in excruciating detail in… the Long Range Plan).

Nobody who helped put the LRP together figured we live in a Universe where large technical projects come together with anything like perfect smoothness. Essentially all big science projects face technical and/or financial challenges. A perfect example that is close to home is the James Webb Space Telescope. I returned from the Advisory Committee meeting for this a few weeks ago and can assure you the project looks to be in great shape. But talk to me sometime about its near-death experience five years ago, which was far more serious than what TMT is facing now. More often than not, these big projects face multiple crises. Seeing them through to successful conclusions takes planning, flexibility and grit. Scientists who have been through this before ‘get’ this, and fortunately our government sponsors get it too. Challenges are to be expected, but keeping our heads in the sand helps nobody, so we need to have a system in place for both keeping an eye on things and devising ways to navigate the way forward when things get tricky. In our community, this is handled by the Long-Range Plan Implementation Committee (LRPIC). The LRPIC is an important part of our system, and of course the LRPIC is keeping a close eye on TMT right now.

Monitoring progress (and being prepared to undertake course corrections) will be important to the ultimate success of TMT, but it’s also crucially important for the community to have a clear sense for what is going on. Up until recently, informing the community about what has been going on with the TMT project has been handled informally (via various private mailing lists) but that’s just not the right way to communicate progress on such an important project with so many stakeholders (academic, industrial, and government). So I’m pleased to be able to report that CASCA and ACURA are working together to form a Canadian TMT Advisory Committee which will have two big roles: (1) It will continuously assess progress, making sure TMT meets the scientific, technical and strategic goals set out in the Long-range Plan, and it will feed this information to the LRPIC; (2) It will act as a conduit for consulting with and informing the community about the state of the TMT project, via regular updates and Webex ‘town hall’ style meetings. The composition of the Canadian TMT Advisory Committee is coming together as I write this and I think it’s going to be an important committee. If you’re asked to serve on it, please say yes. In any case, I think we all share the hope that this committee will keep the CASCA membership so well informed that I won’t find it necessary to write such a long-winded President’s Message in the future!

With best wishes for the holidays and for a wonderful 2017,

Roberto Abraham

Anecdote 1: I confess that I love La Palma. I obtained the data for my PhD from the (newly-commissioned) William Herschel Telescope there back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. This first-year grad student came back from his first observing run with a tape full of 0.7 arcsec FWHM images of BL Lac host galaxies, several bottles of duty-free Rioja, a tan, a huge head start on a thesis, and a big smile.

President’s Report

By Bob Abraham, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2016)

Well, this is my first President’s Message, and even though I’ve only been in the job for ten days, it’s been enough time to learn two things:

(1) Many things that Chris Wilson made look effortless are hard work! We all owe her our thanks.

(2) Being the President of CASCA is like getting dropped into the deep end of the pool. In the last ten days I’ve met with the ACURA Board and Council, worked with the JCSA and the LRPIC committees to define a strategy for moving forward on the space-based component of the plan crafted by the MTR panel, crafted a letter to the CSA’s Space Advisory Board, and have begun working with my Coalition for Astronomy Co-Chairs to devise a stategic plan for communicating our message to the Canadian Government. That message will contain the story of our community’s many successes, relay our ambitious goals for the future, and make clear how we give back to Canada in a myriad number of ways.

CASCA is a wonderful community and it’s an honour to serve you all. Our work together is made infinitely easier because of the hard-working and dedicated members of the society that do things like serve on the CASCA board and on its many committees, and because so many people pull together to organize and run national meetings. A big thank you to you all, and I look forward to serving you for the next two years.

Past-President’s Report

Wison

From/de Christine Wilson
(Cassiopeia – Summer/été 2016)

Hi, everyone,

I have recently returned from the 2016 CASCA meeting in Winnipeg, which was a big success! The prize winning talks were uniformly excellent. Chris Pritchet (Beals Award) gave a comprehensive talk on the progenitors of Type IA supernovae that extended from the 1993 calibration of the stretch factor that allows these objects to be used as standard candles to very recent work suggesting that single degenerate binaries are likely not the progenitors. Peter Stetson (Dunlap Award) regaled us with a historical overview of photometry, starting with the first “computers” up to his current massive and impressive “Homogeneous Photometry Project”, punctuated by periodic questions for the audience of “Who under the age of 50 knows [xxx]?” and including props such as a photographic plate and (if memory serves) a piece of a photoelectric photometer. Jaymie Matthews (Qilak Award) gave an entertaining talk on his various outreach activities, including a collaboration with a shadow puppeteer and Science 101 for residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community. Jonathan Gagné (Plaskett Medal) described his major proper motion survey to search for young brown dwarfs in nearby moving groups by combining the WISE and 2MASS near-infrared surveys and using Bayesian analysis to prioritize targets for follow-up observations.

A highlight for many of us was the banquet talk by Wilfred Buck from the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre on Ininew (Cree) constellations and the legends around them. CASCA’s new Diversity and Inclusivity Committee organized a special plenary session that was very well attended where participants were led to consider various scenarios around these issues and possible ways to act and respond. The public lecture was given by the 2015 Nobel Prize winner in Physics, Professor A. McDonald, who spoke about the building and research with SNO, future research plans with SNO-lab, and what it is like to be in Stockholm during prize week. And of course the meeting was filled with contributed talks, special invited talks, and time for looking at posters. I want to congratulate the winners of the 2016 student presentation awards: best talk was won by Fraser Evans (McMaster University) for his talk “Red Misfit Galaxies in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey” and best poster was won by Nicholas Fantin (Queen’s University) for his poster “Identifying Halo White Dwarfs within the NGBS Field”.

In other news, John Hutchings of NRC-Herzberg was presented with the John H. Chapman Award of Excellence from the Canadian Space Agency in recognition of his exceptional contribution to the Canadian Space Program. The award was presented in a ceremony at the 17th Conference on Astronautics of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI ASTRO 2016) in Ottawa, Ontario. John has led Canada’s participation in landmark missions, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope on India’s ASTROSAT. The fact that he was able to lead so many major projects to fruition while maintaining excellent relations with international partners and a highly productive research career, is testimony to his skills, passion and perseverance. Congratulations to John on this award!

The report of the Mid-Term Review panel has been finished and released in electronic form to the community. The first draft of the French translation has been received and so we should be proceeding to print hard copies of the report very soon. I want to thank the chair of the MTR panel, Rob Thacker, and all the MTR panel members for all their time and effort to put together this excellent report. The Long Range Plan Implementation Committee has developed a 2-page summary of the report that is available for use in outreach to politicians, senior university administrators, and others who may not wish to read the whole report. The two-page summary is available in both English and French in the Long Range Plan area of the CASCA web site.

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has continued our outreach efforts with the new Federal Government with a letter to all new and returning MPs congratulating them on their election and introducing them to our community and Long Range Plan.

As I described in an earlier report, the Westar Lectureship is being re-instated under the guidance of the Education and Public Outreach Committee and the CASCA Board. The aim is to have the first Westar Lecture held this fall, possibly in the Yukon. Keep an eye on your inbox for information on how to apply to be a Westar Lecturer or nominate another excellent public speaker.

For updates on the various facilities that our community is involved in, such as TMT, SKA, and WFIRST, please see the committee reports on the CASCA web site or other articles in this issue.

Finally, as out-going President, I would like to thank the members of the CASCA Board and also all the CASCA committee members for their hard work on behalf of our community. I look forward to supporting our new President, Bob Abraham, and to working with the new Vice-President, Rob Thacker, and our two new Directors, Kristine Spekkens and Erik Rosolowsky.

Have a great summer!
Chris Wilson

President’s Report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Printemps/spring 2016)

Hi, everyone,

Spring is in the air, and that means it is time to start planning your trip to the next annual CASCA meeting, to be held this year in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Registration is now open and the abstract submission deadline is April 8. More information is available on the meeting web site. The graduate student workshop will be on May 30th, 2016 with the CASCA meeting itself May 31st – June 2nd, 2016. In addition, there will be a half-day meeting on the status and future of ground-based submillimetre astronomy in Canada on Friday, June 3rd. The meeting will be held at the historic Fort Garry Hotel, located in the heart of Winnipeg, within easy walking distance of many attractions such as The Forks and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Our new Diversity and Inclusivity Committee has drafted a meeting Code of Conduct that is being reviewed by the CASCA Board. There will also be a special plenary session on diversity and inclusivity at the meeting itself.

The Westar Lecture series is planned to resume in 2016. The new model for this series will combine a Westar lecture by an astronomer with hands-on teacher training activities offered by Discover the Universe. An ad hoc Westar committee has been formed to coordinate planning; the committee consists of Lorne Nelson for the CASCA board, Julie Bolduc-Duval for Discover the Universe, and Phil Langill from the Unviersity of Calgary. The EPO Committee will select the initial lecturers. We are planning to target more remote sites without good connections with a local university, possibly in northern Canada.

Many of you will have seen the announcement on February 16, 2016 that Vicky Kaspi has been awarded the Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council. It is great to see a member of our community recognized with this high-profile national award! Vicky is also the first woman ever to be awarded the Herzberg medal. Congratulations to Vicky on this well-deserved award!

Spring is also the time when we announce our CASCA award winners. Our winners this year are

  • Chris Pritchet (University of Victoria) for the Carlyle S. Beals Award for groundbreaking research
  • Peter Stetson (NRC Herzberg) for the Dunlap Award for Innovation in Astronomical Research
  • Jonathan Gagné (Carnegie Institute for Science) for the J. S. Plaskett Medal for the most outstanding doctoral thesis
  • Jaymie Matthews (University of British Columbia) for the Qilak Award for astronomy communications, public education, and outreach
  • Ralph Pudritz (McMaster University) for the Executive Award for outstanding service

Congratulations to all our award winners and I look forward to seeing you at the CASCA meeting in Winnipeg!

Work on the report from the Mid-Term Review panel is very nearly finished. An initial draft was released to the community for a two-week comment period on February 23. The final revisions are nearly done and we expect to release the final report (electronically, English only) any day now. The report will be translated into French and printed in both official languages, which will take additional time.

Early in the new year, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy reached out to the new Federal Government, with letters to key ministers followed up by a face-to-face meeting with the Minister for Science, Kirsty Duncan, in Ottawa on February 25. We took this opportunity to introduce the minister and her staff to our long range planning process and to highlight key facilities from that plan, including the Thirty Meter Telescope, the Square Kilometre Array, and WFIRST. The tone of the meeting was very cordial and the new minister appears very interested in hearing about the exciting science that our community does, which is very encouraging.

In facility news, the TMT situation continues to evolve slowly, with meetings by the TIO Board in February 2016 and the beginning of a process to review possible alternative sites for the telescope (see contribution from Ray Carlberg in this newsletter). The Canadian Space Agency celebrated the successful launch on March 17, 2016 of Hitomi (formerly known as ASTRO-H), a new Japanese X-ray telescope with which Canada is involved. The CSA has also released a Request for Proposals for Phase 0 studies for the WFIRST mission, which is an important and necessary step towards ultimately securing Canadian participation in this Dark Energy mission.

Finally, one of the annual tasks of the CASCA President as chair of the Canadian National Committee for the IAU is to submit our “Annual Performance Review” to the National Research Council. This report is important as it helps to justify the payment of our annual membership dues (29,000 Euros in 2016) to the IAU. This year we continued our tradition of excellence and achieved a rank of 3 out of 28 Canadian National Committees across a wide range of disciplines that submitted reports for 2015.

President’s Report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Hivers/Winter 2015)

Hi, everyone,

Well, the end of term is in sight but like many of you, I am still swamped with marking and student meetings. So this will again be a short report noting a few important highlights.

Our next annual meeting will be held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The graduate student workshop will be on May 30th, 2016 with the CASCA meeting itself May 31st – June 2nd, 2016. The meeting will be held at the historic Fort Garry Hotel, located in the heart of Winnipeg, within easy walking distance of many attractions such as The Forks and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. More information is available on the meeting web site. Registration will open in January.

Work on the report from the Mid-Term Review panel is well underway; the committee estimates that roughly 90% of the document has been written. The panel is holding weekly telecons and I think the report is converging quite quickly. While there is a certain amount of polishing that will be needed, the panel is working to have the full report completed early in the new year.

I am sure that many of you continue to follow the latest news on the TMT from Hawai`i. In early December, the Hawai`i Supreme Court invalidated the Conservation District Use Permit issued by the Board of Land and Natural Resources (BLNR) to the University of Hawaii – Hilo to build TMT on Maunakea. This means that TMT will need to apply for a new permit in Hawai`i in order to build on the Maunakea site, with September 2016 the earliest possible date on which a new permit could be obtained. We continue to monitor the situation and will share information as it becomes available and can be made public.

Members of the ACURA Advisory Committee on the SKA helped to organize a workshop on “Canada and the SKA” that was held at the University of Toronto December 10-11, 2015. The meeting was an opportunity for the Canadian community to assess its main interests and activities for the SKA, and to identify areas for synergy and coordination. There was good turnout by astronomers from a number of Canadian universities and NRC-Herzberg, as well as participation by a number of potential industrial partners and a number of international astronomers as well. If you missed the workshop, the talks are expected to be made available soon on the conference web site.

The CASCA Board held two meetings this fall, a short one in October and our longer mid-year meeting in December. These meetings are held electronically to save time and travel costs. We also discuss issues as they arise via email and igloo (a community forum software). The new Diversity and Inclusivity Committee has been established; its first chair is Dr. Brenda Matthews from NRC-Herzberg and you can find the membership and terms of reference on the CASCA web site. Another task at this time of year is identifying new members to serve on CASCA committees: a big thank you to everyone who has agreed to serve our community in this way!

One of the major areas of discussion over the past 18 months has been the Westar trust and the Westar Lectureship. In my previous report, I described how the Board had committed a portion of the income from the Westar funds to support the Discover the Universe Initiative. A big focus over the next 6 months will be working to re-establish the Westar Lectureship series. The Westar lectures occurred quite regularly in the 2000s but as far as I can tell was overtaken in 2009 by the International Year of Astronomy and never restarted. The CASCA Board is working with our EPO committee and Discover the Universe to implement a new model that combines a Westar lecture by an astronomer with hands-on teacher training activities offered by Discover the Universe. Expect to see a call for volunteers in early 2016.

Happy holidays!