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!

President’s Report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Autumn/Automne 2015)

Hi, everyone,

As usual, the start of term crush has worked its usual “magic” and so this will again be a short report noting a few key highlights.

The IAU held its General Assembly in Honolulu in August. Canadians were well represented among the participants and invited speakers. Approximately 40 Canadian researchers became new members of the IAU at this meeting. Two Canadians were elected to high-level IAU committees: Bill Harris from McMaster University to the Membership Committee and JJ Kavelaars from NRC Herzberg to the Finance Committee.

I am sure many of you are following the latest news on the TMT from Hawai`i. As I write this, construction is still on hold and protesters continue to be present on the summit access road much of the time. The situation makes the news periodically, in Canada most recently on the CBC news program “As it happens”. The situation remains difficult for people on both sides of the issue and we need to be patient and let the parties closer to the situation try to work out a solution.

The Mid Term Review panel has continued working over the summer. They held a face-to-face meeting in Montreal in July, which included a meeting with staff at the Canadian Space Agency, and are beginning to draft up their report. The final report is scheduled to be released in late fall 2015.

The ACURA Advisory Committee on the SKA has also been active over the summer. There will be a meeting “Canada and the SKA” held in Toronto December 10-11, 2015. This meeting will be an opportunity for the Canadian community to assess its main interests and activities for the SKA, and to identify areas for synergy and coordination. The meeting will be held in conjunction with a meeting on the Murchison Widefield Array December 7-9, 2015. Registration is now open at http://mwatelescope.org/toronto/

Coming up this fall, expect to see a call for nominations for CASCA’s various awards to appear soon with a deadline likely late November or early December. This will be an earlier deadline than in previous years with the aim of allowing award winners to be identified early enough that it is more likely that they will be able to attend the CASCA AGM to be held in Winnipeg in 2016. The CASCA Board is also moving to establish a new Diversity Committee and will be looking for members for this new committee soon. The Board has also committed some funding from the Westar Fund to support a new application to the NSERC PromoScience program by Discover the Universe and the Dunlap Institute.

To close, I want to note four of our society’s members who have been honoured this past month. Roberto Abraham from the University of Toronto has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Julio Navarro from the University of Victoria has been awarded the Henry Marshall Tory Medal from the Royal Society of Canada. This medal is for outstanding research in any branch of astronomy chemistry, mathematics, physics, or an allied science. Matt Dobbs from McGill University and Sara Ellison from the University of Victoria have been named to The College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada. Congratulations to Sara, Matt, Julio, and Bob on these well-deserved awards.

President’s Report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2015)

Hi, everyone,

The undeniable highlight of the past 3 months was the announcement by the Federal government on April 6, 2015 that it would fund Canada’s share of construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). TMT construction funding appeared as a line item in the Federal budget that was released on April 21, 2015, with funding for the past year and the next five years set out in some detail. TMT also merited its own two pages in the budget document.

This announcement was the culmination of at least seven years of activity by many players, including the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy, university presidents, ACURA, CASCA, individual astronomers, and the general public. I want to take this opportunity to summarize the activities that I personally was involved in or was aware of over the past year that helped us achieve such a successful conclusion.

Over the summer of 2014, a number of Canadian astronomers wrote to Minister Holder. Some also met with their individual MPs and/or with their University President or Vice-President Research. These efforts resulted in some initial discussion of the TMT at the U15 meeting of university presidents in August. Also in August, the Coalition made Pre-Budget Submission on the TMT. In July there was also a very good article by Ivan Semeniuk on the TMT in the Globe & Mail that generated some follow-up media interest on radio and television. In September the Coalition sent copies of the TMT two-pager and brochure to all MPs.

The TMT Planning Team held monthly telecons over the summer and early fall of 2014 and was heavily involved in the outreach to Holder and the preparation of the pre-budget submission. However, as the lobbying became more confidential, political, and requiring rapid responses, more and more of the work and discussion was done by the Coalition co-Chairs (Don Brooks, Guy Nelson, and myself) along with ACURA Executive Director Ernie Seaquist, our TSA lobbyist Duncan Rayner, and TMT Canadian Project Scientist Ray Carlberg. Also in the fall I believe there were parallel discussions and lobbying efforts going on among key university presidents. However, I have only indirect knowledge of these efforts and likely the details are known only to the presidents involved. So I will not say anything further except that the strong support by key university presidents and their willingness to interact with government on our behalf was certainly an essential part of the effort that resulted in a successful outcome on TMT.

On October 20, 2014, the three Coalition co-Chairs traveled to Ottawa for meetings with staff in the Ministry of Industry, the Ministry of Finance, and the Privy Council Office. Those meetings were very professional and cordial, and my impression was that the level of interest in the TMT project was highest in Finance and the PCO, despite the fact that they did not have as much history with the TMT as did Industry. In late October/early November, Industry co-chair Guy Nelson participated in a large Canadian delegation trip to China; although we did not manage to get TMT into any of the announcements during that trip, he made valuable contacts among staff members, including in the Prime Minister’s office, which were likely very useful later on. The coalition followed up with a letter to all MPs in November.

In November the Coalition was requested to come to Ottawa for a meeting with the Prime Minister’s Office; although we were not able to settle on a November meeting date, we did have a meeting with the PMO December 16, 2014. In late November, I wrote personally to the Prime Minister about the TMT as CASCA President, as it occurred to me that he might not have been reached individually by any of the other letters.

In January 2015, a very good and positive story on the TMT appeared in the Toronto Star, highlighting that we were approaching a now or never decision for Canada’s participation and saying that the TMT is something Canada should be doing. The Coalition sent an email-blast to all MPs in late January with the links to the Star article. There was a similar article about Canada’s potential role in the TMT in Nature in March. In late March we received a request for some more information on the TMT from a staff member in the PMO. On March 31, 2015, the Coalition had its first firm indication that we were going to have a positive outcome on the TMT, and after several hectic days, by April 6 most of us, including representatives from the RASC and other amateur communities, were in Vancouver to hear the Prime Minister announce Canada’s commitment to the TMT. At the request of the government, I also attended the 2015 Budget Stakeholders Lock-Up in Ottawa on April 21, presumably to be available to answer any media questions afterwards. In the event there was no media interest in the TMT that day, the news-worthy event having probably been the earlier announcement on April 6.

With hindsight, the December 16th meeting with the PMO was a real turning point. We were scheduled to meet with two mid-level staff members, but at the last minute a very high-level and well-connected staff member joined the meeting and asked a lot of very focused and interested questions. He said very positive things, such as the TMT is exactly the type of project that a federal government should be doing, because it can’t be left to the private sector, an individual university, and so on. This person likely played a key role in moving the TMT through the process. I happened to see him after the Budget Lock-Up and was able to say thank you in person.

So that is a brief history of the TMT efforts in Canada over the past year. We had a little celebration at the CASCA Banquet in Hamilton where a number of individuals were thanked publicly and invited to speak, and we had a wonderful set of TMT cupcakes (see photos elsewhere in this issue) for people to enjoy. In addition, the CASCA Board formally recognized Don Brooks and Guy Nelson as Patrons of the society, in recognition of their hard work on are behalf as coalition co-chairs over many years.

While TMT was obviously the big news story of the past three months, there have been other important activities going as well. The Mid Term Review panel has been very active. A series of three town hall meetings were held in Montreal, Toronto, and Victoria from March 24-26, 2015. On April 20, the MTR panel held a face-to-face meeting at the Toronto Airport Sheraton to review the results from the town halls and to come up with a preliminary list of recommendations. These preliminary recommendations were presented to the community at the CASCA Annual General meeting in a special one-hour session on May 27, 2015. The MTR panel will focus on writing the report over the summer, with the release of the final report planned for late fall, 2015.

The 2015 CASCA annual meeting was held in Hamilton, Ontario from May 24-27 hosted by McMaster University. The graduate student workshop this year focused on Statistics in Astronomy and was led by Dr. Eric Feigelson (Penn State Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics). By all accounts this was a big success. The main meeting featured a variety of interesting contributed and invited talks as well as a number of lunch sessions focussing on particular telescopes, including a very well attended information session on the SKA on Monday. The CASCA Board and student awards for the best poster by a graduate student were both one by Alexandre Fortier from Université de Montréal for his poster “On the Origin of DQ White Dwarfs”. The CASCA Board award for best student talk was won by Paolo Turri from the University of Victoria for his talk “Precision photometry from the ground: observations of the double subgiant branch of NGC 1851 using GeMS MCAO”, while the CASCA student award for best student talk was won by Nicholas MacDonald from Boston University for his talk “One Epoch at a Time: Discovering Jet Structure in Blazars through Radio Map Stacking”.

A Big “Thank you” to the Government of Canada

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2015)

On April 6, 2015, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that Canada would be a partner in the construction and operation of the Thirty Meter Telescope, committing up to 243.5 million dollars in construction funding. I am sure I speak for all members of the Canadian Astronomical Society when I say that we are extremely grateful to the Government of Canada for this commitment, the largest capital funding ever provided to a Canadian astronomical telescope.

The Thirty Meter Telescope will be a revolutionary facility producing exciting new discoveries in areas from studies of planets around other nearby stars to the formation of galaxies at the edge of the visible universe. Canada’s participation in TMT construction speaks to the international competitiveness of Canadian industry, which will build the telescope enclosure and its adaptive optics system. For Canadian astronomers and universities, participation in the TMT will help us to maintain our world-leading reputation in Astronomy and Astrophysics and to continue to attract the very best students and researchers to study and work in Canada.

As CASCA members, we look forward to working with our national and international partners to build the Thirty Meter Telescope and to sharing its first science results with our fellow Canadians.

President’s Report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Spring 2015)

Hi, everyone,

The past three months have been a bit quieter than the fall, but as you will see from this report, the pace of activities will be picking up as we move into the spring.

I would like to start by thanking the 361 members of CASCA who renewed their membership and paid their dues before December 1, 2014. I would like to encourage the remaining members 159 members to pay their dues as soon as possible! Just as a reminder, you must be a member of CASCA to present at a CASCA annual meeting. (The ability for non-members to be sponsored once every 5 years is meant primarily for undergrads and other special cases.) Also, you must be a member to be eligible for a CASCA award or to nominate someone for an award. If you do not intend to renew your membership (perhaps you have moved to a new job out of the country?), you can resign from the society by emailing our secretary, James di Francesco.

The 2015 CASCA annual meeting will be held in Hamilton, Ontario from May 24-27 and is hosted by McMaster University. The graduate student workshop, Board meeting, and welcome reception will take place on May 24, with the scientific sessions on May 25-27. Invited speakers include Sara Ellison (Victoria), Avery Broderick (Perimeter/Waterloo), Alyson Brooks (Rutgers), and Bryan Gaensler (Dunlap/Toronto) as well as our various prize and award speakers. Registration for the meeting is now open; I encourage you to register by April 1, 2015, as after that date the cost of registration will rise. Abstract submission is also open and abstracts are due by April 1. Students who are presenting at the meeting (either an oral or poster presentation) will be eligible for partial travel support. The deadline for reserving your room at the special meeting rate at the Sheraton Hotel is April 23.

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) continues to occupy a lot of time and energy. In terms of lobbying activities, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has not undertaken any major new initiatives, but is more in a mode of responding to inquiries as they appear. I believe there is significant effort going on behind the scenes by some of the university presidents on our behalf but do not know any details. The announcement in February that the 2015 Federal Budget would be delayed until at least April was a real surprise and led to questions from community members about what impact this might have on our TMT participation. My understanding is that a budget announcement in April will not cause any difficulties. I also believe our TMT partners will be able to wait a little longer should the budget or the relevant details relating to the TMT not appear until May, as they realize we have no control over the timing of these things. I remain cautiously hopeful that we will be successful in obtaining funding for the TMT.

The Mid-Term Review (MTR) of the 2010 Long Range Plan is now well underway. The MTR panel has met 3 times by telecom in preparation for the town hall meetings, which will occur March 24-26. There will be three town hall meetings: in Montreal on Tuesday, March 24; in Toronto on Wednesday, March 25; and in Victoria on Thursday, March 26. Please try to attend one of these town hall meetings if you can; they are an important opportunity for you to raise issues with the MTR panel and for the panel to hear about the concerns and priorities of our wider community. A list of discussion questions has been circulated and is posted on the town hall area of the CASCA web site; I also encourage you to read the white papers that are posted as well. There will be an MTR information session as part of the CASCA meeting in Hamilton; however the panel has decided not to hold a separate MTR session immediately after the CASCA meeting.

As you will see from the MTR white papers, there are a number of facilities and initiatives underway in our community with various levels of progress (e.g. CCAT, MSE, WFIRST, etc.). I am going to discuss just two of these in a bit of detail here and will try to provide updates on the most timely of the other projects in future reports. The first I will discuss is the Square Kilometre Array (SKA): there have been some major developments and progress related to the SKA in the last three months. Given the potential construction timeline for the SKA, I feel it is important to provide a few highlights here. The second is the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT), which has transitioned in the past 6 months from a national facility operated jointly with the UK to a new partnership among East Asian countries, UK universities, and Canadian universities.

The SKA Organisation issued a press release March 9 describing the outcomes of the recent rebaselining exercise for SKA Phase 1. SKA1 LOW, based in Australia, consists of over 100,000 dipole antennas with a collecting area of 0.4 square kilometres and operates from 50-350 MHz. SKA1 MID, based in South Africa, consists of 200 antennas with a collecting area of 33,000 square metres and operates from 350 MHz – 14 GHz. SKA1 MID will include the 64 MeerKAT dishes. Construction is planned to start in 2018. The full press release on the rebaselining outcomes can be found here: SKA press release. An SKA Key Science Workshop will take place in Stockholm August 24-27; see the workshop website SKA Workshop for more details about the meeting.

The past three months have also seen the transfer of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) to the new East Asian Observatory (EAO). Two consortiums of universities from the UK and from Canada are partnering with EAO in the operation of the JCMT for the next two years. The Canadian consortium universities are Alberta, Lethbridge, McMaster, Saint Mary’s, Waterloo, and Western. The observatory has begun a five-month period of pilot observations as semester 15A; during this period, proposal PIs must be from one of the consortium universities or the East Asian partner countries (China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan). The call for both PI and survey proposals for semester 15B is expected to be announced April 1, with proposals due May 15, 2015. The new JCMT web site can be found here: JCMT website.

I would like to end by congratulating our 2015 award winners. Laura Ferrarese is the 2015 receipient of the Peter G. Martin Award for Mid-Career Achievement. Paul Delaney is the 2015 recipient of the CASCA Qilak Award for Astronomy Communications, Public Education, and Outreach. Anne Archibald is the 2015 winner of the J.S. Plaskett Medal, awarded for most outstanding Ph.D. thesis by a graduate of a Canadian university. Congratulations to you all!