Distant Planetary System is Super-Sized Solar System (March 14, 2013)

TORONTO, ON (11 March 2013) – A team of astronomers, including Quinn Konopacky of the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto, has made the most detailed examination yet of the atmosphere of a Jupiter-like planet beyond our Solar System.

According to Konopacky, “We have been able to observe this planet in unprecedented detail because of the advanced instrumentation we are using on the Keck II telescope, our ground-breaking observing and data-processing techniques, and because of the nature of the planetary system.”

Konopacky is lead author of the paper describing the team’s findings, to be published March 14th in Science Express, and March 22nd in the journal Science.

The team, using a high-resolution imaging spectrograph called OSIRIS, uncovered the chemical fingerprints of specific molecules, revealing a cloudy atmosphere containing carbon monoxide and water vapour. “With this level of detail,” says Travis Barman, a Lowell Observatory astronomer and co-author of the paper, “we can compare the amount of carbon to the amount of oxygen present in the planet’s atmosphere, and this chemical mix provides clues as to how the entire planetary system formed.”

There has been considerable uncertainty about how systems of planets form, with two leading models, called core accretion and gravitational instability. Planetary properties, such as the composition of a planet’s atmosphere, are clues as to whether a system formed according to one model or the other.

“This is the sharpest spectrum ever obtained of an extrasolar planet,” according to co-author Bruce Macintosh of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “This shows the power of directly imaging a planetary system. It is the exquisite resolution afforded by these new observations that has allowed us to really begin to probe planet formation.”

The spectrum reveals that the carbon to oxygen ratio is consistent with the core accretion scenario, the model thought to explain the formation of our Solar System.

The core accretion model predicts that large gas giant planets form at great distances from the central star, and smaller rocky planets closer in, as in our Solar System. It is rocky planets, not too far, nor close to the star, that are prime candidates for supporting life.

“The results suggest the HR 8799 system is like a scaled-up Solar System,” says Konopacky. “And so, in addition to the gas giants far from their parent star, it would not come as a surprise to find Earth-like planets closer in.”

Konopacky and her team will continue to study the super-sized planets to learn more details about their nature and their atmospheres. Future observations will be made using the recently upgraded OSIRIS instrument which utilizes a new diffraction grating—the key component of the spectrograph that separates light according to wavelength, just like a prism. The new grating was developed at the Dunlap Institute and installed in the spectrograph in December 2012.

“These future observations will tell us much more about the planets in this system,” says Dunlap Fellow Konopacky. “And the more we learn about this distant planetary system, the more we learn about our own.”


Dr. Quinn Konopacky
Dunlap Fellow
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics
University of Toronto
e: konopacky@dunlap.utoronto.ca
p: 416-946-5465

Chris Sasaki
PIO; Communications and New Media Specialist
Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics
University of Toronto
e: csasaki@dunlap.utoronto.ca
p: 416-978-6613

The Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics continues the legacy of the David Dunlap Observatory of developing innovative astronomical instrumentation, including instrumentation for the largest telescopes in the world. The research of its faculty and Dunlap Fellows spans the depths of the Universe, from the discovery of exoplanets, to the formation of stars, the evolution and nature of galaxies, dark matter, the Cosmic Microwave Background, and SETI. The institute also continues a strong commitment to developing the next generation of astronomers and fostering public engagement in science. For more information: www.dunlap.utoronto.ca

CASCA/RASC/FAAQ Qilak Award Presented to Dr. James E. Hesser (March 3, 2013)

The Qilak award recognizes outstanding contributions to public understanding and appreciation of astronomy in Canada. CASCA is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2013 Qilak Award is Dr. James E. Hesser of the National Research Council.

Dr. Hesser has been a prominent figure in Canadian and international astronomy for many years. The director of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory since 1986, Dr. Hesser is a past president of both CASCA (2004-2006) and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1987-1989), and a former vice-president of the American Astronomical Society (1991-1994). In 1997, Dr. Hesser was one of the first recipients of the prestigious Michael Smith Award, given through NSERC Canada to « honour people and groups that are inspirational in the way that they promote science to the general public ». He received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 in recognition of his services to the National Research Council and to all aspects of astronomy. In 2004, he received the CASCA Executive Award for exceptional service to CASCA, and he holds the title of Honorary President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).

With a career-long commitment to astronomy education and public outreach, Dr. Hesser has led by example to forge an effective, efficient partnership between the main organizations of professional and amateur astronomy in Canada: CASCA, RASC, and the Fédération des astronomes amateurs du Québec (FAAQ). In collaboration with others, he worked diligently to establish respectful partnerships with Canada’s Aboriginal communities to preserve and celebrate indigenous knowledge of astronomy, and to illustrate pathways by which Aboriginal youth can aspire to and enter careers in science and technology. A longtime supporter of community outreach programmes, he often gives enthusiastic talks at astronomy conferences and other venues across Canada to encourage, motivate, and inspire his professional and amateur colleagues to participate in EPO activities.

Perhaps most significantly, Dr Hesser worked tirelessly to lead International Year of Astronomy (IYA) efforts within Canada. From 2005 to well beyond 2009, he led and guided this highly visible international project by serving as Canada’s « single point of contact » and as chair of the Executive Committee and Advisory Board for IYA within Canada. Under his direction, the IYA provided a « Galileo Moment » (i.e., « an engaging astronomy experience ») to more than two million people in Canada through more than 3600 separate events, from coast to coast to coast, and in both official languages. Always mindful of the need to cultivate lasting partnerships that sustain public interest in astronomy, Dr. Hesser has been a driving force behind « Beyond IYA » efforts within Canada.

CASCA thanks Dr. Hesser for his commitment to deepening the public’s understanding and appreciation of astronomy.

Laura Ferrarese, President, on behalf of the CASCA Board
Patrick Cote, Chair, on behalf of CASCA’s Awards Committee

CASCA’s Peter G. Martin Award Presented to Dr. Victoria Kaspi (March 3, 2013)

The Peter G. Martin Award is awarded to a Canadian astronomer, or astronomer working in Canada, within ten to twenty years of receipt of his or her PhD degree, to recognize significant contributions to astronomical research. CASCA is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2013 Peter G. Martin award is Prof. Victoria Kaspi of McGill University.

Dr. Kaspi received her Ph.D. in 1993 from Princeton University, under the supervisor of Nobel laureate Joseph Taylor. Following postdoctoral fellowships at Caltech and JPL, she was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1997 to 2002. In 1999, she moved to McGill University, where she is currently the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology. Her numerous awards and distinctions include the Annie Jump Cannon Prize (1998), Steacie Prize (2006), Rutherford Medal (2007) and John C. Polanyi Award (2011). She is a Fellow of both the Royal Society, and the Royal Society of Canada, and in 2011 was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

The author of more than 200 refereed publications, Prof. Kaspi’s research interests focus on neutron stars, radio pulsars and magnetars, with an emphasis on observational radio and X-ray astrophysics. Scientific highlights from Prof. Kaspi’s career include pioneering efforts in high-precision radio timing of millisecond pulsars, the use of binary pulsars in tests of General Relativity, the connection between pulsars and magnetars, and the study of highly magnetic radio pulsars in the field.

Please join us in congratulating Prof. Kaspi on the receipt of the 2013 Peter G. Martin Award.

Laura Ferrarese, President, on behalf of the CASCA Board
Patrick Cote, Chair, on behalf of CASCA’s Awards Committee

CASCA/RASC Plaskett Medal Presented to Dr. Yasuhiro Hasegawa (March 3, 2013)

The J.S. Plaskett Medal is awarded annually by CASCA and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) to the Ph.D. graduate from a Canadian university who is judged to have submitted the most outstanding doctoral thesis in astronomy or astrophysics during the preceding two calendar years. CASCA is pleased to announce that the recipient of the 2013 J.S. Plaskett Medal is Dr. Yasuhiro Hasegawa.

Dr. Hasegawa completed his doctoral studies in 2012 at McMaster University. His thesis, entitled « Planet Traps in Protoplanetary Disk and the Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems », was carried out under the supervision of Prof. Ralph Pudritz. This work explores in detail — from both a theoretical and computational perspective — the possibility that inhomogeneous structure in protostellar accretion disks can create ‘planet traps’ where major planets are built up primarily through the capture of rapidly migrating planetary cores, followed by the accretion of dense gas.

CASCA extends its congratulations to Dr. Hasegawa, who is currently an East Asian Core Observatories Association (EACOA) Fellow at the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics (ASIAA) in Taiwan.

Laura Ferrarese, President, on behalf of the CASCA Board
Patrick Cote, Chair, on behalf of CASCA’s Awards Committee

Reminder, deadline is Jan 15 – Rappel, date limite du 15 janvier CASCA awards nominations – Nominations pour les Prix et médailles de la CASCA

CASCA members are invited to submit their nominations for four awards
that will be bestowed in 2013:

1. *R.M. Petrie Prize Lecture*: The Petrie Lecture is « an invited discourse by an outstanding astrophysicist which is held at Annual Meetings of the Society in alternate years, in memory of the significant contributions to astrophysical research by the late
Robert M. Petrie. »
2. *Peter G. Martin Award*: Awarded to a CASCA member for Mid-Career Achievement by « a Canadian astronomer, or an astronomer working in Canada, within ten to twenty years of receipt of his or her PhD degree, to recognize significant contributions to astronomical research »
3. *J.S. Plasket Medal*: « Awarded to the Ph.D. graduate student from a Canadian university who is judged to have submitted the most outstanding doctoral thesis in astronomy or astrophysics in the preceding two calendar years. »
4. *Qilak Award*: « Awarded to a Canadian resident, or a team of residents, who have made an outstanding contribution either to the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy in Canada, or to informal astronomy education in Canada ».  [Selection to be made in consultation with the Education and Public Outreach Committee.]

For more information on these awards, including nomination requirements and a list of past recipients, please see:


Nominating letters and supporting materials should be submitted (electronically) to both the chair of the CASCA Awards Committee


and the CASCA business office


Any questions should be directed to the committee chair. In all cases, the deadline for submissions is *January 15, 2013*.

Patrick Cote, on behalf of the CASCA Awards Committee


Les membres de la CASCA sont invités à soumettre le nom de candidats pour les 4 prix suivants qui seront attribués en 2013:

1. La conférence R.M. Petrie: « La Conférence Petrie est prononcée tous les deux ans par un astrophysicien de mérite à l’occasion du congrès annuel de la Société. Elle commémore l’importante contribution de Robert M. Petrie à la recherche en astrophysique. »

2. Le prix Peter G. Martin: « Le prix Peter G. Martin pour contribution exceptionnelle de mi-carrière d’un membre de la CASCA est accordé à un astronome canadien ou un astronome travaillant au Canada. Le PhD du candidat doit avoir été décerné entre 10 et 20 ans avant la mise en candidature car le but est de reconnaître des contributions significatives à la recherche en astronomie. »

3. La médaille J.S. Plasket: « Le prix est attribué chaque année au diplômé de doctorat d’une université canadienne dont la thèse en astronomie ou astrophysique a été jugée la plus remarquable au cours des deux dernières années civiles. »

4. Le prix Qilak: « Le prix Qilak reconnaît des individus ou équipes résidant au Canada qui ont contribué de façon exceptionnelle soit à la compréhension et l’appréciation de l’astronomie au Canada, soit à l’éducation informelle en astronomie au Canada. » [La sélection sera faite en consultation avec le comité Education et Relations Publiques.]

Pour obtenir plus d’information, incluant les règlements et la liste des récipiendaires des années précédentes, veuillez consulter la page suivante:

Les lettres de nominations et le matériel demandé doivent être soumis (électroniquement) au président du comité Prix et Médailles et également au bureau de la Société:



Toute question peut être envoyée au président du comité. Dans tous les cas, la date limite des soumissions est le 15 janvier 2013.

Patrick Cote, de la part du comité des Prix et Médailles de la CASCA