Update on CASTOR

By / par Patrick Côté, John Hutchings (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2021)

CASTOR is a wide-field UV/blue-optical space telescope that was identified in LRP 2020 as Canada’s top priority in space astronomy in the 2020s. Mission development is continuing, with a significant ramp-up in activity expected during the second half of 2021. Steps taken during the last quarter include the following:

  1. A Space Technology Development Program (STDP) contract for CASTOR is now underway (“Wide-Field Astronomical Imaging in UV/Optical – Critical Technologies”). The kick-off meeting for this study was held on May 5, 2021 and attended by ~40 participants from Canadian government, industry, and academia, plus representatives from prospective CASTOR international partners. The recipient of the STDP contract is ABB, Inc, with subcontracts issued to Honeywell Aerospace and Magellan Aerospace. We are delighted that JPL will be contributing to the detector work package using internal funding; the UK is similarly involved in this work, including the selection of possible test detectors. The STDP study, which runs until May 2023, will reduce technical risk by advancing the design for several critical mission components.
  2. A Phase 0 study, which will overlap the STDP study, was approved in early May and is expected to begin in October. The combined work of these two contracts is intended to fulfil all CSA requirements to enable a smooth transition to flight Phases A to D, with launch possible in early 2028 provided the mission is approved and funded in 2023.
  3. Partnership discussions with ISRO, including involvement in the STDP opto-mechanical design work package, are ongoing but have been slowed by COVID delays. The nominal shared mission will retain Canadian leadership, with substantial cost savings.
  4. The recent CASCA meeting included a virtual CASTOR Town Hall that was attended by ~90 participants. This event included an overview of the mission, short summaries of CASTOR research programs in four science fields (Cosmology, Time Domain Astrophysics, Exoplanets and the Solar System), an update on mission development and schedule from CSA, and community plans for communications and outreach activities in the coming months. Thank you to our speakers: Melissa Graham, Daryl Haggard, Jason Rowe, Wes Fraser, James Doherty and Nathalie Ouellette.
  5. CSA has now assembled a significant CASTOR management team. James Doherty, CSA Program Lead for CASTOR, presented the CASTOR program development schedule at the virtual Town Hall on May 13. Ongoing and planned studies will feed into a CSA “Review Point, R2” in time for a CSA request for funding approval in March 2023. If successful, this would lead to flight Phases A-D beginning in October 2023. Achieving this timeline will require the full engagement of the academic community in apprising the government ahead of that time of its top ranking in LRP2020, as well as the industrial, public, and international partnership benefits of CASTOR.
  6. CASTOR will be the subject of a CaTS (Canadian Telescope Seminars) talk on June 16, as well as a “QUEST” talk for the NASA/COPAG Ultraviolet-Visible Science and Technology Interest Group on July 1.
  7. In May, ACURA was briefed on the project and plans to work with CASCA through Coalition for Canadian Astronomy to promote CASTOR as a top priority of the 2020 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy.

For more information on the mission, see the CASTOR website.

Kamloops déclaration (10 Juin, 2021)

Les sépultures anonymes récemment mises à jour près de l’ancien pensionnat autochtone de Kamloops représentent une atrocité coloniale. Les 215 enfants dont les restes ont été retrouvés ont été retirés de leurs familles dans un effort systématique pour éradiquer leur identité culturelle. Des milliers d’autres enfants ont été déplacés de force dans des dizaines d’institutions similaires et le pensionnat de Kamloops ne sera, en toute probabilité, que le premier de plusieurs sites où des corps seront retrouvés. L’impact de ces actes odieux de violence physique et psychologique commis à l’encontre d’enfants autochtones continue de se faire sentir encore aujourd’hui.

La communauté astronomique canadienne se joint aux Canadiens de tous les horizons qui se montrent solidaires des Premières Nations Tk’emlúps te Secwépmc ainsi que des autres communautés et familles qui ont perdu leurs enfants aux mains du gouvernement canadien et des institutions religieuses. Nous ne pouvons imaginer leur peine et leur chagrin, et nous reconnaissons que la récente découverte des tombes anonymes de Kamloops peut être particulièrement douloureuse pour les membres autochtones de notre société.

En tant qu’universitaires et enseignants, nous devons prendre conscience du fait que les atrocités commises dans les pensionnats l’ont été au nom de l’éducation et reconnaître le rôle que le milieu universitaire a joué dans la perpétuation des structures coloniales.

Le plan à long terme récemment publié par la CASCA décrit les actions spécifiques que nous, astronomes, prenons pour lutter contre le racisme et les inégalités dans notre communauté et en particulier la marginalisation des Autochtones. Alors que nous entamons des efforts afin de rendre notre communauté plus inclusive, les découvertes de Kamloops représentent un rappel brutal du traumatisme engendré par les inégalités que nous nous efforçons de corriger.

Le conseil d’administration de la CASCA

CASCA member is co-winner of prestigious IAU Shaw Prize.

Victoria Kaspi PhD, CC, FRS, FRSC of McGill University is the co-winner of the 2021 Shaw Prize in Astronomy. This year’s prize was awarded for the work which she and Chryssa Kouveliotou have done in the field of magnetars: a class of highly magnetised neutron star. Here is the link to the IAU press release detailing their research.

The Shaw Prize, established under the auspices of Mr Run Run Shaw in November 2002, is an international award to honour individuals who are currently active in their respective fields and have recently achieved distinguished and significant advances making outstanding contributions in academic and scientific research or applications. The Shaw Prize consists of three annual awards: the Prize in Astronomy, the Prize in Life Science and Medicine, and the Prize in Mathematical Sciences. Each prize carries a monetary award of one million two hundred thousand US dollars.

Récipiendaire de la Médaille Richer 2021 – Dr. Renée Hložek

CASCA a le plaisir de nommer Dr. Renée Hložek comme récipiendaire de la Médaille Richer 2021. Dr. Hložek a obtenu son DPhil à l’Université Oxford en tant que Boursière de Rhodes et est présentement Assistante Professeure à l’institut Dunlap et au département d’Astronomie et d’Astrophysique à l’Université de Toronto. Elle est une experte reconnue en cosmologie théorique et observationnelle, à la fois dans l’étude du fond micro-ondes cosmologique, des structures à grande-échelle et de la cosmologie transitoire. Elle détient une position de leader dans multiples collaborations internationales, incluant l’observatoire Simons, le télescope cosmologique Atacama, le Consortium Canadien Euclid et l’observatoire Vera Rubin. Joignant ses réalisations en recherche avec la formation d’un grand nombre d’étudiants depuis son arrivée à Toronto, elle a réhaussé le profil et l’impact de la communauté Canadienne de Cosmologie. Dr. Hložek a recu le prix de mérite du Doyen de la Faculté de l’Université de Toronto en 2017 et 2018 et a été élue Boursière Mondiale CIFAR-Azrieli ainsi que Compagnon de Recherche Alfred P. Sloan.

CASCA a le plaisir de récompenser les efforts de Dr. Renée Hložek’s avec ce prix.

Récipiendaire du prix de la Conférence R.M. Petrie Prize pour 2021: Dr. Heino Falcke

CASCA a le plaisir de nommer Dr. Heino Falcke comme récipiendaire du prix de la Conférence R.M. Petrie Prize pour 2021. Dr. Falcke est professur de Physique des Astroparticules et d’Astronomie Radio à l’Institut des Mathématiques, Astronomie et Physique des Particules de la faculté des Sciences à l’Université Radboud. Durant des décennies, il a été un leader international dans la poursuite de l’imagerie de l’ombre d’un trou noir à l’aide de l’interférométrie à très longue base. Ces efforts ont culminés en l’imagerie stupéfiante du trou noir supermassif dans M87 par le Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Dr. Falcke est membre de l’Académie Royale des Arts et Sciences des Pays-Bas et a gagné le Prix de Percée en Physique Fondamentale en 2019 comme membre de la collaboration EHT.

CASCA est honoré de donner la Conférence Petrie Prize a Dr. Falcke

Récipiendaire de la Médaille J.S. Plaskett 2021: Dr. Ziggy Pleunis

CASCA a le plaisir de nommer Dr. Ziggy Pleunis comme récipiendaire de la Médaille J.S. Plaskett 2021 pour la thèse de doctorat la plus remarquable en astronomie et astrophysique. Dr. Pleunis a complété sa thèse de PhD en 2020 sous la supervision de Prof. Victoria Kaspi à l’Université McGill et ira bientôt à l’Université de Toronto comme Compagnon Dunlap. Sa thèse, intitulée “Fast radio burst detection and morphology with the CHIME telescope” représente un ensemble de contributions majeures au nouveau champ de recherche des Fast Radio Bursts en astronomie. Dr. Pleunis a contribué à tous les aspects du projet FRB du télescope CHIME; l’instrumentation, les logiciels, l’observation, l’analyse et l’interprétation scientifique. Au-delà de CHIME, il a aussi fait plusieurs avancées scientifiques en utilisant le LOw Frequency Array (LOFAR), de la découverte d’un FRB à basse fréquence à l’étude de Pulsars millisecondes.

CASCA a le plaisir de récompenser les réalisations de Dr. Pleunis avec ce prix. De plus, nous tenons à souligner les thèses exceptionnelles de tous les finalistes: Dr Ryan Cloutier, Dr Maan Hani, Dr Eric Koch, Dr Ian Roberts et Dr Kaja Rotermund.

Récipiendaire du prix Qilak Award 2021: Dr. Jayanne English

CASCA a le plaisir de nommer Dr. Jayanne English comme récipiendaire du prix Qilak Award 2021. Dr. English a obtenu son PhD à l’Australian National University et est présentement Professeure Associée en Astronomie à l’Université du Manitoba. Sur plusieurs décennies, Dr. English a mise à profit sa formation artistique (à l’Ontario College of Art and Design University) pour construire un programme de sensibilisation unique qui marie art et science. Elle a promu l’utilisation de techniques artistiques et de design pour influencer comment l’imagerie en astronomie est faite par les professionnels et les amateurs passionnés. Durant son mandat de deux ans de coordinatrice du projet Hubble Heritage, elle a mené la production d’images parmi les plus iconiques du Hubble Space Telescope, dont certaines ont été vues par des milliards de personnes. En combinant des données optiques avec des observations radios, Dr. English a récemment reçue la deuxième place au National Radio Astronomy Observatory 2020 Visualization Award pour son image HST-VLA, composite superbe de la galaxie NGC 5775. En collaboration avec la compositrice Nicole Lizee, elle a produit ‘’Colliding Galaxies : Colours and Tones’’, une intégration unique de l’astronomie et de la musique électronique. En conceptualisant et enseignant des cours tels que ‘’The Art of Scientific Visualization’’, Dr. English a aussi entrainé une nouvelle génération d’experts en visualisation astronomique, garantissant ainsi que son travail aie des effets multiples sur une communauté plus large.

CASCA à le plaisir de récompenser les efforts du Dr. Jayanne English avec ce prix.

Récipiendaire du Prix Martin 2021: Dr Sara Ellison

CASCA a le plaisir de nommer Dr. Sara Ellison comme récipiendaire du Prix Martin 2021. Dr. Ellison a obtenu son PhD à l’Université Cambridge et est présentement Professeure de Physique et d’Astronomie à l’Université de Victoria. Dr. Ellison est une leader internationale à la fois dans l’étude de lignes d’absorption QSO à haut décalage vers le rouge et dans la fusion de galaxies dans l’Univers local. Ses champs de recherche sont variés. Comme expérimentaliste, Dr. Ellison a mené de multiples programmes d’observation au travers du spectre électromagnétique, des Rayons-X aux ondes radios en passant par le visible. Comme théoricienne, elle a complémenté son travail observationnel avec des simulations sur une variété d’échelles de longueurs et des techniques à la fine pointe de la technologie, telle que le Machine Learning. Sa recherche a eu un impact majeur, réunissant plus de 11500 citations au total, avec plusieurs de ses travaux sur la métallicité des galaxies et la fusion/interactions des galaxies considérés comme définitifs dans le domaine. Dr. Ellison a reçu le Prix Annie Jump de la American Astronomical Society en 2004, le Prix d’Excellence en Recherche de la Faculté de Science de l’Université de Victoria en 2009, la Rutherford Memorial Medal en Physique de la Société Royale Canadienne en 2014 et la Médaille d’argent pour Excellence en recherche REACH en 2020.

CASCA à le plaisir de récompenser les réalisations de Dr. Ellison avec ce prix.

President’s Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update on CASTOR

By / par Patrick Côté, John Hutchings (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

CASTOR continues to move forward to fulfil its ranking as the top LRP2020 priority for space astronomy. The following steps have been taken in the past quarter.

  1. The substantial technical (STDP) contract is in final stages of being signed, and is expected to kick off officially by early April. The work will advance vital mission technology and retire risks in a) advancing the opto-mechanical design for the 1m off-axis wide-field telescope; b) designing and testing the large focal plane array concept with flight-like detectors; c) lab-testing the proposed fast-steering mirror for fine guiding; d) incorporating and adding detectors to the multi-slit spectrograph in design in India; and e) developing the concept for bright-star precision photometry of exoplanet transits. The work will be in close partnership with the Indian and JPL teams.
  2. Formal discussions are now under way between CSA and ISRO on a joint mission. The agreed concept is that of CASTOR, and an initial proposed split of the hardware and operation responsibilities has been agreed, subject to more detailed discussions. Along with the anticipated detector involvement by JPL, this will form the basis of a Canada-led proposal for funding from the government. ISRO will work in close step in a proposed schedule that will see CASTOR launched in late 2027.
  3. Plans are evolving for involving the Universities via ACURA, consultation with the government via the Coalition, and outreach activities within the CASTOR science team. CASTOR will have a town-hall event (on Thursday May 13) at the upcoming virtual CASCA Annual Meeting. Talks have been given by CASTOR team members at meetings in UK and India.
  4. CSA is on track to approve and begin a phase 0 study in parallel with the technical contract work, to refine costs and detail moving into a funded phase A-E sequence to take CASTOR to launch and operation.

This year will be an important one in defining the partnership and pitching the mission to government. With its wide range of science capability, it will be a major facility for the astronomy community, and those interested in joining in are encouraged. In particular, there exist numerous opportunities for student participation; for more information, students are encouraged to attend the CASCA town hall session and/or the CaTS (Canadian Telescope Seminar) talk in June, which will be dedicated to CASTOR.

More information on the mission may be found here.