Update on CASTOR

By / par John Hutchings, Patrick Côté (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2023)

The CASTOR mission continues to work towards flight approval and funding on several fronts.

  1. The phase 0 science study report has been submitted to CSA, and shared with other stakeholders such as NRC and our international colleagues. It is an extensive document that updates the facility capabilities with a nominal mission schedule and observing plan that covers a broad range of frontier science investigations. The capabilities of high-resolution wide-field UV-blue imaging, spectroscopy, precision photometry, and wide-field astrometry makes the mission entirely unique within the international landscape.
  2. The Coalition for Astronomy (ACURA, CASCA, and Industry) has prepared a plan of engagement with government, already under way, and set for the coming months. They are making use of updated mission digests. Statements of support and interest are also being received from ACURA (and other) universities endorsing the importance of moving ahead with CASTOR, noting that it forms an important, major component of the 2020 LRP plan for astronomy.
  3. International partnerships continue to develop, with formal meetings held recently between CSA and counterparts in Spain and Korea. The UK space agency has further formalized their wish to join CASTOR, and a group in France is also developing a plan for participation. We expect continued discussions with NASA as their plans evolve throughout this year. CSA continue to formalize the details of sharing technical information with all these groups.
  4. The JPL-processed CMOS detectors have been packaged by Te2v in UK and shipped to Canada. Control electronics are being delivered to the UV vacuum facility at the University of Calgary where final preparations are made for the testing program agreed on with JPL. This will be an important step in the proposed partnership with them, and potentially for future NASA missions, like the Habitable Worlds Observatory.
  5. Several NRC funding opportunities for CASTOR-related work are being pursued, with proposals submitted both in August and in the coming weeks. The team at HAA and the University of Manitoba is continuing their work with students who are leading several projects in science planning and mission operations.

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

Canadian Gemini News / Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien

By / par Eric Steinbring (Canadian Gemini Office, NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre / Office Gemini Canadien, Centre de Recherches Herzberg en Astronomie & Astrophysique du CNRC)

(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2023)

La version française suit

Observatory Status

Since 1 August 2023 both telescopes have been in shutdown. That morning NSF’s NOIRLab detected a cyber incident in its computer systems, which forced the suspension of astronomical observations at Gemini North, in Hawai’i. Out of an abundance of caution, they also decided to isolate the Gemini Observatory computer systems by shutting those down. Likewise, operations were suspended from Gemini South, in Chile, which happened to be in a scheduled shutdown at the time. NOIRLab currently reports that the recovery process of the affected facilities and telescopes is ongoing, and although the Observing Tool (OT) does not yet allow connection to the database, the Gemini.edu website is now back online. The Archive and Phase I tools (PIT) are working, as is the Helpdesk-ticketing system. Further updates will appear here. Know that the CGO is monitoring this situation, and when operations are expected to start again there will also be an announcement to the CASCA-membership e-mail exploder.

Calls for Proposals

Thankfully the cyberincident has had no effect on planning for the Gemini High-resolution Optical SpecTrograph (GHOST) Special shared-risk Call for Proposals, nor the upcoming semester of 2024A. So, in fact, two CfPs are out right now:

  • A special shared-risk GHOST CfP for Gemini-South only, through the Fast Turnaround program. The 2023B PIT (v2.2.0) will be required for this CfP, and the deadline is Saturday September 30, at 12PM (noon) Hawai’i Standard Time,
  • and also the regular 2024A semester CfP for both Gemini North and South, plus Subaru Exchange Time. The new 2024A PIT is required for this CfP, and the deadline (for Canadian applications) is Tuesday October 3, at 4PM (PDT) / 7PM (EDT).

Statut de l’Observatoire

Depuis le 1er août 2023, les deux télescopes sont à l’arrêt. Ce matin-là, le NOIRLab du NSF a détecté un cyber-incident dans ses systèmes informatiques, qui a forcé l’arrêt des observations astronomiques à Gemini Nord, à Hawaï. Par prudence, ils ont également décidé d’isoler les systèmes informatiques de l’Observatoire Gemini en les fermant tous. De même, les opérations ont été suspendues à Gemini Sud, au Chili, qui se trouvait alors en arrêt programmé. NOIRLab rapporte actuellement que le processus de récupération des installations et des télescopes concernés est en cours, et bien que l’outil d’observation (OT) ne permette pas encore la connexion à la base de données, le site Web Gemini.edu est désormais de nouveau en ligne. Les Archives de Gemini et l’outil de Phase I (PIT) fonctionnent, tout comme le système de tickets du Helpdesk. D’autres mises à jour apparaîtront ici. Sachez que le CGO surveille la situation et que lorsque les opérations reprendront nous en ferons l’annonce par courriel aux membres de la CASCA.

Appels de demandes

Heureusement, le cyberincident n’a eu aucun effet sur la planification de l’appel de demandes spécial à risques partagés pour le Gemini High-resolution Optical SpecTrograph (GHOST), ni sur le prochain semestre 2024A. Donc, en fait, deux appels de demandes sont actuellement en cours:

  • Un appel de demandes spécial à risques partagés pour GHOST à Gemini-Sud uniquement, via le programme Retour Rapide (Fast Turnaround). Le PIT 2023B (v2.2.0) est requis pour cet appel de demandes, et la date limite est le samedi 30 septembre à 12 heures (midi), heure normale d’Hawaï,
  • et aussi l’appel de demandes régulier du semestre 2024A pour Gemini Nord et Sud, avec le temps d’échange Subaru. Le nouveau PIT 2024A est requis pour cet appel de demandes, et la date limite (pour les candidatures canadiennes) est le mardi 3 octobre à 16h (PDT)/19h (EDT).

re-submission of the summer solstice 2023 issue of e-CASS to include an article from the CSA

Chers collègues,

Un article a été envoyé accidentellement dans le dossier de courrier indésirable de l’éditeur et a donc été manqué. Vérifiez s’il vous plaît le numéro mis à jour de la newsletter pour l’article de l’Agence spatiale canadienne.

Mes excuses à Denis Laurin pour ne pas avoir inclus l’article dans le bulletin d’origine.


Dr. Joanne Rosvick (she/her)
Associate Professor
Department of Physical Sciences (Physics)
Faculty of Science
Thompson Rivers University
805 TRU Way
Kamloops BC
V2C 0C8
Email: jrosvick@tru.ca

President’s Message

par Chris Wilson (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – printemps 2023)

First, some good news: the Federal government has announced its intent to seek full membership for Canada in the Square Kilometre Array Observatory! Congratulations to everyone who has worked to make this a reality. More details can be found in the SKA update in this newsletter.

The CASCA Board has held two regular monthly meetings since my last report. In this report I will focus on 2 major initiatives that are in progress: a review of our ground-based optical/infrared facilities (10m-class and smaller), and a plan for a part-time Westar Lectureship co-ordinator.

In their December 2022 report to the CASCA Board, the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC) recommended that we undertake a thorough review of existing and potential optical/infrared (O/IR) facilities that are or could be accessible to Canadian astronomers. The CASCA Board agreed that the need for this review is sufficiently urgent to scheduling it ahead of the Mid-Term Review (MTR) of the 2020 Long Range Plan that would be carried out in 2025. The O/IR review committee will be tasked with assessing science, technical readiness, schedule, and balance between community desires. I’m very pleased to announce that Doug Welch from McMaster University has agreed to chair this review committee.

In my December 2022 article, I mentioned that the Board had met with several members of the Westar subcommittee. At that meeting, we had discussed the possibility of hiring a co-ordinator to support the revision and expansion of the Westar Lectureship program, and possibly other Education and Public Outreach initiatives as well. Both an expansion of the Westar Lectureship program and an EPO coordinator paid by CASCA were recommendations of the 2020 Long Range Plan. The Westar subcommittee submitted a concrete proposal that the Board considered at our March meeting. This proposal included two options: a part-time Westar-only coordinator position, or a full-time National Outreach Coordinator, with Westar coordination being part of that role. The Board found that a full-time position is not within the scope of CASCA’s current budget without a large increase in dues or via a cost-sharing program with one or more individual universities. Therefore, the Board approved a motion to support a Westar co-ordinator at a part time level for up to 3 years. Final details of the funding available for this position will be reviewed and approved at the next Board meeting.

In other news, all current Board members have now taken some initial Indigenous awareness training by completing the course “4 Seasons of Reconciliation” offered by Reconciliation Education. We submitted our annual performance questionnaire related to IAU activities of the community to NRC in February; thanks to Rob Thacker who took this task off my hands. The CASCA Board also reviewed all applications for new IAU membership and these applications have now been passed on to the relevant IAU review committee. The Board approved an increase in the hourly rate of pay for the CASCA webmaster, who has not had a pay increase in several years. We have also been following up with CASCA members who were in arrears on their dues; thank you to everyone who has renewed recently.

The next CASCA AGM will be held June 13-15, 2023, in Penticton, B.C. This will be our first in-person meeting in 4 years, so I encourage you to attend and bring your students! The CASCA Board is looking for an institution to host the 2024 AGM; if your department is interested in volunteering, please contact CASCA Vice-President Adam Muzzin.

As a reminder, there will be 3 open positions on the CASCA Board for election at the 2023 June AGM: 2 for Director and 1 for President. Please consider standing for election yourself or encouraging other good candidates to stand. Suggestions can be sent to Rob Thacker, who chairs the Nominating Committee, or via the nomination form to the CASCA secretary, Rob Cockcroft.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge that progress continues to be slow on various aspects of Board business. A lot of the CASCA day-to-day work and planning falls on the President, who not only chairs the Board but is also the Chief Executive Officer of the Corporation. Unfortunately, I have not been able to devote as much time to CASCA work as I had planned: I caught COVID in early November and have been suffering from first COVID and now long COVID symptoms for the past 4 months. I appreciate your patience if responses to emails are slow or if some aspects of CASCA business take longer to make progress. Special thanks to other members of the Board who are taking on tasks that I would normally be doing, especially Julie Hlavaceck-Larrondo who has been chairing the Board meetings and leading the organization of the optical/infrared review committee.

Wishing you all a good end of semester and looking forward to seeing many of you in Penticton in June,


Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien

par Eric Steinbring (Office Gemini Canadien, Centre de Recherches Herzberg en Astronomie & Astrophysique du CNRC)
(printemps 2023)

Spring Deadlines

Heads up! There are three important Call for Proposal (CfP) application deadlines coming up for Canadian access to Gemini, all right at the end of this month or start of the next:

  • First is the monthly CfP for Fast Turnaround time, at noon Hawai’i Standard Time (HST) on 31 March. This will be for Gemini South only. For the FT Call see here.
  • And then right away is for 2023B Regular Semester proposals, at 4 PM (PDT) / 7 PM (EDT) on 31 March. Look here for the Canadian-specific information about that Call.
  • Finally, on 1 April is the deadline for new Large and Long Program (LLP) applications for 2023. There had been a hiatus on starting new LLPs, but a healthy response to the recent request for Letters of Intent. So, just a reminder that the deadline for those crazy-big idea proposals is coming up fast. No joking.

What’s Happening at Gemini North and South

As reported in December, the shutdown in the North had to be extended to allow repairs of the primary mirror following an incident last Fall. That work is now expected to continue for an extra 4 weeks, and will include re-coating, also taking about 4 weeks. With both of those things done, the Observatory currently plans for returning to sky by the end of April. That’s the reason why FT proposals this month are not being accepted for the North. Another impact is that the regular maintenance shutdown in the South has been re-timed (now set to September/October 2023) to avoid having both telescopes down at once. Makes sense. And then something coming later in the semester (last three months, up to January 2024) for the South will be a special Call for the Gemini High-resolution Optical SpecTrograph (GHOST) only. This will make shared-risk time available through the FT proposal process. That will follow a System Verification (SV) phase to ensure all is ready to go for science. Stay tuned!

New HelpDesk System

In January Gemini switched to a new Jira-based HelpDesk system. This new system has improved functionality (particularly for monitoring and escalation of tickets) and should allow better management, and quicker response to your queries related directly to specific instruments and other problems, like data-reduction. See here. To you, the user, it should all be seamless. Now, instead please direct your Gemini-related help-requests to this portal. Don’t be shy. As you know, and as always, your friendly CGO staff is here to help.

L’assemblée générale annuelle 2023 de la CASCA

par Alex Hill (UBC Okanagan) and Roland Kothes (DRAO), CASCA 2023 LOC co-chairs
(Cassiopeia – printemps 2023)

L’assemblée générale annuelle 2023 de la CASCA se tiendra sur le territoire non cédé de la nation Syilx Okanagan à Penticton, C.-B., du 12 au 16 juin 2023. L’assemblée est coorganisée par l’Université de la Colombie-Britannique et le Centre de recherche Herzberg en astronomie et en astrophysique du CNRC. Les dates limites pour les inscriptions anticipées, les résumés de présentation et les demandes de subvention de voyage pour les étudiants et étudiantes aux cycles supérieurs sont le 11 avril. Le thème de la réunion de cette année est « le vaste spectre de l’astronomie canadienne ».

La réunion comprendra un atelier pour les étudiants et étudiantes aux 2e et 3e cycles et un atelier pour les enseignants et enseignantes le lundi 12 juin, la conférence publique Helen Sawyer Hogg de la docteure Kristine Spekkens le mardi 13 juin, le banquet de la conférence le mercredi 14 juin et une visite guidée de l’Observatoire fédéral de radioastrophysique le vendredi 16 juin. La réunion se déroulera principalement en personne avec une option d’inscription en ligne.

Veuillez contacter les organisateurs à casca-contact@lists.ubc.ca. Nous avons hâte de vous voir à Penticton!

ngVLA Update

par Erik Rosolowsky (U Alberta)
(Cassiopeia – printemps 2023)

New Eyes on the Universe: Last Call!

Please join us May 1-5 in Vancouver, Canada for this meeting as we discuss and extend the cutting-edge science opportunities enabled by the unprecedented SKA-ngVLA coverage spanning three decades of frequency. We particularly encourage participation by early career scientists, who will be the major users of these observatories. April 7 is the deadline for in-person registrations, poster abstract submissions, and hotel reservations.

Progress Toward an ngVLA Prototype 18m Antenna

mtex antenna model

Following December’s successful preliminary design review, mtex antenna technology GmbH has begun manufacturing the ngVLA prototype 18m antenna. Most critical items are on order or have been received by mtex, and initial servo system integration tests have been performed. Currently mtex is finalizing the selection of bearings and gearboxes based on a common specification, as well as the selection of the surface treatment for the main reflector based on empirical tests of the thermal loading. Manufacturing files for the major steel assemblies are also being finalized. The ngVLA Antenna integrated product team is currently detailing the interface between the feed enclosure and the feed indexer and also preparing the infrastructure at the VLA Antenna Test Site to receive the new prototype. A manufacturing status review is planned for September, followed by an antenna factory inspection in November. If these go well, the prototype antenna will be transported to the VLA Antenna Test Site, arriving in January 2024. The prototype antenna will then undergo final assembly and extensive single-dish testing before being integrated into the current VLA for interferometric testing.

ngVLA Special Session: Chemical Probes of Astrophysical Systems

The NRAO and the ngVLA Project convened a Special Session titled « Chemical Probes of Astrophysical Systems » on January 11 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, WA. The session highlighted the ngVLA’s Key Science Goal 2: The Cosmic Origins of Life as well as presenting updates to the community about the ngVLA’s design and development. Eighteen presentations from the session are available here.

Dissertation: « Nearby galaxies: modelling star formation histories and contamination by unresolved background galaxies »

(Cassiopeia – printemps 2023)

par Dr. Hadi Papei
Thesis defended on January 13, 2023
Department of Physics and Astronomy, Western University
Thesis advisor: Prof. Pauline Barmby

Galaxies are complex systems of stars, gas, dust, and dark matter which evolve over billions of years, and one of the main goals of astrophysics is to understand how these complex systems form and change. Measuring the star formation history of nearby galaxies, in which thousands of stars can be resolved individually, has provided us with a clear picture of their evolutionary history and the evolution of galaxies in general.

In this work, we have developed the first public Python package, SFHPy, to measure star formation histories of nearby galaxies using their colour-magnitude diagrams. In this algorithm, an observed colour-magnitude diagram is modelled as a linear combination of many simple stellar populations with different ages and metallicities. This package treats metallicity as a free parameter, and the uncertainties are estimated by bootstrapping. This algorithm was tested on two different simulated populations and successfully recovered the input parameters. We have also measured the star formation history of the galaxy IC 1613 and found that the measured star formation history agrees with previous measurements for this galaxy.

Observing fainter phases of stellar evolution plays an essential role in the accuracy and precision of star formation history measurements for nearby galaxies. However, fainter sources are more contaminated by unresolved background galaxies. In the second project, we investigated the contamination effect of background galaxies in star formation history measurements by simulating stellar populations of nearby galaxies and a population of unresolved background galaxies. We found that deeper photometry helps to reduce the contamination only for distance moduli larger than (m-M)=23 or 0.4 Mpc. Most of the contamination effect comes from galaxies less than 2 magnitudes brighter than the photometry limit, and the contamination affects the older stellar populations more than younger populations. We also showed that including a model of background galaxies in the fitting process can result in a more accurate and precise measured star formation history compared to removing the contaminated part of the colour-magnitude diagram.

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – printemps 2023)

Artist’s impression of the SKA, combining elements from South Africa and Australia from left to right in the image. Photos of real hardware have been blended with realizations of the future SKA antennas. Image credit: SKA Observatory.

In a press release on January 24th, 2023, the Honourable François Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced Canada’s intention to seek full membership in the SKA Observatory (SKAO) with NRC-Herzberg representing Canada in SKAO governance. This major announcement is consistent with our community’s recommendations for SKA participation in the Canadian Astronomy Long-Range Plan 2020-2030 (LRP2020), for which the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy advocated in meetings with government officials. Some additional information is available in the releases marking the government’s decision:

The steps necessary to complete the membership process are anticipated to take place in the coming months. CASCA members will be kept informed of this process and corresponding opportunities to participate as those details become available.

The SKA has been a high priority for the Canadian astronomical community for over two decades, and the efforts of many individuals over many years have made the government’s decision possible. Thank-you to everyone who contributed to this effort.

For more information, updates, and opportunities to get involved:

In Memoriam: Terence Dickinson (1943 – 2023)

par Alan Dyer
(Cassiopeia – printemps 2023)

portrait courtesy Susan Dickinson

Terence Dickinson, Canadian astronomer and author of numerous popular books on astronomy, passed away February 1, 2023 at age 79 after a long battle with Parkinson’s.

Described as Canada’s Carl Sagan, Terence Dickinson spent a lifetime promoting astronomy and Canadian research through many channels, including his books, newspaper columns, lectures, radio show spots, and TV appearances.

His interest in astronomy began when he was only five years old, when he saw a meteor streak across the sky. Terence’s professional career began in 1968 when he became a staff astronomer and teacher at the McLaughlin Planetarium of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. In 1970, he became assistant director of the Strasenburgh Planetarium in Rochester, New York.

Terence served as the editor of the then new ASTRONOMY magazine in 1974 and 1975. From 1995 until 2016, Terence edited and co-owned SkyNews, Canada’s magazine of stargazing. He is perhaps best known in the amateur astronomy world as the author of the NightWatch: A Practical Guide to Viewing The Universe, a book that has helped tens of thousands of people get started in the hobby of amateur astronomy. It has been in print through several editions for forty years.

Terence also authored many other popular books, including The Universe and Beyond, Hubble’s Universe, and The Backyard Astronomer’s Guide, co-authored with Alan Dyer.

image courtesy Alan Dyer

From 1981 until the mid-2000s, Terence wrote a weekly astronomy column for The Toronto Star newspaper, taking over the popular column from long-time author and Canadian astronomer Helen Sawyer Hogg. Another of Terence’s regular platforms for promoting astronomy was television, through his frequent appearances in the late 1990s and early 2000s on Canada’s Discovery Channel. He was also a regular on CBC Radio’s Quirks and Quarks science show.

Among his numerous awards are the New York Academy of Sciences’ Children’s Book of the Year (1988), the Royal Canadian Institute’s Sandford Fleming Medal (1992), Industry Canada’s Michael Smith Award for Public Promotion of Science (1993), and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Klumpke-Roberts Award (1996). He was the recipient of honorary degrees from Trent University and Queen’s University. In 1995, he was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada for his contributions to public understanding of astronomy.

In 1994 asteroid #5272 was officially named Dickinson in his honor by the International Astronomical Union.

Terence Dickinson’s ability to explain the universe and simplify astronomical concepts in ways easily understood by the average reader has gained him a huge international audience. Many thousands of people have developed an interest in astronomy and the wonders of the universe because of his work.

His love for astronomy was infectious, as anyone who attended one of his wonderful lectures will attest. He once said, “I want to do what I’m doing for as long as I can. There’s just so much more to know and see, and I’m still excited as a kid about new discoveries. I’ll never run out of things to write about – I’ll just run out of time.”