In memoriam: Paul Felenbok

We received with great sadness the news that Paul Felenbok passed away  on Tuesday 22 December 2020, at the age of 84.

Paul was born in Warsaw shortly before WWII and lived as a child in  the ghetto, from which he fled through the sewers with his family in  1943, just before the tragic uprising. He was only 7 at the time, and  lost both his parents during this escape.

He arrived in France in 1946, at the age of 10, and was raised in an  orphanage. He obtained his baccalaureate, then a scholarship to join  the Sorbonne. After a degree in physics and a certificate in fluid  mechanics, he joined Paris Observatory in Meudon. He then spent a year  at the University of Berkeley, after which, on his return to Meudon in  1963, he defended his thesis in theoretical and experimental molecular  physics applied to astronomy. He was then appointed as an astronomer  at Paris Observatory, where he remained until his retirement in 2004.

Paul Felenbok, an expert in spectroscopy, was above all a brilliant  and immensely inventive instrumentalist. Among his many achievements,  we owe him several major advances in spectroscopy and astronomy:

– The visionary development of vacuum UV spectroscopy in the  laboratory in the 1970s, providing data that would become  indispensable for future space missions.

– A new and totally innovative version of Lallemand’s electronographic  camera, the so-called « valve camera », allowing the replacement of  nuclear plates without breaking the vacuum in the cell compartment.  This was an essential development that should have secured a long life  for the electronographic camera, had it not been quickly overriden by  CCD detectors.

– The introduction in France of fibre optics spectroscopy, with in  particular the development in the 1980s of the prototypical mobile  ISIS spectrograph, and in the 90s of the MEFOS fibre positioner and  FUEGOS project at ESO.

He also largely inspired and supported the development of the MUSICOS  multi-site spectroscopy network and participated in the development of  the CFHT, in particular with the MOS-SIS spectrograph.

Always keen to pass on his knowledge and experience, as witnessed by  the many students he has trained and for whom he has worked  tirelessly, he also attached great importance to the contact with the  public, as he demonstrated on many occasions, e.g. by running the  public relation unit (UNICOM) of Paris Observatory at the beginning of  the 2000s.

The development of astronomy in the French Alps village of St-Véran is  yet another of his great achievements. In the late 1960s, he spotted  the remarkable astronomical qualities of the Château-Renard site above  St-Véran, considered for a time to host the planned 3.60m telescope.  He managed to build there a small observatory housing a solar  coronagraph, which was operated for half a dozen years. Paul then  obtained that this observatory be made available to amateur  astronomers who have now been using it for nearly 30 years, and then  to have it completely renovated. He then developed « la Maison du  Soleil (House of the Sun) », in the village of St-Véran, a public  centre which houses, among other experiments, the very high-resolution  spectrograph Sharmor on loan from Paris Observatory.

With Paul, the astronomical community is losing a great astronomer. He  was an extraordinary man, with a sparkling intelligence, swarming with  ideas. He was also a leader, a go-getter, solid, pragmatic, quick and  direct. His passion and enthusiasm for astronomy and instrumentation  were communicative. He was at the same time a profoundly good man,  humane, generous, always ready to listen, always dedicated to others.

Paul had managed to overcome his tragic childhood, which he almost  never spoke of, to build himself an extraordinarily human and  endearing personality. Only a few years ago, convinced by his daughter  Véronique, had he finally agreed to entrust his memories to a writer  and director, David Lescot. This resulted in a deeply moving play,  « Ceux qui restent (Those who remain) ».

All our saddened thoughts go out to his wife Betty and their two  daughters Véronique and Isabelle and their families.

Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien

par Stéphanie Côté (CGO, NRC Herzberg / OGC, CNRC Herzberg)
(Cassiopeia – hivers 2020)

Réductions de données avec DRAGONS simplifiées

DRAGONS (Data Reduction for Astronomy from Gemini Observatory North and South) est le nouveau logiciel officiel de réduction de données en Python pour les instruments Gemini. La version actuelle n’est jusqu’à présent disponible que pour les modes d’imagerie. Nos collègues de l’Office Gemini américain ont développé des tutoriels de réduction de données pour DRAGONS ainsi que pour les progiciels Gemini IRAF. Le nouveau dépôt github pour DRAGONS contient des notebooks Jupyter, écrits à l’aide de l’API DRAGONS Python, avec des exemples de réduction de données pour les modes d’imagerie utilisant Flamingos2, GMOS, GSAOI et NIRI. Il existe également des fichiers d’aide approfondis avec des instructions détaillées sur la façon de télécharger les blocs-notes (notebooks), d’installer les progiciels Python nécessaires, de télécharger les données brutes à partir des archives de l’Observatoire Gemini et d’exécuter les procédures. Le dépôt Gemini/IRAF contient des exemples de scripts de réduction de données de spectroscopie à longue fente avec GMOS avec les CCD Hamamatsu et e2v. De nouveaux bloc-notes seront disponibles à mesure que de nouveaux modes de réduction des données seront inclus dans les prochaines mises à jour du logiciel DRAGONS. Vous trouverez tous les détails ici.

MAROON-X a un nouveau Calculateur de Temps d’Intégration

Maroon-X est un instrument visiteur de longue date à Gemini-Nord, il s’agit d’un spectrographe d’échelle à haute résolution (R ~ 80000) dans le domaine optique 500-920nm, monté sur banc et alimenté par fibres, conçu pour fournir des précisions de vitesses radiales de 1 m/s pour des naines M jusqu’à et au-delà de V = 16. Il dispose désormais d’un nouvel ITC (=Calculateur de Temps d’Intégration), qui peut calculer les comptes et le Signal-sur-Bruit en fonction de la longueur d’onde pour une magnitude, un type spectral et des conditions d’observation sélectionnés. Prochainement il fournira également (entre autres) des estimations des précisions de vitesses radiales! L’ITC est actuellement basé sur les données de mise en service de décembre 2019 qui ont été recalibrées avec les données plus récentes de mai et septembre 2020, et continuera à s’améliorer. Il est disponible ici.

Communiqués de presse canadiens récents

Le compagnon planétaire surprise d`une naine blanche

Le 14 septembre 2020, une équipe internationale d’astronomes dirigée par Andrew Vanderburg (Université du Wisconsin-Madison) et comprenant Lorne Nelson (Université Bishop’s), Bjorn Benneke et Patrick Dufour (Université de Montréal), a publié un article dans Nature présentant la première détection d’une exoplanète géante en orbite près d’une étoile naine blanche. Normalement, toute planète en orbite rapprochée serait engloutie par son étoile hôtesse pendant sa phase géante rouge, mais des planètes plus éloignées peuvent survivre à cette phase et rester en orbite autour de la naine blanche résultante. Certaines naines blanches montrent des preuves de matériaux rocheux flottant dans leurs atmosphères, dans des disques de débris chauds, ce qui a été interprété comme les débris de planètes rocheuses qui ont été dispersées vers l’intérieur et brisées par effets de marées. Pour la première fois, ils ont observé, grâce à GNIRS à Gemini-Nord, une planète de la taille de Jupiter, WD1856b, en orbite autour de la naine blanche WD1856 + 534, qui a survécu intacte dans ou près de la zone habitable de cette naine blanche. Cela peut nous laisser un mince espoir que notre système solaire pourrait survivre à la transition de notre Soleil en naine blanche dans quelques milliards d’années. Le communiqué de presse peut être trouvé ici et l’article Nature ici.

Rejoignez les milliers et milliers de suiveurs de l’Observatoire Gemini sur Facebook: @GeminiObservatory et Twitter: @GeminiObs.

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director)
(Cassiopeia – hivers 2020)

Composite image of the SKA at night. Credit: SKA Organisation.

There have been exciting developments in the SKA in recent months, and the project proceeds apace despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic across partner countries. LRP2020 has reaffirmed the SKA as a top priority for the Canadian astronomical community for the next decade, recommending participation in SKA1 construction and operations, in its network of regional data centres, and in the project’s governance. Up-to-date information regarding Canada and SKA science, technology, industry and societal impacts are available on the SKA Canada website.

Following the completion of SKA1 System CDR at the end of last year, several external reviews of the project have confirmed its readiness to proceed to the construction phase. In combination with significant post-CDR closeout activities by the project office, these efforts resulted in the endorsement of the SKA1 Construction Proposal and the Observatory Establishment and Delivery (ie. operations) Proposal by the SKA Organisation Board of Directors in September 2020. This endorsement represents the culmination of 10 years of development work and a major milestone for the project. SKA1 is ready for construction, which is slated to begin in July 2021.

With SKA1 construction set to begin on a timescale of months, project governance will soon transition from the design-phase SKA Organisation to the SKA Observatory, the intergovernmental organization (IGO) that will oversee construction and operations. The IGO is on track to come into force in early 2021 and to take over the project a few months later. Canada will be an Observer to the IGO Council, but until a commitment to the construction and operations phase is made there is no mechanism for us to provide input. Moreover, Canada’s provisional allocation of the SKA1-Mid correlator, one of the largest and more desirable construction packages across the project and a significant source of economic return on investment, will be jeopardized unless a commitment is made before construction starts. There is therefore an urgent need for a Canada to commit to the SKA by the middle of 2021, and NRC is preparing the requisite documentation for the government to make its decision in this regard. Raising awareness about the SKA within government and universities is an important part of the process, and work in this regard is well underway within ACURA and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy.

The next SKA Science Meeting, “A Precursor View of the SKA Sky”, is scheduled for 15-19 March 2021. It will be held fully virtually, with a suite of pre-recorded talks that can be viewed any time as well as synchronous activities across a variety of time zones. The virtual format provides an excellent opportunity for Canadians to showcase their research to a global audience, learn about SKA science, get the latest project updates and engage with researchers around the world. Registration details will be circulated to the community through the CASCA exploder as soon as they are available.

As SKA1 construction ramps up, a large number of scientists, engineers, software designers, and support and administrative personnel will be hired, in the UK as well as in the host countries (South Africa and Australia). Those interested should keep an eye on this space, which includes a “job alert” tool to set up personalized emails filtered by field of expertise, location, duration and employment type (permanent, contract, secondment, etc.). Watch this space for opportunities throughout 2021.

For more information and updates on the SKA:

SPICA Update

de David Naylor, SPICA Canadian HoN and Co-I, University of Lethbridge
et Doug Johnstone, SPICA Science Team, NRC-Herzberg

(Cassiopeia – hivers 2020)

As most astronomers already know, in October the SPICA project ended abruptly. To explain the situation, on October 7th we sent the following letter to the Canadian SPICA supporters.

We regret to report that today we received official word that ESA and JAXA have concluded that the SPICA mission is no longer viable, since, somewhat belatedly, the mission has been deemed to exceed their budgetary envelopes. Thus, the SPICA mission has now been officially withdrawn from the M5 competition. This result is especially surprising given that SPICA recently passed its Mission Consolidation Review (MCR) and was to have faced the Mission Selection Review in Spring 2021.

This news is a huge disappointment. In 2008 Canada, led by David Naylor (Lethbridge) and with support from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), became a founding member of the SPICA/SAFARI consortium and played a key role in developing the high-resolution spectrometer for this instrument, a Fourier Transform Spectrometer (FTS) essential for a significant fraction of the far infrared science case. Since 2015, Doug Johnstone (NRC-Herzberg) has been actively involved in science program development and over 30 astronomers across Canada expressed their support for the SPICA mission as part of the recent Long Range Plan 2020 process.

The FTS is widely regarded as a Canadian signature technology, having strengths in both the industrial and academic sectors. Furthermore, results obtained from the prototype cryogenic FTS, developed by ABB, have been well received by the SAFARI consortium, demonstrating Canada’s capability to successfully deliver this critical instrument component.

Despite this significant setback, the future of infrared space astronomy is well understood and will involve either a large aperture, cold telescope or an interferometric concept. The Origins Space Telescope, presented to the US Decadal Report panel as one of five NASA flagship mission possibilities, is an example of the former. Presently, an interferometer concept has been contemplated for the next ESA large mission competition, but this may well change given the loss of the SPICA mission. Either of these mission concepts will require a cryogenic FTS and Canada’s investment on behalf of the SAFARI instrument will assuredly make us the partner of choice to deliver such an instrument to the next far infrared space astronomy mission.

We thank the CSA for their 12 years of support for SPICA, the Canadian community for their continued, and growing, desire for access to the far-infrared universe, and the LRP 2020 panel for prioritizing the importance of Canada as a contributing partner to far-infrared space-based missions.

Over the last 12 years Canada has formed deep bonds with the international far-infrared space astronomy community and leaves the SPICA project as a highly respected partner.

In the two months since this devasting news, there has been a high level of action within the Canadian and International astronomical communities to ensure that the promise of SPICA lives on.

Within Canada, discussions with the Canadian Space Agency and the Joint Committee on Space Astronomy have focused on ensuring that the on-going technology development activities, related to a cryogenic high resolution spectrometer for a far-infrared space telescope, are able to reach their objectives. This commitment recognizes that a successor to SPICA is necessary to fill the infrared gap that exists between JWST and ALMA and by continuing this instrument development work Canada is well positioned to join such efforts.

In addition, we would like to acknowledge the editors of the 2020 Long Range Plan who were able to modify, on a very short timeline, the text of the document, to ensure that the goals of SPICA, rather than the specific mission opportunity, remain strongly endorsed by the Canadian community. Thus, the final version of the LRP document refers to the need for Canadian involvement in a future “Cooled infrared space telescope”.

On the international scene, the larger aperture Origins Space Telescope opportunity submitted to the US Decadal Report, expected to be released in mid-2021, takes on a much larger importance. The instrumentation proposed for Origins would benefit significantly from the Canadian technology developed for the SPICA/Safari instrument. Within the European community discussions on a successor mission are being explored.

The manner in which the SPICA mission was cancelled has raised significant concerns among the astronomy community. In a rare occurrence, Nature agreed to publish a letter expressing the community’s concern about the lack of transparency in the decision making process. The abridged version of the letter can be found here; the full letter here. The letter has now garnered over 500 signatures from leading scientists around the world.

Many of us will be pleased to see 2020 recede into the past. As we look forward to the next decade, those of us championing SPICA within Canada intend to continue to work with our international colleagues to make a cooled infrared space telescope a reality, with Canada playing a leadership role in instrumentation and science direction.

ALMA Matters

ALMAlogo

de Gerald Schieven (ALMA)
(Cassiopeia – hivers 2020)

Return-to-Operations Status

ALMA has been shut down since 18 March 2020 due to COVID-19. The observatory was closed with all antennas and receivers powered down, with only the master timing maser remaining powered up via solar-charged batteries and a backup generator. A caretaker team remained on site to inspect the site and ensure safety and security. Employees in Santiago were in a work-from-home mode.

The Santiago offices opened for a maximum of 10 essential personnel on September 28 and with limited occupancy (max. 25) on November 9. A review for an occupancy of up to 50 people was scheduled for Dec 11.

At the Operations Support Facility (OSF), preparations for re-occupation began October 1, with the first power generator restarted October 6, having been offline for 199 days. On October 21 limited staff moved back into the Residencia for cleaning, opening the data centre, beginning cafeteria services, and establishing stable utilities (power, water, water treatment). First re-occupancy by staff was at the end of October. Work is progressing well, and staff morale remains high.

The first phase of the planned return to the high site (the Array Operations Site or AOS) began on December 10. The status of critical equipment other than the maser was unknown at the time of writing. The goal for the next phase is to recover enough antennas (10-15) so that science operations can begin and a basic system checkout. There are significant technical risks remaining, e.g. powering up the correlator, the central local oscillator, infrastructure such as power and water, plus a backlog of maintenance.

If all goes well, the majority of the recovery would be completed by the end of January. ALMA would then enter its normal February maintenance shutdown (weather is too poor for significant observing in February), and PI science could resume in early March 2021, after a nearly full year hiatus. Cycle 7 observing will then resume until the end of September 2021, with Cycle 8 commencing on October 1.

Cycle 8 Call for Proposals

In mid-December, the ALMA Observatory is expected to issue its Cycle 8 Pre-announcement, which will include the key dates for the Cycle 8 Call for Proposals (CfP), plus a list of the new capabilities to be offered, including single field polarization with the ACA, 7-m Array spectral scans, VLBI of faint targets, and other new observing modes. The CfP is expected in mid-March, 2021, with the deadline for proposal submission in mid-April.

ASAC Membership

For several years, Christine Wilson (McMaster University) has represented Canada on the ALMA Science Advisory Council (ASAC). ASAC, made up of distinguished scientists from North America, Europe, East Asia, and Chile, provides scientific advice to the ALMA Board on the scientific operation of the ALMA project, as representatives of the wider astronomical community. At the end of this year, Christine will be retiring from ASAC. In her place, Erik Rosolowsky (University of Alberta) has been appointed to the council. We wish to thank Christine for her long standing service representing Canadian scientists on the ASAC, and to wish Erik well.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – hivers 2020)

The recently published Canadian LRP2020 recommends, as its top priority for large ground-based facilities, “that Canada participate in a very large optical telescope (VLOT), and that this participation be at a level that provides compelling opportunities for Canadian leadership in science, technology and instrumentation”. The report notes further that this access is best implemented through “continued participation in TMT, either at the currently proposed Maunakea site or at the scientifically acceptable alternative of Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos”. This is consistent with past recommendations and reaffirms the importance of VLOT access for the Canadian optical/infrared astronomy community in the coming decades. The leadership opportunities provided by TMT (or any VLOT) depend to some degree on the final share, governance model and construction timeline. CATAC expects that there will be more certainty about those factors over the next year, but with the information available today we agree that participation in TMT (at either site) represents the best route to fulfill the goals of the LRP.

LRP2020 also recommends developing and adopting “a comprehensive set of guiding principles for the locations of astronomy facilities and associated infrastructure in which Canada participates. These principles should “be centred on consent from the Indigenous Peoples and traditional title holders who would be affected by any astronomy project”. CATAC is aware that many Canadians are very concerned about how TMT construction in Hawai’i can be consistent with these principles, and that there has been important discussion within Canada about this. CATAC has raised these concerns with the Board. Our recommendation for continued support of TMT is based in part on the following considerations:

  • First and foremost, CATAC reaffirms our position that the decision about whether or not TMT is built in Hawaii should be entirely in the hands of the Hawaiian community, and that they are the only ones who should be responsible for defining what consent means within their own constituency.
  • CATAC awaits the full development of the guiding principles recommended by the LRP, which we hope and expect will be consistent with the previous point.
  • Recent developments have led to an opportunity for renewed dialogue within Hawai’i, that CATAC believes is consistent with the views expressed in our LRP, and the white papers on Indigeneous rights submitted to that process. These discussions are taking place among diverse groups, and involve not only TMT but all astronomy on Maunakea, as well as many broader issues of Hawaiian society. We describe some of these developments below, and note there are more details in our recent report to the CASCA Board, which is available on our website. It is vitally important to give these discussions the time and space they need. They are connected to concerns that are much broader than TMT, or astronomy.

Telescope Site, Partnership and Construction Timeline

On August 13, in response to the initial planning proposal for the US Extremely Large Telescope Program (ELTP), the US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the initiation of an informal outreach process to engage people and groups interested in the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project. Hawai’i House Speaker Saiki issued a press release about this on Aug 18. This outreach is a precursor to an NSF decision about whether or not to accept the ELTP proposal and formally join the project.

This engagement on the part of the NSF is welcomed by the TMT International Observatory (TIO) Partners, and brings a new opportunity for a Hawaiian consultation process and formal review, led by a widely respected body. It also establishes a timeline of events that will take place over the next 12-18 months, each of which will provide increasing clarity over the future viability of TMT:

  • The US Astro2020 process is anticipated to release their public report in mid-2021. A top ranking in this report is essential for NSF engagement and the viability of the project. The report may make other recommendations relevant to TMT.
  • Should the NSF accept the ELTP proposal, this will trigger a federal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which will take about three years to complete. Included as part of this review would be the important Section 106 process of the National Historical Protection Act. This would have the significant effect of leading to a federally recognized record of the importance of Maunakea to Hawaiians. Information from the public consultation phase of this process will shed further light on the situation as the review progresses. We note that a federal EIS may also be required at La Palma if the NSF is a partner.
  • Upon acceptance of the proposal, NSF will also conduct an in-depth Preliminary Design Review, likely in late 2021. This is a comprehensive review of all aspects of the project, including operations and a detailed costing.

Assuming TMT construction cannot begin until the EIS has completed (which may not be the case), construction might not start before 2023. An estimate of seven years construction and three years commissioning would mean first science in 2033 or later. The main competition for TMT is the ESO Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) project. The ELT is currently under construction, and current planning anticipates technical first light (TFL ) by the end of 2025, though the COVID-19 pandemic may add some delay. It is planned that all four first-light instruments would be commissioned within two to three years after TFL. Assuming no delays to that project, the gap to TMT science could be six years. But, at this point, there is enough uncertainty in the timeline of both projects that the gap could be larger, or smaller.

In parallel with these NSF-led consultations, there are several other important discussions and activities underway in Hawaii. These include:

  • In May, 2020, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) launched an independent review of the University of Hawaii (UH) management of Maunakea as part of the Master Lease renewal process. The independent Hawaiian consultation group Ku`iwalu, has been engaged to evaluate the effectiveness of the UH and the OMKM in its implementation of the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). Some information about the process underway is available at their website. At the time of launch, the review was expected to conclude by the end of 2020, though this may be delayed.
  • An important part of Governor Ige’s proposed path forward for TMT on Maunakea is the decommissioning of “as many telescopes as possible”. This process is underway, through the OMKM. Decommissioning is a lengthy process, as it involves its own Environmental Assessment and DLNR permit preceding the physical removal of the facility and complete restoration of the site. Decommissioning of the UH-Hilo teaching telescope, Hoku Kea is expected to be completed in 2023. The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory decommissioning is anticipated to be completed in 2022.
  • Multiple groups in Hawaii are meeting to discuss broad issues such as housing, education and land ownership, including the role of astronomy. Among these groups are the Hawai’i Executive Collaborative and the ‘Aina Aloha Economic Futures. Participants in these meetings include TMT opponents. Canadians associated with TMT have also been invited to participate in some of these discussions, though the travel restrictions associated with the pandemic have significantly affected this effort.

Instrumentation Update

The TMT Exoplanet Roadmap Committee is considering the prioritization of desired exoplanet capabilities for planned second-generation TMT instruments: PSI, MICHI and HROS. The prioritization would be a function of the various instrument modes (imaging, spectroscopy, polarimetry) and their implementation (resolution, IFU, choice of wavelengths/bands). Input from the Canadian community is welcome, before mid-January. A short summary of proposed capabilities together with an Excel template for feedback are available on the CATAC web page.

Project Office Update

Dr. Gary Sanders, who has led the TMT Project as Project Manager with distinction since its inception, will retire at the start of 2021. Deputy Project Manager Fengchuan Liu, who has worked closely with Gary and co-directed the project for the last five years, will assume the Project Manager (acting) position while TMT searches for a permanent project manager.

BRITE-Constellation Mission Update

par Catherine Lovekin (Canadian PI for BRITE)
(Cassiopeia – hivers 2020)

BRITE-Constellation is an international space astronomy mission consisting of a fleet of 20x20x20 cm nanosatellites dedicated to precision optical photometry of bright stars in two photometric colours. The mission continues in full science operations, with 45 datasets available in the public domain from the BRITE public archive. As of April of 2020, all data is made public as soon as decorrelation is complete, with no proprietary period.

The BRITE mission is a collaboration between Canadian, Austrian and Polish astronomers and space scientists. The Canadian partners represent University of Toronto, Université de Montréal, Mount Allison University, Royal Military College of Canada, University of British Columbia, and Bishop’s University. The mission was built, and the Canadian satellites operated by, the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies Space Flight Lab (UTIAS-SFL). The Canadian Space Agency funded the construction of the Canadian satellites, and continues to support their day-to-day operations.

Operations

There are five BRITE satellites in the Constellation, which work together to obtain well-sampled, long term continuous (~6 months) light curves in both red and blue band passes across a variety of sky fields.

As this issue of Cassiopeia went to press, the assignments of the BRITE nanosats was:

  • BRITE Toronto (Canada): This satellite observes with a red filter. It is currently observing the Orion/Taurus III field, revisiting this field for the third time.
  • BRITE Lem (Poland): Lem observes with a blue filter, but is currently idle due to unresolved stability issues.
  • BRITE Heweliusz (Poland): Heweliusz observes with a red filter. It is currently observing the Vela/Pictorus V field.
  • BRITE Austria (Austria): BRITE Austria observes with a blue filter. It is currently observing the Orion VII field.
  • UniBRITE (Austria): Currently out of order.

The BRITE Constellation observing program is currently set through November of 2021. Details of the observing plan are available on the BRITE photometry Wiki page.

Recent Science Results

“β Cas: The first δ Scuti star with a dynamo magnetic field” (Zwintz et al., 2020, A&A, 643, A110)

This study investigates the pulsational and magnetic field properties of β Cas, as well as the star’s apparent fundamental parameters and chemical abundances.

Based on photometric time series obtained from three different space missions (BRITE-Constellation, SMEI, and TESS), we conduct a frequency analysis and investigate the stability of the pulsation amplitudes over four years of observations. We investigate the presence of a magnetic field and its properties using spectropolarimetric observations taken with the Narval instrument by applying the least-squares deconvolution and Zeeman-Doppler imaging techniques.

The star β Cas shows only three independent p-mode frequencies down to the few ppm-level; its highest amplitude frequency is suggested to be an n = 3, ℓ = 2, m = 0 mode. Its magnetic field structure is quite complex and almost certainly of a dynamo origin. The atmosphere of β Cas is slightly deficient in iron peak elements and slightly overabundant in C, O, and heavier elements.

Atypically for δ Scuti stars, we can only detect three pulsation modes down to exceptionally low noise levels for β Cas. The star is also one of very few δ Scuti pulsators known to date to show a measurable magnetic field and the first δ Scuti star with a dynamo magnetic field. These characteristics make β Cas an interesting target for future studies of dynamo processes in the thin convective envelopes of F-type stars, the transition region between fossil and dynamo fields, and the interaction between pulsations and magnetic field.

Figure 1. BRITE photometric time series obtained by UBr (panel a) and BAb in 2016 (panel b) to the same Y-axis scale and with a time base of 170 days on both X axes. Panels c and d show 4-days subsets of the UBr and BAb 2016 light curves binned to 5-minute intervals and the corresponding multi-sine fit with the two identified pulsation frequencies again to the same Y-axis scale and with a time base of 4 days on both X axes. From Zwintz et al. (2020).

Conferences, Resources, and Social Media

Conferences

The BRITE team did not host any conferences this year. The proceedings from the 2019 conference “Stars and their Variability Observed from Space” has now been published and all papers are available at brite.camk.edu.pl/pub/index.html.

The mission Wiki (including information on past, current and future fields) can be accessed here.

BRITE Constellation is on Facebook, at @briteconstellation.

The BRITE International Advisory Science Team

The BRITE International Advisory Science Team (BIAST), which consists of BRITE scientific PIs, technical authorities, amateur astronomers, and mission fans, advises the mission executive on scientific and outreach aspects of the mission. If you’re interested in joining BIAST, contact Konstanze Zwintz, the chair of BEST at konstanze.zwintz@uibk.ac.at.

Atelier AstroComm 2021 Workshop Première annonce

par Nathalie Ouellette (Université de Montréal)
(Cassiopeia – hivers 2020)

Les compétences en communication sont une partie importante de la boîte à outils des astronomes. Nous devons les utiliser pour partager nos recherches avec nos pairs, défendre notre science, obtenir du financement et mieux connecter avec le public et la prochaine génération de scientifiques.

Dans cet esprit, le Centre de recherche en astrophysique du Québec (CRAQ) organisera un atelier interactif virtuel en anglais sur la communication scientifique, AstroComm 2021.

Date: 16 juin 2021
Heure: 13h à 17h (heure de l’Est)
Lieu: En ligne
Ouvert à tous les astronomes intéressés, d’étudiants au baccalauréat aux professeurs
Inscription gratuite

L’atelier sera présenté par Nathalie Ouellette (Université de Montréal), Julie Bolduc-Duval (À la découverte de l’univers) et d’autres instructeurs qui seront annoncés plus tard.

Cette première annonce a pour but de sonder l’intérêt de la communauté astronomique canadienne pour cet atelier. Voici quelques sujets qui pourraient être couverts lors de l’atelier:

  • présentations pour des publics variés
  • écriture scientifique
  • création de contenu visuel
  • interventions médiatiques
  • médias sociaux
  • communication inclusive
  • activités pratiques pour les jeunes
  • … et plus!

Les participants devront soumettre une pièce de communication scientifique (ex: article, vidéo, diaporama de présentation, etc.) avant l’atelier qui aidera les instructeurs à mieux cibler le contenu de la formation. Les pièces soumises n’ont pas besoin d’être créées pour l’atelier; elles peuvent provenir d’activités de communication scientifique antérieures.

Si cette activité vous intéresse, nous vous invitons à vous pré-inscrire à l’aide de ce formulaire.

Vos réponses nous permettront d’adapter l’atelier selon les besoins de la communauté. Une annonce avec plus de détails sera envoyée à la liste de distribution de la CASCA au début de l’année 2021. Pour plus d’information, visitez la page atelier-astrocomm-2021. Si vous avez des questions, veuillez contacter Nathalie Ouellette.

News from the JCMT and Canadian Observing Opportunity

By / par Chris Wilson (McMaster University, JCMT Board Member for Canada)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2020)

Canadian PI Proposals Return for 2021

Five Canadian universities (McMaster, Alberta, Queen’s, Manitoba, and Montreal) are contributing some funds towards JCMT operations in 2021. ACURA has also contributed some funding and HAA has a separate contract to purchase observing time in 2021. As a result, researchers at all Canadian universities are once again eligible to apply as PIs for observing on the JCMT.

The special 2021A call in the fall led to a healthy oversubscription rate. The 2021B call for proposals will be released in February with proposals due in March 2021. Band 5 weather contains to remain undersubscribed and counts as “free” in the time-allocation process and so I especially encourage proposals that can use this weather band.

The replacement 230 GHz receiver called Namakanui has been made available for shared-risk observing as of semester 2020B. This receiver is on loan from ASIAA (Taiwan) and is the spare receiver for the Greenland Telescope. It is a 3-band receiver design; the 230 GHz-band cartridge is known as U’u.

Please note that I expect semester 2021B to be the last time that Canadians will be able to apply as PIs for regular observing proposals. After that time, Canadians will be able to access PI time by collaborating with our colleagues in the U.K. or the EAO partner regions (China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan) to see if they would be interested to partner on a proposal. Band 5 weather contains to remain undersubscribed and counts as “free” in the time-allocation process.

The fact that the CADC continues to host the JCMT data archive is maintaining our access to JCMT large programs. Several new large programs were approved and began collecting data in 2020. Descriptions of the approved large programs are available here.

Observing

The JCMT was shut down for just over two months from mid-March to end of May due to COVID-19. However, since that time the observatory has returned to more or less normal operations. This has been facilitated by the fact that the JCMT has been observing fully remotely (from a control room in Hilo) since November 2019. I anticipate the observers and students will once again be welcome to visit to observe from Hilo and to visit the telescope at the summit once the pandemic is under control.

Science

There have been a number of high-profile results from PI programs on the JCMT over the past several months. Probably the result to get the most press coverage was the publication of evidence for phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus (Greaves et al. 2020, Nature Astronomy). The original observations were carried out with the JCMT and were followed up with ALMA. The importance is that phosphine in this instance provides hints of life in Venus’s atmosphere; however, subsequent papers looking at the ALMA data have called the detection into question. Perhaps something that JCMT can follow up with the new, more sensitive U’u receiver in the near future?

A second very interesting result from the Event Horizon Telescope team shows that the shadow of the black hole in M87, Powehi, seems to be wobbling on a timescale of ten years (Wielgus et al. 2020, ApJ). The crescent-like feature that was imaged in 2017 seems to be persistent, which implies it is a real effect caused by light bending from the black hole. The wobble gives us information on how gas is flowing around the black hole.

Finally, JCMT observations of the star Betelgeuse have revealed that its recent unprecedented dimming was most likely not due to a passing dust cloud but to the development of signicant starspots which affected its brightness (Dharmawardena et al., 2020, ApJL). This prominent star in the constellation Orion began to decrease in brightness in October 2019, and ultimately became roughly 3 times (1 magnitude) fainter than normal until it eventually returned to its original brightness. The JCMT images showed that Betelgeuse became 20% dimmer at submillimetre wavelengths, inconsistent with a foreground dust cloud but consistent with lower-temperature starspots covering 50-70% of its surface.

No Success with CFI for New 850 Micron Camera

A team of Canadian universities led by McMaster submitted a proposal for the CFI 2020 Innovation Fund competition to seek to contribute funding to constructing a new 850 micron camera for the JCMT. Unfortunately, this proposal was not successful. However, the observatory is still moving ahead with the development of this new camera, which is planned to have 20 times faster mapping speed than SCUBA-2 with dual-polarization capabilities.

JCMT website

ngVLA Update

By / par Erik Rosolowsky (U Alberta), Joan Wrobel (NRAO)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2020)

The next-generation Very Large Array (ngVLA) Project was pleased to learn that it was one of two new projects prioritized in LRP2020 for Canadian investment in future facilities. LRP2020 recommended that Canada seek engagement with the ngVLA to guarantee a ~6% share of observing time. With this article, we are inaugurating a regular feature intended to keep Canadian stakeholders informed about ngVLA progress. If you would like to receive more updates on the ngVLA project, sign up for the ngVLA-Canada mailing list by sending a note to James DiFrancesco.

While we await the results of the US Decadal review, there have been several developments from the ngVLA Project office. For FY2021, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) continues to support the design and development effort through its funding of the ngVLA cooperative agreement. Approximately US$10M has been made available to continue work on key ngVLA subsystems including antennas, electronics and computing, almost doubling the annual expenditures from the preceding three years. Working closely with the NSF, the ngVLA Project Office is developing plans for the next three years of design and development, leading to a shovel-ready project in the mid-2020s.

In collaboration with National Research Council Canada and other international and industrial partners, the ngVLA Project has conducted five conceptual design studies for the ngVLA 18-m antenna. These studies have resulted in four alternative concepts that meet the key requirements while employing differing innovative technical solutions.

As part of the conceptual design selection, the Project has released a request for proposals for the final design and prototype of the 18m antenna. Proposals were submitted in early December, with an anticipated decision in early 2021. The proposals will be evaluated on a best-value basis, considering the estimated and modelled performance of the antenna concept to the full Project scientific and operational requirements, the costs of the design and prototype effort, and the anticipated total lifecycle costs for the ngVLA Project.

The Project office has also released a notional Envelope Observing Program, a prediction of how the community might use the facility during a typical year of full science observations. The Program adopts values for the availability of science time and antennas that are more taxing than the Project’s goals. It thus represents an upper envelope on what might actually be demanded from the facility. The Program will be used to inform studies of computing loads and design options.