President’s Report

Wison

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

Hi, everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President’s Report

Wison

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

Hi, everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Big “Thank you” to the Government of Canada

Wison

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

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

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

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

President’s Report

Wison

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

Hi, everyone,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

President’s report

Wison

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2014)

Hi, everyone,

This has been a busy fall for CASCA, ACURA, and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy, with major lobbying efforts on behalf of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT). The three Coalition co-chairs (Don Brooks representing ACURA, Guy Nelson representing industry, and myself representing CASCA) traveled to Ottawa on October 20 to meet with staff members in the offices of the Minister of Industry, the Minister of Finance, and the Privy Council Office. We will be going back to Ottawa for additional meetings reaching out to different branches of the government on December 16. In November, Guy Nelson joined a Canadian trade mission to China, which gave him additional opportunities to raise the need for TMT funding with politicians involved in that visit. The individual co-chairs have also been busy writing letters to provide updates on the TMT project to other high-level politicians and their staff. In parallel, individual astronomers have had considerable success meeting with their university presidents and raising the TMT issue with them. Several of the key university presidents are now engaged with the TMT issue and are working to make this project a reality. The rules and application deadlines for the first round of the Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) were published in early December, which has been very helpful in clarifying the structure of this new funding program. While it may be that some part of the TMT funding can ultimately flow from CFREF, it seems clear that CFREF funding is unlikely to be the sole or even a major source of funds for the TMT construction project.

You might be wondering whether, with all the work we have been doing, we have been given any hints as to the likely success of obtaining TMT construction funding. The reality is that we will only learn whether or not we have been successful on the day that the 2015 federal budget is announced. The secrecy surrounding the federal budget is not new; indeed, we were in a similar situation in 2003 when we needed additional funding for ALMA. I remain cautiously hopeful that we will be successful in obtaining funding for the TMT.

Another important focus of our community this year is the Mid-Term Review (MTR) of the 2010 Long Range Plan, which is now well under way. There have been a very good number of white papers submitted to the MTR panel, with just a few late ones expected as I write this. The white papers are available in the MTR area of the CASCA web site and I urge you to have a look at the ones the overlap with your particular interests.

The MTR panel will be holding three town hall meetings in late March: in Montreal on Tuesday, March 24; in Toronto on Wednesday, March 25; and in Victoria on Thursday, March 26. Please try to attend one of these town hall meetings if you can; they are an important opportunity for you to raise issues with the MTR panel and for the panel to hear about the concerns and priorities of our wider community.

The CASCA Board has been hard at work for you this fall. We sent out a call to Canadian astronomers who were not yet members of the International Astronomical Union inviting them to apply for membership in advance of the 2015 IAU General Assembly, and over 40 people responded positively. We committed some of the surplus that had built up in the Westar fund to supporting the “Discover the Universe” initiative for the next three years, providing some much needed continuity as they wait to hear the results of the next round of NSERC PromoScience grants. We are also working with the EPO committee to decide how to rejuvenate the Westar public lecture series. We are continuing to work on completing the translation of key pages for the French version of the website and trying to do a better job keeping the English and French websites synchronized, for example by posting English-language press releases and job advertisements on both websites. We have completed the renewal of the members of the various CASCA committees and are starting to explore possible areas for collaboration with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).

I also want to draw your attention to the 2015 CASCA annual meeting, which will be hosted by McMaster University. The dates of the meeting are May 24-27, with an MTR session held for part of the day on May 28. You can expect to hear more information about the meeting in February via the email exploder. The 2016 AGM will be hosted by the University of Manitoba and Brandon University in Winnipeg.

Finally, congratulations to Sara Ellison, who in October was awarded the Rutherford Medal in Physics from the Royal Society of Canada.

Message from the CASCA president

By Chris Wilson, CASCA president

Hi, everyone,

The start of term is upon us, with all the work that entails, and so this will be just a short report to update you on some of the things that have been going on over the last three months. More information on many of these topics is available elsewhere in this newletter or in the society web pages.

First, I would like to welcome Joanne Rosvick and Magdalen Normandeau as our new Cassiopeia editors! I am very grateful to them for taking this on and I look forward to working with them.

The Mid Term Review (MTR) is now underway with the solicitation of White Papers in preparation for the town hall meetings that will occur early in 2015. The panel has already requested a number of reports from CASCA committees and individuals involved in proposed or established facilities and missions. But any member of the community is welcome to submit a white paper. Length will be as in the LRP – 4 pages text maximum. Up to 5 additional figures allowed. Deadline for submissions is 28 November 2014. Please see the MTR part of the CASCA web site for more details.

Lobbying efforts for the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) are well underway. A thoughtful article by Ivan Semeniuk on the TMT appeared in the Globe & Mail in late July and generated additional media coverage. A number of CASCA members wrote letters to their MPs and to Minister Ed Holder, under whose department the TMT falls, and many or all of us received replies from the Minister’s office in August. Individual CASCA members have also been busy meeting with their university Presidents and/or Vice-Presidents research to update them on the TMT issue and I can report that the TMT was discussed at the U15 meeting of university presidents in August. Also in August, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy made a Pre-Budget Submission on the TMT to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance. I think it is safe to say that TMT as a project and an issue is now quite well-known both within the government and in the universities. We are continuing to raise the issue of TMT with the government this fall. Ultimately, though, we will only know whether or not we are successful in getting funding for TMT when the 2015 federal budget is announced. In the meantime, keep an eye out for the TMT Ground-Breaking ceremony which will happen on October 7 and is supposed to have a live-stream which we hope to link to the CASCA web site.

The Long Range Plan Implementation Committee is continuing its monitoring of the broad suite of activities underway in our community. The Canadian CCAT construction proposal will meet with an expert CFI panel on September 29. A complication to the Canadian effort was the failure of NSF to provide partial funding for CCAT through its recent MSIP program. However, the CCAT team continues to be hopeful that new partners will join the telescope to allow its construction in a timely manner. There is an update on progress with the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer elsewhere in this issue and so I will not say anything more about that here. The ACURA Advisory Committee on the SKA has a new chair (Bryan Gaensler) and is being expanded to nine members in anticipation of accelerated developments with that project over the next couple of years.

In the wider world, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) has started on an ambitious program to reform its Commission structure with a deadline of October 15, 2014. Also, the deadline for proposing for an IAU Symposium for 2016 is now October 31, 2014.

And last but not least, two of our society’s members have been honoured this past month. Harvey Richer from UBC has been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Christian Marois from NRC Herzberg has been elected to the College of New Scholars of the Royal Society of Canada. Congratulations to both Harvey and Christian on a well-deserved award.

President’s Report (June 18, 2014)

This is my first report as your newly elected President. I’m very honoured to be asked to take on this role, but I admit to feeling a little overwhelmed at all the things that need attention.

I would like to start by thanking our outgoing President, Laura Ferrarese, for the outstanding job she has done over the past two years. She has played a major role in our efforts so far to find funding for the TMT and most recently she has coordinated the start of the very important Mid Term Review (MTR) of our 2010 Long Range Plan. She oversaw a complete revamping of our society’s web site and has done a fantastic job of communicating with the members of our society through a variety of channels, including taking charge of the CASCA twitter account during the Quebec City AGM. I look forward to the benefit of her experience as she continues on the CASCA Board as Past President.

I would also like to welcome the new members to the CASCA Board. Bob Abraham is our new Vice-President, and Sarah Gallagher and Stephane Courteau are our new directors. I look forward to working with you all over the next two years.

We have just finished a wonderful CASCA annual general meeting in Quebec City. The science was exciting, the food was excellent, and the setting (including the weather) was beautiful! I want to thank again the LOC chaired by Laurent Drissen for all their hard work and dedication that paid off in a very successful meeting.

Immediately after CASCA we had a kick-off meeting for the Mid Term Review process. Further information about this meeting is given in the article in this issue by committee chair Rob Thacker. The individual presentations will be posted to the MTR area of the CASCA web site.

The most urgent task currently facing our community is to secure funding to enable our participation in TMT, our highest priority for a new ground-based facility. As you may recall, funding for TMT was not included in the February 2014 federal budget. As a result, Canada is currently an associate member of the TMT International Observatory (TIO), which voted to begin construction at their May 22, 2014 meeting. The members of the TIO are currently the University of California, Caltech, Japan, and China, with India and AURA as additional associate members. The coming year will be a ramp-up year for construction spending and so the window is still open for Canada to join the TIO if we can secure construction funding in the coming year.

Many of you may not be aware of the schedule and process that is followed in developing the federal budget; the following is my personal (probably incomplete) understanding gleaned from recent discussions and past experience. For a federal budget, which is typically released in February, most of the work is done in the preceding summer and early fall. Summer is the time when MPs are typically in their home ridings, and so this is the time when individual visits by voters (us!) are easiest to make. August 6, 2014 is the deadline this year for any “pre-budget submissions”; the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy will prepare a pre-budget submission on TMT.

To fund TMT as a line item in the Federal Budget requires a “Memo to Cabinet”; this Memo would be prepared by the National Research Council under direction by Industry Canada and submitted to Cabinet by the Minister. My understanding is that Industry Canada has to ask NRC to prepare this Memo to Cabinet, i.e. that NRC cannot submit a memo without a request from above. We are not allowed to know anything about the existence or progress of a Memo to Cabinet; this was rather frustrating during our wait for the 2014 budget but is a long-standing policy (I remember similar rules during the work to obtain funding for ALMA over 10 years ago).

A potential new player in the funding arena is the Canada Research First Excellence Fund, which was announced in the February 2014 budget. No details are available yet as to how this fund will be distributed. However, under advice from the office of the Minister of State for Science and Technology, ACURA is exploring whether it may be a possible route for some of the funding needed for TMT. It seems likely at this time that individual universities may have substantial say over how these new funds are allocated, which means that interactions with university Presidents and university priorities may be important.

So at this point you may be thinking, “Is there anything I can do to help?” I would say the answer to that is “Yes”. The Coalition is pursuing what I would call a “tiered” strategy and the overall strategy is still being developed. One approach is to reach out to the Presidents of our universities for support; this will almost certainly be required for the new Excellence Fund and may be important as well for nudging a memo to cabinet forward. The second approach is to write to and meet with individual MPs. In early June, Laura Ferrarese wrote to a subset of about 40 astronomers with strong connections to CASCA and/or the LRP process to ask them to contact their MPs and university Presidents. Once we have a more complete strategy in place, I anticipate sending out a more general call to CASCA members via the email exploder. So stay tuned!

Chris Wilson

(Past) President’s Report (June 18, 2014)

Hello everyone,

I have just came back to Victoria after a week in beautiful Quebec, where this year’s CASCA AGM has taken place. Several factors contributed to make this a memorable meeting. First of all, the many exciting talks, including those of this year’s CASCA awards recipients: Harvey Richer (Beals), Peter Martin (Executive), Matt Dobbs (Dunlap), Andy Pon (Plaskett) and last but most certainly not least, Howard Trottier (Qilak), whose energy and enthusiasm left us all wanted to do more and better in engaging children of all ages in what is arguably the most fascinating of all sciences. Then, on Tuesday morning, the announcement that Sidney van den Bergh, a true giant and pivotal figure in Canadian astronomy, has been co-awarded the 2014 Gruber Cosmology Prize for his contributions to the field of near field cosmology: congratulations, Sidney, you have our deepest thanks and appreciation. Finally, the special TMT reception, organized by the Pasadena TMT Project Office, that took place on Monday evening.

The CASCA attendees surrounding the TMT mirror assembly on June 11, 2014 in Quebec.

The CASCA attendees surrounding the TMT mirror assembly on June 11, 2014 in Quebec.

During the reception, Greg Falhman, Ernie Seaquist and Laurent Drissen unveiled a polished mirror assembly, one of the 492 segments that will ultimately comprise TMT’s 30-meter primary mirror. When the curtain lifted and the translucent golden hexagonal mirror was revealed, there was a collective gasp from the audience. But after the initial excitement, I am sure the question on everybody’s mind was: after all this years, and all these efforts, how can we possibly not have yet secured a place in what will surely be one of the most groundbreaking and revolutionary projects ever undertaken?

TMT represents far more than just a telescope. It is a project that we co-founded, almost 15 years ago, partnering with our colleagues in the United States. It is a project we built from the ground up, working with Canadian engineers and industry to tackle a disarming array of seemingly insurmountable technical obstacles. Through hard work and ingenuity, we have transformed TMT from an exciting concept to a marvel of precision engineering. It is a project Canadian scientists and engineers (in academia, industry and government) have brought to such a high level of maturity that major international communities — China, India and Japan — have been enticed to join forces with us in what will undoubtedly be a remarkable journey of discovery and exploration.

And yet, today, Canada is at risk of being reduced to a spectator role as a new generation of scientific discoveries unfolds. In May 2014 TMT transitioned from the design/preconstruction to the construction phase and a new partnership, the TMT International Observatory (TIO), was formed by Caltech, UC, China and Japan, all of whom have committed funds towards construction. India is expected to commit by fall. A ground-breaking ceremony will take place on Maunakea on October 7, 2014. To join the TIO as a full member, Canada must secure construction funds — $300M distributed over nine years — in the coming year. Of those $300 million, about half are needed to construct the unique calotte enclosure designed by Dynamic Structures Ltd. The other half includes ~$75M for the construction of NFIRAOS, TMT’s AO system, mostly done at NRC, and an equal amount as a cash contribution to the TIO. Those $300M will buy us close to 19% of the observing time at the telescope.

For the past many months, ACURA and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy have been carrying out an extensive campaign in support of TMT. Activities include regular written updates and in-person meetings with the Minister of Industry, James Moore, the Minister of State for Science and Technology, Ed Holder, as well as other Government officials. A nation wide campaign aimed at securing the support of University presidents is well under way. ACURA holds regular meeting with NRC officials. These activities are aimed to support the submission of a Memorandum to Cabinet (MC) requesting construction funds. A pre-budget submission is being prepared by the Coalition, with the help of our Temple Scott consultant, with a deadline of August 6. The final MC is due in the fall — this is a confidential document prepared by NRC on request by Industry Canada. An alternative (or perhaps complementary) avenue of funding that has recently emerged as a viable possibility is Canada First Research Excellence Fund (CFREF) — a $1.5B program (over 10 years) announced in the 2014 Federal Budget “to help Canadian post-secondary institutions excel globally in research areas”. A CFREF request will of course need to be agreed upon by Universities Presidents.

In all this, there is an important role for CASCA to play. Now more than ever, it is imperative for the community to speak with a single voice and express unequivocal and unwavering support for the project: in the words of a man who knew how to get stuff done, we must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately. This is a call to action: write to Minister Holder, visit your MP office, schedule a meeting with your University VPR and/or President. Do it now. Take a copy of the TMT Brochure and Digest with you, and tell them that TMT is an investment in the future not just for the Canadian astronomical community, but also for Canada’s international scientific reputation: a hard-won reputation of which Canadians are justly proud.


I could not conclude this message without mentioning some other news. After five years of feasibility studies, a project office has now officially been established for ngCFHT, now renamed Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE). The goal is to generate a Construction Proposal over the next three years. Things are moving forward on the space astronomy front as well: a Request for Information (RFI) has been issued by the CSA to industry and academia to explore possible contributions to NASA’s WFIRST mission. And of course, as we work towards securing new projects, we must say goodby to old ones. After more than 10 years in what was originally planned as a 1-year mission, the CSA will withdraw support to MOST on September 9, 2014. At the end of September, NRC will withdraw funding from the venerable James Clark Maxwell Telescope. Plans to keep Canadian involvement in JCMT for at least two additional years — through a combination on in-kind contributions and University funds, are under way and the outlook is promising.

Anyway, speaking of things that must come to an end, this will be my last report as President. So allow me to take this opportunity to thank the CASCA Board for their dedication and commitment, welcome our new Board members, Bob Abraham and Sarah Gallagher, and wish all the best to our new president, Chris Wilson. And finally, a huge THANK YOU to you all, for your support and your confidence in me during the past two years. I feel truly fortunate and proud to be part of this community.

Ciao,
Laura

President’s Report (March 15, 2014)

Hello everyone,

this is a short report to keep you apprised of activities related to the Mid Term Review (MTR) of the 2010 Long Range Plan.

It has been almost five years since the LRP was published, and some notable steps towards realizing the LRP goals have been taken. For instance, new instrumentation for CFHT is in the works: after a slight delay, Spirou has been given the go ahead and provided ~$2M in financial support, while new filters (including an improved u-band and narrow-band CaH&K, [OIII] and Halpha filters) are being procured for MegaCam. Work towards ngCFHT continues. JWST is moving ahead as planned, and all Canadian hardware has been delivered to NASA. Since 2010, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has been a formal partner is Astro-H, for which Canada is building the metrology system. On the SKA side, Canada is participating, through NRC, in several pre-construction activities that are intended to be part of the capital construction phase, including signal processing, dishes, and receiver systems. CHIME has been fully funded and is already under construction.

On other fronts, things are not moving quite as fast, or not at all. Funding for CCAT is not yet secured. On the HPC side, ComputeCanada has undergone a significant reorganization. A new President and CEO was appointed on March 10, and last November, ComputeCanada announced the creation of the Advisory Council on Research, which includes two astronomers (Rob Thacker and James Wadsley), and through which we hope the voice of our community will be heard. This leads us to the two elephants in the room: TMT and participation in a dark energy mission, the top two ranked ground- and space-based initiatives in the LRP. As we all know, there was no mention of TMT in the 2014 Federal budget. What nobody knows yet is how this will affect our continuing partnership in the project; the hope is that some of the dust will settle after the TMT Board meeting to be held next month. As for a dark energy mission, efforts are being diverted from Euclid to WFIRST and we now have a Canadian representative on the WFIRST-AFTA Science Definition Team (Mike Hudson). In addition, CSA has awarded a significant technology contract in support of the proposed CASTOR mission, which aims to carry out short-wavelength imaging to complement the IR imaging of Euclid and WFIRST.

More details can be found in the reports of the CASCA committees, on CASCA’s “Projects and Initiatives” pages, as well as on Cassiopeia.

Four years into the process, it is time for a comprehensive review of the progress towards achieving the LRP goals, so we can identify any areas of deficiencies or where progress has been slow and advise on a course of action to ensure, as much as possible, that the LPR plan is brought to completion. The scope of the Mid Term Review is therefore to identify strategic changes in funding models, governance, or operational schemes that would increase the effectiveness in implementing the LRP plan and/or maximize the return on the investments already made; to evaluate the loss of scientific and/or technical knowledge, and recommend ways of mitigating the impact if any LRP goals are no longer considered viable; and to identify and evaluate — in the context of the original LRP plan — new projects that have emerged since the LRP was published.

This task will be carried out by a MTR panel, in consultation with the community. The MTR panel is chaired by Dr. Rob Thacker, of Saint Mary’s University. The panel members were chosen by the CASCA Board, in consultation with Rob, to ensure expertise in all areas — technical and scientific — covered by the LRP:

  • Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo)
  • David Crampton (NRC-Herzberg)
  • Matt Dobbs (McGill University)
  • Kristine Spekkens (Royal Military College)
  • Michael Strauss (Princeton University)
  • Marten van Kerkwijk (University of Toronto)
  • Rob Thacker (Saint Mary’s University, Chair)
  • Kim Venn (University of Victoria)
  • Christine Wilson (McMaster University)

I will share a small but significant detail with you all. When I sent the invitation to join the panel to Michael, David, Matt, Kristine, Michael, Marten, Rob, Kim and Chris, I was fully prepared to have to engage in some arm twisting. There was no need: without exception, they all were eager to serve, in spite of the fact that the task at hand is not trivial, that the stakes are particularly high, and the time commitment is significant (I made no secret of any of this!). Their willingness to be part of the process is a strong testament to their dedication and commitment to the community, and I feel very fortunate and privileged to be able to count on such an outstanding team for such an important task.

As for a timeline, the MTR activities will start at the CASCA AGM in June 2014, and culminate with the release of the MTR report in the fall of 2015. Here are the main milestones:

  1. On June 12, immediately following the AGM, the MTR panel will hold a full day meeting, to which the entire membership is invited. A preliminary schedule for the session can be found on the CASCA webpages. During the meeting, the panel and the community will hear presentations from the chairs of the LRPIC, JCSA, GAC and CDC as well as from the leads of all projects prioritized in the LRP. There will also be a call for contributed talks on projects that might have emerged since the LRP or that should be discussed by the panel. Ample blocks of time will be dedicated to all-hands discussion. If you wish to submit an abstract for a contributed talk, please fill in the form: the panel will get back to you after all abstracts have been received.
  2. In July-August 2014, white papers will be solicited from all leads of the projects prioritized in the LRP and a few selected new initiatives (if any), with a deadline of December 2014. The list of white papers being solicited will be posted, and the papers themselves will of course also be posted once received by the panel. Note that even if there will be no open call for white papers, if you feel that one should be submitted on an issue not already covered, please contact the MTR panel chair and state your case.
  3. In January/February 2015, three townhall meetings will be held in the Toronto/Vancouver/Montreal areas, following the same format as the townhall meetings held during the 2010 LRP. All townhall meetings will be webcasted.
  4. Preliminary conclusions of the MTR panel will be discussed at the 2015 CASCA meeting in Hamilton, Ontario. A final report will be issued in late fall of 2015. The report will not be as extensive as the original LRP, and will not include unwarranted revisions or expansions that are inconsistent with the original plan. It might, however, recommend revised strategies aimed at ensuring that the plan is completed, and include new initiatives when these are aligned with and enhance the original plan.

Throughout the entire process, community consultations will take place through a dedicated website. I strongly urge you to participate in the process — the LRP and MTR are perhaps the two single most important initiatives for the health of the Canadian Astronomical community, and your opinions must be heard.

I will send more news as they become available and I hope to see many of you at CASCA 2014!

Cheers,
Laura

President’s Report (June 15, 2013)

 

Hello everyone,

since I wrote my last report two months ago, I have had the opportunity to attend three meetings that are directly relevant to the strategic planning for Canadian astronomy. Two of these meetings focused specifically on CFHT: the ngCFHT workshop, which took place in Hilo, HI, on March 27-29, 2013, and the triennial CFHT Users’ Meeting, held in Campbell River on May 6-8.  The third meeting was, of course, the 2013 CASCA AGM, which took place on the campus of the University of British Columbia on May 28-30. The following reflects my notes and impressions from these meetings.

 

The Future of the Canada France Hawaii Telescope

CFHT is at a crossroad. Until now, the telescope has maintained world-wide competitiveness – in spite of its modest size in a landscape dominated by 8m class facilities – thanks to its wide-field imaging capabilities. This is changing. HyperSupremeCam (HSC) at Subaru outperforms MegaCam by an order of magnitude in exposure time and 10% to 15% in image quality. DECam, now in full operation at the 4m Blanco telescope, boasts nearly 4 times MegaCam’s field of view. PanSTARRS 1+2 and, especially, LSST (on track for a 2014 start of construction) will eventually completely dominate the wide-field imaging game. These facilities will be game changers. Dome venting (which is underway) and/or upgrades in MegaCam detectors (which have been proposed) will keep the CFHT competitive in the near term, but, in my view, do not represent CFHT’s long-term future.

At the CFHT Users’ Meeting, the Director, Doug Simons, laid out a three-step plan for the telescope: 1) implement new capabilities to keep CFHT competitive in the very near-term; 2) expand the existing partnership; and 3) transform the telescope into a new facility.

Proposals for new capabilities for CFHT will be tended in August 2013, and a selection will be made in late fall/winter. Upgrades to the MegaCam and/or ESPaDOnS detectors, the purchase of narrow-band filters for MegaCam, a 4D Superconducting MKID Camera, and upgrades to the Pueo AO system are some of the ideas floated at the meeting. Before then, we can look forward to SITELLE, an imaging Fourier transform spectrometer with an 11’×11’ field of view and wavelength range between 350 and 850 nm. SITELLE is scheduled to be delivered at the telescope this summer, and will be offered on a shared risk basis in 2014A.

Doug made it clear that the future of CFHT must proceed through expansion of the current consortium with a view towards exploiting the strengths and synergies of the existing facilities on Mauna Kea. CFHT has been working towards this goal for several years already, with Brazil, China, Korea and Taiwan currently buying nights on the telescope. Doug announced that China has expressed an interest of becoming a full partner. This opens an exciting possibility, since the additional funding could be used to cover the operating costs for UKIRT, which is looking for a new owner to take over after September 30, 2013. The advantages are obvious, not least the fact that if (when) CFHT is redeveloped, UKIRT could provide needed telescope access to the Canadian optical community while the CFHT site is under construction.

Which brings us to point 3) in Doug’s presentation. Currently the only proposed long-term future for CFHT is ngCFHT: a 10m telescope, to be built on the existing CFHT pier, equipped with a highly multiplexed, wide field, medium to high resolution spectrograph. The project is proposing to start redeveloping the site in late 2017, with first light expected in ~2021. At both the Users’ meeting, and at the ngCFHT workshop, the case was made by numerous speakers that such facility would outperform all existing or planned wide-field spectroscopic instruments, including BigBoss, AAT/Hermes, VISTA/4MOST, and VLT/MOONS. I was mostly impressed by the diversity of the science cases ngCFHT can address: from exoplanets to cosmology, and everything in between (see http://www.ngcfht.org/science-study for a partial list).

The ngCFHT workshop was attended by close to 100 participants from Canada, France, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US, many of whom not directly associated with the feasibility study for the project. Although there is no question that the scientific enthusiasm behind ngCFHT is significant, funding is an issue (the cost estimate is ~$200M, to be divided amongst all partners), and of course it remains to be seen whether ngCFHT will remain the only route forward, or whether other ideas will emerge. But one thing is certain: we must act soon – now – or we risk being left behind in the burgeoning field of wide-field spectroscopic surveys.

 

The CASCA Annual General Meeting

The 2013 CASCA AGM took place on the campus of the University of British Columbia on May 28-30. The scientific level of the meeting was very high – with many excellent talks and posters on topics from exoplanets to stellar chronology to the recent Planck results. Presentations were made on future facilities, including SKA, SPICA, CCAT, the Artic Telescope and ngCFHT (TMT was, regrettably, absent), as well as current facilities, in particular JCMT, ALMA, Gemini and CFHT; a lunch discussion focused on the implementation of the LRP and generated some interesting discussion about the future of CFHT and Space Astronomy projects (slides can be found on the LRP Implementation committee webpage. Additionally, I would like to remind everyone that the latest reports from all CASCA committees, containing several statements relevant to the issues discussed here, are posted on the Committee pages on the CASCA website).

In terms of current ground-based facilities, with the exception of ALMA, the outlook is not especially positive. The STFC Council will cease operational support for JCMT on September 30, 2014; consequently, JCMT, like UKIRT, is looking for a new owner, and a Prospectus is expected to be released this summer. As for Gemini, the director Markus Kissler-Patig reported some good news (Flamingos2 has now been installed at Gemini South and is undergoing commissioning, while GPI will be delivered later this summer) but also spoke of a significant (20%) budget cut. In spite of this, Gemini is taking steps to ensure its competitiveness: Markus outlined a plan that facilitates the use of visiting instruments; operationally, the SAC and Board are considering a proposal to allocate 20% of the telescope time to Large Projects (a good idea, in my opinion, as mounting large observing campaigns at Gemini is almost impossible under the current multi-national TAC structure).

At the “business meeting” the membership approved CASCA’s Ethics Statement as well as the new amended by-laws required to comply with the new Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act. There are two important changes in the new by-laws (which have not yet been submitted but are expected to take effect within the next year). The first is a change in the structure of the CASCA Executive. The 1st and 2nd vice presidents (now serving a one-year term) will be replaced by a single vice-president, serving for two years. To compensate, the number of directors will be increased from three to four. The second change is in the mechanism to select new Board members. While the Nominating Committee will continue to propose nominees, volunteers will be solicited from the community well in advance of the Committee deliberations.

Finally, it was announced that the 2014 CASCA Meeting will be hosted by Université Laval and take place in downtown Québec City on June 8-11. Two bids to host the 2015 meeting have been received and are being considered.

 

Additional Activities

Since the last report, there has been a new development concerning the review process of NSERC Discovery Grants. In the 2012-2013 competition, none of the six astronomers serving on the panel was working at a Canadian Institution (five worked in the US, one in France). This is of obvious concern. The CASCA Board has been in communication with NSERC on this issue; copies of all correspondence can be found in the CASCA Board webpage. The Canadian Association of Physics (CAP) has also been informed. At this time, the situation is not yet resolved.

A second development concerns High Performance Computing (HPC). Since the last report, the newly appointed Compute Canada (CC) CEO, Bill Applebe, has left the organization, and has been replaced (on an interim basis) by the CEO of Westgrid, Jill Kowalchuk. In a recent email communication, Jill indicated that CC is in the process of forming a Research Advisory Committee, and that this will include a CASCA representative. This is great news, as the lack in the current CC governance of a voice speaking for researchers across Canada has been a serious concern for the membership.

Finally, the CASCA Board is making preparations for a Mid Term Review (MTR) of our Long Range Plan. An MTR panel will be formed (we are in the process of identifying a Chair), and we are planning two Town Hall meetings to be held in June next year (one possibly in Québec immediately following the AGM, and one in Western Canada). Papers describing progress on the LPR priorities, as well as outlining new initiatives that might have emerged since the LPR, will be solicited before then.

 

Until next time, I wish everybody a very happy and productive summer.

Laura Ferrarese,

President of CASCA,

Victoria, June 15, 2013