Call for international expressions of interest to engage with the Anglo-Australian Telescope

The Anglo-Australian Telescope (AAT) Consortium is currently seeking  expressions of interest from international groups to engage with the  AAT facility through pay-for-access arrangements from July 2022.

The AAT is a 3.9m equatorially-mounted Cassegrain reflector, located  at Siding Spring Observatory in NSW, Australia. It can be accessed via  remote observing from nodes around the world. The telescope is  operated by the Australian National University on behalf of the  funding Consortium, which at present comprises 13 Australian  universities.

The AAT currently offers four facility-class spectrographic  instruments: AAOmega (with 2dF or Koala), Hermes and Veloce. The new  Hector spectrograph is expected to come online in 2021. Requests for  the use of visitor instruments on the AAT will also be considered.  Please visit the following website for more on these instruments:

As part of this call, we welcome proposals and are open to  conversations regarding conditions of access, including joining the  Consortium as a full partner, medium-to-long-term paid-time contracts,  data-sharing or access, or other innovative arrangements. These may  also include potential public outreach components.

If you are interested in seeking access on the AAT, please contact Dr  Lucyna Chudczer, AAL’s Program Manager for the AAT  (, by May 31 2021. Please  include an expression of interest (up to 2 pages) detailing how you  wish to use the telescope; this may involve instruments of interest,  length/time of proposed use, research details or the outreach  component, and level and source of potential funding support.

For more information regarding the AAT, including available  instruments and capabilities, please visit:

Peter G. Martin Award for mid-career achievement: Dr. Sara Ellison

CASCA is pleased to announce Dr. Sara Ellison as the recipient of the 2021 Martin Award. Dr. Ellison obtained her PhD from Cambridge University, and is currently a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Victoria. Dr. Ellison is an international leader in both the study of high redshift QSO absorption lines and galaxy mergers in the nearby universe. She displays an outstanding breadth in her research. As an observer Dr. Ellison has led observing programs across the electromagnetic spectrum, from X-rays to optical to radio wavelengths. As a theorist, she has complemented her observational work with simulations on a variety of length scales and cutting edge techniques such as machine learning. Her research is of the highest impact, garnering more than 11,500 total citations, with many of her works on galaxy metallicity and galaxy interactions/mergers considered definitive treatments in the field. Dr. Ellison received the Annie Jump Cannon Award from the American Astronomical Society in 2004, the University of Victoria Faculty of Science Award in Research Excellence in 2009, the Royal Society of Canada’s Rutherford Memorial Medal in Physics in 2014, and the REACH Silver Medal for Research Excellence in 2020.

2021 Qilak Award for Astronomy Communications, Public Education and Outreach: Dr. Jayanne English

CASCA is pleased to announce Dr. Jayanne English as the recipient of the 2021 Qilak Award. Dr. English obtained her PhD from Australian National University, and is currently an Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Manitoba. Over many decades, Dr. English has leveraged her prior training as an artist (at the Ontario College of Art and Design University) to build a unique outreach program that bridges art and science. She has promoted the use of artistic techniques and design to influence how astronomical images are constructed by both professional astronomers and amateur enthusiasts. During her two-year tenure as the coordinator for the Hubble Heritage Project, she led the production of some of the most iconic Hubble Space Telescope images, many of which have had billions of views. Combining optical data with radio observations, Dr. English was recently awarded a 2nd Place National Radio Astronomy Observatory 2020 Visualization Award for her stunning composite HST-VLA image of the galaxy NGC 5775. In collaboration with composer Nicole Lizee, she produced “Colliding Galaxies: Colours and Tones”, a unique integration of astronomy and electronic music. By designing and teaching courses such as “The Art of Scientific Visualization”, Dr. English has also trained a next generation of astronomical visualization experts, guaranteeing that her work will have a multiplicative effect on the broader community.

CASCA is delighted to recognize Dr. Jayanne English’s efforts with this award.

2021 J.S. Plaskett Medal: Dr. Ziggy Pleunis

CASCA is pleased to announce Dr. Ziggy Pleunis as the recipient of the 2021 J. S. Plaskett Medal for the most outstanding doctoral thesis in astronomy or astrophysics. Dr. Pleunis completed his PhD thesis in 2020 under the supervision of Prof. Victoria Kaspi at McGill University, and will soon be moving to the University of Toronto as a Dunlap Fellow. His thesis, titled “Fast radio burst detection and morphology with the CHIME telescope” represents a set of groundbreaking contributions to the fast-emerging field of Fast Radio Burst (FRB) astronomy. Dr. Pleunis has contributed to all aspects of the CHIME telescope’s FRB project, from instrumentation to software to observation to analysis to science interpretation. Beyond CHIME, he has also made multiple breakthroughs using the LOw Frequency Array (LOFAR), whether in the discovery of a low-frequency FRB or the study of millisecond pulsars.

CASCA is delighted to recognize Dr. Pleunis’s achievements with this award. Additionally, we would like to recognize the exceptional theses of all the finalists: Dr. Ryan Cloutier, Dr. Maan Hani, Dr. Eric Koch, Dr. Ian Roberts, and Dr. Kaja Rotermund.

R.M. Petrie Prize Lecture: Dr. Heino Falcke

CASCA is pleased to announce Dr. Heino Falcke as the 2021 R.M Petrie Prize Lecturer. Dr. Falcke is a Professor of Astroparticle Physics and Radio Astronomy at the Institute for Mathematics, Astronomy, and Particle Physics of the Faculty of Science at Radboud University. For decades, he has been an international leader in the quest to use very-long baseline interferometry to image the shadow of a black hole. These efforts culminated in the stunning images of the supermassive black hole in M87 produced by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT). Dr. Falcke is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, and in 2019 won the Breakthrough Prize for Fundamental Physics as part of the EHT collaboration.

CASCA is honoured to have Dr. Falcke give the Petrie Prize lecture.

Harvey B. Richer Gold Medal for Early Career Research in Astronomy: Dr. Renée Hložek

CASCA is pleased to announce Dr. Renée Hložek as the recipient of the 2021 Richer Medal. Dr. Hložek obtained her DPhil from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and is currently an Assistant Professor at the Dunlap Institute and the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. She is a recognized expert in both observational and theoretical cosmology in all her investigations: in studies of the cosmic microwave background, probes of large-scale structure, or transient cosmology. She holds multiple leadership positions in international collaborations, including the Simons Observatory, the Atacama Cosmology Telescope, the Canadian Euclid Consortium, and the Vera Rubin Observatory. Coupling her own research accomplishments with the training of a large number of students since arriving at Toronto, she has raised the profile and impact of the Canadian cosmological community. Dr. Hložek received the University of Toronto Dean’s Faculty Merit Award in 2017 and 2018, and has been elected a CIFAR Azrieli Global Scholar as well as an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow.

CASCA is delighted to recognize Dr. Renée Hložek’s efforts with this award.

Canadian Astroparticle Physics Summer School (CAPSS) – Deadline extended

Organized by the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics  Research Institute
Hosted Virtually by Queen’s University and SNOLAB

The McDonald Institute is pleased to announce this year’s Canadian  Astroparticle Physics Summer School (CAPSS). CAPSS 2021 is a week-long  undergraduate school that will introduce students to current topics in  the field of astroparticle physics at Queen’s University and SNOLAB.

We encourage all faculty to pass this announcement on to undergraduate  students keen to experience exciting research and detector  opportunities, particular those students without much access to  similar resources. This is a fantastic chance for students starting to  consider graduate school options, or those with limited opportunities  to learn from other institutes.

Find out more on our website:  or contact us at The schedule will  be a bit different this year due to the virtual nature.

Activities will include:
– Lectures and hands-on activities in particle physics, detector  development, neutrino physics, dark matter astrophysics and cosmology,  and more!
– An enriched Masterclass on the Nobel Prize winning SNO experiment
– A virtual tour of the world-famous SNOLAB underground facility
– Online social events and networking opportunities

Topics covered include:
-Astrophysical Evidence and Cosmology of Dark Matter
-Models and Signals of Dark Matter
-Direct Detection of Dark Matter: Techniques, Applications, and  Current Status of the Field
-Neutrinos: A History, Mass Theory and Neutrinoless Double-Beta Decay
-Detecting Neutrino Oscillations using the SNO Experiment

Target Audience:
This school is targeted at 2nd year and 3rd year undergraduate  students, but it is open to all undergraduate students.

Registration Fee:
There is no registration fee, but successful applicants will need to  pay a pre-registration fee of $50, reimbursable upon satisfactory  completion of the school.

For information on how to apply, see

The application deadline has been extended to April 16th, and  successful applicants will be notified by the end of April 2021.

Please distribute this advertisement to any groups, institutions or  individuals who may be interested in this opportunity.

BRITE-Constellation Mission Update

By / par Catherine Lovekin (on behalf of the Canadian BRITE team)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

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 38 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, and Royal Military College of Canada. 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.


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 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 Orion-Taurus field.
  • BRITE Austria (Austria): BRITE Austria observes with a red filter. It is currently observing in Orion, revisiting the field for the seventh time.
  • UniBRITE (Austria): Currently out of order.

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

Recent Science Results

Figure 1. Photometry of β Aur from BRITE. Panel a) Full data set. Panel b) Periodograms. Panel c) Phased light curve with the orbital period. From Strassmeier et. al. (2020).

“BRITE photometry and STELLA spectroscopy of bright stars in Auriga: Rotation, pulsation, orbits, and eclipses”, Strassmeier et. al., 2020, A&A, 644, A104

The authors use continuous BRITE photometry and STELLA optical spectroscopy to study 12 targets in the constellation Auriga. The Capella red light curve was found to be constant over 176 days with a root mean square of 1 mmag, but the blue light curve showed a period of 10.1 ± 0.6 d, which the authors interpret to be the rotation period of the G0 component. From STELLA we obtained an improved orbital solution based on 9600 spectra from the previous 12.9 yr. We derive masses precise to ≈0.3% but 1% smaller than previously published. The BRITE light curve of the F0 supergiant ɛ Aur suggests 152 d as its main pulsation period, while the STELLA radial velocities reveal a clear 68 d period. An ingress of an eclipse of the ζ Aur binary system was covered with BRITE and a precise timing for its eclipse onset derived. A possible 70 d period fits the proposed tidal-induced, nonradial pulsations of this ellipsoidal K4 supergiant. η Aur is identified as a slowly pulsating B (SPB) star with a main period of 1.29 d and is among the brightest SPB stars discovered so far. The rotation period of the magnetic Ap star θ Aur is detected from photometry and spectroscopy with a period of 3.6189 d and 3.6177 d, respectively, likely the same within the errors. The radial velocities of this star show a striking non-sinusoidal shape with a large amplitude of 7 km s-1. Photometric rotation periods are also confirmed for the magnetic Ap star IQ Aur of 2.463 d and for the solar-type star κ1 Cet of 9.065 d, and also for the B7 HgMn giant β Tau of 2.74 d. Revised orbital solutions are derived for the eclipsing SB2 binary β Aur, which replaces the initial orbit dating from 1948 for the 27-year eclipsing SB1 ɛ Aur, and for the RS CVn binary V711 Tau, for which a spot-corrected orbital solution was achieved. The two stars ν Aur and ι Aur are found to be long-term, low-amplitude RV and brightness variables, but provisional orbital elements based on a period of 20 yr and an eccentricity of 0.7 could only be extracted for ν Aur. The variations of ι Aur are due to oscillations with a period of ≈4 yr.

Conferences, Resources, and Social Media


The BRITE team does not plan to host any conferences this year.


The BRITE Public Data Archive, based in Warsaw, Poland, at the Nikolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre, can be accessed here.

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.

President’s Message

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Update

By/par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

Artist’s impression of SKA1-Mid in South Africa, combining MeerKAT dishes and SKA dishes. Image 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.

The publication of the SKA1 Construction Proposal – describing the scientific goals, the baseline SKA1 design, and the broader societal impacts of the project – and the SKA1 Observatory Establishment and Delivery Plan – describing the first 10 years of Observatory operations, business support, global staffing and technology development – are the culmination of the decade-long SKA design phase. The SKA Observatory, the intergovernmental organisation (IGO) that will build and operate SKA1, was launched in February 2021 following the ratification of the Treaty Convention by Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Canada and other design-phase participants that have not yet joined the IGO as well as potential future partners have been designated Observers of the IGO Council. In this role we are witness to Council proceedings but unable to provide direct input into the project.

Canada’s future participation in the SKA requires committing to SKA1 construction and operations. Canada’s provisional allocation of the SKA1-Mid correlator construction package, one of the largest and more desirable across the project, may be jeopardized if a commitment is not made before construction starts. The IGO is expected to secure sufficient funding from other partner countries to initiate the SKA1 construction phase at its July 2021 Council meeting. There is therefore an urgent need for Canada to commit to the IGO by July 2021 to guarantee return on investment, and NRC has prepared the requisite documentation for the government to consider a participation in the project. Raising awareness about the SKA within government and universities is an important part of the process, and work in this regard is well underway (see President’s Message in this issue) by the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy. CASCA members interested in engaging in this process or who have questions about the project are encouraged to get in touch (

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 website, 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 Canada and the SKA: