Dr. JJ Kavelaars: 2022 Dunlap Award for Innovation in Astronomical Research Tools

CASCA is pleased to announce that Dr. JJ Kavelaars is the winner of the 2022 Dunlap Award.  This award recognizes his leadership at the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre.  Over the past five years in which Dr. Kavelaars has been head of the CADC, it has provided public access to its largest number of telescope archival datasets, expanded a key initiative to bring high-performance distributed cloud computing services to Canadian astronomers via the Canadian Advanced Network for Astronomical Research (CANFAR), and laid the groundwork for new archives and processing environments for the upcoming JWST, Vera C. Rubin Observatory, and the Square Kilometre Array.  He received his PhD from Queen’s University, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at McMaster University.  He is now a Senior Research Officer at NRC-Herzberg in Victoria as well as an adjunct professor at UVic, where in addition to leading the CADC, he continues to make groundbreaking discoveries in the Kuiper Belt using ground and space-based telescopes as well as being a part of the New Horizons Mission team.

Dr. Anthony Moffat: 2022 Carlyle S. Beals Award for Outstanding Research

CASCA is pleased to announce that Dr. Anthony Moffat is the winner of the 2022 Beals Award.  This is in recognition of decades of cutting-edge research on topics relating to massive stars, including Wolf-Rayet stars, stellar pulsations, rotation, magnetic fields, clumping, binaries, clusters, and surveys.  Many of us have used a Moffat profile: that was his work! He received his doctorates in astronomy from Ruhr-Universitaet Bochum in Germany, and has been a professor at Université de Montréal ever since, and hasn’t slowed his research output since taking emeritus status.  He has trained generations of scientists who are still working in Canada and internationally. He remains very active in research on massive stars and astronomy projects like the BRITE constellation.

Dr. Deborah Good: 2022 J. S. Plaskett Medal for Most Outstanding PhD Thesis

CASCA is pleased to announce Dr. Deborah Good as the recipient of the 2022 J.S. Plaskett Medal for the most outstanding doctoral thesis in astronomy or astrophysics. Dr. Good received her PhD in 2021 under the supervision of Dr. Ingrid Stairs at UBC, and she is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Connecticut and the Flatiron Center for Computational Astrophysics.  Her thesis, “Timing Pulsars and Detecting Radio Transients with CHIME,” includes groundbreaking work on the first few months of pulsar and fast radio burst detections with CHIME. To complete this research, she led efforts within the CHIME team to calibrate instruments, write software, verify events, and is on the cutting edge of trying to discover whether or not all Fast Radio Bursts are repeating events. She also collected pulsar data, discovered many new pulsars, and adapted the NANOGrav pipeline to work for CHIME data, laying the groundwork for data processing that will be needed in the next couple of years.

We would also like to recognize the exceptional theses of all the finalists: Dr. Connor Bottrell, Dr. Ryan Chown, Dr. Adam Gonzalez, and Dr. Émilie Parent

Dr. Karun Thanjavur: Winner of the 2022 Qilak Award for Astronomy Communications, Public Education and Outreach

CASCA is pleased to announce that Dr. Karun Thanjavur is the winner of the 2022 Qilak Award, recognizing his outstanding outreach work for a diverse group of beneficiaries, specifically leading efforts to connect Indigenous communities around the province with the University of Victoria. His projects within the last few years include multiple programs bringing Indigenous students to the university for astronomy classes, labs, and telescope observing sessions, and leading the organization of several activities at CASCA 2018 that connected local Indigenous knowledge-keepers with CASCA members. In addition to these Indigenous-focused programs, he also regularly appears in the media and extensively organizes public outreach with UVic’s on-campus observatory. The 2017 solar eclipse event was wildly successful with ~1500 attendees.  As well as mentoring students of many different ages and backgrounds, he acquires observing time on DAO’s Plaskett telescope every quarter specifically for training and mentoring undergraduates. Dr. Thanjavur earned his PhD from UVic and has held positions ranging from marine engineering, to teaching robotics and combustion engineering, to instrument scientist and resident astronomer at CFHT, and is currently a Senior Lab Instructor at UVic.

Call for abstracts — Interdisciplinary Origin of Life Meeting for Early Career Researchers

Dear Colleagues –

The Origin of Life Early Career Network (OoLEN) is pleased to announce that this year’s Interdisciplinary Origin of Life Meeting for Early Career Researchers (IOoL2022) will take place on August 3-5 at the University of Montreal, Canada. All expenses except travel (with possible exceptions) will be covered!

OoLEN brings together early-career scientists from multiple research areas to strengthen and accelerate the scientific output in origin of life research. Since its inception in 2018, OoLEN has grown into a global network of over a hundred members with a six-fold mission: Inclusion, Post-disciplinarity, Exchange, Communication, Community and Quality.

OoLEN’s biannual meeting, the IOoL conference, is a prime opportunity for early-career researchers to present their work on origin of life in a relaxed setting, to exchange ideas across different disciplines relevant to understanding the origin and nature of living systems, and to stimulate discussions and ideas to help guide the future of research on these topics. The IOoL meeting further provides an opportunity for early career researchers to connect with each other and immerse themselves in the community outside their own labs. A previous meeting has resulted in OoLEN’s first community paper.

Researchers interested in submitting an abstract are welcome to join the network through https://oolen.org/join/ (please mention your intention to participate in IOoL2022 when joining the network) and then send an email to oolearlycareer@gmail.com with subject line “Abstract for IOoL2022” containing a single .pdf file with the following information: name, affiliation, title, abstract (max. 250 words, in english), while also specifying if travel support is needed. Submissions will be considered both for oral presentations and poster sessions. The abstract deadline is April 22nd.

You are encouraged to visit OoLEN’s website at https://oolen.org for more information, and don’t hesitate to contact OoLEN or me directly for any further questions.

Name: Alexandre Champagne-Ruel
Email address: alexandre.champagne-ruel@umontreal.ca
Affiliation: Université de Montréal

Update on CASTOR

By / par Patrick Côté, John Hutchings (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2022)

The CASTOR project continues to move forward as the Long Range Plan’s highest priority in space astronomy for the 2020s.

  1. The ongoing CSA technical (STDP) study contract continues to make good progress. A recent review detailed the design and performance of the Fast Steering Mirror that will perform the fine guiding for the observatory. The recently launched James Webb Space Telescope utilizes the same guiding system, so there is significant heritage in this capability. Other work on the detectors and payload opto-mechanical issues continues.
  2. The long-awaited Phase 0 study contract is underway as of March 8. This study overlaps the STDP work, and both studies will wrap up about one year from now. The prime deliverable from the Phase 0 study will be a fully characterized and thoroughly planned mission concept, with agreed partnerships, that can move immediately into the flight Phases A to E. It is hoped that partnership details and agreements with ISRO, JPL, and UK will be formulated during this time. The Phase 0 study consists of an industrial contract (led by Honeywell Aerospace) and a science team contract (led out of NRC/HAA), and now is formally a joint project between CSA and NRC. Science working groups (SWGs) and work contracts are in place with several Canadian universities.
  3. The CASTOR and Indian INSIST teams continue to work on a common design and hold regular meetings. The partner teams also include JPL and UK, whose participation in the STDP and Phase 0 work are being formalized.
  4. The ACURA board and the Coalition are fully informed and are carrying the message from Universities to the government to prepare for flight approval and funding. We welcome colleagues to join in SWG and outreach activities.

For more information on the mission, see the main page here.

ngVLA Update

By / par Erik Rosolowsky (U Alberta)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2022)

After support from the US Decadal, the ngVLA project is beginning the next phase of its development: creating a fully costed design and a well developed science plan. Canada, along with Mexico and Japan, remains highly engaged as an international partner in the ngVLA planning process. Currently, the project is recruiting new members to the Science Working Groups and developing the next steps for what the next decade of National Radio Astronomy (NRAO) facilities looks like.

VLA/VLBA to ngVLA Transition Advisory Group

The NRAO has begun the process of developing a plan to transition from the operation of the Very Large Array (VLA) and Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) to the ngVLA (see news article here). This activity will be led by the community-based “VLA/VLBA to ngVLA Transition Advisory Group”. Guided by the scientific opportunities planned for the coming decade, the Group will be charged to develop, quantitatively assess, and evaluate a finite number of possible VLA/VLBA to ngVLA transition options that can be prioritized on their scientific promise, cost and technical/personnel impacts. Nominations for the panel recently closed and the Group’s summary report is anticipated to be completed in early 2023.

Computational Astrophysics in the ngVLA Era: Synergistic Simulations, Theory, and Observations

This conference will be held 7-9 June 2022 at the Simons Foundation’s Flatiron Institute in Manhattan, New York, USA. The in-person conference will bring together theoreticians, modellers, and observers to discuss the computational astrophysics and observational challenges for the next generation of observatories, focusing on the ngVLA. The participation of early career scientists is particularly encouraged. Abstracts for oral presentations are due 1 April 2022.

Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) Update

By / par Patrick Hall (MSE Management Group Member)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2022)

MSE and Astro2020

MSE and wide-field optical spectroscopy faired well in last year’s Astro2020 report (“Pathways to Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics for the 2020s”, U. S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2021). The report reads, in part:

“Recommendation: The National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST) should create three tracks within the AST Mid-Scale Innovations Program … The strategic priorities track is an essential addition to the existing mid-scale program structure to ensure that it is responsive to decadal and community strategic priorities. The survey has identified one top priority for this element, a time-domain astrophysics program, and two co-equal areas – highly multiplexed spectroscopy and radio instrumentation. … There is very strong support for massively multiplexed spectroscopy across many sectors of the science community. … A dedicated facility would of course provide advantages over relying solely on existing infrastructure. Most glaring is the lack of high spectral resolution (R~20,000) multi-object spectrographs. … MSE and SpecTel presented plans to the panel for such a mode. … In all cases, the United States could envision playing a significant role in these projects through a MSRI-2-level investment, which could provide up to about 20 percent of the cost of a project like MSE, SpecTel, or up to about 50 percent of MegaMapper, perhaps split with DOE.”

From the MSE collaboration’s official statement, available here:

“The 2010 decadal plan highlighted the need for large telescopes and deep imaging surveys to explore the universe,” said Jennifer Marshall, MSE Project Scientist and associate professor at Texas A&M University. “We have built the MSE science case over the past decade with the understanding that multi-object spectroscopy is the natural follow-up to those large projects.”

Strengths encompass two of three of Astro2020’s priorities for mid-sized projects: time domain astronomy and highly multiplexed optical spectroscopy. The MSE detailed science case outlines the compelling science that MSE will execute, much of which falls within the three main science themes identified by Astro2020: “Worlds and Suns in Context” (exoplanets), “New Messengers and New Physics” (transient astrophysics), and “Cosmic Ecosystems” (the evolution of galaxies).

Regarding the State of the Profession, one of the committee’s recommendations is that “the astronomy community should work with representatives from local communities to define a Community Astronomy model of engagement that advances scientific research while respecting, empowering and benefiting the local community.” The MSE collaboration welcomes this recommendation, along with the other recommendations regarding diversity, equity and inclusion, broadening the academic pipeline, and working with our indigenous and local communities here in Hawai’i.

The CFHT board is “committed to the Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer as the future of the facility. The Board is confident that, following deeply rooted CFHT practices, the MSE project will be respectful of our privilege to share the cosmos from Maunakea, and will continue CFHT’s long-standing history of engaging the Hawai’i Island community.”

MSE Pathfinder

MSE/CFHT plan to propose to NSF to develop an end-to-end Pathfinder: a multi object spectrograph fed at prime focus from the Canada France Hawaii Telescope. It will utilize the MSE spectrograph design and a scaled down fiber positioner (approximately 800 fibers) using the same technology as the fiber positioner for MSE.

The goal of the Pathfinder will be to retire many of the high-level technical risks for MSE by demonstrating on-sky the ability of the major hardware and software components of MSE, with the end result of an initial science product being produced and shared with the community. Construction of either the optical or the near-IR arms of the MSE spectrographs would achieve these goals. It is envisioned that the proposal to NSF will be led by MSE/CFHT, with co-investigators from US universities and NOIRLab.

The Pathfinder fibers will subtend one arcsecond on the sky but because of CFHT’s smaller aperture will be one-third the physical diameter of the fibers for MSE. Thus, the spectrographs offer the possibility of spectral resolution two or even three times that delivered for MSE (10,000 or potentially 15,000 instead of 5,000). A rough estimate of sensitivity is that the Pathfinder will reach AB=22 at wavelengths longer than 400 nm at SNR=2 per resolution element in one hour.

MSE/CFHT are actively seeking input on science projects for both the optical and near-IR Pathfinder options. Key projects are envisioned to be galactic archeology, stellar spectroscopy for abundances and stellar evolution studies, and time-domain astrophysics (specifically, follow-up of transients to demonstrate the dynamic scheduling capabilities that will be possible with MSE).

If you are interested in the MSE Pathfinder, you can receive updates by joining the MSE Science Team at mseinfo@mse.cfht.hawaii.edu.


In parallel to the pathfinder efforts, Canadian proponents of WFMOS (Wide-Field Multi-Object Spectroscopy) are submitting a CFI proposal to obtain funding for a targeted set of conceptual and preliminary design needs widely applicable to all potential 10-meter-class WFMOS facilities, including but not limited to MSE. CFI envelope funding have been allocated at York, Waterloo, UBC, Toronto, Saint Mary’s, Western and Manitoba.

The proposal encompasses work on WFMOS facility enclosures, on software needed for end-to-end survey design & implementation, near-real-time survey optimization, and data reduction & analysis, and on the fiber-optic multiplexing systems and spectrographs required to meet the stringent scientific requirements of these facilities. Questions regarding the proposal can be directed to Pat Hall.

MSE Project Scientist

Prof. Jennifer Marshall plans to step down as Project Scientist later this year. She states, “I have thoroughly enjoyed working with all of you for the past three years, and going forward I fully intend to stay very engaged with the project and with all of you.”

The MSE Project office is now seeking nominations for a new Project Scientist. The detailed job description can be found here.

While the position is unpaid, there are financial and other benefits that come with the position, including the potential for MSE to provide funding for travel, summer salary support, and teaching buyout. Partial-time candidates will be fully considered. The position is open to mid-career and senior scientists. “The next Project Scientist will have the benefit of getting to work with the very excellent leadership team in the Project Office, which has been a pleasure for me. I have thoroughly enjoyed serving in this position and I’m sure my successor will also–as you all know, MSE is a great project!”

Your MSE Representatives for Canada

MSE Science Advisory Group Members: Ting Li (U Toronto) and Kim Venn (U Victoria)

MSE Management Group Members: Laura Ferrarese (HAA) and Patrick Hall (York U)

Canada is also represented among the MSE Science Team Working Group Leads by Prof. Ting Li (U. Toronto, Astrophysical Tests of Dark Matter WG co-Lead) and Prof. Will Percival (U. Waterloo, Cosmology WG co-Lead).

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2022)

TMT Canada Information Session

In advance of the CASCA AGM, CATAC will be hosting a community Webinar to provide an update on TMT. This will take place on Thursday, May 12 at 3pm EDT. A registration link will be circulated shortly to the CASCA email list; registration is open to CASCA members only. A rough outline of the agenda is:

Time (EDT)
3:00-3:25pm CATAC update on next steps following Astro2020, including the NSF process and the role of the Board and partners during this process
3:25-4:05pm Project Manager Fengchuan Liu will provide an update on TMT, including technology development and the situation in Hawaii
4:05-4:30pm Discussion and questions from participants

The meeting will not be recorded, though some slides may be made available. If you want to attend but cannot make that time, we are considering hosting a second (identical) session the following day, May 13 at 3pm EDT. This will only occur if there is sufficient demand. If you cannot attend on May 12, but can on May 13, send an email to mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca to register your interest.

Recent News

We are pleased to announce that David Andersen (NRC) is the new science instrumentation group leader. He takes over from Eric Chisolm (another Canadian), who has taken a senior leadership position with Amazon’s Center for Quantum Computing (CQC).

Fengchuan Liu transitioned from acting Project Manager to Project Manager in November 2021. He is resident in Hilo, Hawaii and over the past year he has had many opportunities to listen and learn from members of the community.

Following the top ranking in the US Decadal report, the next step is for the project to be accepted into the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) budget, after which it will become an official project of the NSF. The process and timeline from there is described in detail in NSF’s Large Facilities Manual. NSF’s funding for the construction or modification of facilities constitutes a Federal Action that triggers compliance with several statutes, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Endangered Species Act. Compliance with NEPA includes providing opportunities for public input on issues such as potential environmental impacts and ways to avoid, minimize, and/or mitigate adverse impacts, and will require completion of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

In preparation for this process, the NSF has engaged in informal discussions with various parties, including TIO partners. It should be expected that partnership with the NSF at a significant level may impact many aspects of the project including partner shares, governance, operations and instrumentation planning. As we noted in our last eCass article, CATAC is working closely with GAC as they explore how to fulfil the LRP recommendation to ensure Canada has access to a Very Large Optical Telescope (VLOT), at a level that provides compelling opportunities for Canadian leadership in science, technology and instrumentation.

Site Update

As we noted in our last article, the University of Hawaii bill that is currently before the House of Representatives. This bill would establish the creation of a new body for managing the summit. This body would be made up of ten voting members (three of which serve ex-officio). The bill requires that four of the seven non-ex officio members be Native Hawaiian residents of the county of Hawaii, with a preference for Native Hawaiian residents of the county of Hawaii for all seven non-ex officio members. There would be no representative from the astronomical community on this authority. The bill was passed by the House on March 8, and received by the Senate on March 10. The current status of the bill can be followed here.


A good description of the first-light and subsequent instrumentation planning for TMT is available on their website. CATAC has been revisiting and revising our recommendations on post-first-light instrumentation, released in 2019. Despite the delay in construction start for TMT, and the progress made by ELT, the planned instrumentation development for TMT is still competitive. WFOS (Wide Field Optical Spectrograph) and MODHIS (high resolution, AO-assisted NIR spectrograph) are first light capabilities that ELT will not have on the current projected timeline. HROS (high resolution optical spectrograph) remains a high priority for the next instrument – and while there is competition from a similar instrument (ANDES, formerly known as HIRES) on ELT, there is still scope for HROS to be deployed on a comparable timescale. Current, Canadian-led work on GIRMOS (for Gemini) and NIRPS (ESO 3.6m) paves the way for future TMT instruments TIRMOS and NIRES-B, respectively. Finally, we note that ELT is deferring development of the Planetary Camera and Spectrograph (PCS), to further develop the science case and technology (see article here). Careful and appropriate phasing of TMT’s Planetary System Instrument (PSI) could therefore enable TMT to achieve some of this exciting science well before the ELT.

While the pace of GMT instrument development appears to be significantly behind that of TMT, that has the potential to change with NSF involvement. Since the US community will have access to both GMT and TMT, this may inform NSF priorities regarding instrumentation on the two telescopes. It is too early to be sure what the implications might be for Canada and the TMT, but it is an issue that CATAC is watching closely.

CATAC Membership

Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo), Chair, mbalogh@uwaterloo.ca
Bob Abraham (University of Toronto; TIO SAC)
Stefi Baum (University of Manitoba)
Laura Ferrarese (NRC)
David Lafrenière (Université de Montréal)
Harvey Richer (UBC)
Kristine Spekkens (Royal Military College of Canada)
Kim Venn (University of Victoria)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Don Brooks (Executive Director of ACURA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Rob Thacker (Acting CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Stan Metchev (TIO SAC, non-voting, ex-officio)
Tim Davidge (TIO SAC Canadian co-chair; NRC, observer)
Greg Fahlman (NRC, observer)

Update on Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy Data Analysis (CIRADA)

By / par Bryan Gaensler (U. Toronto, CIRADA Director)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2022)

The Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy Data Analysis (CIRADA), a pilot project for Canada’s planned Square Kilometre Array Regional Centre, is producing science-ready public data products for large surveys being conducted with three telescopes: the Very Large Array (VLA), the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), and the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME). These products (e.g., images, cubes, time series spectra, catalogues, databases, alerts, pipeline algorithms, and software tools) utilise Canadian Advanced Network for Astronomical Research (CANFAR) services and will be searchable and usable by professional astronomers and the general public, through the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC). Users of our science-ready data products will be able to leverage for viewing images data and tabular catalogues directly through our portal. Currently our services include:

  1. “Quicklook Catalogue” of 1.7 million radio sources from the first epoch of the VLA Sky Survey (VLASS) including a second version that contains data on sidelobe probabilities, as well as the software pipelines that were used to generate the catalogues along with detailed user manuals. Next steps: Our team is currently in the process of producing an updated version of the catalogue using updated first epoch images that have had astrometry corrections made as well as a first catalogue using images from the second epoch. Both catalogues will be available in Q2 2022. We are also planning to co-release a VLASS Single Epoch catalogue when the first 1000 square degrees become available in Q3 2022.
  2. pyink, developed in collaboration with Dr. Tim Galvin, a tool that simplifies the preprocessing and analysis that is required to train a self-organising map (SOM) using PINK. pyink can be used (i) to produce catalogues of double and multiple radio sources, (ii) to classify radio sources as either complex or simple sources, (iii) to find source orientations, and (iv) as an annotation tool. Next steps: Our team has recently hired a new developer to explore opportunities to use this tool to expand the identification of complex sources.
  3. An Image Cutout Provider that allows astronomers to quickly visualise data from multiple surveys (VLASS Quicklook, GLEAM, FIRST, NVSS, WISE, PanSTARRS, SDSS I-II) at a given position in the sky and to download the data for further analysis. (PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ASTROMETRIC ERRORS THAT WERE PREVIOUSLY REPORTED ARE NOW RESOLVED.) Next steps: We are in the process of extending the application of our cutout provider for use with RACS, VLASS Single Epoch, and VCSS.
  4. The RM-Tools software package for radio polarimetry analysis, including 1D and 3D RM synthesis, RM-clean and QU fitting on polarised radio spectra. Next steps: Our team is currently adding complementary tools and working on an RM Standards package which will be released in the coming months. We are collaborating with POSSUM scientists, CADC and the Australian Square Kilometre Array Regional Centre on a pipeline to mosaic, re-tile, re-grid and perform ionospheric corrections on POSSUM cubes that can be used to generate Faraday depth cubes and other science-ready data products using the RM synthesis tools.
  5. Hydra: a source finder comparison and analysis tool that can be used to compare multiple source-finding algorithms on radio continuum data along with examples and detailed instructions.
  6. mock-cube generator suite that can be used to generate realistic data cubes for a single galaxy model, or a suite of galaxy models generated from standard scaling relations. Next steps: Our team is coordinating efforts with the WALLABY survey to co-release pilot observations of the Hydra, Norma, and NGC 4636 fields and rotating disk models which will be accessible for download or for use with CADC TAP services through our portal
  7. An alpha-version of the VLASS Transient Marshal is currently being readied for testing, with a full release planned before the end of the year.

Access to all of CIRADA’s services, software tools and data products is available at cirada.ca.