President’s Message

By / par Rob Thacker, CASCA president
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

I can’t begin this President’s message without first acknowledging the important and amazing work done by all the officers, committee members and staff of the Society. Thank you all so much. Whether it is volunteer work or paid, your service to the Society is absolutely fundamental to making us move forward on numerous important issues! While I would not normally single out an individual, I am compelled to thank the now Past-President Bob Abraham for setting an incredibly high bar for activity in the President’s capacity! Thank you Bob!

My first few days in the Presidency have been something of a whirlwind and it has been hard not to feel overwhelmed! As many of you are aware, especially following this year’s town hall meeting at CASCA, our space astronomy portfolio is in a dire situation with no official major commitment to new missions since 2009, other than the replacement for Hitomi, XARM, following the unfortunate events of 2016. The recent dropping of Canadian participation in WFIRST has been a major concern for our community and is particularly disconcerting as we consider moving towards missions with significant Canadian leadership, such as CASTOR.

This series of events has reinforced the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy’s view that moving our space astronomy needs forward with government is a major priority. Hence the Coalition, represented by Guy Nelson (Empire Dynamic Structures), Don Brooks (UBC), Sarah Gallagher (Western) and myself, made a visit to Ottawa on June 12th to discuss space astronomy in detail with the NRC, CSA and Ministry for Innovation, Science & Economic Development. Since the Coalition maintains a non-partisan position we also met with Conservative Science Critic Matt Jeneroux. The tone of the meetings was constructive, and we repeatedly emphasized the need for long term and sustained funding of space. But ahead of the upcoming Budget consultation process it was equally important for us to listen for what was being asked. Perhaps as might be expected, we need to outline the benefits we provide to society and economics to garner the major investment we need. It is also worth remembering that there are many other fields of space-based science that face similar funding problems to us.

At the same time we are seeing concern growing about how we develop and maintain our ground-based projects. I have already been involved in ACURA discussions about MSE, while writing letters of support for Observatoire du Mont-Mégantic as it, yet again, faces the threat of closure. As we build towards LRP2020 there are a great many issues to think about. TMT continues to evolve towards a site decision, the outcome of which will have ramifications across many areas. The SKA is moving towards some key decision points on Phase 1, while the precise level of Canada’s participation still needs to be negotiated. Plus I’m sure we can all appreciate that Dr Greg Fahlman’s replacement at Herzberg will enter the position at a highly critical time, so it is no surprise the community is strongly interested to see who is eventually chosen for this key position in Canadian astronomy.

In terms of action, over the next two months, the Coalition for Canadian astronomy will submit our response to the pre-Budget consultation process as well as exploring some new avenues of communication with important policy makers. The members of the Coalition are cautiously hopeful we can move things forward, but as many of you know following the length of time it took to gain funding for TMT participation, persistence and a coherent and uniform message will be needed. We anticipate we may well end up asking the community to help with the lobbying effort – stay tuned!

Despite these uncertainties over funding, our community continues to make strides on many fronts. Having worked closely with the Equity and Inclusivity Committee over the past 18 months, I am incredibly impressed by the work they are doing to provide information to help us improve our working environment. As emphasized in numerous workshops on equity issues, improving participation and working climate is a benefit for everyone.

I am truly honoured and frankly very proud to serve the CASCA community. I really look forward to meeting and working with you all over the coming two years. As always, there’s a lot to get done!

CASCA 2018 Teachers’ Workshops Report / Rapport sur les Formations pour Enseignants Offertes durant CASCA2018

By / par Julie Bolduc-Duval, Discover the Universe / À la découverte de l’univers
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

La version française suit

As in previous years, CASCA, through Discover the Universe, and CFHT decided to offer a professional development opportunity for local teachers during the CASCA annual meeting. For the first time, two workshops were organized instead of one: a 4-hour evening workshop for elementary/middle school teachers and a full-day workshop for secondary school teachers.

Both workshops were huge successes with good participation and excellent feedback from teachers. A total of 50 teachers participated, with 30 in the elementary workshop and 20 in the secondary workshop.

A few points stand out from the feedback we received. Teachers appreciated:

  • getting many ideas for activities to do with their students;
  • the friendliness and expertise of the speakers;
  • the opportunity to participate in a high-quality free workshop;
  • learning about astronomy knowledge from a local First Nations speaker (for the
    elementary workshop);
  • learning about current astronomy research (for the secondary school workshop).

Some participants even mentioned this had been the best professional development opportunity they ever had the chance to participate in.

While offering two workshops requires more time and energy from our small team and the LOC, as well as a higher budget, it proved to be a very positive change. We were able to adapt the content of the workshops to both levels more appropriately. We hope to continue offering two workshops in the future if the settings and budget allow it.

We wish to thank the LOC for the tremendous help in the logistics organizing the workshop. In particular, we were able to provide free meals to all workshop participants thanks to the fundraising efforts of the LOC and the contribution from CFHT.

Workshop organizing team: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (CFHT), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Karun Thanjavur (UVic), Lauri Roche (RASC)

Workshop presenters: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (CFHT), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Pierre Chastenay (UQAM), Nick Claxton (UVic), Michelle Bannister (Queen’s University, Belfast)

La CASCA, grâce au programme À la découverte de l’univers, et le Télescope Canada-France- Hawaii ont décidé encore cette année d'offrir des formations en astronomie pour les enseignants locaux lors de la rencontre annuelle CASCA2018. Pour la première fois, deux formations ont été organisées au lieu d'une seule: une formation de quatre heures en soirée pour les enseignants du primaire et une journée entière de formation pour les enseignants du secondaire.

Les deux formations ont été de grands succès avec une bonne participation et une excellente rétroaction des enseignants. Au total, 50 enseignants ont participé, dont 30 au niveau primaire (capacité maximale) et 20 au niveau secondaire.

Quelques points ressortent des commentaires que nous avons reçus. Les enseignants ont

  • obtenir plusieurs idées d'activités à faire avec leurs élèves;
  • l’accessibilité et l'expertise des présentateurs;
  • la possibilité de participer à une formation gratuite de haute qualité;
  • entendre un conférencier autochtone local parler des connaissances astronomiques de sa
    communauté et comment intégrer ces connaissances en classe (niveau primaire);
  • apprendre sur la recherche actuelle en astronomie (niveau secondaire).

Certains participants ont même mentionné que c'était la meilleure formation pour enseignants à laquelle ils avaient eu la chance de participer.

Même si offrir deux formations exige plus de temps et d'énergie de la part de notre petite équipe et du LOC, ainsi qu'un budget plus élevé, cela s'est avéré être un changement très positif. Nous avons été en mesure d'adapter le contenu des formations aux deux niveaux de façon plus appropriée. Nous espérons continuer à offrir deux formations à l'avenir si l’occasion et le budget le permettent.

Nous souhaitons remercier le LOC pour l'aide considérable apportée à la logistique pour l'organisation des formations. En particulier, nous avons pu fournir des repas gratuits à tous les participants grâce aux efforts de collecte de fonds du LOC et à la contribution financière du TCFH.

Équipe d'organisation des formations: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (TCFH), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Karun Thanjavur (UVic), Lauri Roche (RASC)

Présentateurs: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (TCFH), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Pierre Chastenay (UQAM), Nick Claxton (UVic), Michelle Bannister (Université Queen's, Belfast)

Looking Back at the CASCA 2018 Meeting

From / de Karun Thanjavur
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

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Victoria was the venue of this year’s annual general meeting of the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA). CASCA 2018 was co-hosted by the NRC-Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics (HAA) and the Dept. of Physics & Astronomy at UVic, with substantial volunteer help from members of the Royal Astronomical Society, Victoria Chapter, and the Friends of the DAO. The meeting ran from 22-26 May at the Victoria Conference Centre, situated in the heart of this scenic city. Victoria was chosen to host the conference this year to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1.8m Plaskett Telescope at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) in Victoria. This article summarizes highlights from the various science and centennial sessions, as well as the special events hosted during the conference.

With well over 300 registered participants, this year’s meeting ranked as one of the bigger CASCA meetings on record. The meeting kicked off to a great start with a vibrant graduate students workshop, which included a hands-on exercise on the Gemini Observatory’s Fast Turnaround Program, and an introduction to the high performance computing (HPC) resources for research offered through West Grid/Compute Canada. The afternoon session focussed on networking with industrial partners through a « pechakucha » and rapid fire presentations by the representatives of the industries. The workshop ended with a wine and cheese mixer for the graduates students and the industrial reps, which was then followed by the conference welcome reception for all attendees.

The first day’s proceedings of CASCA 2018 got underway on Wednesday with an eloquent welcome to the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations territory by Tsawout Elder Victor Underwood. Following this territorial welcome, and in a reciprocal gesture of respect and recognition, astronomer Dave Balam (DAO) presented a plaque to Chief Harvey Underwood of the Tsawaout First Nation (TFN) to commemorate the naming of asteroid 402920 as Asteroid Tsawout (see related Globe and Mail article). Dave named this asteroid that he had discovered in 2007 for the TFN, one of the five bands which constitute the Saanich Nation in the Coast Salish lands. The Plaskett Telescope on Observatory Hill sits on the territorial lands of the Tsawout First Nations and was their winter camp, says Dave. This is the reason he has chosen to name the asteroid for the TFN. The plenary session continued with opening remarks by UVic President Dr. Jamie Cassels and NRC/HAA General Manager, Dr. Greg Fahlman, followed by two very interesting centennial talks. First, Peter Broughton (author of « John Stanley Plaskett – a northern star ») offered a biography of John S. Plaskett after whom the 100 year-old telescope in named. Dennis Crabtree then gave a fitting summary of the many major achievements of the Canadian astronomical community over the past century.

The fully packed conference schedule shows the diversity and depth of the centennial and science sessions, which followed over the next four days of the conference. The more detailed conference program with the titles, authors and abstracts of all the centennial and science sessions has also been posted on the CASCA2018 website, which will remain live for the next year (till May 2019). The centennial sessions were offered as plenary sessions while the science sessions ran as concurrent two and at times three parallel sessions. The over subscription rate for contributed talks was a remarkable 3-to-1 in this conference. It is to the credit of the Science Organizing Committee for having allocated the talks well taking into account gender balance, geographical distribution and other diversity and inclusivity policies adopted by CASCA. In addition to these science sessions, teachers workshops (both elementary and secondary schools) were also organized and very successfully run by Julie Bolduc-Duval (Discover the Universe) and Mary Beth Laychak (CFHT) with assistance from other members of the CASCA Education and Public Outreach committee. Of special note was a presentation on the traditional knowledge of the First Peoples regarding the thirteen phases of the Moon given by Dr. Nick Claxton, an indigenous educator from the UVic education department.

Related to education and public outreach (EPO), we were fortunate to have had a moving yet very powerful message from Elder Dr. Barney Williams of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on the role of education in reconciliation. As a survivor of the residential school system, he was eminently suited to eloquently warn us of the dangers of racial superiority, and to turn the horrors of his own childhood experiences into a message of hope toward reconciliation and mutual respect amongst all peoples based on education.

Several special events were offered during the course of the conference. On the first day, Bob McDonald (CBC Radio, Quirks and Quarks) gave an excellent and well attended public lecture, intriguingly titled « What if everything you know is wrong? ». The conference banquet marked the end of the second day. Held at the Royal BC Museum, the atypical banquet was set up as a series of food stations featuring various cuisines distributed throughout the permanent exhibits of the First Nations and the city of Victoria. Judging by the feedback from participants later, the intention to encourage the conference participants to walk around and mingle during the banquet worked well. On Friday evening, the DAO centennial celebration was held with a special cake (shaped expertly as the Plaskett observatory), dome tours, public lectures and an open house of the Centre of the Universe. The skies too cooperated well and the 200+ attendees were able to enjoy viewing Venus and Jupiter through the RASC 16″ telescope.

The Plaskett telescope, circa 1915.

The Plaskett telescope, circa 1915.

The Plaskett telescope, today.

The Plaskett telescope, today.

The meeting was a huge success judging by the verbal feedback of many participants. Our sincere thanks go to all members of the LOC and to many volunteers for their contributions and to all our sponsors (shown on the CASCA 2018 website) for their generous financial support. We now look forward to the next annual general meeting hosted by McGill University in Montreal June 17 – 20, 2019.