Graduate Student Highlights

By Carter Rhea (Chair, CASCA Graduate Student Committee)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2020)

Each month, the GSC highlights the work of an outstanding Canadian graduate student by sharing their work with our members. Since the launch in February of 2020, we have highlighted four students from around the country.

Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook under the handle casca_gsc.

Christian Thibeault — L’Université de Montréal

Solar flares are sudden and intense releases of magnetic energy stored in the corona, causing the plasma to heat up to 10 million degrees Kelvin. The radiation and highly energetic particles emitted from these events can damage our satellite communication network and pose a health threat to astronauts. It has been suggested since the early 1990s, by E.T. Lu and collaborators, that solar flares are a manifestation of unobservable small scale magnetic reconnection processes that can be simulated by simple lattice models, called “avalanche models”. The goal of my master’s research project is to evaluate the predictive capabilities of these models in making solar flare forecasting. We first studied the stochastic behaviour of many avalanche models, and now are integrating data assimilation using X-ray observations of flares to improve our prediction methods.

Figure 1 – Cartoon of a physical interpretation of a coronal loop accumulating energy through the twisting of its footprints. (Strugarek et al. 2014)

Mallory Thorp — University of Victoria

Mallory’s research investigates how galaxies change as the result of a major galaxy merger, when two galaxies of comparable size interact and merge to form a single galaxy. To understand the kpc-scale changes resulting from a merger event, she uses Integral Field Spectroscopy (IFS) measurements from the Mapping Nearby Galaxies at Apache Point Observatory (MaNGA) survey. IFS provides a spectrum for every pixel on an image of a galaxy, allowing her to examine how spectral dataproducts like star-formation rate (SFR) vary across a galaxy.

Figure 2 contains 3 examples of post-merger galaxies from MaNGA (1st column), along with maps of their SFR surface density (2nd column). By comparing the maps of SFR from post-merger galaxies to those of isolated galaxies, she can quantify the change in SFR as the result of the merger event.

The 3rd column shows enhancements in SFR as a result of the merger in blue, whereas a deficit in SFR compared to an isolated galaxy are shown in red. On average post-mergers experience a galaxy-wide enhancement in SFR, like the 2nd and 3rd post-mergers. Variations from this, like the notable suppression of SFR in the outer regions of 1st post-merger, could indicate different progenitor qualities and orientations can alter how effectively star-formation is enhanced.

This work was completed by myself, under the supervision of Sara Ellison (both of us CASCA members!).

Figure 2

Lingjian Chen — Saint Mary’s University

My research is a galactic environment study. Dense galactic environments, such as galaxy groups and clusters, are thought to be formed through hierarchical mergers. Spatial distribution of satellite galaxies can be a good indicator for galaxy evolution in such environments.

We study the radial distribution of satellites around isolated massive central galaxies using data from the Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC) Subaru Strategic Program (HSC-SSP) and the CFHT Large Area U-band Deep Survey (CLAUDS). Thanks to the large area, 6-band photometry and good depth of the combined survey, we were able to identify ~5000 centrals in a redshift range of 0.3<z<0.9 and also identify satellites around them down to stellar mass of 109.5 solar mass.

Our results show that satellite number density distribution can be described by an NFW profile (Navarro+1995, usually for mass density profile in dark matter halos) on scales greater than 100 kpc but deviates from it within that scale. This feature is seen out to z=0.9, it was previously found in studies at low redshift (e.g. Tal+2012). We have also investigated the dependence of the distribution on satellite and central properties such as mass and star-forming level. We concluded that the mechanism of shaping satellite distribution can probably be related to a combination of dynamic friction and tidal stripping when they are orbiting in the dark matter halo, but more detailed simulation or modelling are needed to understand better the physical process.

Figure 3 shows our satellite galaxy selection. Central galaxy is indicated by the yellow circle, potential satellites are circled in green, and red circle indicates our selection radius for satellites (700 kpc). Central galaxies were identified by mass and isolation criteria. Satellites were selected by photo-z difference and a circular aperture (basically a cylindrical selection centred on central galaxy). Number of satellites selected here were then corrected for contaminating background objects.

Figure 3

Figure 4 shows surface number density of satellite galaxies (averaged) around one central galaxy, after correction for background objects. The solid line is the best fit curve and can be separated into NFW component on large scale and Sersic component on small scale (dotted and dashed lines).

Figure 4

Farbod Jahandar — L’Université de Montréal

The main quest of Farbod’s work is unravelling the chemistry of our nearest stellar neighbours. This includes high-resolution observation and examination of M dwarfs as the most numerous type of star in our Galaxy and the smallest and coolest kind of star on the main sequence. Such an analysis impacts many fields of astrophysics, in particular, the determination of exoplanet radius that depends on a reliable estimate of the host radius that in turn depends on its chemical characteristics.

To achieve this goal, Farbod uses high-resolution data from the SPIRou instrument, which is one of the world-leading instruments at the Canada-France-Hawaii telescope. Then he uses chemical spectroscopy methods on the obtained data for the determination of the chemical abundance of different elements in the outer atmosphere of M dwarfs. This will be a critical component for a better understanding of the chemical evolution of M dwarfs and also can heavily contribute to chemical and dynamical improvements of the current synthetic stellar models.

Figure 5

Conferences and Carbon Footprints

By / par Sharon Morsink (University of Alberta)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2020)

Authors: CASCA’s Sustainability Committee and Associates:
Sharon Morsink, Nicolas Cowan, Dennis Crabtree, Michael De Robertis, René Doyon, Vincent Henault-Brunet, Roland Kothes, David Lafrenière, Martine Lokken, Peter Martin, Christopher Matzner, Magdalen Normandeau, Nathalie Ouellette, Mubdi Rahman, Michael Reid, Joel Roediger, James Taylor, Robert Thacker, Marten van Kerkwijk

Canadians are responsible for CO2 emissions that are more than three times the annual global average of 4.8 tonnes per capita [1]. Most Canadian astronomers’ professional carbon footprint is dominated by air travel, and unlike telescope construction or rocket launches, flights — especially to conferences — are the immediate product of our individual choices. To reduce the environmental costs of our profession, we need real and desirable alternatives to jetting around to distant conferences.

Back in February, CASCA’s new Sustainability Committee was planning a virtual session for this year’s Annual General Meeting. But when the York meeting was cancelled due to the pandemic, an Online Organizing Committee was quickly assembled to plan a fully virtual conference. May’s online AGM, which was based around electronic posters and pre-recorded prize talks and community updates, drew 336 participants. We estimate that if everyone who participated from outside Ontario had flown in, the equivalent CO2 emissions would have been about 130 tonnes. (This may be an overestimate, as 43 respondents indicated on an exit survey that they would not have attended the in-person conference.)

The 2020 AGM was an interesting experiment, but how do we move forward? We aren’t advocating that all future conferences be completely virtual; we too would miss interacting with colleagues in person from time to time! Instead we would like to see the virtual options enhanced. We envision a future in which one would travel only to nearby conferences, and join remotely in most other cases. In the AGM exit survey (40% participation), about 60% of respondents reported missing the interactions that occur in person. Clearly, there is much work to be done to find effective and enjoyable ways to interact online with colleagues, but with improving text, video, and virtual reality options we believe this is possible. For instance, one could consider simultaneous physical meeting `hubs’ connected by a virtual link. Taking these points into consideration, the 2021 AGM organizers are already planning both in-person and remote ways to participate.

We encourage all astronomers to carefully consider how to minimize the impact of their research-related travel. In addition to being more selective about which conferences and meetings to attend in person, we recommend purchasing carbon offsets for those times when travel is needed. Not all institutions allow offsets to be reimbursed, and current NSERC spending rules for Discovery grants do not. Persistent advocacy is needed to change these policies, something which the Sustainability Committee will pursue. It is time for us to consider the environmental impact of our research, take stock of our own emissions, and plan a professional carbon budget in the same way that we plan a financial budget when managing our research grants.

[1] Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2017) – “CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions”. Published online at

CASCA’s New Sustainability Committee

By / par Chris Matzner (University of Toronto)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2020)

Canada declared a national climate emergency a year ago and astronomy, like every profession, is beginning to face the challenge posed by the global climate crisis.  The problem is both an ethical and a practical one.  Ethically, we must recognize that the impacts of global heating – to which our professional activities contribute – will be the worst for those who have contributed the least to the problem:  the poor and marginalized in our own society, the Global South, and future generations worldwide.  Practically, we must find ways to live up to the commitments set out in the Paris Agreement: to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, and reach net-zero by 2050 in order to avert irreversible and catastrophic climate change (ipcc).  

As members of CASCA’s new ad-hoc Sustainability Committee, our mandate is to encourage all Canadian astronomers to evaluate the environmental impacts of the practices of astronomy; to work with you on reducing them; and to provide sustainability-related resources for those engaged in teaching and outreach.  The Committee was created by the CASCA Board in early 2020, in response to the LRP white paper Astronomy in a Low-Carbon Future.  Its membership was drawn initially from that paper’s authors, with those involved in organizing the online version of the 2020 Annual General Meeting joining shortly thereafter. 

Now that the online AGM is over, we will work to: 

  • Plan and promote a virtual component to the 2021 AGM and other meetings to help members reduce their travel-related emissions;

  • Encourage and assist our fellow astronomers, and their institutions, to consider, track, review, and reduce their environmental impacts;

  • Build relationships with cognate committees in other fields and elsewhere in the world;

  • Advocate for changes in granting rules to acknowledge the environmental costs of doing research and permit climate-related costs like carbon offsets as eligible research expenses; and

  • Collect resources for effective astronomy teaching and outreach on topics related to sustainability and climate change.


We’re looking forward to engaging with you!  If you would like to get involved and join our roughly bi-monthly virtual meetings, please contact the committee chair, Chris Matzner.  

Sincerely yours, 

CASCA’s Sustainability Committee and Associates: Christopher Matzner, Nicolas Cowan, Dennis Crabtree, Michael De Robertis, René Doyon, Vincent Henault-Brunet, Roland Kothes, David Lafrenière, Martine Lokken, Peter Martin, Sharon Morsink, Magdalen Normandeau, Nathalie Ouellette, Mubdi Rahman, Michael Reid, Joel Roediger, James Taylor, Robert Thacker, Marten van Kerkwijk

The Success of Astro at Home / Le succès d’Astro à la maison

By Julie Bolduc-Duval (Discover The Universe)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2020)

La version française suit

These 36 amazing speakers presented a total of 102 presentations over 11 weeks.

When schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Discover the Universe began offering Astro at Home, daily astronomy programming to youths aged 8-12. What was thought to be a 2-week initiative turned into an 11-week marathon of daily 30-min presentations on various subjects. With more than 100,000 views by the end of the program, I think it’s safe to call it a success! Many youths were joining us live every day bombarding us with their questions, encouraging us to continue. We’ve received extremely positive feedback from parents and teachers who used our sessions as part of their remote teaching. Interestingly, the French half of the program accounts for 80% of the total views, which signals a strong need for quality educational programs in languages other than English.

I personally wish to thank all our amazing speakers; this program wouldn’t have been possible without you! Thank you!

Recordings of each session will live as a tool for years to come. Feel free to link to them in your educational programs. Visit our website for more information.

Ces 36 conférenciers incroyables ont fait un total de 102 présentations sur 11 semaines.

Lorsque les écoles ont fermé en raison de la pandémie de COVID-19, À la découverte de l’univers a commencé Astro à la maison, un programme de présentations en astronomie pour les jeunes de 8 à 12 ans. Ce qui était initialement prévue comme une initiative de 2 semaines s’est transformé en un marathon de 11 semaines de présentations quotidiennes de 30 minutes sur de multiples sujets. Avec plus de 100 000 visionnements à la fin du programme, je pense que l’on peut déclarer Astro à la maison un succès! De nombreux jeunes se joignaient en direct chaque jour en nous bombardant de questions, ce qui nous encourageait à continuer. Nous avons reçu des commentaires extrêmement positifs des parents ainsi que d’enseignants qui ont utilisé nos sessions dans le cadre de leur enseignement à distance. Il est intéressant de noter que la partie francophone du programme représente 80% du nombre total de visionnements, ce qui indique un fort besoin de programmes éducatifs de qualité dans des langues autres que l’anglais.

Je souhaite personnellement remercier tous nos incroyables conférenciers; ce programme n’aurait pas été possible sans vous! Merci !

Les enregistrements de chaque session constituent maintenant une belle banque de présentations adaptées pour les jeunes . N’hésitez pas à les utiliser dans vos programmes éducatifs. Visitez notre site web pour plus d’information.

Reflecting on Astronomy & Colonization in Canada: a new mini-course

By / par Taylor Kutra, Martine Lokken, and Hilding Neilson (University of Toronto)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2020)

The work and learning discussed in this article was conducted at the University of Toronto in the city of Toronto whose name is derived from the Haudenosaunee name for the area Tkaronto meaning trees standing in water. We are honoured and privileged to live and work in this place that has been home to the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe and most recently the Mississaugas of the New Credit.

During the winter term of 2020, I offered a new mini-course on Astronomy & Colonization in the David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto. This was an eight hour course, conducted over eight weeks, which explored the intersection of astronomy and colonization in Canada and how the field needs to be more inclusive of Indigenous peoples, voices, and knowledges. This might be the first time such a course has been offered in the history of Canadian astronomy and is long past overdue.

The course is timely because Canada, as a nation, is beginning to face the impacts of colonization thanks to the reports from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Addressing the findings of these reports requires structural changes in Canada in every way. This includes academic astronomy and physics. More specific to astronomy, we are also facing the impacts of colonization on Indigenous peoples thanks to our world-class facilities situated on and proposed for Indigenous territories in Hawai’i, southern United States, Chile, Australia, Canada and others. In particular, the backlash against the Thirty-Metre Telescope and protest by land protectors there took many astronomers in Canada by surprise.

Because of these issues, astronomy in Canada is at a crossroads where we need to reflect on our place on the land and understand how we engage with Indigenous knowledges and Indigenous peoples. The new Dimensions program being led by NSERC seeks for institutions to become more inclusive ecosystems, including being more inclusive of Indigenous peoples. Being truly inclusive of Indigeneity in academia and astronomy requires integrating and embracing Indigenous knowledges; respecting the lands that we are on and use; and creating space for Indigenous peoples. We can only be truly inclusive if we consider all three aspects. If we only create space for Indigenous people, but ignore the land or Indigenous knowledges then that inclusion is assimilation. If we only integrate Indigenous knowledges in our classroom, but ignore people then we are committing appropriation. If we use the land, but do not respect Indigenous cultures, peoples, and treaties then we commit erasure and continue centuries of colonization. Inclusion needs to consider these three elements.

In that perspective, I designed the minicourse to focus on these three pillars and asking how we, the astronomy community, can be more inclusive. The first pillar asks us to understand our place on the land we live and the land we work. This discussion includes considering the value and purpose of Land Acknowledgements including acknowledging how our research benefits from the Land. The pillar includes a discussion about the Thirty-Metre Telescope seeking to learn about the impacts of the project from writings and voices of Native Hawaiians offering different perspectives.

The second pillar focuses on learning from Indigenous knowledges and considering Indigenous-based axioms for learning. It must be noted that there is no one Indigenous knowledge and every nation and community can offer different understandings of nature and the Universe. However, many scholars have noted that there are commonalities between Indigenous knowledges [1,2]. One example is the concept of relationality, such that knowledge is dependent on the observer and the time and location of the observer. This is different from the traditional western scientific axiom of objectivity where knowledge must be independent of the observer and experimental results must not depend on the experimenter. At the same time, Indigenous knowledge is shared through story and participants explore how these stories can inform world views and knowledge of nature. In particular, learning astronomy from Indigenous stories offers a more (w)holistic sense of the nature and the Universe since many stories reflect sky knowledge, knowledge of nature and animals, and lessons about ethics and societies. This makes Indigneous knowledges inherently multidisciplinary.

The third pillar focuses on being inclusive of Indigenous peoples in how we do astronomy. This is done by considering modern challenges for both astronomy and for Indigenous peoples and seeks to consider how we can include Indigenous peoples as equal and equitable partners. This is followed by a discussion about anti-racism and anti-colonialism for astronomers and motivates participants to consider a future where Indigenous peoples are included in our field.

This course was offered in the winter semester of 2020, first in person and later, because of the University closure, via Zoom. Two graduate students took the mini course for credit and about six students participated along with two faculty members when their schedules allowed. Each meeting was preceded by a set of readings and attendees were asked to keep a reflection journal and track their understanding of those readings.

In each meeting we would discuss these readings, but the discussion was conducted in a way that is not traditional to astronomy courses. For each session, one or two participants would be designated as “panelists” while everyone else was a “respondent”. The panelist would start the discussion by presenting their thoughts and learnings from the readings. This would be followed by responses from each respondent; however, respondents were asked to begin with the phrase “What struck me…” or “I was struck by…”. The purpose of responding in this way is for people to build up the discussion and add to the discourse as opposed to the traditional discourses centred on debate or lecturer-student discourses found in most astronomy courses. Every attendee would be asked to offer a response and once everyone responded, the next panelist would offer their statement and the cycle would repeat. If time allowed I would conclude with a brief statement that seeks to act as a consensus from all of the discussion. This method of interaction and discourse was learned from a University of Toronto Elder and is based on Coastal Salish meeting protocols. It is also similar to the talking stick protocols of some Mi’kmaw peoples [3].

The course was evaluated in two parts – by participation and by the reflection journal. Because of the methodology, participation was critical for a successful discourse. The reflection journals were valuable tools for evaluation because they demonstrated the evolution of student learning and growth as the course progressed.

My (Neilson) impressions of the course as an Instructor was to be very impressed and proud of just how enthusiastic students were to adopt this discursive methodology and how deeply students engaged with the content. Even though I assigned the material and was an author on some of it, I left the course having learned a lot of new ideas and perspectives on being more inclusive. In the months since the course was offered, there are clearly many issues around Race and Indigeneity in academic astronomy for which many people in positions of power are not prepared to engage with, but my experience in this course left me hopeful that the next generations of leaders in our field will build the inclusive work space that my generation is currently failing to do. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with the students who participated in this course.

We (Lokken and Kutra) learned a great deal from this course, and found that the discussion format and reflection journals were paramount to its success. By structuring the class differently from our other classes and seminars, we were able to focus on building upon ideas rather than critiquing. The structure broke us from the habits we revert to in typical classes, as passive absorbers of information, and challenged us to listen, learn, synthesize, and respond. Because the discussion style discouraged direct debating, the class was able to avoid confrontation and instead gain important active listening skills. Furthermore, the reflection journals encouraged us to critically engage with the assigned readings, collect our thoughts before class discussion, and reflect after class on what we learned from others. After the course was complete, it was useful to read back through our personal journals and note how our ideas had changed over time.

A key idea that I (Lokken) took away from this course is that the field of astronomy can be improved by listening to Indigenous perspectives and learning from Indigenous ways of knowing. For example, the concept of responsibility to the land is central to most Indigenous cultures. This responsibility is not often discussed in astronomy, and to many astronomers it may seem irrelevant to our research. However, we should feel a responsibility to care for the land and pass it on to future generations when we consider, for example, the construction of new telescopes or supercomputers. In addition, astrophysics may be able to advance by incorporating Indigenous approaches to knowledge at the most fundamental level. Re-considering some of the axioms on which Western science is built and learning from Indigenous concepts of time, holism, relationality, etc. could lead to breakthroughs in how we understand lingering mysteries in quantum mechanics and cosmology.

As a settler on Turtle Island (Kutra), various Indigenous cultures had been presented to me in public school settings but this was the first time that I saw how I can learn and teach more effectively from a worldview that centers relationality and the interconnectedness of all things. In my reflections, I often wrote about how my teaching and public outreach would be better if I centered stories. All of the complicated processes of astrophysics are laid plain when they are contextualized and turned into a narrative that connects physics to phenomenon to observables. Challenging a dominant colonial worldview in the classroom by employing tactics like Two-Eyed Seeing, where learners use the strengths of Indigenous and Western knowledge systems while also “[respecting] the differences between the two perspectives and [focusing] on, and [working] from a position of shared strengths”[4], has important consequences for who and what knowledge is valued our field. Being trained in and then using this tactic in astronomy classrooms and in public outreach is one of many ways that our field can be more inclusive.

This is the first time a course on Astronomy & Colonization has ever been offered anywhere in Canada even though this nation is built on Indigenous lands that are either governed by treaties or continue to be unceded. We will soon have a new Long Range Plan that aspires to remove systematic barriers for Indigenous peoples (and other racialized peoples) and to address the impact of ongoing colonization imposed by our community. This course is an important early step for members of our field and of the Canadian Astronomical Society to develop tools to achieve the aspirations that will be presented by the LRP and to help us all better acknowledge the knowledges and rights of Indigenous peoples in this country and globally.

In conclusion, the success of this modest effort suggests that such a course would be beneficial to every astronomy institution in this country. We urge our colleagues to begin their own journeys in this work and to learn from the peoples whose land we live and work on. I (Neilson) welcome input and questions from my colleagues and look forward to opportunities to offer this course again.

Finally, the past month has seen the academic world begin to open their eyes to issues of systemic racism in the world and in Canada. During that time, a number of Black and Indigenous people have had their lives taken by police violence. We as a nation and specifically the astronomy community in this nation need to do better. #BlackLivesMatter #IndigenousLivesMatter

[1] Gregory Cajete, Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence, 2000, Clear Light Publishing, Santa Fe, USA

[2] Marie Battiste, Decolonizing Education: Nourishing the Learning Spirit, 2017, Purich Publishing, Saskatoon, Canada

[3] Sharon J. Ridgeway and Peter J. Jacques, The Power of the Talking Stick: Indigenous Politics and the World Ecological Crisis, 2014, Paradigm Publishers, Boulder USA

[4] Albert Marshall, Murdena Marshall, and Marilyn Iwama, Approaching Mi’kmaq teachings on the connectiveness of humans and nature, 2010, Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference of Science and the Management of Protected Areas, 21–26 May 2007, Acadia University, Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Pgs 174 – 177

Dr. Christian Marois awarded Guggenheim Fellowship

By / par Kathryn McLeod (NRC)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2020)

Congratulations to Dr. Christian Marois, Senior Research Officer with the National Research Council of Canada (NRC)’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre (HAA), for recently being appointed a Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow.

On April 8, 2020, 175 artists, scholars and scientists were named to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, based on “achievement and exceptional promise,” according to the Foundation, and chosen through a rigorous peer-review process.

Throughout a 15-year career in the field of astronomy, Dr. Marois’ research has spanned strategies for observing exoplanets, algorithms for interpreting observed data, and ways of building and improving frontier instruments. He is known for constructing the first dedicated exoplanet imaging instrument (TRIDENT) as part of his PhD studies, and for inventing the angular differential imaging (ADI) technique, a method that allows up to two orders of magnitude improvement in our ability to see exoplanets. In 2008, he led the team that took the first image of another multi-planetary system, the HR 8799 four planet system, at the Gemini North and Keck observatories.

He has won many awards, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Newcomb-Cleveland prize, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Polanyi award, the Plaskett medal, the Quebec National Assembly medal of honour, and was named scientist of the year by Radio-Canada. He has been a member of the Royal Society of Canada’s College of New Scholars since 2014.

The support from the Guggenheim Foundation will help Dr. Marois continue his work at a new facility; the NRC’s Extreme Wavefront control for Exoplanet and Adaptive optics Research Topics at HAA, or NEW EARTH laboratory. There, he will test a new polychromatic imaging system that is predicted to improve sensitivities by up to 100x, and open up exciting new science capabilities.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2020)

CATAC is very pleased to see that the exposure draft of the Long Range Plan (LRP), presented at the virtual CASCA meeting at the end of May, recognizes the importance of access to a Very Large Optical Telescope capability, ranking it first among large, ground-based projects. The Thirty Meter Telescope project remains Canada’s best opportunity to retain a leadership role and significant scientific share within such a facility. The continued delays to the project are disappointing for all, but we remain fully committed to TMT and to doing our part to help it succeed. Indeed, there are reasons to be optimistic for a successful and competitive completion of the project, as many people are working hard to find solutions to the current challenges. The project will be undergoing full Schedule and Cost Reviews in late summer / early fall. Until this process is complete, it is premature to speculate on the final cost of the project, or the effect of any revisions to previous estimates on Canada’s share.

Steady progress on the instrumentation suite is being made, notably with advances in the design of WFOS and refinement of MODHIS specifications. The India TMT Optical Fabrication Facility (ITOFF) at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics campus near Bengaluru recently completed construction. Construction is also underway at HAA in Victoria on a new instrumentation integration and testing facility. The first occupant of this building will be NFIRAOS, where it will be coupled with IRIS. The structure is large enough to accommodate the largest instruments envisioned for ELT-class telescopes. Some of these future instrument concepts are nearly as large as an 8-m class telescope.

The State of Hawaii has established a Working Group, to engage all the stakeholders in Hawaii in discussions on broad issues such as land use, housing, health and education. This group is actively exploring whether or not a form of reconciliation is possible. Astronomy on Maunakea is part of these discussions, which are following a process well aligned with some of the publicly available whitepapers submitted to the LRP panel, including Canadian Astronomy on Maunakea: On Respecting Indigenous Rights and Indigenizing the next decade of astronomy in Canada. As those involved work to build the trust needed to proceed, it is important that they be allowed to speak freely, frankly and honestly with each other; this is best done, initially, in a confidential setting.

The TMT Science Advisory Committee has struck a subcommittee to consider the latest and most complete information available on site quality at Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos (ORM), Canary Islands, to ensure the TIO Members are fully informed. They are using the previous CATAC report as input, as well as a new report being prepared by the Japanese partner which considers additional (historical) site testing data. As noted in previous reports, there are also significant political, financial, environmental and social challenges associated with building on ORM that mean it is not straightforward to move to this alternate site.

Upcoming Events

We had hoped that the next TMT Science Forum would be held in May, 2021 in Vancouver. However, given the likelihood that travel and gatherings are still likely to be severely restricted at that time, it is probable that this meeting will be postponed until 2022. Unfortunately, this year’s TMT Early Careers Workshop at HAA also had to be cancelled.

The TMT project expects to hold a public webinar in the near future, to report on the findings of the working group investigating the site characteristics of ORM, relative to MK13N. The date for this meeting has not yet been set, but CATAC will make sure this is appropriately advertised via the CASCA email list.

CATAC membership:
Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo), Chair,
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)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Don Brooks (Executive Director of ACURA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Sara Ellison (CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Kim Venn (TIO Governing Board, 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 CASTOR

By / par Patrick Côté (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2020)


The 2010 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy identified Canada’s top priorities in space astronomy as “ …significant involvement in the next generation of dark energy missions — ESA`s Euclid, or the NASA WFIRST mission, or a Canadian-led mission, the Canadian Space Telescope.” Since 2011, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has been developing a concept for a wide-field, imaging space telescope called CASTOR: The Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research. Major CSA-sponsored studies undertaken since that time have included a Space Technology Development Program (STDP) study, from 2014 to 2016, and a Science Maturation Study, carried in 2018-2019. A paper summarizing results from the latter study is currently being prepared for publication, though highlights are available in the community White Paper prepared for the 2020 LRP process. Last month, LRP 2020 recommended CASTOR as Canada’s top priority among space astronomy projects for the 2020s.

Current Design

In the latest design, CASTOR uses a 1-m primary mirror and three-mirror-anastigmat design to deliver Hubble-like image quality (FWHM ~ 0.15”) over a ~0.25 sq. deg. field of view— nearly a hundred times larger than that of Hubble. CASTOR would operate at UV/blue-optical wavelengths using dichroics to image simultaneously in three passbands that span the 0.15-0.55 micron region, thus offering strong synergies with LSST (Rubin Observatory) by providing superior resolution and point-source sensitivity at blue-optical wavelengths, as well as direct access to the UV region. Likewise, CASTOR would complement the Euclid and Roman (formerly WFIRST) space telescopes by ensuring astronomers have access to high-resolution imaging capabilities over the entire UV-optical-IR region. Continued access to the UV/blue-optical region will be especially crucial when HST ceases operations, likely near the end of this decade. In the recent Science Maturation Study, a wide range of scientific opportunities for CASTOR were identified; these include the study of Dark Energy, time domain and multi-messenger astronomy, cosmic star formation, AGN and supermassive black holes, stellar populations in the local universe, the composition of exoplanet atmospheres, and small bodies in the solar system. A Primary Survey, covering more than 7000 sq. deg. to a depth of m(AB) ~ 27 mag, was identified as a potential program with outstanding legacy value, capable of addressing multiple scientific questions simultaneously. In addition, the baseline design includes dispersed imaging in the u and UV channels, and UV multi-slit spectra and high precision photometry in smaller adjacent fields of view. Through a combination of legacy surveys and Guest Observer programs, CASTOR would serve the diverse research needs of the Canadian astronomy community.

Status and Upcoming Activities

Following its strong recommendation in LRP 2020, the CASTOR project is preparing to enter the next stage of development. The CSA is planning to issue a Request for Proposals for a new STDP study that would extend the technical work carried out in 2018 and 2019, focusing on the opto-mechanical design, focal plane array and fine steering system. Negotiations continue with international collaborators, who have contributed significantly to the CASTOR design and science cases in recent years. Prospective partners include India via the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), the Jet Propulsion Laboratory via NASA, and a UK team via the UK Space Agency. Outreach and lobbying efforts will be important in the coming months to ensure a development path within Canada that embodies detailed international partnerships and leads to an approved and funded mission.  Members of the community who would like to participate in the next phases of CASTOR development are encouraged to contact Patrick Côté.

Long Range Plan 2020 / Plan à long terme 2020

From Pauline Barmby, Bryan Gaensler (LRP2020 co-chairs PLT2020)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2020)

La version française suit

From March to May 2020, the LRP2020 panel completed a series of consultations, culminating in the release of a set of draft recommendations and then a community discussion via Zoom at the 2020 CASCA AGM. We are grateful for all of the thoughtful feedback received both at the discussion session and via the feedback form.

Future plans involve incorporating this feedback, contacting specific individuals or groups for clarifications, and completing the report, including the introductory and concluding sections. The version of the LRP report that we are planning to release in the fall will be near-final; we do not plan a further round of community consultations. So that we can complete the report by the fall, we would like to receive any feedback by June 30, 2020 at the form linked above.

The LRP webpage contains a link to the draft recommendations document – see your CASCA email for the password – as well as a new page with links to all of the LRP2020 white papers and reports. The white papers are now also indexed in ADS.

The latest news on LRP2020 is available from the Slack workspace and our Twitter handle @LRP2020. The panel can be contacted at and the co-chairs at

De mars à mai 2020, le panel PLT2020 a achevé une série de consultations, aboutissant à la publication d’un ensemble de projets de recommandations puis une discussion communautaire via Zoom lors de l’AGA CASCA 2020. Nous sommes reconnaissants pour tous les commentaires réfléchis reçus à la fois lors de la session de discussion et via le formulaire de commentaires.

Les plans futurs consistent à intégrer ces commentaires, à contacter des individus ou des groupes spécifiques pour obtenir des clarifications et à compléter le rapport, y compris les sections d’introduction et de conclusion. La version du rapport LRP que nous prévoyons publier à l’automne sera presque définitive; nous ne prévoyons pas de nouvelle série de consultations communautaires. La version finale du rapport sera disponible en anglais et en français à la fin de l’année. Afin que nous puissions terminer le rapport d’ici l’automne, nous aimerions recevoir vos commentaires d’ici le 30 juin 2020 au formulaire ci-dessus.

La page Web LRP contient un lien vers l’ébauche du document de recommandations – voir votre courriel CASCA pour le mot de passe – ainsi qu’une nouvelle page avec des liens vers tous les livres blancs et rapports PLT2020. Les livres blancs sont désormais également indexés dans ADS.

Les dernières nouvelles sur PLT2020 sont disponibles sur l’espace de travail Slack et sur Twitter @LRP2020. Le panel peut être contacté à et les coprésidents à

ALMA Matters


From / de Gerald Schieven (ALMA)
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the global community, including ALMA users and staff. While ALMA operations remain suspended, ALMA and ARC staff have been working actively on plans to restart operations at a time that it is feasible. In these unprecedented circumstances, ALMA’s first priority is the health and safety of all our staff, many of whom travel long distances by bus and plane to reach the remote ALMA telescope site in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. At this time, and given the current evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak in Chile, it is unclear when a ramp-up to start operations could begin, or when a restart of science operations will be possible. ALMA is working on guidelines and considerations for the restart of operations and will provide a next update to the community in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, Caretaker teams continue to maintain the safety of the ALMA equipment and infrastructure in both Santiago and in San Pedro, while all other staff continue to work remotely from their homes.  The Regional ARCs continue to provide support to their communities.

An ALMA Town Hall was held on May 22, hosted by ALMA Director Sean Dougherty and North American ARC manager Tony Remijan.  This presentation, along with an extended Q&A session, was recorded and is available to watch here.

If you have any questions, comments or concerns related to the situation at ALMA, please contact the ALMA Helpdesk.