How Astronomers Can Teach and Talk About Climate Change!

CASCA’s Sustainability Committee is pleased to announce a special  presentation:

Speaker: Dr. Travis Rector, Professor, Physics & Astronomy, University of Alaska Anchorage

Date: Thursday October 8, 2020
Time: 11:00 am PDT (GMT-7)

Climate change may just be the biggest threat humanity has ever faced.   Our response, particularly in the next decade, has critical consequences for what the future will hold.  Fortunately astronomers  are well positioned to make a difference.  We are highly trusted.  And we offer a unique and important perspective that can help people understand the problem as well as solutions.  Introductory astronomy classes and our public outreach are an effective way to teach climate change because they reach large numbers of people and cover related  topics.

But we need to recognize that climate change communication is  different than the other forms of outreach we do.  Climate change is a  difficult topic to teach because it spans a wide range of subject  areas, from physics to psychology.  It is also a controversial topic,  meaning that simply knowing the science content is not enough.  People largely made decisions about climate change based upon their values and identity. We therefore need to communicate the causes,  consequences, and solutions to climate change.

In my talk I will describe effective methods for teaching climate  change in astronomy classes as well as present established strategies  for engaging the public.  I will also discuss ways in which our  profession can reduce our carbon footprint.

About the speaker: Travis Rector is a professor at the University of  Alaska Anchorage and the chair of the American Astronomical Society’s  Sustainability Committee.


CASCA’s Sustainability Committee exists to find ways to mitigate the  environmental impacts, especially climate impacts, of Canadian  astronomy; and to enhance the understanding, teaching, and outreach on  topics relating to Earth’s climate system.

Canadian Gemini Office News

By / par Stéphanie Côté (CGO, NRC Herzberg / OGC, CNRC Herzberg)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2020)

GRACES Has a New Integration Time Calculator

GRACES, the Gemini Remote Access to CFHT ESPaDOnS Spectrograph, has now a new Python script for its Integration Time Calculator. This is something that Canadian users have been requesting for a while. The older ITC was running as an IDL script, which meant that students needed to pay to have the IDL license to use it. This old IDL script is still available, for reference purposes only; it has many bugs and has not been updated. We strongly recommend users to use the new Python script that has been recalibrated and has many new features too. It is able to to determine limiting magnitudes, exposure times, S/N ratios, background levels, etc., for all the available GRACES configurations, any kind of observing conditions, and various types of targets. For all the information about download and use, see here.

Recent Canadian Gemini Press Releases

Fast Radio Burst Observations Deepen Astronomical Mystery

On January 5th an international team of astronomers led by Benito Marcote (JIVE, Dwingeloo) and including S. P. Tendulkar, M. Bhardwaj, V. M. Kaspi, D. Michilli, B. Andersen, P. J. Boyle, C. Brar, P. Chawla, M. Dobbs, E. Fonseca, A. Josephy, A. Naidu, C. Patel, Z. Pleunis, S. R. Siegel & A. V. Zwaniga (McGill University), announced the successful localization, thanks to Gemini-North, of a repeating Fast Radio Burst to the spiral arm of a nearby massive spiral galaxy. FRB180916.J0158+65 was first discovered by CHIME in 2018, and the European VLBI network was then used to pinpoint precisely its location. Follow-up observations with GMOS-N on Gemini-North allowed to measure its distance and the chemical enrichment of its environment. This FRB is one of only 5 with a precisely known location and only the second one amongst such sources that shows repeated bursts. This FRB’s spiral galaxy host is at z=0.034 and thus it is the closest known example to Earth so far. Because it is located in an environment much different than seen previously, this result is challenging theories on the origin of these pulses. The press release can be found here and the Nature paper here.

Gemini Detects Most Energetic Wind from Distant Quasar

On April 14th a press release was published about the discovery of the most energetic quasar wind ever measured. The ApJ paper led by Hyunseop Choi (University of Oklahoma) and including Sarah Gallagher (University of Western Ontario and Canadian Space Agency), shows that SDSSJ135246.37+423923.5 has an outflow travelling at -38000 km/s (=13% of the speed of light), with a velocity width of ~10000km/s, which is the largest outflow velocity measured to date. The supermassive black hole powering this quasar has been weighted at 8.6 x 109 solar mass. The outflow is sweeping away enough energy to be able to dramatically impact star formation across an entire galaxy.

Young Planets Bite the Dust

Figure 1: Six circumstellar disks observed with GPI showing the diversity of shapes and sizes they can take. Credit: Gemini/NOIRlab/NSF/AURA/T.Esposito/T.Rector, M.Zamani, D. de Martin.

On June 24 the GPIES (Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey) Team published a press release on their collection of dusty debris disks around young stars observed with GPI on Gemini-South. The AJ paper is led by Thomas Esposito (U of California, Berkeley) and includes Sebastian Bruzzone, Stan Metchev (U of Western Ontario), René Doyon, Julien Rameau (U de Montréal), Ruobing Dong (U of Victoria), Zachary Draper, Benjamin Gerard, Christian Marois, Brenda Matthews (NRC, U of Victoria). The polarimetric images of these 26 objects constitute the largest collection of sharp detailed images, with highly uniform data quality, of dusty debris disks around young stars. The young stars studied varies from tens of millions to hundreds of millions years old. Gaps and warps created by forming planets are visible in their dust disks. These images reveal the great variety of shapes and sizes that stellar systems can take during their infancy. The press release can be found here.

Join the thousands and thousands of Gemini Observatory followers on Facebook: @GeminiObservatory and Twitter: @GeminiObs

BRITE-Constellation Mission Update

By / par Catherine Lovekin (Canadian PI for BRITE)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2020)

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 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 were:

  • BRITE Toronto (Canada): This satellite observes with a red filter. It is currently observing the Sagittarius VI field, revisiting this field for the sixth 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 a target of opportunity.
  • BRITE Austria (Austria): BRITE Austria observes with a red filter. It is currently observing the Sagittarius VI field.
  • UniBRITE (Austria): Currently out of order.

The BRITE Constellation observing program is currently set through the end of 2020, and the program for 2021 will be finalized by the BRITE Executive Science Team (BEST) in the next few weeks. Details of the observing plan will be available on the BRITE photometry Wiki page.

Recent Science Results

“Direct evidence for shock-powered optical emission in a nova” (Aydi et al., 2020, NatAs, 4, 776).

It has long been thought that the luminosity of classical novae is powered by continued nuclear burning on the surface of the white dwarf after the initial runaway. However, recent observations of high energy γ-rays from classical novae have hinted that shocks internal to the nova ejecta may dominate the nova emission. Shocks have also been suggested to power the luminosity of events as diverse as stellar mergers, supernovae and tidal disruption events, but observational confirmation has been lacking. Aydi et. al. report simultaneous space-based optical and γ-ray observations of the 2018 nova V906 Carinae (ASASSN-18fv), revealing a remarkable series of distinct correlated flares in both bands. The optical and γ-ray flares occur simultaneously, implying a common origin in shocks. During the flares, the nova luminosity doubles, implying that the bulk of the luminosity is shock powered. They detect concurrent but weak X-ray emission from deeply embedded shocks, confirming that the shock power does not appear in the X-ray band and supporting its emergence at longer wavelengths. Combining the BRITE data with observations spanning the spectrum from radio to γ-ray, Aydi et. al. provide direct evidence that shocks can power substantial luminosity in classical novae and other optical transients.

Figure 1. The optical and GeV γ-ray light curves of Nova V906 Car are correlated, showing simultaneous flares in both bands. The black dashed lines represent the dates of the post-maximum flares. The green arrow indicates the date of the first NuSTAR X-ray observation. The black solid bar indicates the period of Fermi/LAT down time due to technical issues. Fermi entered another observing gap between days 46 and 57. The error bars in the BRITE light curve are 1σ uncertainties. The point-to-point scatter of the binned BRITE measurements is≈2 mmag and therefore the size of the error bars is smaller than the symbol size. The error bars in the Fermi light curve are 1σ uncertainties. The eruption start is on 2018 March 16.03 UT. From Aydi et al. (2020).

Conferences, Resources, and Social Media


The BRITE team did not host any conferences this year. The proceedings from the 2019 conference “Stars and their Variability Observed from Space” have now been published and all papers are available online here.


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

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 at

ALMA Matters


From / de Gerald Schieven (ALMA)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2020)

2020 August – Status of ALMA Operations

The COVID-19 pandemic still continues to impact our lives in many ways around the world. The situation in Chile has slightly improved in the Santiago area but not yet improved in the northern area where the ALMA telescope is located. ALMA operations thus remain suspended and the timeline of resuming observations unfortunately remains uncertain. Detailed plans for the safe return to operations have been developed and regular reviews to consider starting the re-opening process of the Observatory have now started. ALMA is currently still in the Caretaker phase with small teams maintaining the safety of the ALMA equipment and infrastructure. As always, the top priority is the health and safety of all our staff.

The ALMA Regional Centers (ARCs) continue to provide support for PIs and users of archival data. The ARCs in particular assist the reduction and analysis of existing data through virtual face-to-face (f2f) support in addition to usual Helpdesk interactions. If you have any questions, want to sign up for a virtual f2f visit, or have comments or concerns related to the situation at ALMA, please contact the ALMA Helpdesk.

The complete ALMA News item can be found here.

The 2021 ALMA Ambassador Program is Now Open for Applications

Are you a postdoc in a US or Canadian research institute and are interested in learning more about ALMA, sharing that information with the community, and receiving up to US$10,000 to support your research? Apply to become an ALMA Ambassador! The NAASC is pleased to announce the opening of applications for the 2021 ALMA Ambassadors program. Ambassadors will receive training in interferometry, the latest ALMA capabilities, and tips for proposing for ALMA. They will use that information to organize and lead a proposal preparation workshop (for their home institute or an alternate institute). Applications are due by 5 P.M. on 23 October 2020; training will take place in February 2021 and proposal workshops will be held in March/April 2021.

For more information on the program and how to apply, please see

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2020)

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing discussions with all stakeholders about site access continue to delay the start of TMT construction, and in mid-July the TMT International Observatory announced that no on-site construction activity would take place this year. However, progress continues to be made on technical components, including development of instrumentation. A notable milestone was the interim Conceptual Design Review of the Wide Field Optical Spectrograph, held in July. This review provided important guidance on the work and planning needed to bring it to a full Conceptual Design level. In addition, over the summer several critical systems completed their Preliminary Design phases and are now ready to move into Final Design. These include the Engineering Sensors System, the Instrumentation Cryogenic Cooling System, and the Optical Cleaning System.

The US-Extremely Large Telescope Project (ELTP) is a collaboration between NSF’s NOIRLab, TMT and the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT). Its mission is to “strengthen scientific leadership by the US community-at-large through access to extremely large telescopes in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres with coverage of 100 percent of the night sky”. Over the summer, this group has submitted several proposals to the US National Science Foundation (NSF) for the design and planning of the ELTP. In response to one of these proposals, NSF recently issued a three year award to AURA and NOIRLab for the “development of detailed requirements and planning documents for user support services”. See the update here.

The TMT project will face several critical milestones in the next year or so. These will be important for defining the future of the project and addressing some of the questions and concerns that are on the minds of the TMT partners, including Canada. These milestones include:

  • The release of the US Decadal Survey recommendations, expected in the first half of 2021
  • Initial findings from any Environmental Impact Survey (EIS) conducted by the NSF as a result of its engagement in the project
  • The full cost and schedule review that is currently being undertaken by the Project Office

Success at each of these stages is necessary, though not sufficient, for the project to proceed as envisioned.

The alternative site at ORM remains under consideration. CATAC has seen a draft of a report by the Japanese partners on the scientific quality of ORM, which largely comes to the same conclusions we did in our 2017 report. For the time being, we expect the focus to remain on Maunakea until the outcome of the federal EIS is known.

Due to the ongoing discussions and assessments of building on Maunakea, and the processes needed to secure NSF as a new partner, construction may not start until 2023 or later. With a reasonable estimate that first light may not come until about ten years after that (seven years construction plus three years commissioning), science operations with TMT could commence in the mid 2030s. This schedule is not likely to be significantly different if the alternative site is selected. Currently, Canada’s share of the construction costs is estimated to be about 15%, but this will be reevaluated once the Cost Review and negotiations with the NSF are completed.

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)

President’s Message

By / par Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2020)

It’s back to school time – and for a semester the like of which we have never seen before! First of all, a warm welcome to all of the new members of our community – graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and professors alike. It is not an easy time to be starting a new position of any kind, or moving to a new place. Although we are fortunate that our profession is largely conducive to remote working, activities such as collaboration meetings, classroom interactions and student-supervisor exchanges all play a critical role in our daily work lives. Engaging our new community members will be critical in the months ahead. I encourage every one of us to think about how we can reach out to the new people in our departments (and beyond!) to make them feel welcome and included. I also want to take this opportunity to remind you that new graduate students can join CASCA for free for their first year, so please encourage your new peers/students to take advantage of this.

The Long Range Planning (LRP) process is reaching its crescendo. The main facility recommendations have now been released ahead of the full report, in order that they can be a ready tool for lobbying and funding efforts that will start to ramp up through the Fall. The full report content is expected to be released in mid-November (a reminder that there is a dedicated set of LRP web pages hosted on, including the schedule for the next six months). Although the release of the LRP’s report represents the final lap of an (ultra?) marathon for the LRP panel, it is just the start of our work as a community. Converting the LRP’s recommendations into reality (whether that be funding new facilities, or improving astronomy’s professional climate) should be an effort in which we all engage. The CASCA Board will, of course, be reviewing the implementation process once the full report comes out. This will certainly include coordination with our Society’s committees, for example to discuss recommendations specific to topics such as equity, diversity, public outreach and sustainability. There has also already been discussion with (and within) the current LRP Implementation Committee (LRPIC, Chaired by John Hutchings), who have overseen the last decade of progress, on how we can most effectively monitor, support and facilitate recommendations. Beyond these official structures, the actions and voices of individual community members (i.e. you!) will be equally vital in converting the LRP’s recommendations into a reality. Every one of us can enact recommendations concerning our professional climate.

One of the LRP-recommended facilities which demands our immediate efforts is the Square Kilometre Array (SKA; see the latest newsletter update here), in which Canada has been a key player since its inception. The SKA is currently going through a major transformation into an inter-governmental organization (IGO) with partner countries signing a convention for membership. This process is already well underway, with 7 countries having already signed the convention, with 3 of them fully ratified. The convention will come into full force when five countries (including the 3 hosts: Australia, South Africa and the UK) have ratified, which is expected by mid-2021. Canada is not currently amongst these signatories. In order that Canada can continue to play a major leadership role in the SKA project, our membership status, and a funding commitment, are urgently needed. For example, Canada has recently been awarded a conditional contract for the mid-frequency central signal processor, one of the largest contracts awarded to date. However, this contract is conditional on our future commitment to the project, and needs to be finalized by the middle of next year. We should all be taking the opportunity to talk about the importance of SKA and other future facilities, both within our universities and to our broader contacts. Without awareness, there can be no action.

There has been much discussion about whether it is a lost cause to consider lobbying for new facility funding in the midst of the world’s current crisis. However, I see reasons to be hopeful. Our federal government, and funding agencies, have already shown willingness to dig into their rainy day coffers. The return to Parliament will be kicked off with a Speech from the Throne on September 23 and is expected to focus on a roadmap out of the pandemic. Word from Ottawa is that the Liberals are in Big Thinking (and spending!) mode, seeking to lay out a new vision to transform Canada in a post-pandemic world, without any immediate concerns for the fiscal deficit. Several of the highly ranked LRP facilities may offer appeal in this regard, both for their scientific and economic benefits. For example, The Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research (CASTOR; see the updates from Pat Côté in the 2020 Summer Solstice newsletter as well as this one) mission offers excellent opportunities for industrial partnership and technology development. As a telescope that is envisioned to be Canadian-led, CASTOR will have a field of view 100 times that of Hubble and provide the best ever view of the UV universe, and will therefore be both a cutting edge astronomical facility, as well as a source of national pride and inspiration.

In the last newsletter, Taylor Kutra, Martine Lokken and Hilding Neilson reported their positive experiences in taking/offering a mini-course on astronomy and colonization in Canada. I am delighted to hear that, this coming Fall, Hilding will be offering this course to our CASCA membership on a virtual platform. It behooves all of us to recognize and be educated on the issue of colonization, both in the context of astronomy and in Canada in general. Hilding’s course is a (currently) unique opportunity within our profession to learn from a First Nation professional astronomer with first hand understanding of the challenges and issues. As noted in the afore-mentioned newsletter article, such a course is long overdue. Now, thanks to Hilding’s community offering, one more step is being taken to disseminate this education. An announcement will be forthcoming on the CASCA exploder with more details, including the registration process.

Finally, an update on the AGM. As you all know, the original plan for 2021 was to host the CASCA AGM in Penticton, BC. However, upon discussion with the Penticton LOC (Chaired by Michael Rupen), due to on-going uncertainty over COVID-19 restrictions, we have decided that the 2021 AGM should be planned to be virtual. Since the 2022 AGM has already been confirmed to be hosted by Waterloo, Penticton aims to welcome us eventually in 2023. The online organizing committee (OOC) for CASCA 2021 is being led enthusiastically by Dennis Crabtree, and is planned for the week that had been originally identified for the Penticton meeting (May 10-14). In news from south of the border, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) is also offering its winter meeting virtually and has offered CASCA members the opportunity to attend at AAS member registration fee level. If you would like to take advantage of this opportunity, keep an eye out for the announcement on the CASCA email exploder in the near future, where we will be providing instructions on how to obtain the relevant discount code that can be used for web registration.

Call for Proposals for GEMINI 2021A and SUBARU Exchange-time

The Gemini 2021A Call for Proposals has now been released, and Canadian specific information for Phase 1 can be found at:

The deadline is: Thursday October 1st, 2020, at 4pm (PDT)/ 7pm (EDT)

This semester Canada will have access to 224 hours on the North and 186 hours on the South. Please consider submitting programs with relaxed observing conditions, even if they will take longer to execute to get to the same S/N.

Exciting News for 2021A:

  • For GSAOI/GeMs, the new NGS2 Natural Guide Star system has been successfully commissioned. Much fainter guide stars can now be selected thus increasing considerably the sky coverage.
  • MAROON-X is now available at Gemini-North. It is a high-resolution (R=80000) optical radial velocity spectrometer.

For semester 2021A (1 February 2021 to 31 July 2021) the full instrument suite available on Gemini-North is: GMOS-N, GNIRS, NIRI, and NIFS. Altair will not be available for 2021A as it is still under repair. The Visitor instruments offered on Gemini-North are: GRACES, ALOPEKE, POLISH-2 and MAROON-X.

And on Gemini-South: GMOS-S, Flamingos-2, GSAOI + GeMs; and the Visitor instruments Zorro and IGRINS.

A guaranteed minimum of 5 classical nights will be available on Subaru. The instruments available are: AO188 (but no LGS-AO), FOCAS, HDS, IRCS, Hyper Suprime-Cam (HSC), and SWIMS (a wide-field near-infrared imager and multi-object spectrograph) replacing MOIRCS. Note that the visitor instruments SCExAO including the VAMPIRES module, CHARIS and now IRD-Infrared Doppler are also available. You must request half nights or full nights, except for HSC now taking programs in queue mode.

Good luck!
Stéphanie Côté,
Canadian Gemini Office, NRC HAARC