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, Royal Military College of Canada, University of British Columbia, and Bishop’s University. 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.

Update on CASTOR

By / par Patrick Côté (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2020)

The recently released 2020 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy has identified CASTOR, Canada’s “first marquee space astronomy mission”, as the top priority in Canadian space astronomy for the coming decade. The LRP2020 report highlighted the “substantial interest and involvement from Canadian industry” and emphasized that CASTOR would “allow Canadian astronomers to perform spectacular new studies of a huge range of cosmic phenomena ranging from exoplanets to cosmology.”

At the same time, the LRP2020 report pointed out that “It will be vital to engage with the federal government to fund this very large mission, and to work closely with international partners like JPL/NASA and IIA/ISRO.” To this end, industry partners and members of the community are working to explore partnership scenarios and refine the business case for this flagship mission, including expected economic impacts and returns on investment.

The next stage of design work will begin in late 2020, with a request for proposals for a Space Technology Development Program (STDP) study expected soon. That 22-month study — which will focus on the opto-mechanical design, focal plane array, fine steering system, UV spectrograph and precision photometer — will be awarded to Canadian industry through a competitive process. It is hoped that science planning will ramp up during a Phase 0 study that could begin in early 2021. In the meantime, discussions are underway for a virtual meeting, to be held in late 2020 or early 2021, between members of the Canadian, Indian and other international teams to discuss opportunities for scientific, technical and programmatic collaboration.

As always, members of the community who would like to participate in the next phases of CASTOR development are encouraged to contact:

Indigenizing Astronomy – Long Range Plan

By / par Samantha Lawler (Campion College, University of Regina)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2020)

A First Step Toward Incorporating Traditional Knowledge in your Astro 101 Class – Connect with Local Elders/Knowledge Keepers

This is an example of how one new professor (the author) has begun the very first steps to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into an Astronomy 101 class that did not previously include any. The course is offered through Campion College, an affiliated college of the University of Regina (U of R). The U of R has a large undergraduate Indigenous population, with 14% of students self-identifying as Indigenous. The U of R also has an Office of Indigenization, and one of their stated goals is to connect faculty and staff with Indigenous Elders/Knowledge Keepers and to help with Indigenization of their courses. As a first step toward Indigenizing an existing course (Astronomy 101), I was able to make use of their Elder-in-residence program to bring a Life Speaker to the very first class I ever taught at the U of R. The staff of the Office of Indigenization helped me practice pronunciations to properly acknowledge the territory (where I had just begun living 2 weeks prior). They also taught me the proper etiquette for introducing the Life Speaker, as well as providing me with a properly prepared traditional offering of tobacco to present do the Life Speaker prior to him speaking to the class. I asked the Life Speaker to share his traditional knowledge of astronomy, and he spoke at length about the traditional view of the Earth as our mother and the Universe as our father, as well as his personal connection with the Northern Lights. My favourite highlight was learning that the Cree name for the Northern Lights translates to “the relatives are dancing,” a much more joyful and active name than we use in English.

With extensive help from the U of R Office of Indigenization, I, a brand-new professor, was able to properly acknowledge a land that was new to me, and share the traditional knowledge of an Indigenous elder, on my very first day of teaching. Administrative procedures were already in effect to make compensating the elder for his time with a proper honorarium from Campion College (the Office of Indigenization recommended $200), which is also an important part of acknowledging the importance of traditional knowledge. Having the Office of Indigenization as a resource for advice and for connection with Indigenous groups is completely invaluable for Indigenizing astronomy (as well as other courses). I am extremely thankful that these structures exist and I acknowledge that without the help of the Office of Indigenization, it would have taken years for me to build up the contacts to do what I was able to present on my very first day of teaching. In the near-future, I look forward to expanding collaboration with their office and with First Nations University, another affiliated college of the University of Regina.

A pandemic addendum: This semester, while all of our university’s teaching is online, the Office of Indigenization were again able to connect me with the Elder and arrange for him to join my class via Zoom. It worked amazingly well!

Starting the course with an acknowledgement of the land and an Indigenous Elder’s very personal, interconnected view of astronomy completely changed the starting point of the class, and created a much more respectful beginning to this course. The standard astronomy textbook narrative is often to start with “primitive,” “ancient” views that are later shown to be “false” by triumphant Western science. This started the course on a much more respectful note, allowing for traditional knowledge to coexist with current scientific practices as another way of knowing what we all observe in the sky.

As a settler and a new Canadian, I am very much still learning about Indigenous knowledge in my new home, and I am definitely not an expert. I am sharing my experience in hopes that other astronomers across Canada will be inspired to take a similar step toward Indigenizing their astronomy courses. Will it be easy? Probably not. Will you be pushed way outside your comfort zone? Almost certainly! (In a good way!) Will you and your students benefit from this connection? Absolutely, yes.

A few useful resources to get started:

U of R Office of Indigenization page
Land acknowledgements in Canada
LRP 2020 paper on Indigenizing astronomy by Neilson et al.

Canadian Astronomy, Racism, and the Environment – Part 1

By / par Martine Lokken, Chris Matzner, Joel Roediger, Mubdi Rahman, Dennis Crabtree, Pamela Freeman, Vincent Henault-Brunet (The CASCA Sustainability Committee, The CASCA Equity & Inclusivity Committee)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2020)

Part 1: An Introduction to Environmental Racism

This year’s widespread protests in support of Wetʼsuwetʼen sovereignty, and in support of Black lives in the face of police brutality, have brought heightened attention to the racism and systemic racial inequalities that have long threatened Indigenous and Black people in North America. The astronomy community has been coming to terms with its own systemic racism [1], and it is important that we examine our field’s environmental impacts [2] through the same lens. In this moment, we in CASCA’s Sustainability Committee reflect on the many ways in which environmentalism and racism interact. Here we present some background on how these issues are intertwined with the climate crisis and environmental damage both globally and within Canada. In a later article with the Equity & Inclusivity Committee we will ask how we as astronomers have benefitted from and perpetuated racism, environmental or otherwise, and what we can do to change this.

The climate crisis is projected to deal a sequence of crushing blows to peoples of the arctic, equatorial, and oceanic regions of the world. Of those affected, the UN warns that Indigenous peoples face the most climate-based disruption because of their strong cultural and economic connections to the land on which they live [3]. Indeed, this has already begun [4]. Drought now affects a quarter of the world’s population, mainly in equatorial regions [5], leading to food insecurity and mass migration [6, 7]. Heat waves are on the rise, some now surpassing what humans can naturally survive [8]. Last year, massive fires decimated the Australian landscape, damaging perhaps thousands of Indigenous cultural sites [9], while deliberate fires ate away at the home of the Amazon’s Indigenous people. This year’s Amazon fires could be even worse [10], and record heat waves are intensifying annual wildfires in Siberia [11]. Vast floods have covered a quarter of Bangladesh [12], while rising seas are swallowing island nations [13]. The distribution of global wealth plays a major role in deciding who can best survive these extreme events: while wealthy areas of developed nations are able to adapt to some of the effects of climate change through investment in infrastructure, the world’s poorest are disproportionately losing their homes, livelihoods, and even lives [14]. Meanwhile, the worst per-capita contributors to the climate crisis are primarily located in the northern hemisphere [15] and led by wealthy nations such as Canada, the U.S., Australia, Saudi Arabia, and other major oil-producing countries. The disparities between the worst perpetrators of the climate crisis versus those who suffer the greatest impacts correlate with inequalities of wealth, power, and territory that have been sown over the long history of European colonialism, and are reinforced by systemic racism.

Canada is no exception to this. Our country has a tragic history of slavery, anti-Indigenous and anti-Black racism, and attempted erasure of Indigenous cultures. Much of our wealth is based on the exploits of land which often was cheated or taken by force from Indigenous nations [16, 17]. We are currently the fourth largest producer and exporter of oil [18], and the average Canadian’s contribution to the climate crisis is among the world’s greatest [19]. However, unsurprisingly, systemic racism plays a major role in who has benefitted from this wealth versus who is most impacted by the environmental damage.

Many rural Indigenous communities in Canada are disproportionately feeling the effects of climate change. Ice roads, which in the winter enable goods to reach northern communities, become unavailable or unsafe as temperatures rise [20]. Melting ice and extreme weather is cutting Inuit people off from traditional hunting lands, severely threatening people’s physical and mental health [21]. In Eastern Indigenous communities, rising sea levels have negatively impacted traditional medicines and food supplies by increasing the salination of freshwater [22]. In addition to the unintentional impacts from climate change, there are also many situations in which racist planning for polluting sites such as factories, mills, and pipelines have caused environmental harm to rural Indigenous communities. For example, for 53 years the Northern Pulp mill in Nova Scotia treated its effluent in Boat Harbour (A’se’k), a tidal estuary upon which the Pictou Landing First Nation depended for food, livelihoods, and culture. Only this year, after years of community activism, has the provincial government ended the pollution of Boat Harbour, allowing its restoration to begin [23]. These various stresses to rural communities can spur an exodus to urban centers, leading to the loss of languages and cultures that are often deeply connected to the local environment [22, 20].

Systemic racism has also resulted in various environmental disparities for racialized communities in urban areas. The Canadian government warns of the dangers of urban heat islands, areas which amplify warm temperatures due to an excess of paved surfaces and lack of green space [24]. Populations more at risk for heat-related illness include Indigenous people, newcomers to Canada, and poor people [24]. The systemic effects which cause higher poverty rates among racialized people [25] and a lack of heat-protecting infrastructure in poor neighborhoods combine to make racialized Canadians more vulnerable to rising heat waves. (Because of Canadian astronomy’s connections to the U.S., it is also worth noting that the long-lasting effects of racist redlining in many U.S. cities have resulted in heat islands being centered on predominantly Black neighborhoods there [26, 27].) In addition to heat, pollution is another major health issue in urban centers. Similar to Pictou Landing, there are many cases of polluting sites being built near Indigenous or Black communities in urban areas (e.g. “Chemical Valley”, ON [28] and Africville, Nova Scotia [29]). These compounding environmental effects can cause serious health problems in marginalized communities, such as higher cancer rates and respiratory issues [28, 30], increased heat-related illnesses [30], poisoning from high levels of dangerous materials in water sources (e.g. Grassy Narrows, ON [31]), and worse pregnancy outcomes faced by Black mothers [U.S. data, 32]1.

The disproportionate effect of the climate crisis on racialized communities is exacerbated by the casual and systemic racism often present in predominantly-white environmental circles and the policies put forth by them. An important example of this is the centrality of the overpopulation argument to many Western approaches to the climate crisis, including in scientific circles [33]. While regularly debunked by public health scholars with the topical expertise in this area [34,35,36], racist origins and implications have been used to advance racist policies in the name of environmental sustainability [37,38]. This interplay has acted to shift the blame from the consumption of the Global North and casts the blame on the Global South, including some of the very populations that are most susceptible to the effects of the climate crisis.

Therefore, although the climate crisis will affect everyone to some extent, it is important that we recognize how global and local histories of racism and colonialism factor into the equation. Those of us with the privilege to be relatively insulated from environmental damage — at least for now — must especially examine our environmental impact and our complicity in systems of oppression. In doing so, it is essential that we learn from the BIPOC leaders who have historically spearheaded the movement for environmental justice like Dr. Robert Bullard and the Rev. Benjamin Chavis [39] and listen to the young voices, such as Makasá Looking Horse, who are taking the reins [40]). In our next article, we will examine how Canadian astronomy has benefitted from and continues to partake in white supremacist systems while also contributing to environmental injustice. We will discuss how to change the status quo, considering issues such as respect for Indigenous land rights and frequency of academic flights.

1Canada doesn’t require collection of race-based health data, an issue which has gained awareness during the Covid-19 pandemic (
The general taboos around studying the effects of race in Canada partially explain why there are fewer available resources on environmental racism here than in the US.


  34. Rosling, H., Rosling Rönnlund, A. and Rosling, O., 2019. Factfulness. Paris: Flammarion.

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