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.

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)

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

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

Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien

GRACES a un nouveau Calculateur de Temps d’Intégration

GRACES, le spectrographe d’accès à distance au spectrographe d`ESPaDOnS au CFHT, a maintenant un nouveau script Python pour son Calculateur de Temps d’Intégration (CTI). C’est ce que nos utilisateurs.trices nous demandaient depuis un certain temps déjà. L’ancien CTI fonctionnait comme un script IDL, ce qui signifiait que les é devaient payer pour avoir la licence IDL pour l’utiliser. Cet ancien script IDL est toujours disponible, à titre de référence uniquement; il a de nombreux bugs et n’a pas été mis à jour. Nous recommandons vivement aux utilisateurs.trices d’utiliser le nouveau script Python qui a été recalibré et qui possède également de nombreuses nouvelles fonctionnalités. Il est capable de déterminer les magnitudes limites, les temps d’exposition, les rapports S / B, les niveaux de fond, etc., pour toutes les configurations GRACES disponibles, pour tout type de conditions d’observation et différents types de cibles. Pour accéder aux informations sur son téléchargement et son utilisation, voir ici.

Communiqués de presse canadiens récents

Des observations de Sursauts Radio Rapides approfondissent le mystère astronomique

Le 5 janvier, une équipe internationale d’astronomes dirigée par Benito Marcote (JIVE, Dwingeloo) et comprenant SP Tendulkar, M. Bhardwaj, VM Kaspi, D. Michilli, B. Andersen, PJ Boyle, C. Brar, P. Chawla, M. Dobbs, E. Fonseca, A. Josephy, A. Naidu, C. Patel, Z. Pleunis, SR Siegel & AV Zwaniga (Université McGill), ont annoncé la localisation réussie, grâce à Gemini-North, d’un sursaut radio rapide à répétition (=Fast Radio Burst) dans le bras spiral d’une galaxie spirale massive proche. FRB180916.J0158 + 65 a été découvert pour la première fois par CHIME en 2018, et le réseau européen VLBI a ensuite été utilisé pour localiser précisément son emplacement. Des observations de suivi avec GMOS-N à Gemini-Nord ont permis de mesurer sa distance et l’enrichissement chimique de son environnement. Ce SRR est l’un des 5 seuls avec un emplacement précisément connu et seulement le deuxième parmi de telles sources qui montre des sursauts répétés. La galaxie spirale hôtesse de ce SRR est à z = 0,034 et c’est donc l’exemple connu le plus proche de la Terre à ce jour. Parce que ce SRR est situé dans un environnement très différent de celui connu précédemment, ce résultat remet en question les théories sur l’origine de ces sursauts. Le communiqué de presse peut être trouvé ici et l’article Nature ici.

Gemini détecte le vent le plus énergique d`un quasar éloigné

Le 14 avril, un communiqué de presse a été publié sur la découverte du vent le plus énergique jamais mesuré d`un quasar éloigné. L’article dans l’ApJ dirigé par Hyunseop Choi (Université de l’Oklahoma) et incluant Sarah Gallagher (Université de Western Ontario et Agence Spatiale Canadienne), montre que SDSSJ135246.37 + 423923.5 a un écoulement sortant se déplaçant à -38000 km/s (= 13% de la vitesse de la lumière), avec une largeur de vitesse d’environ 10000 km/s, ce qui est la plus grande vitesse de sortie mesurée à ce jour. Le trou noir supermassif alimentant ce quasar a été mesurré à 8,6 x 109 masse solaire. L`écoulement sortant balaie suffisamment d’énergie pour pouvoir avoir un impact dramatique sur la formation d’étoiles dans toute une galaxie.

Des jeunes planètes mordent la poussière

Figure 1: Six disques circumstellaires observés avec GPI montrant la diversité des formes et des tailles qu’ils peuvent prendre. Crédit: Gemini/NOIRlab/NSF/AURA/T.Esposito/T.Rector, M.Zamani, D. de Martin.

Le 24 juin, l’équipe GPIES (Gemini Planet Imager Exoplanet Survey) a publié un communiqué de presse sur leur collection de disques de débris poussiéreux autour de jeunes étoiles observées avec GPI à Gemini-South. L’article dans l’AJ est dirigé par Thomas Esposito (U de Californie, Berkeley) et incluent Sebastian Bruzzone, Stan Metchev (U of Western Ontario), René Doyon, Julien Rameau (U de Montréal), Ruobing Dong (U de Victoria), Zachary Draper, Benjamin Gerard, Christian Marois, Brenda Matthews (CNRC, U de Victoria). Les images polarimétriques de ces 26 objets constituent la plus grande collection d’images nettes et détaillées, d’une qualité de données très uniforme, de disques de débris poussiéreux autour de jeunes étoiles. Les jeunes étoiles étudiées varient de dizaines de millions à des centaines de millions d’années. Les trous et les déformations créées par la formation de planètes sont visibles dans leurs disques de poussière. Ces images révèlent la grande variété de formes et de tailles que les systèmes stellaires peuvent prendre pendant leur enfance. Le communiqué de presse est disponible ici.

Rejoignez les milliers et milliers de suiveurs de l’Observatoire Gemini sur Facebook: @GeminiObservatory et Twitter: @GeminiObs.

New M92 Stellar Stream Discovered

A team of astronomers using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope  discovered a new stellar stream emanating from the M92 globular  cluster. This new stream suggests that M92 is actively being disrupted  by tidal forces caused by our Milky Way Galaxy. This discovery  utilized high quality data obtained as part of the  Canada-France-Imaging-Survey (CFIS) using MegaCam at CFHT and from the  Pan-STARRS 1 (PS1) survey on Haleakalā, Maui. The discovery of a  stellar stream around M92 raises the question of the cluster’s origin  and could be used in the future to probe the innermost region of our  Galaxy. The team estimates that stellar stream has a mass equivalent  to ~10% of the mass of the entire M92 cluster.

Stellar streams are long thin streams of stars formed as globular  clusters or dwarf galaxies are ripped apart by the immense gravity of  the Milky Way. The structures formed by these tidal forces are stable  over many billions of years. Their longevity allows astronomers to use  their presence to better understand the formation of galaxies like the  Milky Way as a guide to determine the role of galactic cannibalism in  galaxy formation. Additionally, stellar streams are excellent tools to  probe the gravitational potential of our Galaxy and study the  distribution of dark matter around it.

“Our simulations of the M92 stellar stream indicated that the stream  was likely formed recently, in the last 500 million years,” said  Guillaume Thomas, lead author of the paper published in The  Astrophysical Journal. “The cluster’s age is around 11 billion years,  which indicates that the cluster was not always in its current orbit  and makes us wonder where M92 originally orbited.”

The team identified the 17° long stellar stream from the M92 globular  cluster stream using an improved matched-filter method. This method  aims to highlight a specific known signal in a noisy dataset and  proves to be an extremely efficient tool to detect stellar streams  around the Milky Way Galaxy.

Despite previous observations in this region, the newly discovered M92  stellar stream was hidden by the high number of foreground stars from  the Milky Way disk. It was discovered because of the combination of  high quality images from both CFIS and Pan-STARRS. The team also used  proper motions obtained by the European space mission Gaia to confirm  the existence of the stream.

The Canada-France Imaging Survey is an ongoing large program at CFHT  using MegaCam. Allocated 271 nights, CFIS aims to address some of the  most fundamental questions in astronomy including the assembly of the  Milky Way, properties of dark matter and dark energy, and the growth  of structure in the Universe from galaxies to clusters.

« The discovery of the M92 stellar stream is a testament to the power  of the CFIS/PS1 collaboration and the unique capabilities of MegaCam, »  says Todd Burdullis, queue observing specialist at the  Canada-France-Hawaii Telesope. « The CFIS program is not complete and  already the data are enhancing our understanding of the Milky Way. We  expect more discoveries like this from the CFIS team in the coming  years. »

arXiv paper link:


Guillaume Thomas
Juan de la Cierva fellow
Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC)

Media Contact

Mary Beth Laychak
Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope