President’s Message

By / par Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hivers 2020)

The Long Range Plan is out! This final report represents two years of effort in our community to examine the state of our professional activities and ambitions from both a scientific and societal perspective. Hundreds of people in our community have contributed in a variety of ways to the generation of this finished product, ranging from co-authoring white papers, attending town hall meetings and dedicated AGM sessions, to providing feedback to the panel along the journey. A broad message of gratitude is therefore due to the entire community for your engagement and collaboration. As a Society, we owe our greatest thanks to the LRP panel for the immense undertaking of leading this process: Pauline Barmby, Matt Dobbs, Bryan Gaensler, Jeremy Heyl, Natasha Ivanova, David Lafreniere, Brenda Matthews and Alice Shapley. The French version of the LRP, as well as the typeset version with full figures and design and hard copies, are expected early in the new year.

As alluded to in my last President’s message, the next challenge in the LRP process is its implementation, and the Board (with input from the current LRPIC, as well as LRP co-chairs) has been laying out the strategy for this next step. Oversight and monitoring of both existing and future facilities will remain in the remit of our current CASCA committees: the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC, currently chaired by Stefi Baum) and the Joint Committee on Space Astronomy (JCSA, currently chaired by Locke Spencer). In order to tackle the broad ranging community-based LRP recommendations, CASCA will create a new committee, the LRP Community Recommendations Implementation Committee (LCRIC), whose portfolio will encompass the societal-level aspects of the plan, including equity, indigenous matters, outreach and sustainability. The LCRIC will work to generate an actionable implementation plan from the LRP’s recommendations, working with existing CASCA committees and striking new working groups as needed to convert the recommendations into reality over the next decade. We are just beginning the first steps in establishing this new LCRIC, but I am delighted to announce that Christine Wilson (McMaster University) has agreed to be the inaugural Chair. Given their remit, the new LCRIC, in partnership with the GAC and JCSA, will replace the previous LRPIC – I thank John Hutchings and his team for their wisdom and tireless efforts over many years.

The top (unfunded) large facilities in the LRP are the SKA and CASTOR. As discussed in my September message, the SKA is reaching a critical point with the IGO expected to take over the project imminently. Securing membership and funding for Canada has been at the top of CASCA’s agenda of effort over the last few months. I have been working closely with Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and Gilles Joncas (AACS Chair) to prepare the ground for the Coalition’s lobbying activities. These activities are now well underway with a positive first meeting with officials from ISED, and more in the planning stages. In collaboration with ACURA, the AACS has also mobilized its university connections, with several VPR briefings already completed across the country. I encourage you to look at the Canadian SKA webpage, which hosts a wealth of material on the project, its science aspirations, industry connections and societal impacts. In particular, I point you to a handy 4-page summary of the project in the Canadian context, in case you have the opportunity to discuss the project in your broader networks.

With an anticipated launch in the late 2020s, there is also significant on-going progress on planning for the CASTOR space telescope. A more complete report is provided by Pat Côté in this Edition, but the long-awaited CSA technical study request for proposals (STDP RFP) has now been issued (and, by the time you read this, closed), representing a significant step in the preparatory process. CASTOR is one of seven “Priority Technologies” in this call, and there are five different work packages within the CASTOR study. The CSA has also started working a mission development plan for CASTOR: i.e., a summary of timelines, budget requirements, milestones and action items that mark the path towards launch later this decade. CASTOR represents a truly unique and exciting component in Canada’s astronomy portfolio – the potential for a Canada-led UV-optical space telescope will not only bring terrific science returns, as well as showcasing and supporting our national expertise in several technology domains, but it will generate tremendous excitement and pride in the general public, inspiring the next generation of budding scientists and engineers.

On the digital infrastructure side, the New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization (NDRIO) is ramping up to eventually replace Compute Canada. Unlike Compute Canada, NDRIO is funded directly by ISED, and CASCA is an Associate Member (as is CADC). NDRIO held its first AGM at the end of September, at which the inaugural Researcher Council (RC) was announced. Erik Rosolowsky (U of A) was one of approximately 20 appointees on the new RC. Despite this success, it is the responsibility of our broader community to engage with NDRIO and communicate our needs. Notably, astronomy represents ~5% of Compute Canada users but uses ~20% of its resources. Our success as a field therefore critically relies on effective and appropriate DRI. NDRIO has outlined several steps in its initial consultation process on needs assessment within the broader community. Several white papers are under preparation within our astronomy community in response to the first step in this call. A user survey is also expected in the near future – please take the time to complete this survey when it comes your way!

Preparations for the CASCA 2021 AGM (May 10-14) continue apace – since CASCA was founded in 1971, this will be our 50th birthday party! The SOC and OOC have developed an exciting scientific and social program for CASCA 2021. With the release of the LRP, and the broad reaching issues it has assessed, the SOC has chosen a theme that will align with the LRP2020’s goals: “Canadian Astronomy: Dialing It Up To 11”. The SOC has selected a roster of invited speakers and the invitations will have been sent by the time you read this. The organizing committees have scored quite the coup with securing recent Nobel laureate Professor Andrea Ghez to present the Helen Sawyer Hogg Public Lecture. Two other ‘evening’ events have been planned. There will be a games night featuring the popular game ‘Among Us’ and the CASCA Banquet will feature “CASCA Has Talent” – a chance for CASCA members to demonstrate their non-astronomy skills. The OOC is also working on integrating daily social interactions; it won’t be quite the same as being together in Penticton, but it sounds like it will be a lot of fun nonetheless! Watch this space in the new year for more details and registration.