Atelier AstroComm 2021 Workshop First Announcement

by Nathalie Ouellette (Université de Montréal)
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2020)

Communication skills are an important part of astronomers’ toolkits. We need to use them to share our research with our peers, advocate for our science, obtain funding from agencies and connect with the public and the next generation of scientists.

In this spirit, the Centre for Research in Astrophysics of Quebec (CRAQ) plans to organise an interactive virtual workshop in English on science communication, AstroComm 2021.

Date: June 16, 2021
Time: 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm (Eastern Time)
Location: Online
Open to all interested astronomers, from undergraduate students to professors
Free registration

The workshop will be delivered by Nathalie Ouellette (Université de Montréal), Julie Bolduc-Duval (Discover the Universe) and other instructors to be announced later.

The purpose of this first announcement is to gauge the interest of the Canadian astronomical community in this workshop. Here are a few topics that could be covered during the workshop:

  • public speaking for various audiences
  • scientific writing
  • creation of visual content
  • media interviews
  • social media
  • inclusive communication
  • hands-on activities for youth
  • … and more!

Participants will be required to submit a scientific communication piece (e.g. article, video, presentation slideshow, etc.) prior to the workshop that will help the instructors better target the training content. Submitted pieces do not need to be created for the workshop; they can be from previous science communication activities.

If you are interested in this activity, we invite you to pre-register using this form.

Your answers will allow us to adapt the workshop according to the needs of the community. An announcement with more details will be sent to the CASCA distribution list in early 2021. For more information, visit astrocomm-2021-workshop. If you have any questions, please contact Nathalie Ouellette.

BRITE-Constellation Mission Update

By / par Catherine Lovekin (Canadian PI for BRITE)
(Cassiopeia – Winter 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 45 datasets available in the public domain from the BRITE public archive. As of April of 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.

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 was:

  • BRITE Toronto (Canada): This satellite observes with a red filter. It is currently observing the Orion/Taurus III field, revisiting this field for the third 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 the Vela/Pictorus V field.
  • BRITE Austria (Austria): BRITE Austria observes with a blue filter. It is currently observing the Orion VII field.
  • UniBRITE (Austria): Currently out of order.

The BRITE Constellation observing program is currently set through November of 2021. Details of the observing plan are available on the BRITE photometry Wiki page.

Recent Science Results

“β Cas: The first δ Scuti star with a dynamo magnetic field” (Zwintz et al., 2020, A&A, 643, A110)

This study investigates the pulsational and magnetic field properties of β Cas, as well as the star’s apparent fundamental parameters and chemical abundances.

Based on photometric time series obtained from three different space missions (BRITE-Constellation, SMEI, and TESS), we conduct a frequency analysis and investigate the stability of the pulsation amplitudes over four years of observations. We investigate the presence of a magnetic field and its properties using spectropolarimetric observations taken with the Narval instrument by applying the least-squares deconvolution and Zeeman-Doppler imaging techniques.

The star β Cas shows only three independent p-mode frequencies down to the few ppm-level; its highest amplitude frequency is suggested to be an n = 3, ℓ = 2, m = 0 mode. Its magnetic field structure is quite complex and almost certainly of a dynamo origin. The atmosphere of β Cas is slightly deficient in iron peak elements and slightly overabundant in C, O, and heavier elements.

Atypically for δ Scuti stars, we can only detect three pulsation modes down to exceptionally low noise levels for β Cas. The star is also one of very few δ Scuti pulsators known to date to show a measurable magnetic field and the first δ Scuti star with a dynamo magnetic field. These characteristics make β Cas an interesting target for future studies of dynamo processes in the thin convective envelopes of F-type stars, the transition region between fossil and dynamo fields, and the interaction between pulsations and magnetic field.

Figure 1. BRITE photometric time series obtained by UBr (panel a) and BAb in 2016 (panel b) to the same Y-axis scale and with a time base of 170 days on both X axes. Panels c and d show 4-days subsets of the UBr and BAb 2016 light curves binned to 5-minute intervals and the corresponding multi-sine fit with the two identified pulsation frequencies again to the same Y-axis scale and with a time base of 4 days on both X axes. From Zwintz et al. (2020).

Conferences, Resources, and Social Media

Conferences

The BRITE team did not host any conferences this year. The proceedings from the 2019 conference “Stars and their Variability Observed from Space” has now been published and all papers are available at brite.camk.edu.pl/pub/index.html.

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 konstanze.zwintz@uibk.ac.at.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2020)

The recently published Canadian LRP2020 recommends, as its top priority for large ground-based facilities, “that Canada participate in a very large optical telescope (VLOT), and that this participation be at a level that provides compelling opportunities for Canadian leadership in science, technology and instrumentation”. The report notes further that this access is best implemented through “continued participation in TMT, either at the currently proposed Maunakea site or at the scientifically acceptable alternative of Observatorio del Roque de los Muchachos”. This is consistent with past recommendations and reaffirms the importance of VLOT access for the Canadian optical/infrared astronomy community in the coming decades. The leadership opportunities provided by TMT (or any VLOT) depend to some degree on the final share, governance model and construction timeline. CATAC expects that there will be more certainty about those factors over the next year, but with the information available today we agree that participation in TMT (at either site) represents the best route to fulfill the goals of the LRP.

LRP2020 also recommends developing and adopting “a comprehensive set of guiding principles for the locations of astronomy facilities and associated infrastructure in which Canada participates. These principles should “be centred on consent from the Indigenous Peoples and traditional title holders who would be affected by any astronomy project”. CATAC is aware that many Canadians are very concerned about how TMT construction in Hawai’i can be consistent with these principles, and that there has been important discussion within Canada about this. CATAC has raised these concerns with the Board. Our recommendation for continued support of TMT is based in part on the following considerations:

  • First and foremost, CATAC reaffirms our position that the decision about whether or not TMT is built in Hawaii should be entirely in the hands of the Hawaiian community, and that they are the only ones who should be responsible for defining what consent means within their own constituency.
  • CATAC awaits the full development of the guiding principles recommended by the LRP, which we hope and expect will be consistent with the previous point.
  • Recent developments have led to an opportunity for renewed dialogue within Hawai’i, that CATAC believes is consistent with the views expressed in our LRP, and the white papers on Indigeneous rights submitted to that process. These discussions are taking place among diverse groups, and involve not only TMT but all astronomy on Maunakea, as well as many broader issues of Hawaiian society. We describe some of these developments below, and note there are more details in our recent report to the CASCA Board, which is available on our website. It is vitally important to give these discussions the time and space they need. They are connected to concerns that are much broader than TMT, or astronomy.

Telescope Site, Partnership and Construction Timeline

On August 13, in response to the initial planning proposal for the US Extremely Large Telescope Program (ELTP), the US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the initiation of an informal outreach process to engage people and groups interested in the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) project. Hawai’i House Speaker Saiki issued a press release about this on Aug 18. This outreach is a precursor to an NSF decision about whether or not to accept the ELTP proposal and formally join the project.

This engagement on the part of the NSF is welcomed by the TMT International Observatory (TIO) Partners, and brings a new opportunity for a Hawaiian consultation process and formal review, led by a widely respected body. It also establishes a timeline of events that will take place over the next 12-18 months, each of which will provide increasing clarity over the future viability of TMT:

  • The US Astro2020 process is anticipated to release their public report in mid-2021. A top ranking in this report is essential for NSF engagement and the viability of the project. The report may make other recommendations relevant to TMT.
  • Should the NSF accept the ELTP proposal, this will trigger a federal Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which will take about three years to complete. Included as part of this review would be the important Section 106 process of the National Historical Protection Act. This would have the significant effect of leading to a federally recognized record of the importance of Maunakea to Hawaiians. Information from the public consultation phase of this process will shed further light on the situation as the review progresses. We note that a federal EIS may also be required at La Palma if the NSF is a partner.
  • Upon acceptance of the proposal, NSF will also conduct an in-depth Preliminary Design Review, likely in late 2021. This is a comprehensive review of all aspects of the project, including operations and a detailed costing.

Assuming TMT construction cannot begin until the EIS has completed (which may not be the case), construction might not start before 2023. An estimate of seven years construction and three years commissioning would mean first science in 2033 or later. The main competition for TMT is the ESO Extremely Large Telescope (ELT) project. The ELT is currently under construction, and current planning anticipates technical first light (TFL ) by the end of 2025, though the COVID-19 pandemic may add some delay. It is planned that all four first-light instruments would be commissioned within two to three years after TFL. Assuming no delays to that project, the gap to TMT science could be six years. But, at this point, there is enough uncertainty in the timeline of both projects that the gap could be larger, or smaller.

In parallel with these NSF-led consultations, there are several other important discussions and activities underway in Hawaii. These include:

  • In May, 2020, the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) launched an independent review of the University of Hawaii (UH) management of Maunakea as part of the Master Lease renewal process. The independent Hawaiian consultation group Ku`iwalu, has been engaged to evaluate the effectiveness of the UH and the OMKM in its implementation of the Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP). Some information about the process underway is available at their website. At the time of launch, the review was expected to conclude by the end of 2020, though this may be delayed.
  • An important part of Governor Ige’s proposed path forward for TMT on Maunakea is the decommissioning of “as many telescopes as possible”. This process is underway, through the OMKM. Decommissioning is a lengthy process, as it involves its own Environmental Assessment and DLNR permit preceding the physical removal of the facility and complete restoration of the site. Decommissioning of the UH-Hilo teaching telescope, Hoku Kea is expected to be completed in 2023. The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory decommissioning is anticipated to be completed in 2022.
  • Multiple groups in Hawaii are meeting to discuss broad issues such as housing, education and land ownership, including the role of astronomy. Among these groups are the Hawai’i Executive Collaborative and the ‘Aina Aloha Economic Futures. Participants in these meetings include TMT opponents. Canadians associated with TMT have also been invited to participate in some of these discussions, though the travel restrictions associated with the pandemic have significantly affected this effort.

Instrumentation Update

The TMT Exoplanet Roadmap Committee is considering the prioritization of desired exoplanet capabilities for planned second-generation TMT instruments: PSI, MICHI and HROS. The prioritization would be a function of the various instrument modes (imaging, spectroscopy, polarimetry) and their implementation (resolution, IFU, choice of wavelengths/bands). Input from the Canadian community is welcome, before mid-January. A short summary of proposed capabilities together with an Excel template for feedback are available on the CATAC web page.

Project Office Update

Dr. Gary Sanders, who has led the TMT Project as Project Manager with distinction since its inception, will retire at the start of 2021. Deputy Project Manager Fengchuan Liu, who has worked closely with Gary and co-directed the project for the last five years, will assume the Project Manager (acting) position while TMT searches for a permanent project manager.

ALMA Matters

ALMAlogo

From Gerald Schieven (ALMA)
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2020)

Return-to-Operations Status

ALMA has been shut down since 18 March 2020 due to COVID-19. The observatory was closed with all antennas and receivers powered down, with only the master timing maser remaining powered up via solar-charged batteries and a backup generator. A caretaker team remained on site to inspect the site and ensure safety and security. Employees in Santiago were in a work-from-home mode.

The Santiago offices opened for a maximum of 10 essential personnel on September 28 and with limited occupancy (max. 25) on November 9. A review for an occupancy of up to 50 people was scheduled for Dec 11.

At the Operations Support Facility (OSF), preparations for re-occupation began October 1, with the first power generator restarted October 6, having been offline for 199 days. On October 21 limited staff moved back into the Residencia for cleaning, opening the data centre, beginning cafeteria services, and establishing stable utilities (power, water, water treatment). First re-occupancy by staff was at the end of October. Work is progressing well, and staff morale remains high.

The first phase of the planned return to the high site (the Array Operations Site or AOS) began on December 10. The status of critical equipment other than the maser was unknown at the time of writing. The goal for the next phase is to recover enough antennas (10-15) so that science operations can begin and a basic system checkout. There are significant technical risks remaining, e.g. powering up the correlator, the central local oscillator, infrastructure such as power and water, plus a backlog of maintenance.

If all goes well, the majority of the recovery would be completed by the end of January. ALMA would then enter its normal February maintenance shutdown (weather is too poor for significant observing in February), and PI science could resume in early March 2021, after a nearly full year hiatus. Cycle 7 observing will then resume until the end of September 2021, with Cycle 8 commencing on October 1.

Cycle 8 Call for Proposals

In mid-December, the ALMA Observatory is expected to issue its Cycle 8 Pre-announcement, which will include the key dates for the Cycle 8 Call for Proposals (CfP), plus a list of the new capabilities to be offered, including single field polarization with the ACA, 7-m Array spectral scans, VLBI of faint targets, and other new observing modes. The CfP is expected in mid-March, 2021, with the deadline for proposal submission in mid-April.

ASAC Membership

For several years, Christine Wilson (McMaster University) has represented Canada on the ALMA Science Advisory Council (ASAC). ASAC, made up of distinguished scientists from North America, Europe, East Asia, and Chile, provides scientific advice to the ALMA Board on the scientific operation of the ALMA project, as representatives of the wider astronomical community. At the end of this year, Christine will be retiring from ASAC. In her place, Erik Rosolowsky (University of Alberta) has been appointed to the council. We wish to thank Christine for her long standing service representing Canadian scientists on the ASAC, and to wish Erik well.

SPICA Update

From David Naylor, SPICA Canadian HoN and Co-I, University of Lethbridge
and Doug Johnstone, SPICA Science Team, NRC-Herzberg

(Cassiopeia – Winter 2020)

As most astronomers already know, in October the SPICA project ended abruptly. To explain the situation, on October 7th we sent the following letter to the Canadian SPICA supporters.

We regret to report that today we received official word that ESA and JAXA have concluded that the SPICA mission is no longer viable, since, somewhat belatedly, the mission has been deemed to exceed their budgetary envelopes. Thus, the SPICA mission has now been officially withdrawn from the M5 competition. This result is especially surprising given that SPICA recently passed its Mission Consolidation Review (MCR) and was to have faced the Mission Selection Review in Spring 2021.

This news is a huge disappointment. In 2008 Canada, led by David Naylor (Lethbridge) and with support from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), became a founding member of the SPICA/SAFARI consortium and played a key role in developing the high-resolution spectrometer for this instrument, a Fourier Transform Spectrometer (FTS) essential for a significant fraction of the far infrared science case. Since 2015, Doug Johnstone (NRC-Herzberg) has been actively involved in science program development and over 30 astronomers across Canada expressed their support for the SPICA mission as part of the recent Long Range Plan 2020 process.

The FTS is widely regarded as a Canadian signature technology, having strengths in both the industrial and academic sectors. Furthermore, results obtained from the prototype cryogenic FTS, developed by ABB, have been well received by the SAFARI consortium, demonstrating Canada’s capability to successfully deliver this critical instrument component.

Despite this significant setback, the future of infrared space astronomy is well understood and will involve either a large aperture, cold telescope or an interferometric concept. The Origins Space Telescope, presented to the US Decadal Report panel as one of five NASA flagship mission possibilities, is an example of the former. Presently, an interferometer concept has been contemplated for the next ESA large mission competition, but this may well change given the loss of the SPICA mission. Either of these mission concepts will require a cryogenic FTS and Canada’s investment on behalf of the SAFARI instrument will assuredly make us the partner of choice to deliver such an instrument to the next far infrared space astronomy mission.

We thank the CSA for their 12 years of support for SPICA, the Canadian community for their continued, and growing, desire for access to the far-infrared universe, and the LRP 2020 panel for prioritizing the importance of Canada as a contributing partner to far-infrared space-based missions.

Over the last 12 years Canada has formed deep bonds with the international far-infrared space astronomy community and leaves the SPICA project as a highly respected partner.

In the two months since this devasting news, there has been a high level of action within the Canadian and International astronomical communities to ensure that the promise of SPICA lives on.

Within Canada, discussions with the Canadian Space Agency and the Joint Committee on Space Astronomy have focused on ensuring that the on-going technology development activities, related to a cryogenic high resolution spectrometer for a far-infrared space telescope, are able to reach their objectives. This commitment recognizes that a successor to SPICA is necessary to fill the infrared gap that exists between JWST and ALMA and by continuing this instrument development work Canada is well positioned to join such efforts.

In addition, we would like to acknowledge the editors of the 2020 Long Range Plan who were able to modify, on a very short timeline, the text of the document, to ensure that the goals of SPICA, rather than the specific mission opportunity, remain strongly endorsed by the Canadian community. Thus, the final version of the LRP document refers to the need for Canadian involvement in a future “Cooled infrared space telescope”.

On the international scene, the larger aperture Origins Space Telescope opportunity submitted to the US Decadal Report, expected to be released in mid-2021, takes on a much larger importance. The instrumentation proposed for Origins would benefit significantly from the Canadian technology developed for the SPICA/Safari instrument. Within the European community discussions on a successor mission are being explored.

The manner in which the SPICA mission was cancelled has raised significant concerns among the astronomy community. In a rare occurrence, Nature agreed to publish a letter expressing the community’s concern about the lack of transparency in the decision making process. The abridged version of the letter can be found here; the full letter here. The letter has now garnered over 500 signatures from leading scientists around the world.

Many of us will be pleased to see 2020 recede into the past. As we look forward to the next decade, those of us championing SPICA within Canada intend to continue to work with our international colleagues to make a cooled infrared space telescope a reality, with Canada playing a leadership role in instrumentation and science direction.

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

By Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director)
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2020)

Composite image of the SKA at night. Credit: SKA Organisation.

There have been exciting developments in the SKA in recent months, and the project proceeds apace despite the challenges imposed by the pandemic across partner countries. LRP2020 has reaffirmed the SKA as a top priority for the Canadian astronomical community for the next decade, recommending participation in SKA1 construction and operations, in its network of regional data centres, and in the project’s governance. Up-to-date information regarding Canada and SKA science, technology, industry and societal impacts are available on the SKA Canada website.

Following the completion of SKA1 System CDR at the end of last year, several external reviews of the project have confirmed its readiness to proceed to the construction phase. In combination with significant post-CDR closeout activities by the project office, these efforts resulted in the endorsement of the SKA1 Construction Proposal and the Observatory Establishment and Delivery (ie. operations) Proposal by the SKA Organisation Board of Directors in September 2020. This endorsement represents the culmination of 10 years of development work and a major milestone for the project. SKA1 is ready for construction, which is slated to begin in July 2021.

With SKA1 construction set to begin on a timescale of months, project governance will soon transition from the design-phase SKA Organisation to the SKA Observatory, the intergovernmental organization (IGO) that will oversee construction and operations. The IGO is on track to come into force in early 2021 and to take over the project a few months later. Canada will be an Observer to the IGO Council, but until a commitment to the construction and operations phase is made there is no mechanism for us to provide input. Moreover, Canada’s provisional allocation of the SKA1-Mid correlator, one of the largest and more desirable construction packages across the project and a significant source of economic return on investment, will be jeopardized unless a commitment is made before construction starts. There is therefore an urgent need for a Canada to commit to the SKA by the middle of 2021, and NRC is preparing the requisite documentation for the government to make its decision in this regard. Raising awareness about the SKA within government and universities is an important part of the process, and work in this regard is well underway within ACURA and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy.

The next SKA Science Meeting, “A Precursor View of the SKA Sky”, is scheduled for 15-19 March 2021. It will be held fully virtually, with a suite of pre-recorded talks that can be viewed any time as well as synchronous activities across a variety of time zones. The virtual format provides an excellent opportunity for Canadians to showcase their research to a global audience, learn about SKA science, get the latest project updates and engage with researchers around the world. Registration details will be circulated to the community through the CASCA exploder as soon as they are available.

As SKA1 construction ramps up, a large number of scientists, engineers, software designers, and support and administrative personnel will be hired, in the UK as well as in the host countries (South Africa and Australia). Those interested should keep an eye on this space, which includes a “job alert” tool to set up personalized emails filtered by field of expertise, location, duration and employment type (permanent, contract, secondment, etc.). Watch this space for opportunities throughout 2021.

For more information and updates on the SKA:

Canadian Gemini Office News

By Stéphanie Côté (CGO, NRC Herzberg / OGC, CNRC Herzberg)
(Cassiopeia – Winter 2020)

DRAGONS Data Reductions Made Easy

DRAGONS, Data Reduction for Astronomy from Gemini Observatory North and South, is the new Python-based official data reduction software for Gemini instruments. The current version is so far available only for imaging modes. Our colleagues at the US NGO have developed data reduction tutorials for DRAGONS as well as the Gemini IRAF packages. The new github repository for DRAGONS contains Jupyter notebooks, written using the DRAGONS Python API, with data reduction examples for imaging modes using Flamingos2, GMOS, GSAOI, and NIRI. There are also extended help files with detailed instructions on how to download the notebooks, install the necessary Python packages, download the raw data from the Gemini Observatory Archive, and run the procedures. The Gemini/IRAF repository contains examples of data reduction scripts of GMOS long-slit spectroscopy with the Hamamatsu and e2v CCDs. New notebooks will become available as new data reduction modes are included in the next DRAGONS software updates. Details can be found here.

MAROON-X Has a New ITC

Maroon-X is a long-term Visiting instrument at Gemini-North. It is a high-resolution (R~80,000) optical (500-920nm), bench-mounted, fiber-fed echelle spectrograph designed to deliver 1 m/s radial velocity precision for M dwarfs down to and beyond V = 16. It now has a new ITC, which can output counts and SNR versus wavelength for selected magnitude, spectral type and observing conditions. In the future, it will also (among other things) give RV precision estimates! The ITC is currently based on the commissioning data from Dec 2019 that has been recalibrated with the more recent data from May and Sep 2020, and will continue to improve. It is available here.

Recent Canadian Gemini Press Releases

A White Dwarf’s Surprise Planetary Companion

On September 14th 2020 an international team of astronomers led by Andrew Vanderburg (University of Wisconsin-Madison) and including Lorne Nelson (Bishop’s University), Bjorn Benneke and Patrick Dufour (University of Montreal), released a Nature paper presenting the first detection of a giant exoplanet orbiting close to a white dwarf star. Normally any close-orbiting planets will be engulfed by its host star during the its red giant phase, but more distant planets can survive this phase and remain in orbit around the resulting white dwarf. Some white dwarfs show evidence for rocky material floating in their atmospheres, in warm debris disks, which has been interpreted as the debris of rocky planets that were scattered inwards and tidally disrupted. For the first time a Jupiter-sized planet, WD1856b, orbiting the white dwarf WD1856+534, was found to have survived intact in or near the white dwarf habitable zone, using GNIRS at Gemini-North. This can give us a small hope that our Solar System might be able to survive our Sun’s demise into a white dwarf in a few billion years from now. The press release can be found here and the Nature paper here.

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

Update from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

By Denis Laurin (Senior Program Scientist, Space Astronomy, Space Exploration Development, Canadian Space Agency)

My last contribution to Cassiopeia was pre-COVID-19. With practically all CSA employees in telework since then we continued, in virtual presence, to achieve our objectives, support the scientific community and industry with on going projects, missions and plan for future opportunities in space sciences. Below is a summary of recent developments relevant to space astronomy.

New Management

In September 2020 the CSA welcomed its new President, Ms Lisa Campbell, following the five year term of the previous president Mr. Laporte. Prior to this position Ms Campbell was Associate Deputy Minister, Veterans Affairs Canada, and prior to this she was Assistant Deputy Minister, Defence and Marine Procurement, leading the organization procuring Canada’s military and marine equipment. A short biography is available on the CSA webpage.

On-Going Missions

JWST

The launch of JWST is now planned for 31 Oct 2021. The CSA continues to make preparations for the operations and will support the scientific community expecting to obtain on average 5% of observation time throughout the mission. The Cycle 1 AO closed recently and results of applications are available (having a good response from Canadians). The CSA will provide grant support to the selected Canadian PIs, as well as the Early Release Science proposals. The MOU with NRC to support science operations, as well as support to Université de Montréal will be extended to launch and commissioning.

ASTROSAT

ISRO and the Astrosat team has recently celebrated 5 years of operations. Many Canadian astronomers have benefited and produced results using this unique multi-wavelength observatory. The NUV detector of UVIT continues to be unavailable, but the FUV and VIS channels are still performing well. Contact Joe Postma, University of Calgary, for details for UVIT data processing and analysis issues or for assistance in preparation of proposals. Canadian researchers that have obtained observing time during earlier cycles have been awarded grant support from the CSA (contact person for ASTROSAT grants program at CSA is Jean Dupuis). We encourage Astrosat grant recipients to inform CSA of their resulting or upcoming publications, as well as any related media releases.

The CSA Astrosat support is undergoing a mission extension review to evaluate merit of continued support of data reduction and science grants for 2 more year. The JCSA has recommended continuation of CSA support. A decision will be made in January.

NEOSSat Guest Observer Program

NEOSSat is Canada’s own space telescope: a 15 cm telescope with a high performance baffle it is able to observe at low sun angles. Launched in 2013 to discover near-Earth asteroids, the telescope has been available to researchers for photometry and asteroid follow ups. The CSA posted AOs for a guest observer program, cycle 1 in Sept 2019 and cycle 2 in July 2020, with Cycle 3 planned for early 2021. We appreciated the services of CanTAC for Cycle 2 proposal reviews. There is no grant funding associated with the AOs and the data is public (on CSA FTP and CADC). An announcement will be sent to CASCA members when the Cycle 3 is open. Information about the previous Cycle is available here including the list of approved guest observers.

XRISM

The JAXA X-ray telescope XRISM, to be launched in 2022, is a follow-up of the Hitomi mission that ended prematurely in 2016. CSA contributed to support the tests of the Resolve instrument. With CSA grant support, Dr Luigi Gallo (SWG) at St-Mary’s University and Dr Brian McNamara (Resolve) at University of Waterloo are members of the teams. Once in operation, and possibly for the PV phase, members of Canada’s astronomy community will be able to compete for guest observer time.

BRITE

The CSA has been supporting the operations of the Canadian nanosat (“BRITE-Toronto”) at the University of Toronto Space Flight Laboratory since launch in 2013. At the time of this writing, BRITE is undergoing a CSA mission extension review. The JCSA has recommended continuation of the CSA support. A decision will be made in January.

Investing in the Future

The Long Range Plan

The CSA is pleased to see the release of the completed LRP2020 document by CASCA. It represents a comprehensive set of priorities of the community following extensive cross-country consultations and reviews. We’d like to congratulate the LRP co-Chairs and the Panel for this tremendous effort. As in the past, the LRP is primary reference for the CSA in guiding investments in space astronomy.

Space Technology Development Program (STDP)

In the last Cassiopeia update, I provided a short description of the studies completed (2017-2019) that targeted future opportunities: CASTOR, LiteBIRD, Colibri and two exoplanet micro-mission concepts PEOP and EPPE. The studies identified technology roadmaps to advance the feasibility of these concepts. To that end the STDP selected priority technologies related to the payload of CASTOR and the two exoplanet concepts as part to the RFP currently open on the PSPC government tendering website.

Prior STDP contracts targeted payload elements for the SPICA and LiteBIRD missions. These contracts are on going until this summer. Note however that because ESA cancelled the SPICA opportunity under the Cosmic Vision Program (M5), the SPICA targeted technology will nevertheless continue as more generic technology advancements for cryogenic FTS instrumentation; this will allow maintaining industrial competitiveness for future opportunities.

CASTOR

Identified as the top priority in the LRP 2020 for a very large space astronomy mission, CASTOR investments continues in the short term with an important technology development planned over two years. This follows a comprehensive science study completed in 2019 that refined the science objectives and derived the requirements of the instruments. As part of the currently posted RFP up to $2.25M are available to CASTOR payload elements technology advancements.

A Phase 0 study should follow that will provide detailed baseline design of the mission including full cost estimation and a development plan. Such a large mission will require a special budget request from the government as it is outside the operational budget of the CSA. Continued and broadly expressed community support will be essential to realize these objectives.

The CSA is exploring the interests of potential partners, and in close collaboration with NRC HAA to define a plan forward. (See also John Hutchings’ contribution in this issue.)

LiteBIRD

JAXA selected LiteBIRD as their next Large-class mission and early developments are on-going with international partners. Canada was welcomed as potential contributor several years ago to provide the warm readout electronics for the large array of cryogenic bolometers needed for this CMB Pol mission. CSA has invested technology developments over several years, including a current STDP work with McGill University until Nov 2021 to advance this unique technology. These investments are aligned with the LRP priorities that marked LiteBIRD contribution the top priority for a large scale contribution in this decade. CSA is discussing progress with JAXA and other partners of the mission. A concern remains to be resolved following the withdrawal of the US contribution that would have provided the detectors.

Co-Investigator (Co-I) Grants – Supporting Canadian Researchers on International Missions

The Co-I program was described in the Sept 2019 Cassiopeia issue. CSA plans to make this a regular annual AO with the next issue to appear early 2021. The Jan 2019 Co-I AO is still viewable on the CSA website for background information.

FAST Grants AO

The FAST 2019 AO awarded a total of 36 grants. The CSA is planning to issue the next FAST opportunity in the summer of 2021. Note that the total budget and grant categories can vary from year to year.

The complete list of awards of the FAST 2019 grants is available here.

The following are the 2019 awards related to space astronomy:

In the $300K category:

  • Université Laval, Quebec City, Quebec, “HiCIBaS II – High-Constrast Imaging Balloon System – Adaptive Optics at High Altitude” (Dr. Simon Thibault)
  • University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, “Flights for Precision Calibration for Dark Energy, Microwave Astronomy, and Atmospheric Physics” (Dr. Justin Albert)
  • University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, “A superpressure balloon flight of the SuperBIT telescope” (Dr. Barth Netterfield)

In the $100K category:

  • University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba “High-throughput, high-resolution X-ray spectroscopy” (Dr. Samar Safi-Harb)
  • Western University, London, Ontario, “Selecting the extrasolar Earth analogues most amenable to atmospheric characterization” (Dr. Stanimir Metchev)

Consultations

The JCSA Consultation Committee

The current membership comprises:

  • Locke Spencer, U. of Lethbridge (co-Chair)
  • Denis Laurin, CSA (co-Chair)
  • Jason Rowe, Bishop U.
  • Renée Hlozek, U. of Toronto
  • Chris Willott, NRC Herzberg
  • Daryl Haggard, McGill U.
  • Jeremy Heyl, UBC

The last “summer” meeting was virtual on 4 and 5 June 2020 normally held at the CASCA Meeting venue. The “winter” meeting was just concluded 10 and 11 Dec 2020. The CSA Committees are shown on the CSA webpage and will be updated soon with additional information as the Terms of Reference are currently being updated. Two members will be rotating off as they end their terms; researchers with space astronomy experience interested in the membership may express their interest to the JCSA members or the co-Chairs.

—————
Wishing everyone a good winter and a much better spring!
Denis Laurin

Call for nominations for Honorary IAU Members

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has initiated a relatively  new category of membership called “IAU Honorary Members”.  Details  about this category can be found at https://www.iau.org/news/announcements/detail/ann20035/ and https://www.iau.org/administration/statutes_rules/working_rules/

In brief, Honorary Members would be individuals who are not  professional astronomers and do not qualify as ordinary IAU members,  but they have substantially contributed to the development of  astronomical research in their country.  According to the IAU General  Secretary, these individuals would have “significantly contributed to  the progress of astronomy. This includes training, education,  communication, etc.”

Only **ONE PERSON per year** can be nominated by the Canadian National  Committee (CNC) of the IAU.  The CNC is the CASCA Board of Directors.

This announcement is a call for nominations (or self-nominations) for  Honorary IAU members.

**BY FEBRUARY 1, 2021**, please send (or arrange to have sent):

1. The CV of the nominee.
2. Two letters of recommendation outlining why the nominee should  become the Canadian Honorary Member nominee.

Send this information to:
secretary@casca.ca
with the subject line:
IAU Honorary Membership Application (followed by the name of the candidate)

LRP2020 Final Report

Dear Colleagues:

On behalf of Matt Dobbs, Jeremy Heyl, Natasha Ivanova, David  Lafrenière, Brenda Matthews and Alice Shapley, we are pleased to  present the final report of the CASCA 2020 Long Range Plan for  Canadian Astronomy (LRP2020).  The unformatted version of the report  is now available on the CASCA website at  https://casca.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/LRP2020_December2020-1.pdf. A  professionally-designed version and a French translation are in  progress and are expected to be available early in 2021.

We thank everyone who contributed to the LRP process by writing a  white paper, attending a town hall, participating in consultations, or  answering our many requests for information. We would especially like  to recognize the very hard work of the LRP2020 panel members over the  past twenty months.

The LRP2020 section on the CASCA website (https://casca.ca/lrp2020)  contains links to all of the submitted white papers and reports as  well as a summary of the process. The designed and translated versions  of the report will be available there once complete.

Pauline Barmby & Bryan Gaensler
LRP2020 Co-Chairs
chairs@lrp2020.groups.io