BRITE-Constellation Mission Update

By / par Catherine Lovekin (on behalf of the Canadian BRITE team)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

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 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, 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 was:

  • BRITE Toronto (Canada): This satellite observes with a red filter. It is currently observing the Orion-Taurus 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 Orion-Taurus field.
  • BRITE Austria (Austria): BRITE Austria observes with a red filter. It is currently observing in Orion, revisiting the field for the seventh time.
  • UniBRITE (Austria): Currently out of order.

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

Recent Science Results

Figure 1. Photometry of β Aur from BRITE. Panel a) Full data set. Panel b) Periodograms. Panel c) Phased light curve with the orbital period. From Strassmeier et. al. (2020).

“BRITE photometry and STELLA spectroscopy of bright stars in Auriga: Rotation, pulsation, orbits, and eclipses”, Strassmeier et. al., 2020, A&A, 644, A104

The authors use continuous BRITE photometry and STELLA optical spectroscopy to study 12 targets in the constellation Auriga. The Capella red light curve was found to be constant over 176 days with a root mean square of 1 mmag, but the blue light curve showed a period of 10.1 ± 0.6 d, which the authors interpret to be the rotation period of the G0 component. From STELLA we obtained an improved orbital solution based on 9600 spectra from the previous 12.9 yr. We derive masses precise to ≈0.3% but 1% smaller than previously published. The BRITE light curve of the F0 supergiant ɛ Aur suggests 152 d as its main pulsation period, while the STELLA radial velocities reveal a clear 68 d period. An ingress of an eclipse of the ζ Aur binary system was covered with BRITE and a precise timing for its eclipse onset derived. A possible 70 d period fits the proposed tidal-induced, nonradial pulsations of this ellipsoidal K4 supergiant. η Aur is identified as a slowly pulsating B (SPB) star with a main period of 1.29 d and is among the brightest SPB stars discovered so far. The rotation period of the magnetic Ap star θ Aur is detected from photometry and spectroscopy with a period of 3.6189 d and 3.6177 d, respectively, likely the same within the errors. The radial velocities of this star show a striking non-sinusoidal shape with a large amplitude of 7 km s-1. Photometric rotation periods are also confirmed for the magnetic Ap star IQ Aur of 2.463 d and for the solar-type star κ1 Cet of 9.065 d, and also for the B7 HgMn giant β Tau of 2.74 d. Revised orbital solutions are derived for the eclipsing SB2 binary β Aur, which replaces the initial orbit dating from 1948 for the 27-year eclipsing SB1 ɛ Aur, and for the RS CVn binary V711 Tau, for which a spot-corrected orbital solution was achieved. The two stars ν Aur and ι Aur are found to be long-term, low-amplitude RV and brightness variables, but provisional orbital elements based on a period of 20 yr and an eccentricity of 0.7 could only be extracted for ν Aur. The variations of ι Aur are due to oscillations with a period of ≈4 yr.

Conferences, Resources, and Social Media


The BRITE team does not plan to host any conferences this year.


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

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.

President’s Message

By / par Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

Happy 50th Birthday CASCA! Yes, 2021 is a special year for CASCA, as we mark our half century as a Society. For those interested in a potted history of the Society, a short summary of the background leading up to CASCA’s founding, and its early years, can be found here.

The AGM offers the ideal (virtual) venue to celebrate our 50th anniversary, and several CASCA groups/committees are organizing commemorative activities. Gordon Walker (one of CASCA’s original charter members), will give a talk at the AGM banquet reflecting on 50 years of CASCA and Canadian astronomy. The AGM organizers are also inviting all charter members (many of whom are still current members – see here for a full list) to submit video recollections, sharing their memories and perspectives from those early years. For the charter members who are unfortunately no longer with us, the Heritage Committee (Chaired by Elizabeth Griffin) will be compiling short biographies in memory of our founding colleagues. In addition to this reflection upon the past, we also want to look forwards to the next half century. The Graduate Student Committee (Chaired by Carter Rhea) will be reaching out to current graduate students and postdocs to invite them to make “futurecast” videos, speculating what Canadian astronomy will look like at our 100th anniversary in 2071. Highlights from these futurecasts will also be shared at the AGM banquet. Finally, as you will have seen via the CASCA email exploder, a competition is currently open to submit an anniversary themed Zoom background that can be used during our virtual meeting in May. Submissions are due by April 20, and may be uploaded here.

Anniversary celebrations are just one facet of our AGM, which is coming up in less than 50 days (May 10-14). Dennis Crabtree and his team have been working feverishly on preparations for a stimulating and diverse meeting, that blends science, socializing and societal priorities and promises to be a conference unlike any you have attended in the past! The roster of invited speakers is nearing completion and will likely be posted on the CASCA2021 website by the time you read this. Speaker highlights include a public lecture by Nobel Laureate Andrea Ghez and an indigenous cultural awareness session given by Bob Joseph (author of “21 Things You Didn’t Know About the Indian Act”, a copy of which will be given free to all participants). The deadline for abstract submission has now passed and 147 abstracts were received for oral contributions across the scientific, EPO, and EDI/Sustainability categories. The deadline for applications for dependent care support has been extended to April 15. Although the deadline for general registration extends until May 3, the Organizing Committee encourages people to register early for the conference as some information will be sent to only registered attendees via the Whova platform.

On the lobbying and engagement front, the Coalition for Canadian astronomy has been very active this last quarter. A commitment for membership and funding in the SKA is urgently needed (see the article by Kristine Spekkens on behalf of the AACS in this newsletter edition for further updates on the SKA). Since the SKA Observatory, an inter-governmental treaty-based organization, came into force in February, Canada’s lack of formal commitment (via membership and funding) means that our status within the project has effectively been reduced to “observer”, with no means to provide scientific, technical or governance input. Moreover, if we have not joined SKAO by July 2021 we will likely lose the highly desirable, and valuable, correlator contract provisionally allocated to Canada. Given this, our political and bureaucratic outreach has been focused on SKA membership and funding through much of Q4 2020 and Q1 of 2021, with a particular focus on the Ministers and Departments of Finance and Innovation, Science and Industry.

A commitment to the SKA might be made in the Federal budget itself. At present, there is no date for the 2021 budget, and the Prime Minister recently announced that the budget will not be in March or early April. If so, and based on the House of Commons calendar, the next earliest opportunity is the week of April 12, though it could be even later as on March 12 the Prime Minister said the budget date will be announced “in the coming weeks.” Regardless, assuming that it is within the 4-6 weeks that begin on April 12, the budget could set the stage for a late-May or June election. While all parties are suggesting they do not want an election, all are also getting ready, with candidate nominations picking up steam, campaign personnel starting to get appointed, and platform development underway. Regardless of the timing of the budget and a possible 2021 election, the messaging to decision-makers has focused on the fact all SKA partners except Canada have now formally or informally committed to the project and that a failure by Canada to do so by July will strongly compromise our return on investment.

The availability of our Long Range Plan 2020-2030 has been very timely in our engagement efforts, and is providing a valuable tool to signal our coordinated strategy for the next decade. As you know, the basic text of LRP2020 has been available on CASCA’s website since December 2020. The completion of the fully typeset+graphics version should be available in electronic version within a few weeks and a message will be posted to the CASCA exploder to alert our membership to its availability. Printed copies are expected about a month beyond the electronic version, at which point the Coalition will organize a mass mailing to targeted Ministers, MPs, Senators, and Departmental stakeholders, along with a cover letter from the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy, highlighting the major project opportunities in the LRP, such as SKA and CASTOR.

In addition to the pressing need for SKA funding, the CASTOR mission is also very much in need of our commitment. The next 9-12 months are critical, as the project intends to seek government approval in early 2022 and secure Canadian leadership in the mission. The Space Technology Development Program (STDP) study will start this month or next, and the call for a Phase 0 study is expected in the summer. More detail is available in the CASTOR update in the current newsletter, and there will be a dedicated Town Hall Session as part of the AGM (May 13). Students and postdocs are particularly encouraged to get involved in these efforts, as CASTOR promises to a flagship for Canadian space astronomy in the coming decade, with opportunities across the fields of astronomy, aeronautics, software development hardware design and manufacture.

Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Update

By/par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

Artist’s impression of SKA1-Mid in South Africa, combining MeerKAT dishes and SKA dishes. Image 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.

The publication of the SKA1 Construction Proposal – describing the scientific goals, the baseline SKA1 design, and the broader societal impacts of the project – and the SKA1 Observatory Establishment and Delivery Plan – describing the first 10 years of Observatory operations, business support, global staffing and technology development – are the culmination of the decade-long SKA design phase. The SKA Observatory, the intergovernmental organisation (IGO) that will build and operate SKA1, was launched in February 2021 following the ratification of the Treaty Convention by Australia, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, South Africa and the United Kingdom. Canada and other design-phase participants that have not yet joined the IGO as well as potential future partners have been designated Observers of the IGO Council. In this role we are witness to Council proceedings but unable to provide direct input into the project.

Canada’s future participation in the SKA requires committing to SKA1 construction and operations. Canada’s provisional allocation of the SKA1-Mid correlator construction package, one of the largest and more desirable across the project, may be jeopardized if a commitment is not made before construction starts. The IGO is expected to secure sufficient funding from other partner countries to initiate the SKA1 construction phase at its July 2021 Council meeting. There is therefore an urgent need for Canada to commit to the IGO by July 2021 to guarantee return on investment, and NRC has prepared the requisite documentation for the government to consider a participation in the project. Raising awareness about the SKA within government and universities is an important part of the process, and work in this regard is well underway (see President’s Message in this issue) by the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy. CASCA members interested in engaging in this process or who have questions about the project are encouraged to get in touch (

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 website, 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 Canada and the SKA:

Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy Data Analysis (CIRADA)

From / de Bryan Gaensler (CIRADA director)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

The Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy Data Analysis (CIRADA) is producing science-ready public data products for large surveys being conducted with three telescopes: the Very Large Array (VLA), the Australian Square Kilometer Array Pathfinder (ASKAP), and the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME). These products (e.g., images, cubes, time series spectra, catalogues, databases, alerts, pipeline algorithms, and software tools) utilize Canadian Advanced Network for Astronomical Research (CANFAR) services and will be searchable and usable by professional astronomers and the general public, through the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC). CIRADA also serves as a pilot project for Canada’s planned Square Kilometre Array Regional Centre (SKA).

Currently our services include:

  1. A “Quicklook Catalogue” of 1.7 million radio sources from the first epoch of the VLA Sky Survey (VLASS)
  2. An Image Cutout Provider that allows astronomers to quickly visualize data from multiple surveys (VLASS Quicklook, GLEAM, FIRST, NVSS, WISE, PanSTARRS, SDSS I-II) at a given position in the sky and to download the data for further analysis
  3. The RM-Tools software package for radio polarimetry analysis, including 1D and 3D RM synthesis, RM-clean and QU fitting on polarized radio spectra

By the end of 2021 we will be making many more software and data products available through the CIRADA portal, including PINK, a self-organizing map (SOM) that can be used (i) to produce catalogues of double and multiple radio sources, (ii) to classify radio sources as either complex or simple sources, (iii) to find source orientations, and (iv) as an annotation tool. We will be using PINK to extend the existing VLASS Quicklook component catalogue, to produce a new VLASS single epoch catalogue, and to contribute toward source catalogues for the EMU continuum survey on ASKAP. In addition to the SOM, we will be releasing “Hydra”, a comparison and analysis tool that can be used to compare multiple source-finding algorithms on radio continuum data, and the initial catalogue produced by the VLASS Quicklook Transient Marshal. Users of our science-ready data products will be able to leverage the Cube Analysis and Rendering Tool for Astronomy (CARTA) for viewing images data and tabular catalogues directly through our portal.

ALMA Matters


From / de Gerald Schieven
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

Cycle 8 2021 Call for Proposals

Proposals are now solicited for Cycle 8 2021, and are due on 21 April 2021. Check out the ALMA Science Portal for information on the full capabilities offered in this cycle.

Cycle 8 2021 will take advantage of 2 new changes to the proposal review process:

  • Distributed Peer Review – To more fully engage the community in the review process, the ALMA Main Call for Proposals will be evaluated through a distributed peer review process. Detailed instructions, motivation and a list of Frequently Asked Questions can be found on the ALMA Science Portal.
    • Your immediate action is needed – login to ALMA Science Portal and update your profile, demographic and areas of expertise TODAY! To ensure you are assigned proposals in your proper area of expertise, you will need to update that part of the demographics page before the Cycle 8 2021 Proposal deadline. (NOTE: you can no longer just click on a TAB – you need to move through the TABs by clicking the “Next” button. Any questions, or problems, please contact the ALMA Helpdesk.)
  • Dual Anonymous Review – In a continuing effort to reduce the bias in the proposal review process, scientific justifications must be prepared as to not to reveal the PIs, Co-(P)Is or any member of the proposal team. The Main Call for Proposals will contain recommendations and suggestions on how to properly anonymize your proposal.

ALMA Training Sessions 22 March – 2 April

If you are new to ALMA or just wish to brush up on how ALMA can advance your science, the North American ALMA Science Center (NAASC) and ALMA Ambassadors have organized a series of online ALMA proposal preparation webinars and hands-on sessions from 22 March – 02 April 2021. The goal of these events is to provide users with the knowledge they need to carry out cutting-edge scientific research using the ALMA facilities. We are particularly interested in reaching new users, so no experience with radio astronomy is required to participate!

These ALMA talks are hosted by experienced postdocs as part of the ALMA Ambassadors program. Registration for these events is free and each talk will be given multiple times in order to accommodate the diverse schedule constraints of the community. The schedule of events and registration links for the talks are online.

Novice users should also be aware of the ALMA Primer, an introduction to observing with ALMA. This 40 page document is available for download here.

The ALMA Ambassadors Program is open to post-doctoral research fellows working in the US and Canada who are interested in expanding their ALMA/interferometry expertise and sharing that knowledge with their home institutions through the organization of ALMA proposal preparation workshops and by serving as a local ALMA expert. The program provides training and a research grant. Applications for the Ambassador program are generally solicited in early summer. See here for more information.

Return to Operations Status

Just over a year after the shut down due to the pandemic, ALMA is expected to return to limited science operations this month (March). In the beginning, science operations will be limited. At least forty of the sixty-six antennas will be available. Like regular operations, projects in the Cycle 7 observing queue will be executed if suitable for observation with the available number of antennas. The execution time will be increased to account for the lower sensitivity of the reduced number of antennas to achieve the sensitivity requested by the Primary Investigator. Also, test observations on capabilities for future cycles will be performed.

In parallel to science operations, ALMA continues to recover antennas to enable regular operations. All activities at the observatory are being conducted following an extensive set of safety protocols for managing the risk posed by the virus. As always, the health and safety of all ALMA staff is our top priority. For the most up-to-date information, please consult the ALMA Science Portal.

The ARCADE Science Platform Development Study

We are pleased to announce the completion of the ALMA Cycle 7 Development Study, ARCADE: ALMA Reduction in the CANFAR Data Environment. Combined with an in-kind contribution from the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), the study funded an interdisciplinary team of astronomers and developers from NRC and McMaster University to build a science platform prototype that enables ALMA data reduction, thoroughly test usability and reliability of the system, and determine the steps required to offer such a platform to the wider community.

The ARCADE science platform provides a stable and interactive computing environment in which users are able to process and analyse ALMA data. ARCADE is built entirely on open-source software and designed so that it can be scaled up to meet the storage and processing demands of the user. The software is robust, easy to maintain, and portable across a range of cloud computing infrastructure and storage systems. ARCADE is also fully integrated with existing ALMA value-added software packages, CARTA and ADMIT.

While not yet production-ready, ARCADE has already provided valuable lessons on the technical, scientific, and logistical solutions required for such a platform. The final study report is publicly available on the NRAO’s website.

Canadian Astronomy, Racism, and the Environment – Part 2

By / par Martine and Pamela Freeman, with input from the CASCA Sustainability Committee (The CASCA Sustainability Committee, The CASCA Equity & Inclusivity Committee)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

The CASCA Sustainability Committee is a group of astronomers concerned about our field’s contributions to environmental damage. This article is the second of a 2-part series in Cassiopeia which aims to bring more awareness within the astronomical community to the connections between race and the environment. It is also part of our committee’s effort to center perspectives often neglected in predominantly-white environmental groups.

Part 2: Astronomy Activities at Home and Abroad

In our previous article (1), we summarized the growing body of evidence demonstrating that the fallout from climate change will disproportionately impact people of color and Indigenous populations both globally and within Canada. Astronomers have been coming to grips with the excessive carbon emissions associated with professional astronomy (2,3), as well as with the manifestations of systemic racism in our field (4,5). These inequities must be recognized and sustainable practices must be proposed in ways that center racial (and other forms of) equity. In this article, we briefly review how the history of Western astronomy led to systemic racism and Eurocentrist practices within the field today. We next discuss how our field’s environmental impacts play into broader global patterns, and follow with a discussion of the combined environmental and cultural impact at observatories located on Indigenous territory. We propose rough guidelines to move us toward a more equitable and sustainable future.

Much of modern astronomy in Canada was made possible by settler colonialism (the formation of a governance system through the invasion of outsiders with the aim of assimilating or erasing Indigenous peoples, 6). Some of the oldest examples include renowned observations during European expeditions to the Caribbean (7) as well as the important role astronomy played in building Canada through government-sponsored mandates for timekeeping and mapmaking (8,9). As with most institutions in Canada today, a great deal of our astronomy resources — such as observatories (10,11), university buildings (12,13), and funds (14,15) — were facilitated by colonization. The benefits from these resources have gone primarily to Europeans and Euro-descendants. In the university setting today, astronomers’ participation in the settler colonialist framework is reflected by the severe underrepresentation of Black and Indigenous faculty as well as the exclusion and devaluation of Indigenous and non-Western knowledge within academic circles (16). Systemic racism in professional astronomy is, in part, a legacy of our profession’s historic and ongoing ties with colonialism.

As in the past, astronomy today benefits from environmental damage which is particularly damaging to Indigenous, Black, and other people of color. Although our field is not on the same level as the most egregious perpetrators of environmental racism (e.g. the oil industry and chemical plants), our impacts are non-negligible and we have a responsibility to do better. Our per-capita emissions from work alone, mostly from air travel, are typically well-beyond the average working person’s total emissions (2,3). As a predominantly white institution, therefore, Canadian astronomy is part of a North American pattern in which white people produce a much higher percentage of pollution than people of color, while a higher percentage of non-white people suffer the related health effects (17). Our emissions also contribute to a global pattern where the Global South bears the brunt of a climate crisis mostly perpetrated by the Global North (see part 1 and links therein). In addition, many of our observatories are situated on unceded or contested Indigenous lands both within Canada and internationally, where they impact the local environment and contribute to the global climate crisis. In Canada, the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO), including the Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME), is situated on the unceded lands of the Syilx/Okanagan (18) as well as the Nlaka’pamux people (19). In addition, the Algonquin Radio Observatory (ARO) is on the unceded land of the Omàwinini (Algonquin) people, which is part of the largest land claim being negotiated in Ontario today (20,21).

Of all the Canada-affiliated observatories, those on Maunakea on Hawai’i Island are the most well-publicized example where environmental and cultural concerns intersect. Kānaka Maoli (Native Hawaiian) views on the present and future of Maunakea Observatories (e.g. TMT) are diverse, ranging from strong support to strong opposition (22) with a variety of reasoning (see 23 for a Native Hawaiian-led overview of the issues). However, an oft-cited concern among the kia’i (protectors) is the environmental degradation of the mountain, considered sacred to many people (23, 24, 25). Many Hawaiians cite the concept of aloha ‘āina when discussing Maunakea, which translates to ‘love of the land’ and describes a deep relationship to nature (26, 27). Some TMT opponents are concerned about impacts to the water, destruction of rare species on the mountain, and hazardous spills (26, 28). Although mountain management plans are attempting to mitigate such impacts (29), these concerns stem from the previous damage that astronomy’s presence has had on the mountain (23,28). Canadian astronomy also benefits from other observatories on Indigenous territory both at home and abroad. Generally, increased activity in these lands (observers’ flights, frequent truck transport, occasional waste spills, etc.) and telescopes’ electricity usage add up to a high environmental footprint (30,31,32). Environmental impacts are coupled with impacts on culture, health, and well-being for Indigenous communities (32, 33, 34).

We encourage readers to think about steps that will move our field towards an equitable and sustainable future. The Sustainability Committee is working in partnership with the Equity and Inclusivity Committee to address some of the concerns put forth in this article. While we (the authors) lack the expertise to make direct recommendations for telescopes, we suggest that existing observatories regularly assess their environmental impacts in partnership with local Indigenous representatives and in doing so, center Indigenous methods. Indigenous-led recommendations for telescope consultation (e.g. 23, 35) should be followed in the consideration of new facilities and the re-consideration of existing facilities; environmental improvements cannot be a band-aid for unethically established observatories. Progress is possible: ALMA, for example, has programs for scientists to learn from, teach, and help preserve the culture of the local Likan Antai community (10). Meanwhile, recent developments at various ESO observatories (30, 36) and Gemini (37) have reduced environmental impacts.

Beyond telescopes, we encourage readers to consider the intersection of sustainability and equity in topics such as conferences, observing, computing resources, university spaces, and the perceived correlation of success with travel (see 38 for further discussion). As a field, steps that we make to reduce our carbon footprint should also prioritize racial (and other forms of) equity. Sustainability and equity must go hand-in-hand: sustainability can help address the increasing power and wealth gaps in the world, while equitable approaches are necessary for successful sustainability efforts.



About the authors: Martine and Pamela are both white settlers on Turtle Island (North America). Martine is a graduate student at the University of Toronto, on the traditional lands of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River. Pamela is a graduate student at the University of Calgary located on the traditional lands of the Blackfoot Confederacy, the Stoney Nakoda, and the Tsuut’ina First Nation, and the homeland of the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. We acknowledge our settler and white privileges and will continue learning and working towards greater equity in astronomy.

Update on CASTOR

By / par Patrick Côté, John Hutchings (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

CASTOR continues to move forward to fulfil its ranking as the top LRP2020 priority for space astronomy. The following steps have been taken in the past quarter.

  1. The substantial technical (STDP) contract is in final stages of being signed, and is expected to kick off officially by early April. The work will advance vital mission technology and retire risks in a) advancing the opto-mechanical design for the 1m off-axis wide-field telescope; b) designing and testing the large focal plane array concept with flight-like detectors; c) lab-testing the proposed fast-steering mirror for fine guiding; d) incorporating and adding detectors to the multi-slit spectrograph in design in India; and e) developing the concept for bright-star precision photometry of exoplanet transits. The work will be in close partnership with the Indian and JPL teams.
  2. Formal discussions are now under way between CSA and ISRO on a joint mission. The agreed concept is that of CASTOR, and an initial proposed split of the hardware and operation responsibilities has been agreed, subject to more detailed discussions. Along with the anticipated detector involvement by JPL, this will form the basis of a Canada-led proposal for funding from the government. ISRO will work in close step in a proposed schedule that will see CASTOR launched in late 2027.
  3. Plans are evolving for involving the Universities via ACURA, consultation with the government via the Coalition, and outreach activities within the CASTOR science team. CASTOR will have a town-hall event (on Thursday May 13) at the upcoming virtual CASCA Annual Meeting. Talks have been given by CASTOR team members at meetings in UK and India.
  4. CSA is on track to approve and begin a phase 0 study in parallel with the technical contract work, to refine costs and detail moving into a funded phase A-E sequence to take CASTOR to launch and operation.

This year will be an important one in defining the partnership and pitching the mission to government. With its wide range of science capability, it will be a major facility for the astronomy community, and those interested in joining in are encouraged. In particular, there exist numerous opportunities for student participation; for more information, students are encouraged to attend the CASCA town hall session and/or the CaTS (Canadian Telescope Seminar) talk in June, which will be dedicated to CASTOR.

More information on the mission may be found here.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

In our last article we provided some detail and references on the state of the TMT project, the informal NSF outreach process, US ELTP activity, and other relevant processes and discussions happening on Hawaii around land use and the issue of consent. These activities continue. As detailed in that report, the next major milestone will be the release of the US Astro2020 recommendations, in mid-2021. A top ranking in this report is essential for NSF engagement (expected to be at the level of at least 25%) and the viability of the project. Should the NSF accept the ELTP proposal, NSF will conduct an in-depth Preliminary Design Review, likely in late 2021. Acceptance will also trigger a federal Environmental Impact Statement that will take about three years to complete. In the meantime we have only a few updates:

  • Following the retirement of Gary Sanders, Fengchuan Liu has been appointed Acting Project Manager. Fengchuan has been the Deputy Project Manager at TMT since 2015; prior to that he was a Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL). He brings a lot of experience and talent to this role and is already having a positive impact.
  • At the end of 2020, the independent evaluation of the Maunakea Comprehensive Management Plan (CMP) was released. You can access the full report here. The report was prepared for the Department of Land and Natural Resources by Ku`iwalu and includes both a self-assessment by the Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM) and a public assessment based on input to the review process. This evaluation found that the OMKM has made significant progress in several areas, and in particular is, in many regards, “effectively managing the activities and uses on Mauna Kea to better protect the natural and cultural resources''. However, they also found that OMKM has not effectively implemented the CMP in three major areas: timely adoption of administrative rules; consultation with members of the Native Hawaiian community on matters related to cultural and resources issues; and engagement with the community on education and outreach efforts. On February 4, House Speaker Scott Saiki announced that he would like to see a new management structure of Mauna Kea to replace UH. UH issued a strong response, defending their commitment to improving stewardship of Maunakea. On March 4, the Hawaii State House of Representatives passed two resolutions to form a working group which will develop recommendations for the future governance of Maunakea. We expect more key developments regarding management of these lands as the year progresses.
  • The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory recently became the first telescope on Mauna Kea to submit its site decommissioning plan for approval. The draft was approved by OMKM, and the aim is for deconstruction and site restoration work to begin in summer 2022.

Finally, we remind you that the next TMT Science forum will take place June 26-29, 2022 at UBC in Vancouver.

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)

ngVLA Update

By / par Erik Rosolowsky (U Alberta), Joan Wrobel (NRAO)
(Cassiopeia – Spring / printemps 2021)

Did you miss the live ngVLA Town Hall in December? If so, we invite you to access the online recording of the presentations and the question-and-answer session here). The event drew 154 participants from 17 countries. The ngVLA Project recognizes and appreciates the community’s continued interest.

The ngVLA Project thanks the presenters and attendees who made January’s AAS Special Session on “New Views of Galaxy Formation and Evolution” such a success. The six oral presentations were viewed by 160+ attendees and the 20 iPoster presentations motivated healthy Slack-channel dialogs. These presentations are available online.

The 4th proposal call for the ngVLA Community Studies Program closed in January. After external and internal review, seven scientific or technical studies were approved on topics spanning imaging transiting exoplanets to SETI to microarcsecond astrometry. The Program is a funding opportunity for the community to further develop the ngVLA’s most compelling science and technical questions.

Proposals for the final design and prototype of the ngVLA 18m antenna were submitted by vendors in December. The ngVLA Project has selected the winning proposal. A formal announcement is imminent.

The ngVLA Project and NRAO will sponsor May’s virtual CASCA2021, and look forward to this opportunity to interact with the Canadian community.

Recent hires by the ngVLA Project include Dr. Eric Jimenez-Andrade, who will start in August as a Research Associate; Mr. Joseph Carilli, who started in January as a Geographic Information Systems Technician; and Mr. Thomas Kusel, who started in October as a System Engineer.

All online content referenced above and more is available here.