President’s Message

By Sara Ellison (CASCA President)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)

On June 10, the CASCA Board published a statement regarding the recent confirmation of the unmarked burial sites of 215 children at the former Kamloops Indian Reservation School. This news has been the latest heart-breaking reminder of Canada’s long history of colonial atrocities. To the full CASCA Board statement (English; and French), I add my personal thoughts and prayers to those in grief and pain, to the communities and families who have lost loved ones, and to the Indigenous members in our Society. I encourage our Society members to reach out to your Indigenous colleagues and friends in their time of sorrow.

Addressing inequity, bias and racism is a recurrent theme in CASCA’s Long Range Plan 2020. Despite its infancy, the first steps in this broad-reaching decadal initiative have now begun. As I described at the recent AGM, we have a new implementation and oversight structure that convenes the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC; welcome to Will Percival as the new Chair), the Joint Committee on Space Astronomy (JCSA), the LRP Community Recommendations Committee (LCRIC) and the CASCA Board. The Chairs of these committees have already begun regular communication over the coordination and tracking of LRP progress. Discussions with other CASCA committees will also ramp up over the coming months as we mobilize towards working on the recommendations in our charge. I refer you to the LCRIC update in this newsletter for more information on community updates. On the dissemination front, I can report that the hard copies of the LRP have been received by both the ACURA office and at Temple Scott Associates for distribution amongst our university and external contacts. However, with tele-working still in place for the vast majority of workers in Ottawa, as well as many universities, it is anticipated that the final delivery will be made in the Fall once people return to their offices and are receiving mail (major stakeholders have been previously sent electronic versions).

CASCA 2021 attracted a record number of attendees – some 500 strong from across the astronomical community. This year’s AGM additionally broke new ground for the Society with an unprecedentedly broad scope in its sessions, including an Indigenous cultural awareness session by Bob Joseph, and keynote presentations by Ninan Abraham and Astrid Eichorn on academic racism and the carbon footprint of research in the EDI and Sustainability sessions. The feedback we have received on these sessions has been overwhelmingly positive, and sends a clear message that our annual gathering should be a place where we meet to not only discuss science, but also where we consider our place in an equitable and responsible society. CASCA 2022 (“Canadian Astronomy in the Roaring 2020s”) will again break new ground, as the Society’s first hybrid meeting, with the in-person component taking place at the University of Waterloo (LOC Chair: Will Percival). In case you missed it, the video invitation to CASCA 2022 (May 10-16) presented at the end of this year’s AGM can be found here. Those who attend CASCA 2022 in-person will be able to pick up a hard copy of the LRP!

The #1 ranked space facility in the LRP is the Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and ultraviolet Research (CASTOR). As reported at the AGM, and in the dedicated article in this issue, CASTOR continues to make steady progress and gather momentum under the Canadian scientific leadership of Pat Côté and John Hutchings. A significant ramp-up in activity (both development work and promotional efforts) is expected in the latter half of 2021.

CSA is funding an extensive technical contract for CASTOR that will run until May 2023 and have also have approved a Phase 0 study to begin later this year that will run concurrently. Taken together, these studies will allow CASTOR to move to flight development, once the mission is approved and funded by the government. International partners continue to work closely with the CASTOR team: JPL have demonstrated their support by approving technical work using internal funds, the UK group have offered detector testing as part of the STDP work and the partnership with India through ISRO continues to develop, albeit with some COVID-induced delays. ACURA and the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy are being kept up to date with developments so that they are briefed for engagement within universities and in Ottawa.

In ground-based priorities, the SKA project continues to progress rapidly in anticipation of the start of its construction phase. Since the SKA update at the AGM, China has ratified the SKA Observatory (SKAO) treaty convention to become the 7th Full Member, France has announced that it will accede to the SKAO, and Switzerland’s École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne has signed a cooperation agreement with the SKAO to allow the Swiss scientific and engineering community to participate in the project until a decision is made by their government to join the Observatory. As you are all aware, the SKA was not listed explicitly in the Federal budget that was announced on April 19, and Canada is now relegated to `observer’ status, with no involvement in the governance of the project. As described by the Canadian SKA Science Director, Kristine Spekkens, at our recent AGM, there is a pressing need for commitment by the end of this month if we are to avoid the loss of our provisional industry contracts, worth tens of millions of dollars. Lobbying for SKA has been the primary activity of the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy in the last year. Our most recent meeting took place in late May with a senior Policy Advisor from Minister Champagne’s office. This is the first time that the Coalition has been able to secure a meeting with the Minister’s office since Francois Phillippe Champagne took over from Navdeep Bains as Minister for Innovation, Science and Industry in January 2021. Through a variety of communication channels, the government is fully briefed on the SKA and are aware of the project’s timelines and the stakes if we do not commit imminently.

In other news from Ottawa, on May 26 the House of Commons unanimously passed a private members motion from former Science Minister Kirsty Duncan that will create a permanent House Committee on Science and Research. However, the Committee will not be created until the next Parliament (i.e. after the next federal election). Speculation for an upcoming election is buzzing around the capital. The Government’s legislation to implement the 2021 budget (Bill C-30) has been studied at Committee in the House and the Senate, and efforts are now underway to get it passed before the mid-June summer recess. Passing that legislation is generally considered an imperative if the Liberals want to call an election for the fall. Once Parliament recesses for summer, it is not due to resume until September 20 – and that is assuming an election is not called before then. However, as perhaps the clearest signal yet that a 2021 election is likely, all parties agreed to a motion allowing MPs not running again to give their farewell addresses in the House on June 15. The Liberals also invoked their “electoral urgency” clause regarding riding nominations. Without Parliament sitting, the only means for the Liberals to trigger an election before September 20 is for the Prime Minister to ask the Governor General (or acting Governor General) to dissolve Parliament. That request would almost certainly be granted. Finally, the House of Commons Finance Committee has launched its annual pre-budget consultation, with submissions due on August 6. As we do every year, the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy will make a submission to this call.

Report from the LCRIC

By Chris Wilson (LCRIC chair)
(Cassiopeia – Summer 2021)

The CASCA Board has created a new committee, the LRP Community Recommendations Implementation Committee (LCRIC for short) to oversee and co-ordinate the societal-level recommendations of LRP2020. The initial members of the committee are Etienne Artigau (CASCA Board rep), Shantanu Basu, Brenda Matthews (LRP2020 rep), Sharon Morsink, Mike Reid, and Chris Wilson (chair).

The LCRIC’s mandate and full terms of reference are available in the Committees area of the CASCA website. In brief, the LCRIC will (1) identify those recommendations for which LCRIC will be responsible for implementing; (2) develop a coherent and achievable plan to implement the community recommendations in LRP2020, including goal timelines, need for additional resources etc.; and (3) work closely with the CASCA Board to help implement and monitor the plan. This work will be done in collaboration with other CASCA committees and may involve the use of subcommittees and/or working groups. The LCRIC will also seek external advice to provide additional expertise.

The CASCA Board has asked that the LCRIC include Recommendation #1 (Develop guiding principles for telescope sites) and #46 (Create Indigenous engagement committee) among our top priorities for the coming year. The LCRIC has been meeting weekly since the CASCA AGM in May 2021 to discuss some of the issues and steps involved around these recommendations. We have also held a joint meeting with the CASCA Board and CASCA’s Equity & Inclusivity Committee (EIC) to begin discussion of some of the LRP2020 recommendations where the EIC committee will play an important role. We plan to meet with other CASCA committees over the next 3 months.

The LCRIC will invite community participation in the process of consultation and implementation of LRP2020’s recommendations. We are planning to hold a series of town halls with the CASCA community to discuss specific topics in more depth. The first of these town halls will focus on the theme of inclusion of astronomers from underrepresented groups. The second town hall will focus on the theme of training and outreach, with a particular focus on Indigenous members and communities (e.g. Recommendation #46). The third town hall will focus on the theme of land and consent, which is one of the key aspects of Recommendation #1. We will be engaging with key stakeholders in the coming weeks.

The LCRIC recognizes that transparency and consultation are very important as our community moves forward to implement the recommendations of the LRP. We will be seeking input from a diversity of perspectives, recognizing that astronomy and astronomers exist with a broader societal context. We also recognize that the CASCA community will need continuous engagement to make progress on many of the most complicated and challenging aspects of LRP2020. We welcome feedback and comments at any time, via the Public Discussion page or by email to one of the LCRIC members. Communications will be kept confidential if requested.

Kamloops Statement (June 10, 2021)

The unmarked burial sites at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School represent a colonial atrocity. The 215 children whose remains were found were taken from their families in a systematic effort to eradicate their cultural identities. Thousands of others were forced into dozens of similar institutions and the school in Kamloops is unlikely to be the only site where bodies will be found. It is heinous in the extreme that defenceless and innocent children suffered emotional and physical violence, and the trauma of these events continues to be felt today.

Canada’s astronomical community joins with Canadians from all walks of life to stand in solidarity with the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nations, as well as with other communities and families who have lost their children at the hands of the Canadian government and religious institutions. Their pain and grief cannot be imagined by us, and we recognize that the recent confirmation of the Kamloops unmarked graves may be particularly distressing for Indigenous members of our Society.

As academics and educators, we must confront the fact that residential school atrocities were committed in the name of education and acknowledge the role that academia has played in perpetuating colonial structures.

CASCA’s recently published Long Range Plan lays out specific actions that we as astronomers will take to address racism and inequity in our community, particularly the marginalization of Indigenous Peoples. As we take these first steps toward fulfilling the LRP vision for a more inclusive community, the news from Kamloops is a stark reminder of the ongoing trauma that underpins the inequities we are striving to address.

The CASCA Board

Update on CASTOR

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

CASTOR is a wide-field UV/blue-optical space telescope that was identified in LRP 2020 as Canada’s top priority in space astronomy in the 2020s. Mission development is continuing, with a significant ramp-up in activity expected during the second half of 2021. Steps taken during the last quarter include the following:

  1. A Space Technology Development Program (STDP) contract for CASTOR is now underway (“Wide-Field Astronomical Imaging in UV/Optical – Critical Technologies”). The kick-off meeting for this study was held on May 5, 2021 and attended by ~40 participants from Canadian government, industry, and academia, plus representatives from prospective CASTOR international partners. The recipient of the STDP contract is ABB, Inc, with subcontracts issued to Honeywell Aerospace and Magellan Aerospace. We are delighted that JPL will be contributing to the detector work package using internal funding; the UK is similarly involved in this work, including the selection of possible test detectors. The STDP study, which runs until May 2023, will reduce technical risk by advancing the design for several critical mission components.
  2. A Phase 0 study, which will overlap the STDP study, was approved in early May and is expected to begin in October. The combined work of these two contracts is intended to fulfil all CSA requirements to enable a smooth transition to flight Phases A to D, with launch possible in early 2028 provided the mission is approved and funded in 2023.
  3. Partnership discussions with ISRO, including involvement in the STDP opto-mechanical design work package, are ongoing but have been slowed by COVID delays. The nominal shared mission will retain Canadian leadership, with substantial cost savings.
  4. The recent CASCA meeting included a virtual CASTOR Town Hall that was attended by ~90 participants. This event included an overview of the mission, short summaries of CASTOR research programs in four science fields (Cosmology, Time Domain Astrophysics, Exoplanets and the Solar System), an update on mission development and schedule from CSA, and community plans for communications and outreach activities in the coming months. Thank you to our speakers: Melissa Graham, Daryl Haggard, Jason Rowe, Wes Fraser, James Doherty and Nathalie Ouellette.
  5. CSA has now assembled a significant CASTOR management team. James Doherty, CSA Program Lead for CASTOR, presented the CASTOR program development schedule at the virtual Town Hall on May 13. Ongoing and planned studies will feed into a CSA “Review Point, R2” in time for a CSA request for funding approval in March 2023. If successful, this would lead to flight Phases A-D beginning in October 2023. Achieving this timeline will require the full engagement of the academic community in apprising the government ahead of that time of its top ranking in LRP2020, as well as the industrial, public, and international partnership benefits of CASTOR.
  6. CASTOR will be the subject of a CaTS (Canadian Telescope Seminars) talk on June 16, as well as a “QUEST” talk for the NASA/COPAG Ultraviolet-Visible Science and Technology Interest Group on July 1.
  7. In May, ACURA was briefed on the project and plans to work with CASCA through Coalition for Canadian Astronomy to promote CASTOR as a top priority of the 2020 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy.

For more information on the mission, see the CASTOR website.

CASCA member is co-winner of prestigious IAU Shaw Prize.

Victoria Kaspi PhD, CC, FRS, FRSC of McGill University is the co-winner of the 2021 Shaw Prize in Astronomy. This year’s prize was awarded for the work which she and Chryssa Kouveliotou have done in the field of magnetars: a class of highly magnetised neutron star. Here is the link to the IAU press release detailing their research.

The Shaw Prize, established under the auspices of Mr Run Run Shaw in November 2002, is an international award to honour individuals who are currently active in their respective fields and have recently achieved distinguished and significant advances making outstanding contributions in academic and scientific research or applications. The Shaw Prize consists of three annual awards: the Prize in Astronomy, the Prize in Life Science and Medicine, and the Prize in Mathematical Sciences. Each prize carries a monetary award of one million two hundred thousand US dollars.