National Research Council Takes Major Step to Cement Canada’s International Leadership in Astronomy

Canada signs cooperation agreement with the SKA Observatory

November 29, 2021 (OTTAWA) – A new cooperation agreement signed today by the National Research Council (NRC) to continue Canada’s participation in the Square Kilometer Array Observatory (SKAO) helps cement Canada’s international leadership in astronomy. One of the largest scientific projects in human history, SKAO will be the world’s most powerful radio telescope.

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy welcomed the announcement and expressed its thanks to the NRC and to Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne for their leadership in securing the cooperation agreement.

“Canada’s astronomers are consistently ranked among the best in the world, and the research produced makes astronomy arguably Canada’s highest ranked science. Known for developing a number of breakthrough technologies in radio astronomy, Canada has been a partner in SKA since its inception, and today we are taking a step towards long-term participation in a project that will generate amazing discoveries for decades to come,” said Rob Thacker, President of the Canadian Astronomical Society and Coalition Co-Chair.

The SKA will be constructed over the next decade, with the earliest science operations beginning mid-way through construction. The international project will combine almost 200 dish-shaped radio telescopes together in South Africa, and connect over 100,000 low-frequency antennas in Australia. The SKA will also have data centres around the world, including one potentially in Canada. There are currently 16 partner countries in the project.

The SKA has been a top priority for Canadian astronomy for over two decades as it progressed through the conception and design phases. The project entered the construction phase on July 1 of this year.

“Canada’s continued leadership in astronomy is directly tied to access to the world’s most advanced facilities. Joining the SKAO is enormously important when it comes to our ability to attract and retain the top researchers and students in astronomy,” said Don Brooks, Executive Director of the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy and Coalition Co-Chair.

“Canadian industry has a long history of providing the skilled design, engineering, and manufacturing required for next-generation global astronomy facilities like the SKA, which leads to spinoffs across a range of industries. Today is not only a win for Canadian science, but also great news for the economy and the companies that will supply critical components of the project,” added Guy Nelson, President and CEO of Dynamic Technologies Group and Coalition Co-Chair.

The Coalition is hopeful this announcement will lead to Canada’s full and long-term participation in the SKA.

“The SKA will transform our understanding of the history, contents, extreme conditions, and prospects for life in the Universe,” said Kristine Spekkens, Canadian SKA Science Director and Professor at the Royal Military College and Queen’s. “The science that the SKA will enable is well-aligned with the expertise of Canadian astronomers, who will be at the forefront of many of its ground-breaking discoveries.”

The Coalition is firmly committed to SKA advancing goals around equity, diversity and inclusion, as well as nurturing the next generation of scientists and engineers.

“Scientific discoveries with the SKA will inspire a new generation of young Canadians to pursue careers in STEM fields. Guided by the 15 community recommendations in the Long-Range Plan for Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Coalition is working to increase participation and inclusion of communities that are under-represented in astronomy,” said Thacker.

About the Coalition for Canadian Astronomy
The Coalition is composed of:
• Academia: represented by the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) and its 20 members;
• Professional astronomers: represented by the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA);
• Industry: represented by Canadian companies involved in major astronomy projects.

The Coalition is united behind the Long-Range Plan for Astronomy and Astrophysics (LRP), a decadal plan first launched in 2000 and renewed in 2010 and 2020, with a view to sustaining Canada’s international leadership in astronomy. The LRP process, backed by Coalition support, has created a legacy of success, with astronomy consistently ranked as Canada’s top science and Canadians at the forefront of this field globally.

Duncan Rayner, 613-241-6000, ext 223