ngVLA Update

By / par Erik Rosolowsky (U Alberta), Joan Wrobel (NRAO)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2023)

Recommendations from the U.S. decadal survey Astro2020. Full science operations for the ngVLA would begin in the 2030s. The ngVLA would advance all three of the priority scientific areas identified by Astro2020. Credit: National Academy of Sciences

ngVLA Funded to Enter the MREFC Review Process

In July, the U.S. National Science Foundation approved the ngVLA project for entry into the Major Research Equipment & Facilities Construction (MREFC) review process. MREFC queue entry is not a commitment to construct the ngVLA, but does signal strong scientific and technical promise, and growing project readiness. Three MREFC reviews (Conceptual, Preliminary, Final) will be completed over the coming years. Those reviews will provide the Foundation with the critical information needed to consider adding ngVLA construction to a budget request later this decade. This would pave the way to begin full ngVLA science operations in the 2030s, as recommended by the U.S. decadal survey Astro2020.

In September, the Foundation released funds to continue the project’s design efforts through 2026. That the ngVLA has been funded to enter the MREFC queue is a testament to the research community’s strong support for the project. The ngVLA project is very grateful for that support!

Special Session: Space Weather on Other Worlds

The NRAO and the ngVLA project will convene a Special Session titled “Space Weather on Other Worlds” in January 2024 at the American Astronomical Society meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.

The session will highlight recent scientific breakthroughs in characterizing space weather on other worlds with current facilities; describe planned near- and long-term improvements for ground- and space-based facilities; discuss major scientific leaps likely to result from next-generation facilities across the electromagnetic spectrum; and review the highest-priority themes in this area for the state-of-the-art observatories to be commissioned in the next decade.

Invited presentations by Bin Chen (NJIT), Lia Corrales (University of Michigan), Cynthia Froning (Southwest Research Institute), Melodie Kao (University of California, Santa Cruz), Sebastian Pineda (University of Colorado), and Jackie Villadsen (Bucknell College) will be featured. Contributed iPoster presentations are welcomed. Abstracts are due September 29, 2023.

Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) Update

By / par Patrick Hall (MSE Management Group Member)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2023)

Funding Proposals

Disappointingly, the $6.5M Canada Foundation for Innovation funding request for wide-field spectroscopic telescope design and development work was not funded.

Based on the comments received, a significantly different approach would have to be taken for a future proposal to be successful. For instance, the Expert Committee reviewers wrote “Although the long-term science that will be enabled by the planned technology development activities is important, the proposal does not clearly articulate their innovation. As described, the endeavors are not novel or pushing the state-of-the-art.” And: “The nature of this project is too specialized to have concrete benefits on the population. As such, its impact remains unclear.” While the lack of direct and immediate return to the community is inherent to all astronomy projects, these comments imply that CFI is unlikely to be right path to fund proven components for MSE but could support more innovative (and potentially high risk) technologies.

More encouragingly, a $0.5M NSF ATI (Advanced Technology & Instrumentation) grant proposal led by Sam Barden at the MSE Project Office at CFHT was approved. The proposal will fund critical technology development for MSE spectrographs (wavelength splitting and pupil slicing).

A $4M NSF MRI (Major Research Instrumentation) will be revised and resubmitted in November.

An NSF Mid-Scale Research Infrastructure-1 (MSRI1, $6M-$20M range) proposal for MSE design work or Pathfinder construction will be submitted Jan 2024. A similar previous proposal was well received (recommended by a review panel to go forward to the next review phase, but the panel was overruled).

If an NSF Mid-Scale Innovations Program in Astronomical Sciences (MSIP, $4M-$30M) call is made this year, a proposal to advance the MSE Pathfinder will be submitted.

MSE and MSE Pathfinder Instrument at CFHT

Information on the MSE Pathfinder instrument has been circulated as part of the Upcoming Ten Years of CFHT discussions, as circulated to CASCA members and available at this link. Discussions also continue with four groups who expressed interest in MSE Pathfinder and three in MSE design study work in the recent CFHT call for partners in those initiatives.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By / par Michael Balogh (CATAC Chair)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2023)

Background Summary of the TMT Project

Recognizing that the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) is a project spanning multiple decades, many people new to the astronomy community will be unfamiliar with its history. Following is a short summary of the project’s background, with links to more information. Current updates detailing developments since our last report follow this background.

current news follows summary

The TMT is a proposed 30-m diameter, optical telescope with a state-of-the-art adaptive optics system that will achieve unprecedented sensitivity and resolution. It will enable transformative discoveries in a wide range of disciplines including exoplanets and the search for biomarkers, cosmology and the formation of the Universe, galaxies and stars, and much more, as described in the Detailed Science Case. TMT is one of only three planned telescopes of this type. The others are the 25-m Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and the 42-m European Extremely Large Telescope (ELT).

Canada has been engaged in the TMT project since 2003, with a significant scientific and technical leadership role. Canada joined the TMT International Observatory (TIO) corporation as a full member in 2015, following a $243M commitment from the federal government. These funds primarily support construction of the enclosure by Canadian industry, and the adaptive optics system, NFIRAOS, by Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics (HAA). Participation in the TMT has been strongly endorsed by the Long Range Planning exercise, starting with the midterm review in 2005. Canada has three seats on the TMT Board: the ACURA Executive Director (Gilles Joncas), the HAA Director General (Luc Simard); and a Science Governor (currently vacant). Canada also has three voting seats on the Science Advisory Committee, and one non-voting position usually occupied by the Science Governor. Canada’s share of observing time is expected to be in the range of 10-15%, though this depends on the outcome of negotiations for NSF partnership, and the final project cost.

TMT is a technically mature project, but construction requires both significant additional funding, and the support of the local community. Protests against TMT construction in 2014 and 2019 have prevented construction from proceeding. The position of CASCA and ACURA, endorsed by CATAC, is that unless the TMT project has consent from the Native Hawaiians, Canada’s astronomical community cannot support its construction on Maunakea. Several important changes have taken place since 2019, including the establishment of the Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority (MKSOA). The formation of this body was recommended by a Working Group initiated by the State Governor, and signed into law on July 7, 2022. This Authority began work on July 1, 2023, and will take over management of the mountain from the University of Hawaii after a transition period of no more than five years. This Authority includes Native Hawaiian representatives and cultural practitioners, giving them a direct role in the management of these lands, including the issuing of leases to astronomy facilities.

The US Extremely Large Telescope Program (US-ELTP) is a partnership between TMT, the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and NOIRLab, to advance US access to 30-m class telescopes in both hemispheres. A proposal to the NSF has led to a formal review of the project by that body, under the MREFC process. Following a recommendation by the US Astro2020 review, the NSF is considering a significant share of at least 25% in each of TMT and GMT. The review process includes federal environmental and cultural reviews, under the National Historic Preservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

TMT does have legal right to construct on an alternative site, on La Palma, Canary Islands. There are still associated environmental, political and social complications, including motivated environmental groups opposing construction. The NSF review process is currently limited to Maunakea as a potential site.

Construction cannot begin until the NSF Final Design Phase is completed – a necessary but not sufficient condition. This phase nominally takes 1.5 years, and has not started yet. Assuming seven years for construction, the earliest possible first light date for TMT is 2033. Technical first light for the European ELT is planned for 2027, with the first four instruments commissioned and ready for science by 2030. It is disappointing to be behind the ELT, when at one point (in 2014) TMT was so far ahead. However, CATAC is mindful that these facilities have anticipated lifetimes of >40 years, serve very large communities and that current anticipated first light dates are subject to change.

Further information can be found on the TMT website. Previous CATAC reports and eCass articles can be found here.

Project Status

Earlier this year, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) completed a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the US Extremely Large Telescope Program (US-ELTP). The report was positive, and it is expected that a recommendation will be made to the National Science Board (NSB) to move into the Final Design Review (FDR) stage. The next meeting of the NSB is Nov 29-30, 2023.

The NSF Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Section 106 process continues, with updates and FAQ provided here. This process continues to move slowly, due in part to the large volume of comments submitted during the scoping process.

While the NSF process takes place, the corresponding delay to TMT construction is of concern, as the potential for a large gap between E-ELT and TMT first light dates grows. LRP recommendation #16 reads:

We recommend that NRC address any lack of access to a VLOT due to delays in TMT construction through arrangements that give Canadians access to other VLOT facilities.

CATAC looks forward to participating in future discussions with HAA and the astronomy community about this recommendation.

As part of the NSF review process, the TMT Detailed Science Case is being updated, led by the International Science Development Teams (ISDTs). All chapter editors have now been identified. The plan is to deliver a complete draft by the end of 2023 for review and comments.


The Mauna Kea Stewardship and Oversight Authority (MKSOA) began their work on July 1, 2023, and are in the process of hiring staff. Full transfer of authority from the University of Hawaii to MKSOA will happen within five years; no new leases or subleases may be signed before then. It is still too early to know if there will be a process for lease negotiation in the interim.

The Caltech Submillimeter Observatory (CSO) is on path to be decommissioned this year, with the telescope itself being removed this month. Detailed, up to date information about the process is available at the CSO website.

On July 14, a petition was filed to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), requesting a decision under the Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedures (EWUAP). The request is a joint submission from three petitioners: KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, (2) Ziibiing Lab: Global Indigenous Politics Research Collaboratory, and (3) the Transnational Law and Racial Justice Network (TLRJN). Among other things, the petition requests that CERD urge Canada to divest support from TMT. This petition is now before CERD and the process, which can take several years, is a closed one between the committee and the Canadian government. ACURA’s response to this petition, and the petition itself, can be found here.

Upcoming Workshops

There will be three ELT-JWST synergy workshops: one in North America, one in Asia, and one in Europe. Registration is open for the first, to be held at UCLA Dec 11-15, 2023: “The Landscape for ELTs after the launch of JWST.” Canadians are strongly encouraged to attend. Some travel support may be available – please contact for more information. The European and Asian meetings are anticipated to be held in 2024.

The last TMT Science Forum was in China in 2019. Plans to hold one in Canada in 2021 were postponed due to COVID and then finally cancelled in 2022. It is now anticipated that the next forum will be held in Washington, D.C., in late 2024.

CATAC Membership Changes

After six years of excellent service, inaugural CATAC member Harvey Richer has come to the end of his term. We are grateful for his work on this committee, and in particular for leading the effort to host the Science Forum in Vancouver, unfortunately thwarted by the pandemic. ACURA has nominated Suresh Sivanandam (U Toronto) to take Harvey’s place on CATAC.

Gilles Joncas has replaced Don Brooks as ACURA Executive Director and serves on CATAC in a non-voting, ex-officio role. Similarly, as CASCA President, Sarah Gallagher takes over from Chris Wilson.

CATAC Membership

Michael Balogh (University of Waterloo), Chair,
Bob Abraham (University of Toronto; TIO SAC)
Stefi Baum (University of Manitoba)
Laura Ferrarese (NRC)
Suresh Sivanandam (University of Toronto)
Jason Rowe (Bishop’s)
Stan Metchev (Western University; TIO SAC Canadian co-chair)
Gilles Joncas (ACURA Executive Director, non-voting, ex-officio)
Luc Simard (Director General of NRC-HAA, non-voting, ex-officio)
Sarah Gallagher (CASCA President, non-voting, ex-officio)
Tim Davidge (TIO SAC; NRC, observer)

ALMA Matters

By / par Brenda Matthews and Gerald Schieven (NRC)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2023)

Cycle 10 Proposal Statistics

Researchers from Canadian institutions were allocated over 16% of the North American portion of ALMA time (including both the 12m-array and the ACA). This is significantly more than Canada’s nominal 7.125% share of North American time.

ALMA Ambassadors Applications Due 13 October

The ALMA Ambassador Program provides training and an up to $10,000 research grant to postdoctoral researchers, senior graduate students, and early career researchers interested in expanding their ALMA/interferometry expertise and sharing that knowledge with their home institutions. The selected Ambassadors receive training at the NRAO headquarters in Charlottesville, VA, in February 2024 on topics including interferometry basics, ALMA science capabilities, proposal writing, and guidance on speaking on these topics. Ambassadors will then host a workshop at their home institution to prepare their local community for the Cycle 11 call for proposals. The deadline for applying for this program is 13 October. For more information and to apply for the program, go to the NRAO website.

Cycle 10 to Start 30 September

Cycle 10 is now scheduled to start on the afternoon of Saturday 30 September.

ALMA Announces Observatory Projects for Configurations 8 and 9

The ALMA Observatory announces five filler programs that have been approved on the main array. The programs are designed to fill the gaps in the 12-m Array observing schedule at low frequencies in Configurations 8 and 9, based on input from scientists at the Joint ALMA Observatory (JAO) and the ALMA Regional Centers (ARCs). The proposed programs were reviewed by the Observatory Scientist and the Department of Science Operations head, and approved by the ALMA Director.

The data from the proposals will be quality assessed by the JAO and released through the ALMA Archive with no proprietary period. Observing priority will be given to any remaining PI science projects and activities to commission new capabilities on the array. The release of data in Band 1 will be dependent on the progress of the ongoing commissioning activities. The release of any Observatory Project data will be preceded by an announcement on the Science Portal.

The approved projects are:

  • 2022.A.00032.S: 12CO and Band 3 continuum 5-pc-scale imaging of molecular clouds in the Antennae galaxies
  • 2022.A.00034.S: Band 3 observations of a super-deep 1’x1′ field in Hubble Deep Field South
  • 2022.A.00036.S: Band 3 high-spectral resolution survey of HL Tau
  • 2022.A.00035.S: Band 1 Continuum and CS line observations of HD 163296
  • 2022.A.00037.S: Band 1 Continuum and CS line observations of HL Tau

For more information, see the ALMA website.

Update on CASTOR

By / par John Hutchings, Patrick Côté (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2023)

The CASTOR mission continues to work towards flight approval and funding on several fronts.

  1. The phase 0 science study report has been submitted to CSA, and shared with other stakeholders such as NRC and our international colleagues. It is an extensive document that updates the facility capabilities with a nominal mission schedule and observing plan that covers a broad range of frontier science investigations. The capabilities of high-resolution wide-field UV-blue imaging, spectroscopy, precision photometry, and wide-field astrometry makes the mission entirely unique within the international landscape.
  2. The Coalition for Astronomy (ACURA, CASCA, and Industry) has prepared a plan of engagement with government, already under way, and set for the coming months. They are making use of updated mission digests. Statements of support and interest are also being received from ACURA (and other) universities endorsing the importance of moving ahead with CASTOR, noting that it forms an important, major component of the 2020 LRP plan for astronomy.
  3. International partnerships continue to develop, with formal meetings held recently between CSA and counterparts in Spain and Korea. The UK space agency has further formalized their wish to join CASTOR, and a group in France is also developing a plan for participation. We expect continued discussions with NASA as their plans evolve throughout this year. CSA continue to formalize the details of sharing technical information with all these groups.
  4. The JPL-processed CMOS detectors have been packaged by Te2v in UK and shipped to Canada. Control electronics are being delivered to the UV vacuum facility at the University of Calgary where final preparations are made for the testing program agreed on with JPL. This will be an important step in the proposed partnership with them, and potentially for future NASA missions, like the Habitable Worlds Observatory.
  5. Several NRC funding opportunities for CASTOR-related work are being pursued, with proposals submitted both in August and in the coming weeks. The team at HAA and the University of Manitoba is continuing their work with students who are leading several projects in science planning and mission operations.

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

Canadian Gemini News / Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien

By / par Eric Steinbring (Canadian Gemini Office, NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre / Office Gemini Canadien, Centre de Recherches Herzberg en Astronomie & Astrophysique du CNRC)

(Cassiopeia – Autumn / l’automne 2023)

La version française suit

Observatory Status

Since 1 August 2023 both telescopes have been in shutdown. That morning NSF’s NOIRLab detected a cyber incident in its computer systems, which forced the suspension of astronomical observations at Gemini North, in Hawai’i. Out of an abundance of caution, they also decided to isolate the Gemini Observatory computer systems by shutting those down. Likewise, operations were suspended from Gemini South, in Chile, which happened to be in a scheduled shutdown at the time. NOIRLab currently reports that the recovery process of the affected facilities and telescopes is ongoing, and although the Observing Tool (OT) does not yet allow connection to the database, the website is now back online. The Archive and Phase I tools (PIT) are working, as is the Helpdesk-ticketing system. Further updates will appear here. Know that the CGO is monitoring this situation, and when operations are expected to start again there will also be an announcement to the CASCA-membership e-mail exploder.

Calls for Proposals

Thankfully the cyberincident has had no effect on planning for the Gemini High-resolution Optical SpecTrograph (GHOST) Special shared-risk Call for Proposals, nor the upcoming semester of 2024A. So, in fact, two CfPs are out right now:

  • A special shared-risk GHOST CfP for Gemini-South only, through the Fast Turnaround program. The 2023B PIT (v2.2.0) will be required for this CfP, and the deadline is Saturday September 30, at 12PM (noon) Hawai’i Standard Time,
  • and also the regular 2024A semester CfP for both Gemini North and South, plus Subaru Exchange Time. The new 2024A PIT is required for this CfP, and the deadline (for Canadian applications) is Tuesday October 3, at 4PM (PDT) / 7PM (EDT).

Statut de l’Observatoire

Depuis le 1er août 2023, les deux télescopes sont à l’arrêt. Ce matin-là, le NOIRLab du NSF a détecté un cyber-incident dans ses systèmes informatiques, qui a forcé l’arrêt des observations astronomiques à Gemini Nord, à Hawaï. Par prudence, ils ont également décidé d’isoler les systèmes informatiques de l’Observatoire Gemini en les fermant tous. De même, les opérations ont été suspendues à Gemini Sud, au Chili, qui se trouvait alors en arrêt programmé. NOIRLab rapporte actuellement que le processus de récupération des installations et des télescopes concernés est en cours, et bien que l’outil d’observation (OT) ne permette pas encore la connexion à la base de données, le site Web est désormais de nouveau en ligne. Les Archives de Gemini et l’outil de Phase I (PIT) fonctionnent, tout comme le système de tickets du Helpdesk. D’autres mises à jour apparaîtront ici. Sachez que le CGO surveille la situation et que lorsque les opérations reprendront nous en ferons l’annonce par courriel aux membres de la CASCA.

Appels de demandes

Heureusement, le cyberincident n’a eu aucun effet sur la planification de l’appel de demandes spécial à risques partagés pour le Gemini High-resolution Optical SpecTrograph (GHOST), ni sur le prochain semestre 2024A. Donc, en fait, deux appels de demandes sont actuellement en cours:

  • Un appel de demandes spécial à risques partagés pour GHOST à Gemini-Sud uniquement, via le programme Retour Rapide (Fast Turnaround). Le PIT 2023B (v2.2.0) est requis pour cet appel de demandes, et la date limite est le samedi 30 septembre à 12 heures (midi), heure normale d’Hawaï,
  • et aussi l’appel de demandes régulier du semestre 2024A pour Gemini Nord et Sud, avec le temps d’échange Subaru. Le nouveau PIT 2024A est requis pour cet appel de demandes, et la date limite (pour les candidatures canadiennes) est le mardi 3 octobre à 16h (PDT)/19h (EDT).

Join us for an online Art & Science Jam session on Monday 18 September, 1pm Eastern

The Role of Metaphor in Art & Science Collaborations 

What are the similarities between scientific and artistic creativity? How can creative processes in art and science impact each other?

Join us for a participatory Art & Science Jam Session, where we will explore how art and science can work together. We will discuss how employing creative processes can generate new scientific ideas, improve scientific communication, and open potential pathways for innovation. Elvira Hufschmid will introduce her and Margit Schild’s research on an Aesthetic Transformation methodology for cross-disciplinary collaboration through which ideas and concepts are passed on in form of a ‘creative chain reaction’, thereby promoting dialogue between disciplines.

Hosted by the Arthur B. McDonald Institute at Queen’s University and the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto, this online event will bring together physicists, artists, and members of the public for an interactive discussion on how artists and scientists can collaborate when metaphor and analogy operate as ‘carrier substances’ between different fields of knowledge.

The Jam Session will include a panel discussion on the interdisciplinary potentials of physics and art, featuring
– Seung Jung Kim, University of Toronto art historian and physicist
– Margit Schild, artist from the Berlin School of the Provisional,
– Aaron Vincent, theoretical astroparticle physicist at Queen’s University,
– Kristine Spekkens, astrophysicist of the Royal Military College.

The panel is co-hosted by Renée Hložek and it will be moderated by Queen’s University cultural studies scholar Elvira Hufschmid.

ASL interpretation will be provided for the event, and a summary ‘live drawing’ will be made available to all participants.

Event Details:    Monday, September 18, 2023, 1 – 3 PM EDT, Online, free, Open to all


This research was undertaken thanks in part to funding from Canada First Research Excellence Fund through the Arthur B. McDonald Canadian Astroparticle Physics Research Institute, and to funding from the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of Toronto.

Special Instructions: