ngVLA Update

By /par Erik Rosolowsky (U Alberta), Joan Wrobel (NRAO)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hiver 2023)

A portion of the 18m prototype ngVLA antenna, next to the mtex antenna technology facility in Saxony, Germany. Credit: mtex

Looking Back and Looking Forward

In 2023, the ngVLA project reached many important milestones. Community successes included domestic and international science conferences. An industry highlight was the unveiling of portions of the 18m prototype antenna by Germany’s mtex antenna technology. At the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the ngVLA project entered into the design process for Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction. The NSF’s National Science Board was also briefed on the ngVLA.

The year 2024 promises to be as productive for the ngVLA project. Focus areas will include preparing for the prototype antenna’s arrival on the Plains of San Agustin, continuing system design work, supporting science conferences, and engaging international and interagency communities to solidify partnerships.

A Coherent View of Atomic and Molecular Gas from Infrared to Radio Wavelengths

An IAU General Assembly Focus Meeting (FM2) will take place August 6-7, 2024 at Cape Town, South Africa. It will explore how the work taking place at existing facilities is shaping our understanding of the interstellar medium structure and feedback in our own Milky Way and external galaxies, and how this work is re-framing the science that will be addressed by the remarkable capabilities of future radio observatories. This will be a forward-looking meeting: speakers will articulate the impact of the newly gained knowledge from JWST, ALMA, MeerKAT, and ASKAP data on the science that SKA and ngVLA will address. Register through the GA website.

Update on CASTOR

By / par John Hutchings, Patrick Côté (NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hiver 2023)

The Coalition for Canadian Astronomy has been active in approaching the government departments and individual MPs, noting the domestic and international interest in the mission, and its readiness to proceed to flight contracts. This effort has been supported by many letters of support from Canadian industry, universities and institutions, as well as prospective international partners, JPL and UKSA.

An extended article on CASTOR, written by Elizabeth Howell, was recently published in Space.com.

In consultation with JPL and T-e2v, plans are well developed to begin extensive vacuum-UV testing of the custom-doped detectors that will evolve into the CASTOR flight devices. This process will begin in January. The test results will help define the flight specifications and will enable development of operating procedures, including bright and faint source photometry, optimal image sampling, and data handling.

While we await full project approval, progress continues on several fronts and opportunities for associated funding. These include work with international partners on the development of the UV-MOS, enhancements to the vacuum facility in Calgary, and further work on the operational and science preparation tools. Papers are being published on some the existing such tools, and co-op student projects are making good progress in developing detailed operational scenarios for the planned science surveys.

The CSA Space Technology Development Program’s large industrial contract will wrap up in March 2024. Final reports will address the telescope and optical design, the fast-steering mechanism and design, the precision photometer, and constraints on the UV-MOS. Along with the recently completed Phase 0 study, CASTOR is ready to move ahead to flight contracts and international partnerships.

The CASTOR website was recently updated and is available at the URL below. Informational documents are also available on request. Various scientific and technical aspects of the mission will be presented at several upcoming meetings such as the AAS meeting in New Orleans, the SPIE meeting in Yokohama, and the COSPAR meeting in Busan.

For more information on the mission, see here.

Optical-Infrared Review Committee Update

By / par Doug Welch (McMaster), Ivana Damjanov (Saint Mary’s)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hiver 2023)

We are pleased to provide the CASCA community with an update on the activities of the Optical-Infrared (OIR) Review Committee which was formed by CASCA during the first half of 2023 and which met for the first time in late July.

The full terms of reference (ToR) for the committee can be found here but we briefly remind everyone of key boundary conditions:

  • The interval being considered is 2025-2035;
  • The focus is on ground-based, international OIR facilities;
  • VLOT facilities and plans are not part of this assessment;
  • The plans and aspirations of early-career researchers (university faculty and research staff) will play a key role in the committee’s information-gathering and recommendations;
  • The committee will provide recommendations to address the Gemini Assessment Point; and
  • The recommendations of the committee will be available by the end of June 2024.

The membership of the committee is:

  • Étienne Artigau, Université de Montréal
  • Ryan Cloutier, McMaster University
  • Allison Man, University of British Columbia
  • John Ruan, Bishops University
  • Simon Morris [External Member], Durham University
  • Laura Ferrarese [Non-voting Member], NRC-HAA
  • Kim Venn [Non-voting Member], ACURA representative

Since the beginning of October, the OIR Review committee has been meeting at two-week intervals To date, our primary tasks have been:

  • Preparing a current list of early-career researchers;
  • Designing and iterating on a survey to gather our initial data/feedback from early-career researchers and their current plans and aspirations; and
  • Assembling external research context based on available international strategic plans.

We have also acquired:

  • Canadian proposal, usage, and publication statistics for CFHT and Gemini for the last several years; and,
  • A current list of HAA support projects that includes international OIR facilities.

Our early-career researcher survey will be circulated to individuals using a Google Form on or about January 10, 2024. Once those results are compiled, the committee will contact early-career researchers for individual or small group follow-up interviews.

The committee will meet with leadership of stakeholder observatories (e.g. CFHT, Gemini) to ensure that our understanding of developments at those facilities is current and accurate.

It is anticipated that the final report of the committee will recommend a small number of scenarios capturing the most promising avenues for maximizing competitive access to offshore facilities and instrumentation for Canadian researchers.

2024 CASCA Awards: Call for Nominations / Prix CASCA 2024: appel de candidatures

By / par Vincent Hénault-Brunet (CASCA Awards Committee)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hiver 2023)

La version française suit

Dear CASCA members,

We are now accepting nominations for the 2024 CASCA awards.

This year, the following prizes will be awarded:

  • Qilak Award for Astronomy Communications, Public Education, and Outreach, awarded in even years to recent and impactful outreach activities;
  • Carlyle S. Beals Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement and Community Service;
  • Dunlap Award for Innovation in Astronomical Research Tools; and
  • J.S. Plaskett Medal for outstanding doctoral thesis work.

Nominations for the Plaskett medal should be submitted by the department chair, and we will accept one nomination per department. This award allows the research excellence and hard work of our graduate members to be recognized. Students, don’t wait, take this email to your advisor/head of department and ask to be considered for your department’s nomination. Graduate chairs, please don’t miss this opportunity to highlight the work of your students.

Note that self-nominations are now accepted for post-PhD awards following recommendations by CASCA’s Equity and Inclusivity Committee, and the award guidelines have been updated accordingly. We would like to have a diverse group of award nominees to choose from, so we especially encourage first-time nominees. Detailed instructions for how to write a nomination letter are listed here.

Nominations for all awards above should be submitted to the Chair of the CASCA Awards committee, Vincent Hénault-Brunet, and emailed to vincent.henault@smu.ca. When applicable, external letters of support (e.g., from international experts in the nominee’s field), should also be sent directly to the Chair of the Awards committee (to ensure confidentiality of references). Nominees must be CASCA members in good standing. If in doubt, please check with the CASCA administrator at casca@casca.ca. The deadline for nominations is January 15, 2024. Please refer to the relevant CASCA award pages for additional nomination procedures.

In addition, the CASCA Board is welcoming nominations for the CASCA Executive Award for Outstanding Service, awarded to an individual who has made sustained contributions in service that have strengthened the Canadian astronomical community and enhanced its impact regionally, nationally and/or internationally. This may include, but is not limited to, innovations in education, outreach and support of research facilities or tools used by others. The Executive Award recipient is selected by the CASCA Board. The nomination procedure is to submit a 1 to 2 page letter of support to the CASCA President indicating the candidate’s qualifications, history of service, and impact of their service activities – both nationally and internationally. Consideration of nominations will begin on January 15, 2024. Please send nomination packages for the CASCA Executive Award directly to casca-president@casca.ca.

We look forward to hearing from you, and to celebrating another year of great achievements from our fellow CASCA members!

Best wishes,

The CASCA Awards committee

Vincent Hénault-Brunet, Pauline Barmby, Craig Heinke, Tracy Webb, Jon Willis



Chers membres de la CASCA,

Nous acceptons maintenant les nominations pour les prix CASCA 2024.

Les prix suivants seront décernés cette année:

  • Le Prix Qilak pour la communication, l’éducation et la sensibilisation du public en astronomie, attribué les années paires à des activités de sensibilisation récentes et marquantes;
  • Le Prix Carlyle S. Beals pour des réalisations scientifiques et des services communautaires exceptionnels;
  • Le Prix Dunlap pour l’innovation dans les outils de recherche astronomiques; et
  • La Médaille J.S. Plaskett pour un travail exceptionnel de thèse de doctorat.

Les nominations pour la Médaille Plaskett doivent être soumises par le directeur ou la directrice du département, et nous accepterons une seule nomination par département. Cette récompense permet de reconnaître l’excellence de la recherche et le travail acharné de nos membres diplômé.e.s. Étudiant.e.s, n’attendez pas, faites suivre ce courriel à votre superviseur.e/directeur/directrice de département et demandez à être considéré.e.s pour la nomination faite par votre département. Directeurs/directrices des programmes de cycles supérieurs, ne manquez pas cette occasion de mettre en valeur le travail de vos étudiant.e.s.

Veuillez noter que les auto-nominations sont désormais acceptées pour les prix après la thèse de doctorat, suivant des recommandations du Comité Équité et Inclusion de la CASCA, et que les lignes directrices relatives aux prix ont été mises à jour en conséquence. Nous aimerions avoir un groupe diversifié de nominé.e.s parmi lesquels choisir, c’est pourquoi nous encourageons particulièrement les personnes qui sont nominées pour la première fois. Des instructions détaillées sur la manière de rédiger une lettre de nomination sont disponibles ici.

Les nominations pour tous les prix mentionnés ci-haut doivent être soumises au président du comité des prix de la CASCA, Vincent Hénault-Brunet, et envoyées par courriel à vincent.henault@smu.ca. Le cas échéant, des lettres de soutien externes (par exemple, d’experts internationaux dans le domaine du candidat) doivent également être envoyées directement au président du comité des prix (pour assurer la confidentialité des références). Les candidats doivent être membres en règle de la CASCA. En cas de doute, veuillez vérifier auprès de l’administrateur de la CASCA à l’adresse casca@casca.ca. La date limite pour les nominations est le 15 janvier 2024. Veuillez vous référer aux pages des prix CASCA concernés pour les procédures de nomination supplémentaires.

De plus, le conseil de direction de la CASCA accepte les nominations pour le prix exécutif de la CASCA pour service exceptionnel, décerné à une personne qui a fait des contributions soutenues en matière de service qui ont renforcé la communauté astronomique canadienne et amélioré son impact à l’échelle régionale, nationale et/ou internationale. Cela peut inclure, mais n’est pas limité à, des innovations dans l’éducation, la sensibilisation et le soutien des installations de recherche ou des outils utilisés par d’autres. Le récipiendaire du prix exécutif est choisi par le conseil de direction de la CASCA. La procédure de nomination consiste à soumettre au Président de la CASCA une lettre de soutien d’une à deux pages indiquant les qualifications du candidat, ses antécédents de service et l’impact de ses activités de service – tant au niveau national qu’international. L’étude des candidatures débutera le 15 janvier 2024. Veuillez envoyer les dossiers de candidature pour le prix exécutif de la CASCA directement à casca-president@casca.ca.

Nous sommes impatients d’avoir de vos nouvelles et de célébrer une autre année de grandes réalisations de nos membres de la CASCA!

Cordialement,

Le comité des prix de la CASCA

Vincent Hénault-Brunet, Pauline Barmby, Craig Heinke, Tracy Webb, Jon Willis

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

By / par Kristine Spekkens (Canadian SKA Science Director) and the AACS
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hiver 2023)

Left: Aperture Array Verification System 3 (AAVS3) for SKA-Low, which recently saw first light on site in Australia (credit: L. Simard). Right: SKAO and NRC personnel visit the SKA-Mid Prototype Integration Facility at MDA in Richmond BC (credit: D. Stevens).

It has now been almost a year since our government announced that Canada would become a full member of the SKA Observatory (SKAO). The funding committed in Budget 2023 will support Canada’s scientific, technological and governance activities during the construction phase which will last through this decade, and into the operations phase beyond that. With SKA activities ramping up in Canada and around the world, employment opportunities are also increasing both domestically (see below) and  internationally. Scientific, technological and membership updates for Canada and the SKA in the last six months are highlighted below.

Science Update

Canada’s 6% use-share will provide the community with significant access to SKA observing time and computing resources. Major anticipated science milestones during construction include:

To help prepare the community to work with SKA data, the SKAO has revitalized its science user webpages and released a suite of new science tools. The pages compile key documents describing the scientific performance of the SKA Design Baseline, as well as the details of the staged delivery plan. First versions of the SKA-Low and SKA-Mid sensitivity calculators have also been released, which include a variety of continuum and spectral line modes. As the full suite of observing modes are incorporated into the calculators, the SKAO is keen to receive feedback from the scientific community, through inline comments on the SKA-Low and SKA-Mid user guide Google docs or via email to sciops@skao.int.

In Canada, significant progress has been made to initiate the SKA Canada Fellowships program, with a call for applications for the first round of Fellows expected in January 2024. In steady state, this new, permanent program will fund a total of 8 –10 NRC-funded SKA Fellows spread across Canadian universities. With a 3–5 year fixed term, competitive stipends, and a substantial research/travel budget, SKA Canada Fellows will carry out independent research in astrophysics with faculty mentorship at the institution where they hold the fellowship, and will also make wide-ranging contributions to SKA Canada under the supervision and mentorship of NRC-HAA staff. The advertisement to recruit the first SKA Canada Fellows will be widely circulated to the Canadian astronomical community when it is released in January.

Technology Update

SKA construction proceeds apace, with three quarters of construction contracts now awarded across both telescopes. Major construction milestones for SKA-Low in Australia and for SKA-Mid in South Africa include first light for the SKA-Low Aperture Array Verification System 3 (AAVS3), and the assembly of the first SKA-Mid production dish, among many other developments. The focus of most current construction activities is the timely deployment of Array Assembly 0.5 (= AA0.5) – the first correlated 4-dish SKA-Mid array and 6-station SKA-Low array –  in 2024.

Canada’s most significant technical contribution to SKA construction is the SKA-Mid Correlator/Beamformer (MID-CBF). Significant recent progress towards meeting that goal has been made in recent months by industry partner MDA, including:

  • A Mid Telescope Prototype Integration Facility at MDA Richmond has been established. MDA is leading the integration of digital components of the Mid Telescope signal chain and providing a facility for other parties to integrate remotely;
  • An initial correlator system has been deployed at the System Integration Test Facility in Cape Town and integration has begun there with other systems;
  • Final integration of the AA0.5 4-dish correlator, which will be deployed in 2024 and will enable the correlated systems tests of SKA-Mid, are now underway;
  • Design approval to migrate to a Commercial Off-The Shelf (COTS)-based correlator architecture that will use newer lower power technology for correlator releases beyond AA0.5.

Canadian SKA Regional Centre (can|SRC) Update

The development of a Canadian SKA Regional Centre (can|SRC) within a network of interoperating SKA Regional Centres (SRCNet) is critical to the science success of SKA. can|SRC will provide user data access, support, and archive services by building on the Canadian Network for Astronomical Research (CANFAR) science platform, which is maintained by the CADC using Digital Research Alliance of Canada hardware and CANARIE network services.

During the last 6 months the CADC has increased engagement with SRCNet development, providing SRCNet members with deployable versions of the CANFAR Science Platform (CSP) software stack as a demonstrator of how an SRC might operate.  This SRCNet demonstrator is now deployed at 4 SRCNet sites, and the CADC is exploring the utility of this solution for network-enabled computing.  Although the CADC has been operating the CSP for a few years now, there are still many features to be developed before we arrive at an SRCNet solution.   To achieve the required software development effort, the CADC expects to onboard three new software developers in the next six months.

In parallel with the development of the CSP software stack, NRC is negotiating a Contribution Agreement with the Alliance. Each SRCNet member country is expected to contribute computing and storage resources at the level of partnership for that country. The NRC-Alliance contribution agreement will enable Canada to meet its SRCNet contribution, and provide a public archive of the Rubin Observatory’s LSST object catalog and image stacks (enabling significant Canadian access to that survey).  The computing resources will start to appear on the CANFAR platform in the spring of 2024, ramping up to the full capacity required for our SRC contribution over the following 8 years.

Canadian Membership Update

Canada’s process to join the SKA Observatory (SKAO) as a full member is proceeding towards completion.  The accession agreement between our government and the SKAO has been finalized and signed, and Canada’s request to become an SKAO Member State has been formally accepted by the SKAO Council which governs the project. The signed accession agreement, together with the SKAO Convention, were tabled in Parliament on Dec 11, 2023; this is a major milestone in the accession process for Canada. Canada’s official transition from its current status as a Council Observer to that of a Member State is anticipated in the first half of 2024.

For more information, updates, and opportunities to get involved:

Canadian Gemini News / Nouvelles de l’Office Gemini Canadien

By / par Eric Steinbring with translation by / avec traduction par Stéphanie Côté (Canadian Gemini Office, NRC Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Centre / Office Gemini Canadien, Centre de Recherches Herzberg en Astronomie & Astrophysique du CNRC)
(Cassiopeia – Winter / hiver 2023)
La version française suit

Observatory Status

Both telescopes are now back on sky and busily doing science. As reported in September, Gemini North and South went into shutdown in August due to a cyber-intrusion incident. NOIRLab operations were also impacted more broadly. But operations at Gemini North returned in October, and were soon followed by the South, which had already been scheduled for a maintenance shutdown at that time; it emerged sporting a shiny primary mirror (as did the North in June), now freshly re-coated with their special protected silver. There has been no impact on databases or ongoing operations – although some webpages are still not yet available, and a few web-based community tools require temporary workarounds; those should return to normal soon, too. It can also be happily reported that the 2024A Call for Proposals was unaffected by this incident; over-subscription for Canadian time in the South was higher than usual (in part due to newly offering GHOST, the Gemini High Resolution Optical Spectrograph), plus we broke our own record for student-oriented proposals, with a whopping 76-percent indicating the requested data were for a thesis!

New and Refurbished Instruments

Apart from GHOST being the latest facility instrument, the South’s venerable Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS-S) has also been renewed somewhat; it has had a faulty detector replaced, which has been an ongoing issue. GMOS-S is expected to be fully back for science operations again later in the month. And, likewise, coming back in the North is Altair; the facility adaptive optics (AO) system has been down due to its own electronic issues lately, in part related to its 20-year « vintage », which is comparable to GMOS. The Gemini North AO (GNAO) system will be Altair’s much-advanced replacement in a few years. In the nearer term, something new in the North is IGRINS-2, the Immersion Grating Infrared Spectrograph near-clone of IGRINS (which is a visiting instrument on the South), undergoing commissioning right now. Judging from past Canadian interest in IGRINS, its northern replacement will likely also prove very popular, perhaps for 2024B; it will joint MAROON-X, the high-resolution optical spectrograph and radial-velocimeter, currently our second-highest-demanded instrument on the North, right after GMOS-N (see below).

Science Both Big and Small

Gemini North and GMOS have lately played a big part in science about « little » things: they were instrumental in capturing the stripped-down remains of more than 100 dwarf galaxies, caught transitioning into ultra-compact dwarf galaxies, objects that fall in that special range of too big to be a star cluster, and yet still much too small to be called a dwarf galaxy. This confirms that many of these objects are likely to be the « fossil » remains of normal dwarf galaxies, but have lost their outer layers (the figure below nicely illustrates that transition for objects in M87; see the article here). “Our results provide the most complete picture of the origin of this mysterious class of galaxy that was discovered nearly 25 years ago,” says NOIRLab astronomer Eric Peng in the Gemini press release, and a co-author on the Nature paper reporting the results with other Canadian co-investigators Pat Côté, Laura Ferrarese, Stephen Gwyn and Joel Roediger (HAA) and Matt Taylor (University of Calgary).

A continuum of galaxies captured at different stages of the transformation process from a dwarf galaxy to an ultra-compact dwarf galaxy (UCD). These objects are located near the supergiant elliptical galaxy M87, the dominant member of the neighboring Virgo Cluster.



Statut de l’Observatoire

Les deux télescopes sont maintenant de retour sur le ciel et font activement de la science. Tel qu’indiqué en septembre, Gemini Nord et Sud ont été fermés en août en raison d’un incident de cyber-intrusion. Les opérations de NOIRLab ont également été impactées de manière plus large. Mais les opérations à Gemini Nord ont repris en octobre, et ont été bientôt suivies par celles du Sud, dont un arrêt pour maintenance était déjà prévu à ce moment-là; Gemini Sud nous est revenu avec un beau miroir primaire brillant (comme le Nord en juin), maintenant fraîchement recouvert de leur couche spéciale en argent protégé. Il n’y a eu aucun impact sur les bases de données ou les opérations en cours – bien que certaines pages Web ne soient toujours pas disponibles et que quelques outils communautaires basés sur le Web nécessitent des solutions de contournement temporaires; ceux-ci devraient également revenir bientôt à la normale. On peut également signaler avec soulagement que l’appel de demandes 2024A n’a pas été perturbé par cet incident; le taux de sursouscription pour le temps canadien disponible dans le Sud était plus élevé que d’habitude (en partie à cause de l’arrivée de GHOST, le spectrographe optique haute résolution de Gemini), et nous avons battu notre propre record de demandes impliquant des étudiants, avec un énorme 76 pour cent de toutes les demandes indiquant que les données demandées étaient destinées à une thèse!

Instruments neufs et remis à neuf

Outre le fait que GHOST soit le tout dernier instrument Gemini, le vénérable spectrographe multi-objet de Gemini (GMOS-S) du Sud a également été quelque peu renouvelé; un détecteur CCD défectueux a été remplacé, pour régler ce qui était un problème persistant. GMOS-S devrait être de nouveau pleinement opérationnel pour les opérations scientifiques plus tard ce mois-ci. Et de même, Altair est de nouveau disponible au Nord; le système d’optique adaptative (AO) était en panne ces derniers temps en raison de ses problèmes électroniques, en partie liés à son ancienneté de 20 ans, qui est comparable aux GMOS. Le système Gemini Nord AO (GNAO) remplacera Altair de manière très sophistiquée dans quelques années. À plus court terme, une nouveauté au Nord est IGRINS-2, le spectrographe infrarouge à réseau d’immersion quasi-clone d’IGRINS (qui est un instrument invité au Sud), en cours de mise en service en ce moment. À en juger par l’intérêt passé du Canada pour IGRINS, son remplacement dans le Nord s’avérera probablement également très populaire, peut-être pour 2024B; il rejoindra MAROON-X, le spectrographe optique haute résolution et vélocimètre radial, actuellement notre deuxième instrument le plus populaire au Nord, juste après GMOS-N (voir ci-dessous).

Science à la fois grande et petite

Gemini Nord et GMOS ont récemment joué un grand rôle dans la science de «petites» choses: ils ont joué un rôle déterminant dans la capture des restes dépouillés de plus de 100 galaxies naines, capturés en train de se transformer en galaxies naines ultra-compactes, ces objets qui tombent dans cette gamme particulièere d’être trop grandes pour être un amas d’étoiles, mais pourtant encore beaucoup trop petites pour être qualifiées de galaxies naines. Cela confirme que beaucoup de ces objets sont probablement les restes «fossiles» de galaxies naines normales, mais qui ont perdu leurs couches externes (la figure ci-dessous illustre bien cette transition pour les objets dans M87; voir ici). «Nos résultats fournissent l’image la plus complète de l’origine de cette classe mystérieuse de galaxies qui a été découverte il y a près de 25 ans», déclare Eric Peng, astronome du NOIRLab, dans le communiqué de presse Gemini et co-auteur de l’article dans Nature rapportant ces résultats avec les autres co-chercheurs canadiens Pat Côté, Laura Ferrarese, Stephen Gwyn et Joel Roediger (HAA) et Matt Taylor (Université de Calgary).

A continuum of galaxies captured at different stages of the transformation process from a dwarf galaxy to an ultra-compact dwarf galaxy (UCD). These objects are located near the supergiant elliptical galaxy M87, the dominant member of the neighboring Virgo Cluster.