President’s Report (March 31, 2013)


Hello and welcome to the new CASCA website! I hope you will find these pages easy to navigate, and all information readily available. Compared to our old website, the improvements are many, but perhaps the most important is that this new website has been designed to encourage participation and feedback from the community. For instance, comments pertaining to ground- or space-based initiatives, as well as the implementation of our Long Range Plan, can be submitted directly — through on line forms — to the Ground-based Astronomy Committee (GAC), the Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (JCSA), or the LRP Implementation Committee (LRPIC). Dedicated web forms are available to submit comments to the CASCA Board, announcements to the entire membership (through the “CASCA Exploder”), and news items for the rotating display on the front page. Please give this new website a test drive! Of course, suggestions for improvements are always welcome.

The CASCA website is not the only activity the CASCA Board has been busy with during the past months. I do realize that the membership might not always be aware of the activities undertaken by the Board, and to correct this deficiency, I intend to post regular President’s reports in conjunction with the publication of our quarterly Newsletter, Cassiopeia. This is the first such report. Having to catch up, I am afraid it’s a bit lengthy, but I hope you will find it useful.


CASCA Awards

Every year, CASCA recognizes outstanding achievements of members of our community, at all career stages. It is a great privilege to congratulate the recipients of this year’s CASCA awards: Dr. John B. Hutchings (Executive Award for Outstanding Service) for sustained contributions that have strengthened the Canadian astronomical community; Dr. James E. Hesser (Qilak award) for his contributions to public understanding and appreciation of astronomy in Canada; Prof. Victoria Kaspi (Martin Award) for her significant contributions to astronomical research; and Dr. Yasuhiro Hasegawa (Plaskett Medal) for the most outstanding doctoral thesis in astronomy or astrophysics of the past two years. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the members of CASCA’s Awards committee for their hard work in selecting this year’s awardees.



For more than four decades, Dr. John B. Hutchings, the recipient of CASCA’s Executive Award for Outstanding Service, has charted a course of excellence for Canadian astronomy, setting the highest standards in scientific achievements, technical contributions, and service to the community.

A native of South Africa, Dr. Hutchings joined NRC in 1967, after graduating from Cambridge University. During his long and distinguished career, Dr. Hutchings has received numerous awards and honors, including the Beals Award from the Canadian Astronomical Society in 1982, the Gold Medal from the Science Council of British Columbia in 1983, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002. He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1987. Although he formally retired from NRC in January 2012, this has had no effect on his commitment to strengthening the role of astronomy within Canada.

The author of over 450 papers in refereed journals, Dr. Hutchings is in the top 0.5% of most cited astrophysicists worldwide. He has worked on remarkably diverse topics including massive stars, stellar winds, X-ray binaries, novae, cataclysmic variables, the interstellar medium, active galaxies and quasars, radio galaxies, and high-redshift galaxy clusters. Often working on astronomy’s forefront topics, from his early career Dr. Hutchings has been an indefatigable champion of space astronomy, leading Canadian participation in a series of key missions, including the International Ultraviolet Explorer, the Hubble Space Telescope, the Far Ultraviolet Spectroscopic Explorer, Astrosat and the Ultraviolet Imaging Telescope, and the James Webb Space Telescope.

In particular, beginning in the early 1980s, Dr. Hutchings worked tirelessly to secure Canadian participation in FUSE, negotiating access policies that enabled Canadian scientists to gain greater access than would be expected given Canada’s share of the costs, and leading the design of FUSE’s Fine Error Sensor (FES) camera, a critical system responsible for the precise tracking of the telescope that ultimately helped to open the door to Canada’s participation in JWST. From the initial phases of JWST’s mission design, Dr. Hutchings worked closely with the CSA and NASA to support negotiations that resulted in Canada being responsible for the design and construction of two of JWST’s critical instruments: the Fine Guidance Sensors (FGS), and the Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS). Dr. Hutchings has been Canadian Project Scientist for JWST from 2001 to 2012, as well as Principal Investigator for the FGS.

Finally, Dr. Hutchings has been a steady voice and leader in many national and international committees. In Canada, he is a key contributor to CASCA/CSA’s Joint Committee for Space Astronomy, and a member of CASCA’s Ground Based Astronomy committee, of the Coalition for Astronomy TMT Planning Committee, and of CSA’s Euclid Science Advisory Committee. He is currently chair of CASCA’s Long Range Plan Implementation Committee, which is actively working to establish a framework for implementing and operating Canadian astronomical facilities in the coming decade.


Dr. Hesser, the recipient of this year Qilak award, has been a prominent figure in Canadian and international astronomy for many years. The director of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory since 1986, Dr. Hesser is a past president of both CASCA (2004-2006) and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (1987-1989), and a former vice-president of the American Astronomical Society (1991-1994). In 1997, Dr. Hesser was one of the first recipients of the prestigious Michael Smith Award, given through NSERC Canada to “honour people and groups that are inspirational in the way that they promote science to the general public”. He received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 in recognition of his services to the National Research Council and to all aspects of astronomy. In 2004, he received the CASCA Executive Award for exceptional service to CASCA, and he holds the title of Honorary President of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC).

With a career-long commitment to astronomy education and public outreach, Dr. Hesser has led by example to forge an effective, efficient partnership between the main organizations of professional and amateur astronomy in Canada: CASCA, RASC, and the Fédération des astronomes amateurs du Québec (FAAQ). In collaboration with others, he worked diligently to establish respectful partnerships with Canada’s Aboriginal communities to preserve and celebrate indigenous knowledge of astronomy, and to illustrate pathways by which Aboriginal youth can aspire to and enter careers in science and technology. A longtime supporter of community outreach programmes, he often gives enthusiastic talks at astronomy conferences and other venues across Canada to encourage, motivate, and inspire his professional and amateur colleagues to participate in EPO activities.

Perhaps most significantly, Dr Hesser worked tirelessly to lead International Year of Astronomy (IYA) efforts within Canada. From 2005 to well beyond 2009, he led and guided this highly visible international project by serving as project as Canada’s “single point of contact”, and as chair of the Executive Committee and Advisory Board for IYA within Canada. Under his direction, the IYA provided a “Galileo Moment” (i.e., “an engaging astronomy experience”) to more than two million people in Canada through more than 3600 separate events, from coast to coast to coast, and in both official languages. Always mindful of the need to cultivate lasting partnerships that sustain public interest in astronomy, Dr. Hesser has been a driving force behind ongoing “Beyond IYA” efforts in Canada.



The recipient of the Peter G. Martin Award, Dr. Kaspi, received her Ph.D. in 1993 from Princeton University, under the supervisor of Nobel laureate Joseph Taylor. Following postdoctoral fellowships at Caltech and JPL, she was a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1997 to 2002. In 1999, she moved to McGill University, where she is currently the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology. Her numerous awards and distinctions include the Annie Jump Cannon Prize (1998), Steacie Prize (2006), Rutherford Medal (2007) and John C. Polanyi Award (2011). She is a Fellow of both the Royal Society, and the Royal Society of Canada, and in 2011 was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

The author of more than 200 refereed publications, Prof. Kaspi’s research interests focus neutron stars, radio pulsars and magnetars, with an emphasis on observational radio and X-ray astrophysics. Scientific highlights from Prof. Kaspi’s career include pioneering efforts in high-precision radio timing of millisecond pulsars, the use of binary pulsars in tests of General Relativity, the connection between pulsars and magnetars, and the study of highly magnetic radio pulsars in the field.



Dr. Yasuhiro Hasegawa, the recipient of the 2013 J.S. Plaskett Medal, completed his doctoral studies in 2012 at McMaster University. His thesis, entitled  “Planet Traps in Protoplanetary Disk and the Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems”, was carried out under the supervision of Prof. Ralph Pudritz. This work explores in detail — from both a theoretical and computational perspective — the possibility that inhomogeneous structure in protostellar accretion disks can create ‘planet traps’ where major planets are built up primarily through the capture of rapidly migrating planetary cores, followed by the accretion of dense gas.



Once again, CASCA extends its congratulations to Dr. Hutchings, Dr. Hesser, Prof. Kaspi, and Dr. Hasegawa for their important contributions.


2013 CASCA Annual General Meeting (AGM)

The 2013 CASCA AGM will take place on the campus of the University of British Columbia on May 28-30. The AGM will include special sessions on early science from ALMA and results from Plank, as well as dedicated sessions on Extrasolar Planets, Stellar Chronology and 21-cm Cosmology. I am excited and am very much looking forward to our two keynote Prize Lectures this year: the Helen Sawyer Hogg Public Lecture, which will be given by Professor Malcolm Longair (Cambridge University), and the Petrie Prize Lecture, which will be delivered by Professor Francoise Combes (Observatoire de Paris).

I am also pleased to announce that plans for the 2014 AGM are well underway. The AGM will take place in the second week of June in Quebec City, and will be hosted by the Universite Laval.


TMT and Coalition Activities

The Thirty Meter Telescope is the highest ranked ground-based initiative in the 2010 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy. Although the US National Science Foundation (NSF) has not yet guaranteed construction funds (and such funds, if allocated, will not start flowing until late in the decade), the selection of TMT amongst the Giant Segmented Mirror Telescope options has signaled to the international partners that the US Government is now fully engaged. The Indian Government has indicated its intention to commit at the 10% level, while, in Japan, the TMT project has been approved at the Cabinet level, with ~$16M to be allocated over the next two years. Recently, it was announced that Yale University has also joined the project at the 5% level, which will nominally be an adjustment within the overall US share. With construction expected to start in 2014, the international partners are drafting a Master Project Agreement to be signed by all Scientific Authorities (ACURA for Canada) by July 1, 2013. The final decision on whether the project will move ahead is expected no later than April 1, 2014, by which point the Financial Authorities (NRC in the case of Canada) will be asked to sign the agreement. To do so, NRC will need the project to be approved in the 2014 federal budget.

Therefore, securing federal funds is now urgent for continued Canadian participation in the project. The Coalition, with the help of a specially appointed TMT Planning Committee, has taken several initiatives in this regard. A pre-budget submission (solicited each year by the Government) was drafted in July 2012. While no funds were requested in the 2013 budget, the submission stated that “the Coalition anticipates a funding request for the 2014 federal budget and urges the Government to fully participate in the international funding discussions that are now getting underway.” The pre-budget submission was followed by a positive meeting, on October 12, 2012, between Coalition representatives and Mr. Patrick McIntyre (Director of Policy, Office of the Minister of State for Science and Technology) and Mr. Robert Dunlop (Assistant Deputy Minister, Science and Technology Sector Industry Canada). Soon after, NRC reaffirmed its commitment to the astronomy and astrophysics programs, and its intention to represent Canada on the TMT Agreement Development Team. In December 2012, a 24-page document describing the TMT project was sent to all MPs (as well as to VPs of Research and other representatives in academia); Minister Tony Clement, chair of the Treasury Board, responded with a letter requesting to be kept apprised of progress.

At this time, the Coalition is continuing its efforts to update the Federal Government and Industry Canada on TMT developments, with the goal of submitting a request for construction costs (US$299M over 8 years) in the 2014 federal budget.


Update on the Long Range Plan.

There has been steady progress towards achieving the top priorities outlined in the 2010 Long Range Plan for Canadian Astronomy. The LRP Implementation Committee (LRPIC), which was established in 2011 by the CASCA Board, has been steadily monitoring progress and, if necessary, advising on re-prioritizations, in consultation with CASCA’s Ground-Based Astronomy Committee (GAC) and Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (JCSA). I’d like to thank the members of the LRPIC, GAC and JCSA for providing this essential service to the community.

With TMT, the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) was the top LPR priority for large ground-based projects. Canada formally joined the SKA Organization in March of 2012, with NRC contributing financially to the SKA Detailed Design Phase. As the scientific planning for SKA ramps up, a Canadian SKA Science Advisory Committee (CSSAC) is being established. Members of the CSSAC will be appointed jointly by the Canadian SKA Consortium Board and by the CASCA Board, and will report to both.

The Canadian Hydrogen Intensity-Mapping Experiment (CHIME) was the top LRP priority for “Medium” ground-based projects. CHIME will map the distribution of neutral hydrogen at redshifts between 0.8 and 2.5 in a quest to measure the evolution of dark energy. A collaboration between UBC, McGIll, and the University of Toronto, CHIME was recently awarded $4.6 million in funding through a CFI grant to UBC. Combined with funds from the provincial governments and the partner institutions, the allocation is sufficient to secure construction and operations of the radio telescope, that will be built at DRAO, in Penticton. On behalf of the CASCA Board, I would like to congratulate the CHIME team for this outstanding achievement.

Another facility that figured prominently in the LRP is CFHT. Plans for new instrumentation (still underway at the time the LRP was written) proceeded with the selection of SPIRou, a high-resolution NIR spectro-polarimeter, but have stalled following SPIRou’s Preliminary Design Review. In Dec. 2012, the CFHT Board agreed to consider SPIRou as a guest instrument if construction funds can be secured, and solicited input from the community for the development of new, low-cost capabilities that can be deployed on a timescale of 3 years or less. Proposals for such capabilities are due on August 23, 2013, and the CFHT User’s Meeting — to be held in Campbell River on May 6-8 — will be an important forum for gathering community input. Meanwhile, the Next Generation CFHT (ngCFHT) project is gaining considerable traction. ngCFHT is a 10m telescope, to be built on the original CFHT pier, equipped with a highly multiplexed, wide field, medium to high resolution spectrograph. The project is proposing to start redeveloping the site in late 2017, with first light expected in ~2021. The first ngCFHT workshop took place in Hilo, HI, on March 27-29, 2013, and was attended by close to 100 participants from Canada, France, Australia, Brazil, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the US.

Moving to space-based priorities, participation in Astro-H was secured by the CSA, who is funding the metrology system for the mission through a contract to Neptec. There are currently three Canadians on the Astro-H Science Working Group.

More difficult have been the negotiations to join the Euclid consortium. These continue, but must face the hard reality of a decreasing CSA budget. A dark energy mission was the top LRP priority for space-based initiatives. In spite of significant work, we have unfortunately now missed the opportunity to contribute hardware to Euclid. A different option is to provide the Euclid consortium with the (suitably processed) PanSTARRS data that is needed to enable the required level of precision in the photometric redshifts. NRC’s Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC) and an advisory group have engaged in lengthy negotiations with the PanSTARRS collaboration, although an agreement has yet to be reached. The level of funding needed to go the PanSTARRS route is within the CSA budget, but will likely require re-allocation of existing funds. The Joint Committee for Space Astronomy (JCSA) has recently undertaken a prioritization exercise and suggested to the CSA trade-offs that would allow to support Euclid participation. The door on Euclid will likely close in the summer of 2013, so time is of the essence.

A parallel space based initiative that figured prominently in the LPR, the Canadian Space Telescope, or CASTOR (Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and UV Research), was strongly endorsed by the JCSA. After submitting a final concept study in March 2012, the project is currently awaiting CSA’s approval to advance to the next design stage and to seek partnership with other interested Agencies.

Last but not least, the LPR recommended sustained funding for High Performance Computing (HPC). In Canada, all computing resources beyond desktops are centralized under Compute Canada (CC) and its regional nodes (Westgrid, SHARCNET, SciNET, HPCVL, Calcul Quebec and ACENet). This is true not just for astronomy, but for all academic disciplines, including the physical sciences, engineering, health sciences, social sciences and humanities. There are advantages and disadvantages to this centralization, but what is clear is that given the diverse needs, requirements and long-term goals of each discipline, we must be proactive in ensuring that the CASCA community is well served by the new CC structure. Compute Canada just incorporated in October 2012, and in January 2013 elected a new Board and CEO. Currently, its governance does not include a voice speaking for researcher across Canada, and this is a serious concern for the community.

CASCA’s Computation and Data Committee (CDC) is monitoring the HPC situation and has taken a number of initiatives to ensure that the new Compute Canada meets the HPC needs of the astronomical community, including participating in a recent meeting between researchers from various disciplines and CC’s CEO, Bill Applebe. Following the advice of the CDC, the CASCA Board is supporting the establishment of a CC advisory committee with representatives chosen from each research community, including CASCA; such proposal was indeed presented in a letter to the former Compute Canada Board in June 2012. The dialog is on-going.


Additional CASCA Board Activities.

There have been additional activities that have required significant attention from the CASCA Board.

Each year, CASCA submits a detailed report on IAU activities to NRC, who is financially responsible for the ~28,000 Euro membership fee for the 260 Canadians who are affiliated with the IAU. The 28-page report is used by NRC to assess whether the financial commitment is justified and sustainable. Personally, I was very impressed by the level of commitment and Canadian participation in IAU activities, that this year will include an IAU Symposium, “Exploring the Formation and Evolution of Planetary Systems“, to be held in Victoria BC, on June 2-7 2013.

A less gratifying, but necessary activity is the major revision of CASCA’s by-laws that is required to comply with the new Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act. The Act affects all federally incorporated not-for-profit corporations, including CASCA. The new by-laws will need to be approved by the membership during the Executive Meeting at the 2013 Vancouver AGM.

Finally, the CASCA Board acknowledges that the increasingly more complex conditions under which research is being conducted require the definition of a code of conduct. To this effect, the Board is drafting an Statement of Ethics that will be submitted for approval by the membership during the 2013 Vancouver AGM.


To conclude this lengthy report, things are developing fast on all fronts, and will certainly have evolved, hopefully in a positive direction, by the time of the next President’s report, in June of this year. Stay tuned. Meanwhile, I hope to see many of you in Vancouver!


Laura Ferrarese,

President of CASCA,

Victoria, March 31, 2013

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.