Current projects | Upcoming and proposed projects | Completed surveys

Much of the experimental research in the WCA results from international collaborations using international facilities. Typically, faculty participate in the planning and development of these facilities, and subsequently help to lead the collaborations of scientists undertaking the experiments. We list here the primary experiments that WCA members are involved in.

Current projects

The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is an Earth-sized network of millimeter-wavelength telescopes that together comprise the highest resolution imaging instrument in the history of astronomy, sufficient to image the event horizons of known astronomical black holes. The EHT has been used to measure the size of the emission regions of the two supermassive black holes with the largest apparent event horizons: SgrA* at the center of the Milky Way and M87 in the center of the Virgo A galaxy. Broderick was one of the four members of the EHT selected to present the first image of a black hole in April 2019. The ominous shadow at the centre of M87 is the signature of the strong lensing and dark event horizon of black holes.

Learn more about EHT >

The Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) started survey operations on May 17, 2021 and is designed to address one of the most important questions in modern physics: what is Dark Energy? The start of the survey was accompanied by a press release from the WCA looking ahead to the science to come. DESI is an international project that has turned the Mayall telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory into the most powerful wide-field spectroscopic facility in the world. Percival leads the DESI group at the WCA, is a founding member of DESI, and has served in many management positions for the project. The survey will now continue over a five-year period aiming to get spectra for on the order of 30 million galaxies.

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The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which launched on December 25, 2021, is the long-anticipated successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. It has a mission life-time requirement of 5 years (and a goal of 10 years). Optimized for near-infrared observations, with a dazzling array of instrumentation, JWST will make fundamental new discoveries about the very early Universe, the assembly of galaxies, the birth of stars and planets, and the origins of life. Through the involvement of the Canadian Space Agency, Canadian astronomers have access to 5% of time for PI-driven projects on this extraordinary facility.

Learn more about WCA's involvement with JWST >

The Ultraviolet Near Infrared Northern Survey (UNIONS) is a panchromatic imaging survey of the northern sky at declinations greater than +30 degrees. It combines data from the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (u and r bands), Pan-STARRS (i and z bands) and the Subaru Telescope (g and z bands). The survey is roughly halfway to meeting its goal of covering 5000 square degrees. Hudson leads the 20-member international UNIONS gravitational lensing team. He and Balogh are on the UNIONS Steering Group.

Learn more about UNIONS >

4MOST logo

The 4MOST Hemisphere Survey of the Nearby Universe (4HS) is an accepted ESO public survey to conduct a massive spectroscopic survey of the southern sky, obtaining spectroscopic redshifts up to 7.2 million galaxies. This will be achieved with very high (>95%) and unbiased completeness over 21,000 square degrees, and with a particular focus on the nearby Universe (z < 0.15). Hudson and Percival were co-Is on the 4HS proposal and are members of the scientific collaboration.

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The Cosmological Advanced Survey Telescope for Optical and UV Research (CASTOR) is a proposed space telescope being developed by the Canadian Space Agency, Canadian industry and international partners. An innovative optical design allows this telescope to deliver images comparable in resolution to those of the Hubble Space Telescope, but over a field that is two orders of magnitude larger, and simultaneously in three wavelength channels spanning the UV/optical (0.15–0.55 μm). The main objective will be to conduct deep imaging and spectroscopy surveys of galaxies, quasars, stars and planets, detecting hundreds of millions of objects over its five-year lifetime. The sensitivity to UV light (which traces, for example, star formation in the Universe) it is highly complementary to other survey facilities at longer wavelengths including LSST, Euclid, Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope and SKA.

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The cosmology-focussed satellite mission Euclid is set for launch on July 1st, 2023, by SpaceX using their a Falcon9 launcher. As we countdown to launch, work within the scientific consortium has intensified, with calibration and survey reviews recently completed, and several software reviews scheduled for this year. The 15,000deg2 survey including both imaging and spectroscopy to be provided by Euclid, will be a game-changer in many fields of astronomy and will require careful and robust analyses. Within the Euclid consortium, Mike Hudson serves as the Canadian Euclid Consortium Board representative, and Will Percival serves as a co-lead of the Galaxy Clustering science working group, and is one of four Science Coordinators for the consortium, with various other roles. Together with Euclid Consortium members Michael Balogh, and James Taylor and two WCA Euclid Fellows (arriving fall 2023) they ensure that the WCA remains at the heart of the Euclid science.

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The CCAT-prime collaboration is building the Fred Young Submillimeter Telescope (FYST), a 6-meter aperture submillimeter wavelength telescope designed for very wide field observing. Construction is expected to be completed in early 2024 following extensive delays due to Covid-19. FYST will be used for several large-area surveys with a mapping speed unchallenged by any current or near-future facilities in the 150 to 1500 GHz telluric window. With FYST, we will be poised to make new discoveries and grow our emerging leadership in key areas of observational cosmology and fundamental physics as well as studies of the magnetic structure of our Milky Way galaxy. The rapid cadence surveys that were science goals since the start of this project will also permit a new, exciting, and unique science goal: a search for rapid submillimeter-wave transients. The Canadian Team for CCAT-prime is led by WCA member Mike Fich and includes researchers at twelve other Canadian universities.

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Both the US Decadal Survey and the Canadian Long Range Plan identify wide-field multi-object spectroscopy on 10-m class telescopes as important. Canada has played a leadership role in the conceptual design of MSE, which is currently the most advanced of all such facilities. Efforts are underway to secure funding to contribute to the Preliminary Design phase of several key subsystems, including the enclosure (dome), fiber transport mechanism, and Program Execution Software Architecture (PESA). A $17.4M CFI proposal was submitted in 2022 to advance the design of these components for a generic next-generation spectroscopic survey facility. WCA member Balogh is a Principal Team Member on the proposal, which includes Percival as a named “Other User”.

Learn more about the MSE >

ngEHT logo

The next generation EHT (ngEHT) builds on the success of the original Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) and the first black hole picture ever, it will modernize existing instrumentation and expand the geographical footprint of the array with roughly 10 new dishes. The ngEHT will use the same technique of very long baseline interferometry (VLBI) adopted by the EHT to unite the array of dishes spread across numerous continents into a single virtual telescope. Taking advantage of an additional observing frequency and modern high-speed data transfer protocols, data from this array will be used to form images and movies through advanced data processing algorithms. This cutting-edge technology will enable revolutionary science. Avery Broderick is one of the key scientists driving this project forward.

Learn more about the ngEHT >

Canada’s Long Range Plan for astronomy identified participation in a 30-m class telescope, such as the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT), as the top priority for ground-based infrastructure. With a primary mirror area about ten times larger than the largest telescopes that exist today, these facilities will provide the most transformational leap in capability that has been seen for decades. With an advanced adaptive optics system (being designed and built in Canada), TMT will provide an improvement in sensitivity of up to a factor 100 for some applications. Among the many exciting science applications is the possibility to detect biosignatures on extrasolar planets.

WCA member Michael Balogh is the Chair of the CASCA/ACURA TMT Advisory committee, and a member of the science team for one of the first-light TMT instruments, the Wide Field Optical Spectrograph (WFOS).

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The Vera C. Rubin Observatory on Cerro Pachon, in Chile, is on track for a start of operations toward the end of 2023. This US-led telescope will conduct a ten-year Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST). Revisiting each location on the sky multiple times over the course of the survey will provide not only very deep multicolour imaging of the entire Southern Sky, but also the ability to chart changing events on a range of timescales from days to years. This exploration of time domain astronomy opens up many opportunities for new discovery. In return for their technical support to the project, several WCA members (Percival, Hudson, Balogh) are expected to have full Data Rights at first light.

Learn more about the Vera C. Rubin Observatory >

Artists concept of XRISM X-ray Observatory

The X-Ray Imaging and Spectroscopy Mission (XRISM) is an earth-orbiting X-ray observatory developed jointly by JAXA, NASA, ESA, and the Canadian Space Agency. Its prime camera, Resolve, provides non-dispersive spectroscopy with approximately 5 eV energy resolution in the 0.3-12 keV bandpass. WCA member Brian McNamara serves on NASA’s Resolve Instrument Team and is principal investigator for the agreement between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency entitled, X-ray Calibration for the NASA Resolve Instrument at the Canadian Light Source Synchrotron (CLS) Facility. XRISM is the successor to Hitomi, which yielded an unprecedented study of the dynamics of the X-ray atmosphere of the Perseus cluster. XRISM will study the X-ray atmospheres of galaxy clusters, young stars, and the gaseous environments of accreting black holes after it is launched in 2023.

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The extended Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (eBOSS) concentrated on the observation of galaxies and quasars, in a range of distances (redshifts) left completely unexplored by other three-dimensional maps of large-scale structure in the Universe. In filling this gap, eBOSS created the largest volume survey of the Universe to date, publicly released in July 2020. Will Percival was Survey Scientist for the project and several students and postdocs working in the WCA led components of the science resulting from this project.

Learn more about eBOSS >