Monday, July 02, 2007

There are astronomers in Canada too, eh?

Yesterday was Canada Day, a day when Canadians celebrate, well, being Canadian. It's kinda like Independence Day in the U.S., although the Constitution Act of 1867 that established Canada as a separate dominion did not completely sever British-Canadian ties in the way that the U.S. Declaration of Independence severed British-American ties. Still, it's a big holiday for Canadians, and a deserving day off of work.

Although they rarely makes the news, Canadian astronomy and space sciences are a vital part of the world-wide science community. Canada has made many contributions to NASA, with the most visible being the robotic arm (Canadarm) used on the space shuttle and International Space Station.

There are active astronomy departments at universities across Canada; I have worked with many astronomers who have worked or are still working at the Université de Montréal, the University of Victoria, the Dominican Astrophysical Observatory, and the University of Toronto, all of whom are tops in their areas of research. Canada is also part-owner of the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, one of the world's premier telescopes. Canada's National Research Council, the agency which provides most funding for Canadian astronomers, has a few unique policies that I rather envy. One is the requirement that those who use government money to produce a data analysis program need to provide that program (or access to the program) to the larger community. This is a nice touch --- many very useful analysis programs and data archives come from Canadian sources, and it is often impossible to get American scientists to share their data and programs, requiring us to re-invent the wheel when we want to emulate someone else's science. This open access does have its downside, as less-ethical people can take these programs and do the author's science while the author is busy trying to make the program user-friendly. It's a shame that these things have happened, and continue to happen.

All in all, Canadians are a vital part of the worldwide astronomical community. I wish them all a (belated) happy Canada day!

1 comment:

  1. I'm an expatriate Canadian astronomer now teaching natural science (and writing on the side) in Boston and I'm reading back issues of your blog.
    First off, nice work.
    Secondly, thanks for the kind bday wishes!