NRC Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics
NRC Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics (NRC Herzberg) is Canada's gateway to the universe. We operate Canada's national observatories and a national astronomy data centre, and develop advanced astronomical instruments in collaboration with industrial partners — bringing out-of-this-world technology back down to Earth.
NRC Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics operates three research programs: the Optical Astronomy Program, the Radio Astronomy Program and the Astronomy Technology Program.
- Astronomy Technology Program (ATP)
Supporting Canada's goal to be a world-class provider of astronomical instrumentation. The program has built instruments for many of the world's major observatories. The majority of this work is carried out with a diverse group of national and international partners, both in industry and universities.
- Optical Astronomy Program (OAP)
Supporting Canada's national optical observatories, including the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO), the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and the Gemini Observatory. It also operates the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC), providing access to high-capacity digital infrastructure that furthers astronomical research.
- Radio Astronomy Program (RAP)
Supporting Canada's national radio astronomical observatories, including the Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) and the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA).
The NRC advantage
NRC Herzberg manages Canada's participation in major astronomical observatories worldwide and at home, thereby ensuring Canadian astronomers have full access to world-class facilities spanning the entire sky.
In astronomy, scientific progress is closely linked to technological innovation. That's why instrumentation experts at NRC Herzberg develop new, state-of-the-art devices that are critical for research at world-class observatories.
We are also a leading force in data management, archiving and distribution, thanks to the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre.
From providing support to users of our world-class observatories, to developing instrumentation for new research, and comprehensive data management, NRC Herzberg provides wide-ranging expertise and services to researchers and industry clients who work with us.
Technical and advisory services
NRC Herzberg has a long history of leading and participating in the development of cutting-edge astronomical instrumentation, including ground-based and space-based projects, for optical, near-infrared, millimetre and radio astronomy.
The Astronomy Technology Program is organized in multi-functional teams that offer a diverse set of technical, engineering and management capabilities, including:
- Adaptive Optics
- Electrical Engineering
- Instrumentation Science
- Manufacturing and Machining
- Mechanical Engineering
- Millimetre Technology
- Optical Engineering
- Project Management
- Radio Engineering
- Software and Controls
NRC Herzberg provides and supports other services related to astronomical phenomena, including:
The impact of Canada's astronomical research is rated among the world's highest, thanks in part to the world-class astronomical observatories that Canadian researchers can access, both at home and through partnerships in facilities around the world. NRC Herzberg supports activities at the following observatories.
- Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) located in Victoria, BC since 1916, the DAO includes two telescopes: the 1.8-m optical/near-infrared Plaskett Telescope, named after Observatory founder John Stanley Plaskett, and the 1.2-m telescope with its McKellar spectrograph.
- Dominion Radio Astrophysical Observatory (DRAO) located in Penticton, BC since 1960, the DRAO includes three telescopes: the 26-m John A. Galt Telescope, a single-dish antenna that can observe at 408 MHz to 6.6 GHz, the Synthesis Telescope, a suite of seven 9-m diameter antennas combined electronically into a single telescope that can observe at 408 MHz and 1420 MHz, and the Solar Flux Monitor that provides long-term 10.7 cm data of the Sun for "space weather" applications.
- Canadian Astronomical Data Centre (CADC) is a data archive, management and delivery organization that provides access to data from astronomical telescopes, as well as advanced data products from several astronomical surveys. Based in the DAO offices in Victoria, BC, the CADC also supports the Canadian Advanced Network for Astronomical Research (CANFAR), a distributed processing solution for large astronomical datasets.
- Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) is the world's largest observatory, ALMA consists of sixty-six 12-m or 7-m diameter antennas combined electronically into a single telescope that can observe from 86 GHz to 950 GHz. ALMA is located on the Llano de Chajnantor in northern Chile at 5000 metre altitude. Beginning scientific operations in 2012, Canada is a partner in ALMA with 19 other countries.
- Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) is a 3.6-m optical/infrared telescope located atop the summit of Mauna Kea: a 4200 metre altitude, dormant volcano located on the island of Hawai'i. Becoming operational in 1979, CFHT has consistently provided versatile and state-of-the-art optical astronomical observing to its users.
- Gemini Observatory consists of twin 8.1-m diameter optical/infrared telescopes located in Hawai'i and Chile, two of the best observing sites on the planet. With northern and southern locations, Gemini's telescopes can collectively access the entire sky. Gemini began scientific operations in 2000. Canada is a partner in Gemini with the US, Argentina, Australia and Brazil.
NRC Herzberg staff are involved in numerous projects to expand our knowledge of the universe. These projects include the study and development of new observing facilities for Canadian researchers. In addition, they include organized research initiatives that maximize the productivity of Canada's existing facilities for the benefit of the astronomical community.
- Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is a collaboration between Canada, the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, Japan, China, India and Yale University to build the world's largest and most advanced optical/infrared telescope. With a 30-m diameter mirror, TMT will have ten times the light-gathering ability of the largest optical telescopes currently in existence and produce images ten times sharper than those from the Hubble Space Telescope. Canada is a partner in TMT through the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA). Canada will be responsible for two critical components: the innovated telescope enclosure and the adaptive optics system that will correct atmospheric distortions. Groundbreaking for TMT construction will take place in 2014.
- Square Kilometre Array (SKA) is an international effort to build the world's largest radio telescope. Using a network of thousands of antennas distributed up to 3000 kilometres apart, astronomers will use the SKA to: study galaxies, dark energy, black holes and the first stars; test Einstein's theory of gravity; and search for the molecules that are thought to be the building blocks of life. SKA will be built in the southern hemisphere, with antennae stretching from southern Africa to eastern Australia and New Zealand. Construction will begin in 2018, with full operations expected in 2025. NRC formally represents Canada in the SKA project, and is one of several Canadian institutions actively involved in SKA research and development.
- Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) is a novel radio telescope being built at DRAO in Penticton, BC, by the University of British Columbia, McGill University and the University of Toronto, with funding from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. Slated to begin operations in 2017, CHIME aims to map the large-scale distribution of neutral hydrogen gas at a time when the universe was 3-to-7 billion years old. By mapping about half the sky each day as the earth turns, CHIME will detect subtle, periodic fluctuations in the mass density of the universe that can be used to understand the nature of dark energy -- a mysterious form of energy that is responsible for the accelerating expansion of the universe.
NRC Herzberg is developing leading ground-based instrumentation, to help build and improve the tools we need to learn more about the universe.
Optical and near-infrared
- Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT)
- Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) is a proposed upgrade to the existing 3.6-m CFHT, to replace it with a 10-m-class, wide-field telescope dedicated to extreme multi-object spectroscopy. NRC Herzberg led the Feasibility Study for this project and is involved in numerous aspects of the ongoing Construction Proposal Phase, scheduled for completion in 2017.
- SpectroPolarimètre Infra-Rouge (SPIRou) is a near-infrared spectropolarimeter and high-precision velocimeter being designed as a new guest instrument for CFHT, for first light in 2017. The main science goals of SPIRou are the search and characterization of habitable exo-Earths around low-mass stars, and the study of the magnetic topology of young protostars as a tool for investigating star/planet formation mechanisms. The SPIRou collaboration involves many institutions within the CFHT community; NRC Herzberg is contributing the design of the cryogenic spectrograph subsystem.
- Gemini Observatory
- FLAMINGOS-2 is a new infrared spectrograph on Gemini South. NRC Herzberg provided its wavefront sensor subsystem, consisting of a small imaging detector and precision optics mounted on a cryogenic probe arm. This movable arm allows the system to pick off light from a guide star in the field of view and measure residual errors in the instrument pointing and focus.
- Gemini High Resolution Optical Spectrograph (GHOST) will see first light at the end of 2017. It will provide spectral resolutions of 50K or 75K and cover the full optical wavelength range in a single exposure. NRC Herzberg is designing and building the spectrograph and its enclosure in collaboration with the Australian Astronomical Observatory and the Australian National University.
- Focal plane upgrade to the Gemini Multi-Object Spectrograph (GMOS): GMOS has been one of the most productive instruments at the Gemini Observatory for over a decade, combining imaging and spectroscopic functions. NRC Herzberg was one of the main partners in the design and fabrication of the original instrument and has recently completed a focal plane upgrade that significantly enhances its sensitivity at near-infrared wavelengths (600-1000 nm).
- Gemini Plant Imager (GPI) is an instrument that provides very high contrast imaging very close to bright stars, enabling direct imaging and spectroscopy of Jupiter-sized planets. Attaining first light in October 2013, this instrument is a collaborative effort involving seven Canadian and US partners. NRC Herzberg provided the overall optical-mechanical structure, the top level and mechanical control software, and the system engineering.
- Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope and Gemini Observatory
- Gemini Remote Access to CFHT ESPaDOnS Spectrograph (GRACES) is a cooperative effort between NRC Herzberg, CFHT and Gemini. It combines the large collecting area of the Gemini North telescope with the high resolving power and high efficiency of the ESPaDOnS spectrograph at CFHT, to deliver high-resolution spectroscopy across the optical region. It uses a 270‑m fibre optic feed from the Gemini North telescope to ESPaDOnS. NRC Herzberg led the project and worked in collaboration with FiberTech Optica, who provided the fibres, the longest ever made for astronomy.
- The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT)
- Instrumentation Program: NRC Herzberg provides the overall management of the TMT science instrument program. In addition, it is providing the on-instrument wavefront sensor (OIWFS) subsystem for the IRIS instrument, a first-light instrument for TMT that will be the work-horse diffraction-limited imager and integral field spectrograph. The OIWFS subsystem features high-precision, high-reliability robotic arms working at −30 °C. IRIS is a collaboration between a large consortium of institutes in the US, Canada, Japan, and China.
- Narrow-Field InfraRed Adaptive Optics System (NFIRAOS) is the early-light facility adaptive optics system for TMT. NFIRAOS is a Laser Guide Star (LGS) Multi-Conjugate Adaptive Optics (MCAO) System that feeds up to three near-infrared client instruments on the Nasmyth Platform, one at a time. NFIRAOS provides turbulence compensation over a large field of view (two arc minutes) to sharpen the images of natural guide stars and improve sky coverage. Delivery and telescope commissioning are planned for spring of 2024.
- TMT Science Demonstrator
- Raven is a Multi-Object Adaptive Optics science demonstrator that was commissioned in summer 2014 for the Subaru Observatory. Raven takes light from a constellation of three stars and corrects for the blurring effects of atmospheric turbulence in the direction of two other objects. The sharpened images are fed to an imaging spectrograph, IRCS. This technology will be key for future TMT instrumentation. NRC Herzberg is the major partner in this University of Victoria-led project, which also involves working closely with staff at the Subaru Observatory and Tohuku University in Japan.
Millimeter and Radio
- Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA)
- ALMA Band 3: NRC Herzberg developed the Band 3 (84-116 GHz) receiver cartridges for ALMA, and is currently responsible for their ongoing maintenance. This duty will gradually be transferred to the ALMA site.
- ALMA Band 1, covering 35-52 GHz, has been the focus of attention by a consortium formed by NRC, ASIAA in Taiwan, the University of Chile and the NRAO in Chile. NRC Herzberg is providing the Orthomode Transducer (OMT) components to this development project.
- ALMA development: In addition to the Band 3 and 1 cartridges, NRC Herzberg remains engaged with ALMA development. In January 2014, NRC Herzberg began a one-year design study for a millimetre camera. Also, in March 2014, NRC Herzberg began a project to improve the power stability of the ALMA Band 3 receiver using permanent magnets.
- Jansky Very Large Array (VLA)
- Jansky VLA Correlator: Developed by NRC Herzberg in conjunction with the NRAO in the US, the Jansky VLA Correlator was installed and commissioned in 2010–2012 and is now operational. The Correlator is a key part of the VLA facility, enabling a broad range of leading-edge radio-science observations and scientific analyses.
- MeerKAT: a Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder
- Composite Reflectors: NRC Herzberg, through a subcontract with General Dynamics SATCOM, has designed and built two 4-m composite sub-reflectors for the MeerKAT telescope project, a 64-antenna SKA pathfinder array in South Africa. These dishes achieve an RMS surface accuracy of 0.10 mm. The one-piece, all-carbon, composite design is a substantial departure from the original multi-piece metal antenna design and the tight tolerances will help the MeerKAT project meet its strict performance targets.
- Low Noise Amplifiers (LNA): NRC Herzberg is developing LNAs for SKA Band 1 (350-1050 MHz) and Band 2 (950-1760 MHz). For SKA Band 1, 360 LNAs will be needed, and, for SKA Band 2, 4000 will be needed. As a stepping stone, NRC Herzberg is working with South Africa to provide LNAs for MeerKAT.
- Ultra-high Radio Frequency: NRC Herzberg developed prototype low-noise cryogenic amplifiers (covering the band 580-1015 MHz) for MeerKAT. In 2014, NRC Herzberg delivered 8 units to EMSS, the company developing MeerKAT receivers.
- Square Kilometre Array (SKA)
- The Dish Verification Antenna (DVA-1) project is NRC Herzberg's effort on behalf of Canada to meet the dish performance requirement and cost target of the SKA. The antenna is a 15-m offset Gregorian rim-supported composite radio telescope and is now in an active testing phase.
- Central Signal Processing (CSP): NRC Herzberg is leading the design and support of pre-construction activities for SKA CSP, in collaboration with MDA Corporation and the UK Astronomy Technology Centre. NRC Herzberg will participate in technology development and lead pre-construction activities, including a correlator and beamformer for the SKA dish array located in South Africa, in close coordination with the South Africa SKA organization.
- Dish structure: This project will deliver the construction ready design for the dish structure element of the SKA dish arrays in South Africa and Australia. NRC Herzberg is leading this work with institutional and industrial collaborators from China, Italy, Germany and Australia. The DVA-1 composite dish structure developed at NRC Herzberg is one of three precursor designs feeding in to this work.
- Dish Digitizer: NRC Herzberg is developing the SKA Band 1 receivers for the 190 dishes of the SKA array in South Africa. The receiver is a component responsible for analog processing and digitizing radio frequency signals at the dish focus and uploading 100-gigabit ethernet streams to the Central Signal Processing (CSP) facility. The Band 1 receiver takes advantage of the recent progress in extremely fast analog-to-digital converters and digitizes radio frequency signals directly.
- Phased Array Feeds (PAFs): NRC Herzberg is currently working on two major PAF projects. The CMOS Low Noise Amplifier work encompasses microwave amplifiers and high-speed analog-to-digital converters realized in modern CMOS fabrication processes and operating at room temperature. The SKA PAF Pre-construction Phase work encompasses several aspects, including the selection of antenna technology, PAF Band 2 work, cryogenic PAF Band 3, and interfacing with the PAF team at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
- Wide Band Single Pixel Feeds (WBSPF): NRC Herzberg, in collaboration with UBC Okanagan, is investigating new ideas for wide-band feeds, and will be developing prototypes. The project will have a significant impact on the hardware requirements of the SKA by reducing the number of feeds and receivers needed.
- Pan-Andromeda Archaeological Survey (PAndAS) is a large survey using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) designed to explore the structure and content of the nearest large galaxy to the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and its close neighbour, the Triangulum Galaxy (M33). To date, more than 300 hours of CFHT time have been used to resolve millions of stars in these galaxies using CFHT's 340 megapixel imager, MegaCam.
- Next Generation Virgo Cluster Survey (NGVS) is a CFHT large program to image the Virgo cluster of galaxies — the dominant mass concentration in the local universe and the largest galaxy collection within 100 million light years — from its core to its virial radius. This 100 square degree region (equivalent in area to about 500 full moons) is being mapped in five optical filters using MegaCam. The NGVS team is comprised of about 45 scientists at research institutes across Canada and the world.
- Soul of Lupus with ALMA (SOLA) is a large program to carry out a comprehensive study of the Lupus Molecular Clouds and their star formation processes. This ambitious project will address several key questions about star formation, including the role played by angular momentum, magnetic fields, and jets or outflows. The consortium is composed of a large team of scientists from most of the countries involved in the ALMA project, including several NRC Herzberg staff members.
- Disk Emission via a Bias-free Reconnaissance in the Infrared/Submillimetre (DEBRIS) project is a key project with ESA's Herschel Space Observatory to observe 450 nearby stars and statistically understand debris disks, the remnants of extrasolar planetary systems. DEBRIS results include the detection of a broad range of morphologies in resolved disks, the discovery of a correlation between debris disks and low-mass planets, and the detection of a debris disk around Fomalhaut C, a recently discovered companion to the bright star Fomalhaut.
- JCMT Legacy Survey (JLS) is a suite of seven coordinated large-scale sub-surveys to use the new instruments of the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawai'i to study stellar debris disks (Survey Of Nearby Stars), Galactic star-forming regions (Gould Belt Survey and JCMT Galactic Plane Survey) nearby galaxies (Nearby Galaxies Survey and SCUBA-2 All-Sky Survey), and galaxies in the early universe (Cosmology Legacy Survey). Observations are being obtained using SCUBA-2, the JCMT's submillimetre continuum imager, and HARP, its 345 GHz focal plane receiver array. The JLS is coordinated jointly by Canada, the UK and the Netherlands.
- Gemini Planet Imager (GPI) Campaign is a project to use GPI, the next generation adaptive optics instrument on Gemini, to image extrasolar planets orbiting nearby stars. The GPI Exoplanet Survey team, including several NRC Herzberg staff members, was selected to carry out an 890-hour survey campaign from 2014 to 2016 to search for and characterize exoplanets around 600 stars. GPI will produce the first comprehensive survey of giant exoplanets at respective distances to where such planets exist in our own solar system.
- The Outer Solar System Origins Survey is an imaging survey using 400 hours of observing time with the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope's mosaic imaging camera and will map out the structure of the region of the solar system beyond Neptune. This survey, a continuation of the Canada-France Ecliptic Plane Survey (CFEPS), will discover over 500 new Kuiper belt objects whose orbits and physical properties will provide the information needed to better understand how planets form.
Working with us
NRC Herzberg is Canada's foremost authority on astronomy and astrophysics, maintaining Canada's largest and most powerful observatories, as well as representing Canada in some of the world's foremost astronomy initiatives. We welcome leading researchers from around the world to undertake research at our facilities, to better understand the universe.
Industrial collaborations and technology transfer are high priorities for us. We have helped several industry partners win major contracts and establish a competitive presence in the world market. Contact us to learn more about potential opportunities to work together.
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