Blog: Behind the creative process of the ASX’s new logomark

The ASX is proud to present a new logo by graphic designer Hansen Jiang, and refined by designer Janine Charoonruk! To craft the ASX’s first logo update since 2003, Hansen took inspiration from elements of the previous logo, while introducing new elements to capture the mission and nature of the ASX with a distinctive mark.

“The shapes, curves, and weight of each stroke invokes design principles of the golden space age, as well as showing movement and dynamics,” wrote Hansen in his branding proposal. “From a distance, it resembles a star. Upon inspection, especially with the inclusion of the red stroke, the points of the star form the letters ASX. Another representation is that of a rocket entering a wormhole, or sonic barrier. As well, in reference to the 2003 logo, the paths reference rocket trajectories.”

“This logo aims to improve upon the past logo by making each letter distinct and stylistically important,” he continued.

Janine then refined the logomark by adding polish. She applied a colour palette of warm tones—the red in the streak and yellow in the stars—and replaced the black background with charcoal black. “The angle of the gradient was also put in a way to make the round logo pop more [and] look 3D-like, like imagining how light would hit a round ball,” she reflected. “This is done by putting a light colour gradient at the upper left area of the circle to emulate that effect.”

Hansen has since completed his term as a Graphic Designer. The ASX team is thankful for his incredible work, and wishes him an amazing future and career. Janine continues to work with the ASX. Her art Instagram, which Hansen encourages all to visit, is at https://www.instagram.com/chickensoupy/.

Would you like to support the ASX? You can follow us on our socials; and keep an eye out for new ways to support the ASX, coming soon!

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Blog: A history of Canada’s planetariums by Space Place Canada

Ian McLennan narrates his decades-long experience with planetarium development across the country

By Adam A. Lam, Astronomy and Space Exploration Society
McLaughlin Planetarium in 2013. Photo: Brucewaters, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

TORONTO, Ontario — Toronto shuttered its last major planetarium in 1995. From the view of Ian McLennan, a consultant who has seen the rise of planetarium construction across Canada since the 1960s, there is a strong historical basis for the city to build a new one.

“Toronto is a major city in the world, as well as in Canada, and it deserves to have its own major planetarium,” said McLennan at “Northern Lights: When the Planetariums Came to Canada,” a Space Place Canada online event on March 11, 2021.

McLennan’s views are informed by his experience as the first Director of the Queen Elizabeth II Planetarium in Edmonton, the first planetarium built in the country, and as a consultant for almost 100 public initiatives spanning six continents.

The planetarium ran from 1960 to 1983, and has been designated as a historical landmark by the City of Edmonton, with its doors opening to the public once more after a full restoration in 2021. McLennan recalled his experiences planning the construction of the planetarium — including shipping in a projector from Delaware, producing special effects, and working with a composer to create original music for its events.

McLennan recalls the planetarium’s opening becoming a major success for the city. At its peak in 1967, according to CBC News, the institution “welcomed 33,500 visitors a year.” The planetarium’s popularity, as McLennan noted, directly led to the construction of a new larger facility as a replacement in 1984, now known as the Telus World of Science.

The Telus World of Science has continued to positively impact Edmonton, McLennan noted. McLennan highlighted the planetarium’s programming that references Indigenous astronomy “and many other stories that typically are forgotten in planetariums,” which focus on the traditional education of Greek constellations.

Following the construction of the Queen Elizabeth II planetarium, McLennan narrated the construction of other planetariums across Canada in Calgary, Montreal, and Halifax. Away from Canada, he recalled the emergence of planetariums in major city centres in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Petersburg, Shanghai, and Tokyo. “It’s a big planetarium world out there,” he said, with significant interest in public astronomy education at these institutions across the world.

But Toronto, McLennan explained, no longer has a major planetarium in the city. McLaughlin Planetarium, a familiar sight to Torontonians south of the Royal Ontario Museum since 1968, shuttered in 1995. “It was donated to initially to the University of Toronto and then to the Royal Ontario Museum,” he explained, and “featured a very large 23-metre dome and a Zeiss Jena projector” with a space theatre of 340 seats. As the Toronto Star reported, the planetarium welcomed more than six million visitors over its 27-year history.

“But in the end, the planetarium didn’t have as much of a political backing as it might have had,” McLennan said. The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) shut down the museum in 1995 in direct response to a cutback of $626,000 cutback imposed by the provincial government at the time, according to the Toronto Star. The ROM later sold the building to the University of Toronto, but it no longer functions as a building to support public outreach in astronomy.

To McLennan, who has seen decades of planetariums construction across the world, the construction of a new planetarium in Canada could be pivotal to communicating the key role of Canada’s astronomers to the public.

“We think that there’s a wonderful story about Canada in astronomy and space,” said McLennan, with a rich history in astronomy research and engineering for space exploration. “A national planetarium that told that story — not in a nationalistic or jingoistic way, but just in a matter of fact way — [could place these contributions] into the larger story of the universe,” he continued.

Toronto is a prime candidate for the location of this planetarium, said McLennan. As the largest city in Canada that attracts visitors from across the world, “it deserves a planetarium that tells part of the national story as well.”

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About Space Place Canada: We are a non-profit, multi-disciplinary group of professionals determined to bring a public planetarium back to Toronto. Toronto is only one of two cities in the world of its size without a major planetarium. This is a critical missing piece of Toronto’s tourism and educational infrastructure. Our key advisors come from across North America and include experts in the design, planning and operating of science centres and planetariums.

About the ASX Society: The Astronomy and Space Exploration Society (ASX) is an undergraduate-run not-for-profit that has organized public education events with astronomers since 2003. Their next event is named “Archaeoastronomy: The Astronomy of Civilizations Past,” which explores the astronomy of ancient civilizations. Catch the free event on March 24 at 6 pm with details on their Facebook event page.

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Blog: The digital revolution has brought a new era to radio astronomy

Dr. Keith Vanderlinde discusses the evolution of radio telescope design

The Australian Telescope Compact Array in New South Wales. VM Quezada/Unsplash

By Adam A. Lam

Why do radio telescopes look drastically different from optical telescopes? The answer, according to Dr. Keith Vanderlinde, is largely due to the large wavelengths of radio waves that these telescopes are designed to detect.

Dr. Vanderlinde—Associate Professor at the David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and the Dunlap Institute—explored the design of radio telescopes and the future of radio astronomy at his October Star Talk with the Astronomy & Space Exploration Society.

Radio telescopes have typically appeared as massive structures of an antenna fixed to a parabolic dish. “There are two reasons that we make larger and larger telescopes,” he explained. “One is just to make a larger light bucket.” The larger surface area of the telescope’s dish, he continued, increases the sensitivity of the instrument.

The second reason stems from the challenge faced by radio telescopes in capturing images with high enough optical resolution. Resolution—the shortest length between two separate points in an image—is dependent on the colour (wavelength) of light (electromagnetic radiation) under observation, noted Dr. Vanderlinde.

The key measure of resolution, explained Dr. Vanderlinde, is the size of the “collecting area… in units of wavelengths.” Since radio waves have the longest wavelengths across the electromagnetic spectrum, he noted, radio telescopes must be built to large sizes for reasonable resolution.

This is why the Green Bank Telescope—a radio telescope 100 metres wide—still has a resolution around 20 times worse than the human eye, explained Dr. Vanderlinde. Historically, he added, the large size of radio telescopes have made the instruments vulnerable during natural disasters. Increased telescope size is also limited by prohibitive cost, he continued, along with physical space limitations.

In the 2000s, scientists and engineers began to address this challenge by designing aperture arrays. In this type of radio telescope, Dr. Vanderlinde explained, the integration of additional radio detectors boosts the instrument’s sensitivity as if the surface area of the telescope’s dish has increased. Contemporary radio telescopes, he noted, continue to harness the advantages of adding detectors in order to increase image resolution. This has made radio astronomy increasingly affordable.

“Previously, all the cost was in steel, [and] steel has been pretty stable in price,” he said. “Electronics are not stable in price; they drop drastically. If you can’t afford your telescope today, wait 18 months and it’ll cost half as much. If you can’t afford it, then wait another year and a half, and will be a quarter what it originally was.”

He continued: “Within a fairly small amount of time, you can afford to do almost anything. Because of this sort of digital revolution that we’re living in.”

To learn more about the physics behind radio astronomy, along with the impact of consumer technology on radio astronomy, you can watch our recording of Dr. Vanderlinde’s Star Talk on the ASX Society’s YouTube Channel.

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Blog: The drive behind the development of cutting-edge instruments in astronomy

Dr. Abigail Crites discusses methods and goals in the process of improving observational tools

The Hubble Space Telescope orbits the Earth. NASA

By Adam A. Lam

Working with an angle grinder and soldering, Dr. Abigail Crites has both in-depth practical and theoretical experience designing instruments that help researchers across the globe better understand what happened in the early universe, across the first billion years after the Big Bang.

Dr. Crites—Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto’s David A. Dunlap Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics and the Dunlap Institute and Visiting Associate at the California Institute of Technology—explained how innovation in astronomy instrumentation works at her September Star Talk with the Astronomy & Space Exploration Society.

To observe the universe, Dr. Crites explained, astronomers need to capture light—also known as electromagnetic radiation (EMR)—from across the universe. With visible light, scientists can make observations with optical telescopes. But EMR consists of frequencies outside the range of visible light—including ultraviolet light, X-rays, and radio waves.

Demonstrating this, Dr. Crites presented an online model of the universe called the Chromoscope, developed by educators at Cardiff University. Experimenting with the Chromoscope’s slider, she explained, presents different visualizations of the universe produced by various frequencies of EMR.

“If we just look at our galaxy or our universe, in the visible [light spectrum], we’re actually missing quite a bit of information,” she explained. Analyzing different frequencies, she continued, can uncover “very different structures” in the universe.

But how do astronomers capture this information? Dr. Crites explained that these observations are enabled by experts who develop the instruments to capture these data, who she described as the “builders” of astronomy.

These builders must ask and answer a series of questions, she continued, such as: “What do we specifically want to look at?… What technology [do] we need to do this? And what technology do we not have and need to develop?”

To answer the first question, Dr. Crites explained that astronomers often focus on a research question. Inspirations can include a blend of serendipitous discovery and knowledge of theory—which, she noted, led to the detection of the oldest light in the universe, known as the cosmic microwave background.

“Another way to decide what to look at is to… think about analogues in our solar system,” she explained. In the search for habitable exoplanets, she continued, astronomers can search for absorption lines in the electromagnetic spectrum that may indicate the existence of water on distant celestial bodies.

A third way to narrow down the wavelength and subject of searching the sky, she explained, “is to look at signals that might accompany other measurements in physics.” As an example, she noted: “when neutron stars merge, you actually get an electromagnetic signal as well as the gravitational wave signal.” Studying this electromagnetic signal, she continued, could help astronomers study this phenomenon.

To make these measurements, Dr. Crites continued, builders need a telescope to gather the light and a detector to convert the photons into measured voltages. A detector requires a component “to absorb the photons,” along with a part “to record the signal,” she explained. A basic example is a human observer, she reflected—with the eyes absorbing the photons and the brain capturing the signal. Modern detectors in astronomy, she explained, often rely on a silicon chip to absorb the photons, which “creates electrons that can be read out as electric signals by a computer.”

But for astronomers like Dr. Crites who study the history of the universe, the objects under study are so far away from Earth that the light they emit is faint. This has challenged builders to develop detectors with enough sensitivity to make these measurements.

Yet as Dr. Crites notes, the challenges are “worthwhile,” as the development of these instruments enable astronomers to probe physics at an ancient time when the universe was far less complex.


To learn more about experimental astronomy during COVID-19, early inspirations that led Dr. Crites to astronomy research, and her advice on the importance of collaboration in astronomy research, you can watch our recording of Dr. Crites’s Star Talk on the ASX Society’s YouTube Channel.

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