The NSF is the lead Federal agency for the support of ground-based astronomy. Funding is provided through grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements awarded in response to unsolicited, investigator-initiated proposals.
Program areas in the Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST), supported primarily through individual investigator awards, include planetary astronomy, stellar astronomy and astrophysics, galactic astronomy, extragalactic astronomy and cosmology. A broad base of observational, theoretical, and laboratory research is aimed at understanding the states of matter and physical processes in the Solar System, our Milky Way galaxy, and the Universe. Funding is also available for advanced technologies and instrumentation, university radio facilities, and a variety of special programs.
AST supports the development and operation of four National Astronomy Centers: the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), the National Solar Observatory (NSO), the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC). AST also provides the U.S. share of funding for the operation of the Gemini Observatory, an international partnership with two 8-meter optical/infrared telescopes. The astronomy centers are equipped with radio, optical, infrared, and special telescopes that are made available to the scientific community on a competitive basis. Staff at the centers give technical assistance to visiting scientists, conduct research of their own, and develop advanced instrumentation. The Electromagnetic Spectrum Management Unit is responsible for ensuring that the scientific community has access to the radio spectrum for research purposes.
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