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Facilities and Centers

NSF astronomical facilities and instrumentation are available on a competitive basis to qualified scientists from all over the world. Telescope time is assigned after judgment of research proposals on the basis of scientific merit, the capability of the instruments to do the work, and the availability of the telescope during the requested time.

The AST Division supports the following facilities and centers:

Gemini Observatory

An international partnership involving the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina. The project involves the construction and operation of two 8-meter telescopes: one in the Northern Hemisphere on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and one in the Southern Hemisphere on Cerro Pachon, Chile. The twin telescopes are infrared-optimized, have superb image quality, and provide unprecedented optical and infrared coverage of the northern and southern skies for astronomical research. Scientific operations began on Gemini North in 2000 and on Gemini South in the summer of 2001.

These telescopes provide astronomers from the partnership countries with world-class observing facilities. Observing time is assigned on the basis of scientific merit.

NSF acts as the executive agency for the partnership, and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. – a consortium of 20 major universities manages the Gemini Observatory.

For More Information Additional information is available at the Gemini Observatory home page,

National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC)

A visitor-oriented national research center, supported by NSF and focusing on radio and radar astronomy and atmospheric sciences. NAIC's headquarters in Ithaca, New York, are operated and managed for NSF by Cornell University. Its principal observing facilities are 19 kilometers south of the city of Arecibo, Puerto Rico. NAIC provides telescope users with a wide range of research and observing instrumentation. The center has a permanent staff of scientists, engineers, and technicians who are available to help visiting investigators with their observation programs.

NAIC's principal astronomical research instrument is a 305-meter fixed spherical radio/radar telescope, the world's largest single radio wavelength reflector. Its frequency capabilities range from 25 megahertz to 5 gigahertz. Transmitters include an S-band (2,380-megahertz) radar system for planetary studies and a 430-megahertz radar system for aeronomy studies.

For More Information Additional information is available by writing to the Director, National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853; or visiting the NAIC home page,

National Optical Astronomy Observatories (NOAO)

NSF supports NOAO, a national center for research in ground-based optical and infrared astronomy and solar physics. Large optical telescopes, observing instrumentation, and data analysis equipment as well as the NOAO staff of astronomers, engineers, and various support personnel are available to assist qualified visiting scientists in their use of the facilities.

NOAO, whose headquarters are located in Tucson, Arizona, is operated and managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA). NOAO is composed of the following observatories.

  • Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) –The observing facilities of KPNO are on Kitt Peak, a 2,089-meter mountain 90 kilometers southwest of Tucson, Arizona. KPNO includes the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope, the 4-meter Mayall telescope, and a 2.1-meter general-purpose reflector. Numerous other telescopes operated by universities or private consortia are also tenants on Kitt Peak. A full complement of state-of-the-art spectroscopic and imaging instrumentation is available for use on these telescopes.
  • Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) – Qualified scientists are provided with telescopes and related facilities for astronomical research in the Southern Hemisphere. CTIO has offices, laboratories, and living quarters in the coastal city of La Serena, Chile, 482 kilometers north of Santiago. The observing facilities are on Cerro Tololo, a 2,194-meter mountain on the western slopes of the Andes, 64 kilometers inland from La Serena.

    CTIO operates the 4-meter Blanco telescope, which is a near twin to the 4-meter Mayall at Kitt Peak, and a general-purpose 1.5-meter reflector. These telescopes are equipped with instruments similar to those at KPNO. Several other telescopes operated by U.S. universities are also located on Cerro Tololo. A new technology 4-meter telescope (Southern Observatory for Astrophysical Research-SOAR) is under construction on nearby Cerro Pachon.

The U.S. Gemini Program (USGP) at NOAO serves as the gateway for the U.S. astronomical community to the International Gemini Observatory, and represents the U.S. scientific, technical, and instrumentation interests in the international community of the Gemini Project.

For More Information Additional information is available by visiting AST Division's NOAO Web site or by writing to the Director, National Optical Astronomy Observatories, P.O. Box 26732, Tucson, AZ 85726; or visit the NOAO home page,

National Radio Astronomy Observatory

Offers the use of radio astronomy facilities to qualified scientists. The staff at NRAO help visiting scientists use the large radio antennas, receivers, and other equipment needed to detect, measure, and identify radio waves from astronomical objects.

NRAO headquarters are in Charlottesville, Virginia. Observing sites are in Green Bank, West Virginia; a site 80 kilometers west of Socorro, New Mexico; and 10 other sites in the continental United States and on the islands of Hawaii and St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The St. Croix site includes individual antennas of the Very-Long-Baseline Array (VLBA). NRAO is supported under the terms of a cooperative agreement between NSF and Associated Universities, Inc. (AUI), the organization responsible for the operation and management of the observatory.

The new 100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope was dedicated in August 2000, is now being commissioned, and has begun limited scientific use. The Very Large Array (VLA) telescope, located west of Socorro, New Mexico, consists of 27 antennas and carries out aperture synthesis observations of faint radio sources at high angular resolution. The VLBA is a transcontinental network of 10 25-meter antennas that operate at frequencies ranging from 330 MHz to 43 GHz. It carries out ultra-high-resolution studies of extragalactic and galactic sources and allows users to observe both continuum and spectral line emission.

For More Information Additional information is available by writing to the Director, National Radio Astronomy Observatory, Edgemont Road, Charlottesville, VA 22903; or visiting the NRAO home page,

National Solar Observatory (NSO)

Makes available to qualified scientists the world's largest collection of optical and infrared solar telescopes and auxiliary instrumentation for observation of the solar photosphere, chromosphere, and corona.

NSO has observing facilities atop Kitt Peak, Arizona and Sacramento Peak, New Mexico (NSO/SP). Kitt Peak telescopes consist of the 1.5-meter McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope, the world's largest solar research instrument, and a solar vacuum telescope/magnetograph. The McMath complex is designed primarily for solar observations but is also used for planetary and stellar observations and for laboratory high-resolution spectroscopy. The principal instrument of NSO/SP is the 0.76-meter Dunn Solar Telescope, the vacuum tower telescope, equipped with adaptive optics to produce the world's best spatial resolution for solar studies. Also available are spectrographs and the Advanced Stokes Polarimeter. The Evans Solar Facility is a 40-centimeter aperture coronagraph with spectrographs and a coronal photometer. The NSO also operates the Global Oscillation Network Group (GONG), a worldwide network of six solar telescopes for helioseismology, and the GONG Data Center in Tucson, Arizona. NSO is leading the design effort for a new, 4-meter Advanced Technology Solar Telescope (ATST).

For More Information Additional information is available by visiting the NSO home page,; or by writing to the Director, National Solar Observatory, Box 62, Sunspot, NM 88349.

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