montage of AURA observatories in Chile and Arizona, Cerro Tololo and Kitt PeakThe 4-meter Victor Blanco Telescope at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, Chile (left) and the 4-meter Mayall Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona (right). Image credit: NOAO/NSF/AURA

The National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) is the US national research & development center for ground-based night-time astronomy.

NOAO provides public access to qualified professional researchers to forefront scientific capabilities on telescopes operated by NOAO as well as other optical and infrared telescopes. Today, these telescopes range in aperture size from 2-m to 10-m.

NOAO’s core mission is to enable discovery in ground-based optical and infrared (OIR) astronomy, and is currently a world-leader in ultra-wide field imaging and (soon) spectroscopic surveys. NOAO covers the entire sky with its two major observational research centers: Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) in Arizona and Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) in Chile. The Community Science and Data Center (CSDC) provides a “third mountaintop” via tools and services for data-intensive astronomy; CSDC also enables a broad range of community science activities across the entire federal and non-federal complex of US OIR ground-based facilities. Through the CSDC, NOAO is the US gateway to the international Gemini Observatory (also managed by AURA).

NSF logoIn partnership with the community and NSF, NOAO works with colleges and universities to train the next generation of scientists and engineers, and promotes accomplishments to strengthen education and public awareness of the astronomical sciences. AURA operates NOAO for the National Science Foundation under a cooperative agreement.