The U.S. National Observatories

In the late 1950's, the National Science Foundation, in cooperation with astronomers at universities across the United States, established national observatories to provide ground based telescope facilities for research in both optical and radio astronomy. Unlike private observatories, the telescopes at the national observatories are open to qualified astronomers regardless of institutional affiliation. Decisions on the allocation of telescope time are made through peer review based on scientific merit and technical feasibility.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is operated by Associated Universities (AUI), Inc. under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. The NRAO operates several radio telescopes at its site in Green Bank, West Virginia, including the Green Bank Telescope, plus the Very Large Array of radio telescopes near Socorro, New Mexico, and the Very Long Baseline Array which consists of ten antennas spread around the US. The NRAO is also constructing the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, an array of millimeter wave dishes to be located in Chile in conjunction with a European consortion, and the Japanese. Another major ongoing effort is the long-await renewal and expansion of the dubbed the EVLA (Expanded Very Large Array).

The National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center is operated by Cornell University under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. Its major telescope facility is the Arecibo Observatory located near the city of Arecibo in northwestern Puerto Rico. A major upgrading project was recently completed to improve the performance of the antenna and allow greater frequency coverage and flexibility.

The National Optical Astronomy Observatories are operated by Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), Inc., under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. The NOAO is comprised of the Kitt Peak National Observatory, with telescopes on Kitt Peak about 60 miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona, the National Solar Observatory, with telescopes both on Kitt Peak and on Sacramento Peak, near Sunspot, New Mexico, and the Cerro Tololo Interamerican Observatory, with telescopes near the city of La Serena in the Andes Mountains of Chile.

The largest public access optical-infrared telescopes in the U.S. the twin 8-m telecopes that comprise the Gemini Observatory, an international partnership. One telescope is locate on Mauna Kea in Hawaii, while the other is located on Cerro Pachon in Chile, giving astronomers access to the entire sky.

NASA, of course, supports its own facility for the Hubble Space Telescope, the Space Telescope Science Institute, located on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. But that's not quite the same arrangement as the NSF "national observatories".