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Research Spending & Results

Award Detail

Doing Business As Name:Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc.
  • Charles Mattias Mountain
  • (202) 483-2101
  • Lori E Allen
Award Date:11/06/2009
Estimated Total Award Amount: $ 6,144,750
Funds Obligated to Date: $ 163,840,245
  • FY 2010=$31,545,527
  • FY 2014=$25,500,000
  • FY 2012=$26,208,695
  • FY 2015=$25,500,000
  • FY 2011=$29,486,023
  • FY 2013=$25,600,000
Start Date:10/01/2009
End Date:09/30/2019
Transaction Type: Cooperative Agreements
Awarding Agency Code:4900
Funding Agency Code:4900
CFDA Number:47.049
Primary Program Source:040100 NSF RESEARCH & RELATED ACTIVIT
Award Title or Description:Management and Operations of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory
Federal Award ID Number:0950945
DUNS ID:057905887
Parent DUNS ID:057905887
Program Officer:
  • Chris J. Davis
  • (703) 292-4910

Awardee Location

Street:1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Awardee Cong. District:00

Primary Place of Performance

Organization Name:Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc.
Street:1331 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Cong. District:00

Project Outcomes Report


This Project Outcomes Report for the General Public is displayed verbatim as submitted by the Principal Investigator (PI) for this award. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this Report are those of the PI and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation; NSF has not approved or endorsed its content.

This award supported the management and operation of NSF's National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) from 2010 to 2015 and additional NOAO infrastructure upgrades from 2015 to 2019. As the US national center for ground-based nighttime astronomy research, NOAO supported forefront science using telescopes at Kitt Peak on the Tohono O'odham Nation in Arizona and at Cerros (Spanish for "hills") Tololo and Pachon in Chile, as well as petabyte-scale astronomical data archives. NOAO also supported US scientists to conduct research with the twin 8-meter telescopes of the international Gemini Observatory.

Through this award, thousands of scientists representing hundreds of colleges, universities, and other institutions accessed facilities via NOAO to observe and study our own Solar System, planets around other stars, the structure and history of our Milky Way Galaxy, the evolution of other galaxies over the history of the Universe, supermassive black holes at the centers of other galaxies, and the nature of the mysterious dark matter and dark energy that account for the majority of the contents of the Universe. NOAO operated a peer-review process to ensure that the projects of greatest scientific merit were selected for execution every six months.

This award supported NOAO's collaboration in two major projects at the interface between astronomy and fundamental physics, building on the historical role of NOAO facilities in the original discoveries of dark matter and dark energy. First, as part of the international Dark Energy Survey (DES) project, NOAO collaborated in building and operating one of the world's most powerful digital cameras: the Dark Energy Camera. This camera, with over half a billion pixels, was installed the NOAO's Victor Blanco 4-meter telescope in Chile and began creating a visual map of the distant Universe with an unprecedented combination of area, sharpness, and sensitivity. DES scientists will use this map to determine the relationship between distant galaxies and the larger concentrations of dark matter in which they form and evolve and to extract the signature of dark energy that regulates how this large-scale distribution of galaxies and dark matter changes over cosmic time. Images from the Dark Energy Camera were also used for other scientific investigations, such as the discovery of multiple faint companion galaxies orbiting our own Milky Way.

Second, NOAO partnered with the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and an international team of scientists to start the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument (DESI) project. DESI will combine NOAO's 4-meter Mayall telescope on Kitt Peak with new instrumentation that will be able to measure the distances to 5,000 distant galaxies and quasars in a single exposure. Over a five-year campaign from 2020 to 2025, DESI will create a three-dimensional map of the locations of tens of millions of galaxies and quasars throughout the Universe. This map will deliver the most precise measurement ever of the nature of dark energy, building on and extending the legacy of DES and other projects.

DES, DESI, and other large surveys produce catalogs of millions to billions of stars and galaxies, opening up a new frontier of scientific discovery based on data mining and archival research. This transformation will further accelerate with the commissioning of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) in the 2020s. Under this award, NOAO initiated several major software projects to support astronomy research by a broad and inclusive community in the Big Data era. The NOAO Data Lab was created to enable efficient exploration, visualization, and discovery within large survey data sets through a software platform that lets astronomers bring their analysis to the data. In collaboration with the University of Arizona Department of Computer Science, NOAO also began work on a software system called ANTARES to enable discovery within real-time data streams for astronomical objects that move, explode, or vary in brightness from night to night. Finally, NOAO invested in modernization of the core data-transfer, data-processing, and data-archiving software systems that are essential for astronomy in the digital age.

Other major outcomes of this award were the initiation of a collaboration with NASA to use the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope at Kitt Peak to confirm and characterize planets around other stars; collaboration in a Yale University-led project to upgrade the digital detectors of the Mosaic camera at the Mayall telescope; an extensive imaging survey using NOAO and University of Arizona telescopes in support of the DESI project; Education and Public Outreach programs focused on broadening participation in astronomy by underrepresented individuals, groups, and institutions; and a major upgrade of the NOAO base facilities in La Serena, Chile, to support greater collaboration and coordination in the future between all of NSF's Chile-based optical and infrared astronomy telescopes.


Last Modified: 12/30/2019
Modified by: Charles Mattias Mountain

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