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National Optical Astronomy Observatory

Funded by the National Science Foundation and managed by AURA, Inc., the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) supports the operation of three ground-based astronomical observatories: Kitt Peak National Observatory, Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, and the U.S. component in the International Gemini Project. NOAO's purpose is to provide the best ground-based astronomical telescopes to the nation's astronomers, to promote public understanding and support of science, and to advance all aspects of U.S. ground-based astronomical research. As a national facility, NOAO makes its telescopes available to all astronomers regardless of institutional affiliation. More than 1,000 astronomers use NOAO telescopes each year. Research using NOAO facilities has significantly advanced our understanding of the Universe. Recent NOAO discoveries include a planet-forming disk around a nearby star, a new galaxy in the Local Group, the acceleration of the expansion of the Universe, a quasar at the edge of the known universe, the most massive stars yet known, optical detection of gamma ray bursts, the coolest brown dwarf, and the detection of dark matter in the early universe. NOAO is the nation's window to the Universe.

The Horsehead Nebula in the constellation Orion is a cloud of opaque dust that absorbs light from the stars beyond it to create this unusual formation. The dense dust cloud is seen projected in front of ionized gas, resulting in the pink glow seen in this image taken with the National Science Foundation's 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak.

The Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31, is the nearest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way at a distance of 2.4 million light-years. (One light-year is how far light travels in a year at a speed of 300,000 km/sec.) Over 300 billion stars make up this galaxy, which is so large that it would take 110,000 years to travel from edge to edge at the speed of light. This image was taken with the Case Western Reserve University Burrell Schmidt telescope on Kitt Peak.

The interior of the Gemini North 8-meter telescope located on Hawaii's Mauna Kea shows the opening of the dome to the night sky. The Gemini Project is a multinational collaboration to provide twin 8-meter astronomical telescopes that utilize new technology to produce some of the sharpest views of the Universe ever seen. Gemini North is located in Hawaii and Gemini South is located on Cerro Pachón in central Chile. Together they will provide complete coverage of both the northern and southern skies. This image is cropped from a copyrighted image: Gemini North at Dusk, ©1999, Neelon Crawford.

The center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, is located in the constellation of Sagittarius. Due to very heavy obscuration of the light by dust, the Galactic Center is not visible in optical light. But the infrared radiation seen in this image passes through the dust easily, revealing a large population of stars packed very densely together. Dark patches and thread-like structures visible in the picture are regions where the dust is too dense even for the infrared. This image of the Galactic Center in infrared light was taken in 1991 at the National Science Foundation's 1.3-meter telescope on Kitt Peak.

The WIYN 3.5-meter telescope, dedicated in 1994, represents a new era of technology and collaboration in astronomical telescopes. Consortium members - the University of Wisconsin, Indiana University, Yale University, and the National Optical Astronomy Observatory - have all worked together to design, build, and operate the WIYN telescope. New technologies allow the WIYN dome to be a fraction of the size of the Mayall 4-meter, and the lightweight, active primary mirror and accompanying optical system consistently deliver the sharpest images possible for a ground-based telescope.

Five domes atop Cerro Tololo are shown in this color-enhanced image captured by Roger Smith while testing cloud detection with CCDs in April 1999. The combination of a SITe 2K CCD and a 15-mm lens provides a 150-degree field of view, which encompasses (left to right)the 1-m, Schmidt, 4-m 1.5-m, and 0.9-m telescopes. Mars is clearly visible at top center, but well-known stars such as Alpha and Beta Centauri in the Southern Cross are nearly lost against the brilliant Milky Way in this two-second exposure.

The summer monsoon season of 1972 brought a spectacular electrical storm that was captured by photographer Gary Ladd (a former Kitt Peak National Observatory employee). This dramatic one-minute time exposure taken from the 2.1-meter visitor gallery captures multiple lightning bolts illuminating the mountaintop. This image is a portion of a larger, copyrighted image: Kitt Peak Electrical Storm, ©1972, Gary Ladd.

The National Science Foundation's Mayall 4-meter telescope, which celebrated its 25th birthday in 1998, dominates the Kitt Peak skyline with its 18-story dome. The moving weight of the telescope is 375 tons, yet it is so precisely balanced that accurate tracking of celestial objects is achieved with only a one-half horsepower motor. Due to its large aperture, high-quality optics, excellent location, and continuing upgrades to instrumentation, the Mayall 4-meter remains one of the finest telescopes in the world, making forefront discoveries that continue to push the boundaries of our understanding of the Universe.

This stunning image of the Rosette Nebula was taken with the Mosaic camera at the National Science Foundation's 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak. Located in the constellation of Monoceros, also known as the Unicorn, the Rosette is a prominent star formation region. The Rosette is glowing due to ultraviolet light from the hot blue stars, whose winds also cleared the central hole. The Rosette is enormously large, covering an area more then six times the area of the full moon. This false colored image was created by combining emission-line images in Hydrogen-alpha (red), Oxygen [0III](green), and Sulfur [SII] (blue).

The Trifid Nebula, also known as M20, in the constellation of Sagittarius, consists of clouds of hydrogen and helium gas glowing from the radiation of stars embedded in the nebula. Radiation pressure and stellar winds from stars in the central area create a shock wave, which pushes the gases outward. Dark lanes are seen as opaque regions of dust and gas in the nebula and indicate areas of probable star formation. The Trifid Nebula, relatively nearby at a distance of about 3,000 light-years, was imaged with the National Science Foundation's 0.9-meter telescope on Kitt Peak.

The Whirlpool Galaxy, also known as M51, is an extremely bright galaxy some 27 million light-years away. The outlying arm of M51, which reaches to a small companion galaxy, is the site of star formation stimulated by the redistribution and compression of interstellar matter as the two galaxies collided. This image was taken with the Kitt Peak Visitor Center 0.4-meter telescope through the Advanced Observing Program.

Baskets handcrafted by members of the Tohono O'odham Nation are made by sewing coils of horsehair, beargrass, yucca or cattail together. The Man in the Maze pattern, seen here in the central basket, represents a person's journey through life and is particularly significant to the Tohono O'odham people. This picture of Tohono O'odham Baskets was provided by photographer Elaine Halbedel.


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NOAO is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), Inc. under cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation.

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