NOAO < The US O/IR System

NOAO and the O/IR System

A network of public and private observatories allied for excellence in scientific research, education and public outreach.

The System enables experimentation and exploration throughout the observable Universe for all scientists through peer-review regardless of who they are or where they work.



System origins

The concept of a NSF-supported optical-infrared (O/IR) astronomy base program was first articulated by the 2001 Decadal Survey report and affirmed by the NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences Senior Review Committee in 2006. Moreover, the 2006 Senior Review asserted that this NSF base program should be led by NOAO. Within the US community-at-large, this base program has become known as the System.

“U.S. ground-based optical and infrared viewed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the astronomical community as a single integrated system drawing on both federal and nonfederal funding sources. Effective national organizations are essential to coordinate, and to ensure the success and efficiency of, these systems. Universities and independent observatories should work with the national organizations to ensure the success of these systems.”

—Astronomy and Astrophysics for the Millenium, Executive Summary

“ The [NSF] Optical-Infrared Astronomy Base program should be led by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. It should deliver community access to an optimized suite of high performance telescopes of all apertures through Gemini time allocation, management of the Telescope System Instrumentation Program and operation of existing or possibly new telescopes at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in the south and Kitt Peak National Observatory or elsewhere in the north. The balance of investment within the Base Program should be determined by the comparative quality and promise of the proposed science. In addition, there should be ongoing support of technology development at independent observatories through the Adaptive Optics Development and the Advanced Technologies and Instrumentation Programs. ”

—From the Ground Up: Balancing the NSF Astronomy Program, Executive Summary


In essence, NOAO facilities are the backbone around which the rest of the open-access System is organized. In preparation of the next Decadal Survey, a community-based committee has been charged to study NOAO and the Future of the O/IR System (January, February 2009). One important task for this committee is to help NOAO synthesize the ReSTAR and ALTAIR recommendations into a coherent NOAO and System development roadmap. That roadmap must also recognize the extension of the current System to include potential next generation US O/IR facilities as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) and Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT).

System facilities

Community-access available via NOAO observing proposals

Community-access available via other access points

No current community access

Major US-led facilities under development (selected)

System development activities

New System Capabilities

System technology development programs

System capability definition meetings and committees

Updated: 1 December 2013