The Mission of the National Optical Astronomy Observatory is to enable discovery in ground-based optical and infrared (OIR) astronomy and astrophysics.


  • To serve as the U.S. national center for ground-based optical and infrared (OIR) astronomy
  • To operate and maintain OIR observational research facilities and related data systems
  • To coordinate and integrate observational, technical, and data- oriented capabilities available throughout the U.S. OIR System of federal and non-federal assets.

NOAO works to fulfill its Mission and Purpose on four fronts:

Open access: In pursuit of this mission, NOAO facilitates access for all qualified professional researchers to state-of-the-art observational facilities and data systems operated by NOAO as well as other federal and non-federal entities within the U.S. OIR System. This access enables the U.S. research community to address a broad range of forefront research questions from how our Solar System formed and evolved to the nature of dark matter and dark energy.

U.S. OIR System gateway & coordinator: NOAO is the gateway for the U.S. astronomical community to the Gemini Observatory through the U.S. National Gemini Office (US-NGO). NOAO coordinates community access to telescopes throughout the U.S. OIR system, and it facilitates connecting the scientific user to data archives by developing and maintaining data management capabilities.

OIR community organizer: NOAO integrates community planning for future facilities and instrumentation projects under a national organization.

Education, Public Outreach, Public Engagement: In 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.

Read more in the NOAO Strategic Plan [5.2 MB PDF].

In support of this mission, NOAO is participating in the development of telescopes with aperture sizes of 20-m and larger as well as a unique 8-m telescope that will make a 10-year movie of the Southern sky. NOAO is also engaged in programs to develop the next generation of instruments and software tools necessary to enable exploration and investigation through the observable Universe, from planets orbiting other stars to the most distant galaxies in the Universe.

About Our Observatories:

Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO)

Kitt Peak National Observatory

Kitt Peak National Observatory (KPNO) has its headquarters in Tucson and operates the Mayall 4-meter, the 3.5-meter WIYN , the 2.1-meter and Coudé Feed, and the 0.9-meter telescopes on Kitt Peak Mountain, about 55 miles southwest of the city.

Media Visit Request Form

Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO)


The Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO) is located in northern Chile. CTIO operates the 4-meter, 1.5-meter, 0.9-meter, and Curtis Schmidt telescopes at this site.

The Community Science & Data Center (CSDC)

Astronomical Big data

The Community Science & Data Center (CSDC) at NOAO is the gateway for the U.S. astronomical community to the International Gemini Project: twin 8.1 meter telescopes in Hawaii and Chile that provide unprecedented coverage (northern and southern skies) and details of our universe.

Education & Public Outreach

NOAO’s nationally recognized Education and Public Outreach program communicates the excitement of world-class scientific research and technology development, inspiring young people to become explorers in science and research-based technology.

Public Information Office

Contact NOAO’s Public Information Office: Dr. Stephen Pompea
Public Information Officer, (520) 318-8285

For queries on science results from NOAO contact Dr. Joan Najita
Chief Scientist, (520) 318-8416

Image Gallery

M45, the Pleiades

NOAO’s Image Gallery is world renowned for its beautiful images of nebulae, galaxies and more of the wonders of our Universe.

NOAO is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy under a Cooperative Agreement with the National Science Foundation.