This document has been archived. For current NSF funding opportunities, see
for Mathematical and Physical Sciences
Division of Astronomical Sciences
The NSF is the lead Federal agency for
the support of ground-based astronomy. Funding is provided through grants,
contracts, and cooperative agreements awarded in response to unsolicited,
Program areas in the Division of Astronomical Sciences (AST), supported
primarily through individual investigator awards, include planetary astronomy,
stellar astronomy and astrophysics, galactic astronomy, extragalactic astronomy,
and cosmology. A broad base of observational, theoretical, and laboratory
research is aimed at understanding the states of matter and physical processes
in the Solar System, our Milky Way galaxy, and the universe. Funding is
also available for advanced technologies and instrumentation, university
radio telescope facilities, and a variety of special programs.
AST supports the development and operation of five National Astronomy
Centers: the Gemini Observatory, National Optical Astronomy Observatory
(NOAO), National Solar Observatory (NSO), National Radio Astronomy Observatory
(NRAO), and National Astronomy and lonosphere Center (NAIC). The Gemini
Observatory is an international partnership that operates two 8-meter optical/infrared
telescopes. The astronomy centers are equipped with radio, optical, infrared,
and special telescopes that are made available to the scientific community
on a competitive basis. Staff members at the centers give technical assistance
to visiting scientists, conduct research on their own, and develop advanced
instrumentation. AST currently supports the construction of the Atacama
Large Millimeter Array (ALMA). The Electromagnetic Spectrum Management Unit
is responsible for ensuring that the scientific community has access to
the radio spectrum for research purposes.
• Grants Programs
1. Advanced Technologies and Instrumentation (ATI)
development and construction of state-of-the-art detectors and instruments
for the visible, infrared, and radio regions of the spectrum, including
interferometric imaging instrumentation and adaptive optics; and the application
of new hardware and software technology and innovative techniques in astronomical
research. Instrumentation projects should be driven by scientific considerations
and clearly articulated scientific goals. Proposals to the ATI Program
should include a brief task implementation plan with milestones, schedules,
The ATI program director also handles proposals for astronomical instrumentation
submitted to the NSF-wide Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) Program.
2. Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Grants (AAG)
investigator research grants in the following themes:
- Planetary Astronomy (PLA)—Theoretical and observational
studies of the detailed structure and composition of the surfaces, interiors,
and atmospheres of the planets and satellites in the Solar System; the
nature of small bodies (asteroids and comets); the interplanetary medium;
origin and development of the Solar System phenomena.
- Stellar Astronomy
and Astrophysics (SAA)—Theoretical and
observational studies of the structure and activity of the Sun and other
stars; the physical properties and composition of all types of single and
multiple stars; extra-Solar System planet formation and detection; star
formation and stellar evolution; stellar nucleosynthesis; and the properties
of atoms and molecules of relevance to stellar astronomy.
- Galactic Astronomy
(GAL)—Theoretical and observational
studies of the more distant universe. Research topics include galaxy formation,
evolution, and interaction; active galaxies; quasars; large-scale structure;
and all areas of cosmology.
- Extragalactic Astronomy and Cosmology (EXC)—Theoretical
and observational studies of the more distant universe. Research topics
include galaxy formation, evolution, and interaction; active galaxies; quasars;
large-scale structure; and all areas of cosmology.
3. Education and Special Programs (ESP)
The ESP activity in the
AST Division administers all Foundation-wide (crosscutting) programs as
well as programs that cross subdisciplinary lines in astronomy, or that
have significant educational components. Programs include the following:
Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER)—supports the early career-development
activities of teacher-scholars; NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral
Fellowships (AAPF)—the only postdoctoral program for astronomers that
combines research and education; Research Experiences for Undergraduates
(REU) Sites and Supplements—support a large number of research opportunities
for undergraduates; Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI)—scope
of program is similar to regular research grants but supports faculty members
at predominantly undergraduate institutions; Research Opportunity Awards
(ROA)—a supplement available for active research awards to involve
faculty from non-research institutions; Increasing the Participation and
Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers (ADVANCE)—offers
different options for increasing the participation of women in the scientific
and engineering workforce; MPS Internships in Public Science Education (MPS-IPSE)—strives
to bring science research results from MPS disciplines to the public by
funding interns; MPS Distinguished International Postdoctoral Research Fellowships
(MPS-DRF)—fellowships to conduct research at leading institutions
outside the United States.
4. Electromagnetic Spectrum Management (ESM)
The objective of ESM
is to ensure access by the scientific community to portions of the radio
spectrum needed for research purposes. ESM does this by representing the
interests of NSF and the scientific community in the field of telecommunications
management and regulation. This involves in particular (1) the establishment
of national radio regulations and operating procedures and technical standards
under those regulations related to the use of the allocated frequency bands,
by representing the NSF on the Interdepartment Radio Advisory Committee
(IRAC) and its subcommittees and ad hoc committees and (2) the establishment
of international radio regulations by providing input into U.S. Government
preparations for World Radiocommunications Conferences through the Radio
Conference Subcommittee (RCS), and serving as technical advisor to U.S.
delegations to World Radiocommunication Conferences, when appropriate.
National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)
National Solar Observatory (NSO)
University Radio Observatories (UROs)
1. Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA)
Originally referred to
as the Millimeter Array (MMA), this project was conceived as an aperture-synthesis
radio telescope operating in the wavelength range from 3 to 0.4 mm. ALMA
will be the world's most sensitive, highest resolution millimeter-wavelength
telescope. It will combine an angular resolution comparable to that of the
Hubble Space Telescope with the sensitivity of a single antenna nearly 100
meters in diameter. The array will provide a testing ground for theories
of star birth and stellar evolution, galaxy formation and evolution, and
the evolution of the universe itself. It will reveal the inner workings
of the central black hole “engines” that power quasars, and
will make possible a search for planets around hundreds of nearby stars.
The interferometer will be located at 5000 m altitude near San Pedro de
Atacama, Chile (the so-called Llano de Chajnantor area). The goal of the
U.S.—European ALMA partnership is an array consisting of 64 antennas
12 meters in diameter. The U.S. side of the project is led by Associated
Universities, Inc./National Radio Astronomy Observatory. Europe is an equal
partner in ALMA, with funding and execution of the project carried out through
the European Southern Observatory (ESO). Canada has proposed to join the
U.S. side of the ALMA partnership and Japan remains interested in the possibility
of joining the project at a later date. NSF provides funding for the U.S.
participation. After several years of detailed design and development, construction
activities began in fiscal year 2002. Construction is expected to take 9
2. Gemini Observatory
An international partnership involving the
United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Chile, Brazil, and
Argentina. The observatory operates two 8-meter telescopes: one in the
Northern Hemisphere on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, and one in the Southern Hemisphere
Pachon, Chile. The twin telescopes are infrared-optimized, have superb
image quality, and provide unprecedented optical and infrared coverage of
northern and southern skies for astronomical research.
These telescopes provide astronomers from the partnership countries with
world-class observing facilities. Observing time is assigned on the basis
of scientific merit. NSF acts as the executive agency for the partnership,
and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA)—a
consortium of 37 U.S. and international university, educational, and nonprofit
institutions—manages the Gemini Observatory.
3. National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC)
national research center supported by NSF that focuses on radio and radar
astronomy and atmospheric sciences. NAIC's headquarters in Ithaca, New
York, are operated and managed for NSF by Cornell University. Its principal
facilities are 19 kilometers south of the city of Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
NAIC provides telescope users with a wide range of instrumentation for
research and observation. The center has a permanent staff of scientists,
and technicians who are available to help visiting investigators with their
NAIC's principal astronomical research instrument is a 305-meter fixed
spherical radio/radar telescope, the world's largest single radio wavelength
reflector. Its frequency capabilities range from 25 megahertz to 10 gigahertz.
Transmitters include an S-band (2,380-megahertz) radar system for planetary
studies and a 430-megahertz radar system for aeronomy studies.
4. National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO)
A national center
for research in ground-based optical and infrared astronomy, supported
by NSF. The NOAO staff of astronomers, engineers, and various support personnel
are available to assist qualified visiting scientists in their use of the
facilities, including large optical telescopes, observing instrumentation,
and data analysis equipment.
Headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, NOAO is operated and managed by the
Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA). NOAO
is composed of the following observatories:
- Kitt Peak National Observatory
(KPNO)—The observing facilities
of KPNO are on Kitt Peak, a 2,089-meter mountain 90 kilometers southwest
of Tucson, Arizona. KPNO includes the 3.5-meter WIYN telescope, the 4-meter
Mayall telescope, a 2.1-meter general-purpose reflector, and the WIYN
0.9-meter imaging telescope. Numerous other telescopes operated by universities
private consortia are also tenants on Kitt Peak.
- Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO)—Qualified
scientists are provided with telescopes and related facilities for astronomical
research in the Southern Hemisphere. CTIO has offices, laboratories, and
living quarters in the coastal city of La Serena, Chile, 482 kilometers
north of Santiago. The observing facilities are on Cerro Tololo, a 2,194-meter
mountain on the western slopes of the Andes, 64 kilometers inland from La
Serena. CTIO operates the 4-meter Blanco telescope—a near twin to
the 4-meter Mayall at Kitt Peak; a general-purpose 1.5-meter reflector;
and 1.3-meter and 0.9-meter imaging telescopes. The 1-meter-class telescopes
are operated in a consortium with a number of U.S. universities and nonprofit
institutions—the SMARTS Consortium. In addition, a new-technology
4-meter telescope—the Southern Observatory for Astrophysical Research
(SOAR)—is nearing completion on nearby Cerro Pachon.
- NOAO Gemini Science Center (NGSC)—NGSC
serves as the gateway to the international Gemini Observatory for the U.S.
and also represents the U.S. scientific, technical, and instrumentation
interests in the international community of the Gemini Project. In addition,
NOAO administers the following programs:
- Telescope System Instrumentation
funds for construction of major research instrumentation at private observatories
in return for community access to the largest private observing facilities.
Public Affairs and Educational Outreach Program (PAEO)—Provides
access to the science and scientists of NOAO for the K-12 and college-level
communities. Programs include outreach and educational resources for families,
students, and teachers, from kindergarten through the postgraduate level.
The NOAO Visitor Centers on Kitt Peak and Cerro Tololo offer a variety
of tours, Web pages, and volunteer opportunities as well as nightly observing
- NOAO scientists and engineers are actively involved in technology
development aimed at the next generation of very large, ground-based telescopes,
including the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and the Giant Segmented Mirror
5. National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)
Offers the use of
radio astronomy facilities through a competitive proposal process. The
staff at NRAO help visiting scientists use the large radio antennas, receivers,
and other equipment required to detect, measure, and identify radio waves
from astronomical objects. The NRAO facilities include the following:
100-meter Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT), located in Green Bank,
West Virginia, was dedicated in August 2000 and is now being
commissioned. This telescope will eventually cover a frequency range of
100 MHz to 100 GHz. The telescope is presently being used for scientific
observations at frequencies between 250 MHz and 50 GHz.
- The Very Large Array (VLA), located west of Socorro, New Mexico,
consists of 27 antennas and conducts aperture synthesis observations of
cosmic radio sources at high angular resolution. The VLA covers a frequency
range spanning large portions of the 73 MHz to 50 GHz range. Significant
upgrades to the VLA are underway and will improve the array's sensitivity
and spectral agility.
- The Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA) is a transcontinental network
of ten 25-meter antennas that operate at individual frequency bands ranging
between 330 MHz and 43 GHz. VLBA antennas are located at ten separate sites—eight
in the continental United States, one in St Croix, and one in Hawaii. The
VLBA is used to study cosmic radio sources at unprecedented angular resolution.
NRAO actively supports student research at all of its facilities, and
telescopes and scientists are available to support research at the undergraduate,
graduate, and postgraduate levels. The Green Bank and VLA sites include
recently expanded visitor facilities that are the foundation of education
and public outreach activities at NRAO. The NRAO headquarters are located
in Charlottesville, Virginia, on the grounds of the University of Virginia.
6. National Solar Observatory (NSO)
Makes available to qualified
scientists the world's largest collection of optical and infrared solar
telescopes and auxiliary instrumentation for observation of the solar photosphere,
chromosphere, and corona.
NSO has observing facilities atop Kitt Peak, Arizona, and Sacramento Peak,
New Mexico (NSO/SP). Kitt Peak telescopes include the 1.5-meter McMath-Pierce
Solar Telescope (the world's largest solar research instrument) and a solar
vacuum telescope/magnetograph. The McMath complex is designed primarily
for solar observations but is also used for planetary and stellar observations
and for laboratory high-resolution spectroscopy. The principal instrument
of NSO/SP is the 0.76-meter Dunn Solar Telescope, a vacuum tower telescope
equipped with adaptive optics to produce the world’s best spatial
resolution for solar studies. Also available are spectrographs and the Advanced
Stokes Polarimeter. The Evans Solar Facility is a 40-centimeter aperture
coronagraph with spectrographs and a coronal photometer. NSO operates the
Global Oscillation Network Group (GONG), a worldwide network of six solar
telescopes for helioseismology, and the GONG Data Center in Tucson, Arizona.
NSO is leading the design effort for a new 4-meter Advanced Technology Solar
NSO also maintains the National Solar Observatory Digital Library, which
provides free public access to an archive of major NSO data sets. These
include the Kitt Peak Vacuum Telescope magnetograms and spectroheliograms;
the Fourier Transform Spectrometer transformed spectra; the Sacramento Peak
Evans Facility spectroheliograms and coronal scans; and solar activity indices.
NSO’s educational outreach activities include a variety of programs
for undergraduate and graduate students and science educators.
7. University Radio Observatories (UROs)
NSF-supported UROs serve
as centers for focused scientific research and technical development in
radio astronomy through the collaborative involvement of faculty, research
engineers, and students. The emphasis of the program is to maintain a presence
for radio astronomy in the university environment for the purpose of fostering
innovation and training upcoming generations of students in the field.
UROs also provide research opportunities of scope and risk not typically
at the national centers.
The URO program provides funding for telescope operations and for equipment
development at existing facilities, and may support construction of new
facilities. It also provides partial or full salary support for research
faculty, engineers, and technicians; partial summer salaries for teaching
faculty; and stipend support for both graduate and undergraduate students.
URO awards are for 3-year intervals and are renewable. UROs fully supported
by NSF provide the general astronomical community with access to between
one-third and one-half of all telescope observing time. UROs also develop
and maintain a strong program of student education and training in radio
astronomy and conduct public outreach activities appropriate to the location
and nature of the facility.