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CU-Boulder will host National Solar Observatory

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The University of Colorado Boulder was finally selected to host the headquarters for the National Solar Observatory, the nation's leading scientific research program in ground-based solar astronomy.

The National Solar Observatory, or NSO, provides scientists access to the world's largest collection of optical and infrared solar telescopes and auxiliary instruments to observe the sun in detail.

NSO scientists conduct theoretical and observational research focused on understanding the underlying causes of solar variability and its impact on the Earth and the Earth's space environment.

The new CU-Boulder headquarters for NSO will be the primary science, instrument development and data analysis site for the new solar telescope.

NSO is operated under the auspices of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, or AURA, on behalf of the National Science Foundation, with observitories in New Mexico and Arizona.

This spring, CU-Boulder was selected as one of two finalists along with the University of Alabama-Huntsville. CU-Boulder departments and units watching the bid outcome include LASP, JILA, CASA, the astrophysical and planetary sciences department, the physics department, and the aerospace engineering sciences department.

CU-Boulder partnered with the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of Hawaii on the winning bid and will implement a collaborative graduate education program that will enhance the role of NSO in research and education on a national level.

NSO currently has offices and ground-based observing facilities at Kitt Peak, Ariz., and Sacramento Peak, N.M., which will cease operations when the new Advanced Technology Solar Telescope is completed.

The NSO's mission is to advance knowledge of the sun both as an astronomical object and as the dominant external influence on Earth by providing forefront observational opportunities to the research community.

The Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences, and The Department of Physics and the Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences (including the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics) , were all involved in the NSO headquarters bid throughout the process.

The extremely high quality of students in these departments was likely a significant consideration in the decision to bring the NSO headquarters to Boulder, and major research opportunities for both graduate and undergraduate students will accompany the NSO move, particularly once the Advanced Technology Solar Telescope comes on line.

In addition to the university, Colorado and Boulder offer a host of national laboratories as potential collaborators with the NSO. Other laboratories and centers in Colorado expected to participate and benefit include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the National Institute for Standards and Technology.

The consolidation of NSO into a single site located on CU-Boulder's East Campus is expected to result in jobs for up to 70 scientists, engineers and staff with an annual payroll of roughly $20 million. The new facility will bolster an already formidable high-tech and aerospace industry in the state. Colorado is third behind California and Washington, D.C., in aerospace industry presence.


• The National Solar Observatory is the primary provider of key ground-based facilities to the United States solar science community to probe all aspects of the sun. The NSO is operated by the Associated Universities for Research in Astronomy, or AURA, under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation for the benefit of the astronomical community.

• NSO's mission is to advance the understanding of the sun both as an astronomical object and the dominant external influence on Earth. The mission includes the operation of cutting-edge facilities and the continued development of advanced instrumentation to conduct solar research, education and outreach.

• NSO goals include understanding the mechanisms generating solar cycles, the relationships between the sun's interior, surface and outer envelope, and events like coronal heating, solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

• NSO also oversees a community-based research effort called the Global Oscillation Network Group, or GONG, a six-station network that uses helioseismology to continuously observe the sun's five-minute oscillations from California, Hawaii, Chile, the Canary Islands, India and Australia.

• AURA is a consortium of universities and other research institutions that operates world-class astronomical observatories. There are 38 U.S. institutions and seven international affiliates. In addition to NSO, AURA manages three other centers – the National Optical Astronomy Observatory at Kitt Peak, Ariz., and Cerra Tololo, Chile; the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore; and the AURA Observatory, a complex of Chilean observing facilities.

• The relocation of the NSO headquarters from New Mexico and Arizona to CU-Boulder is not expected to begin until 2016.