Published: April 26, 2011

The University of Colorado Boulder has been named one of two finalists to host the headquarters for the National Solar Observatory, the nation's top ground-based scientific research program studying solar physics and space weather.

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 detailed aspects of the sun. 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 key observing facilities in New Mexico and Arizona.

NSO announced yesterday that CU-Boulder was selected as a finalist along with the University of Alabama-Huntsville. CU-Boulder partnered with the New Jersey Institute of Technology and the University of Hawaii on the bid and has proposed to implement a collaborative graduate education program that would enhance the role of NSO in research and education on a national level.

"We are delighted to be named a finalist to host the National Solar Observatory, which is of great importance to the nation and world in terms of better understanding solar physics and space weather," said CU-Boulder Provost Russell Moore, who submitted the proposal on behalf of the university. "As one of the world's leading institutions in solar research, we would have even greater access to ground-based observing facilities and would be able to continue to provide unrivaled opportunities for our students and research scientists alike."

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 mission includes the operation of cutting-edge facilities and the continued development of advanced instrumentation both in-house and through partnerships, as well as conducting solar research and educational and public outreach.

In addition to the university, Boulder offers a host of national laboratories as potential collaborators with the NSO, said Moore. Colorado also is home to a large number of aerospace companies, which generate significant job development and research funding.

CU-Boulder departments involved in the bid include the astrophysical and planetary sciences department, the physics department and the aerospace engineering sciences department, according to Associate Professor Mark Rast of the astrophysical and planetary sciences department who was on a team that wrote the proposal to AURA.

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 4-meter Advanced Technology Solar Telescope on the island of Maui in Hawaii is completed in the next several years. The new headquarters, either at CU-Boulder or the University of Alabama-Huntsville, will be the primary science, instrument development and data analysis site, according to Rast.

CU-Boulder hosts several laboratories and centers that will benefit if the university wins the bid, including the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy and JILA, he said.