The National Science Board (NSB) and the international Gemini Board have authorized the National Science Foundation (NSF) to award a new 6-year, $208 million cooperative agreement to the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) for the management and operation of the Gemini Observatory.
This announcement concludes an open competition by NSF to select an organization to manage Gemini, which operates two 8-meter telescopes: Gemini North, which views the northern sky along with other major astronomical observatories on Maunakea on the Big Island of Hawai’i; and Gemini South, which studies the southern sky from Cerro Pachon in Chile, near AURA’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.
As the only 8-meter aperture telescopes available to most of the U.S. and Gemini participant astronomical communities, Gemini fills a critical position in the suite of publicly accessible telescopes.
“I am thrilled and proud that AURA and our amazing Gemini Team have been selected to continue to operate the Gemini Observatory on behalf of the International Gemini partnership and NSF,” said AURA President Matt Mountain.
“Under the leadership of Markus Kissler-Patig and Nancy Levenson, Gemini has entered the most stable and productive period in its history, and still the Observatory continues to innovate!”
On hearing the news, Gemini Director Dr. Markus Kissler-Patig stated, “Our vision is that users will bring their best ideas in science and instrumentation to Gemini. And we are pleased to be able to continue this approach under a new cooperative agreement with the NSF.”
The new cooperative agreement will begin in 2017; AURA and NSF will finalize details over the coming months.
AURA and Gemini
AURA is a consortium of institutions that builds and operates astronomical facilities on behalf of the broad astronomical community. Its 40 Member Institutions from the United States represent the strongest astronomical partnership within the U.S., and its rotating suite of International Affiliate Members (currently four) provide critical non-U.S. perspectives.
AURA established the first major international observatory to operate in Chile more than 50 years ago and has maintained a legal presence there ever since. AURA managed the original construction of the Gemini Observatory and has served as the managing organization since Gemini’s science operations began in the early 1990s.
AURA was recently selected to receive cooperative agreements with NSF to operate the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO), as well as the National Solar Observatory (NSO). NSF has also selected AURA to lead the construction of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on Haleakala, as well as construction of the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST) on Cerro Pachon in Chile.
In addition to NOAO and NSO, AURA also manages the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) via a contract from NASA. STScI oversees community use of the Hubble Space Telescope as well as operations development for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
“The coming years are an exciting period in the development of astronomy,” said Richard Green (University of Arizona, and Chair of the AURA Board of Directors). “AURA looks forward to working with the Gemini Board to position Gemini as a key part of the new astronomical landscape,” Green added.
Gemini as an International Observatory
The Gemini International Agreement governs all aspects of the Gemini Observatory. The participating countries are the United States, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, and the Gemini South host country Chile, with the latest agreement in effect from 2016. Gemini also has limited-term arrangements with Australia and South Korea, and memoranda of understanding with the Japanese Subaru Telescope and the Canada- France-Hawaii Telescope, both on Maunakea.
The Gemini Board, which includes representatives from the participant countries, communicates its policies and directives through the National Science Foundation (the Executive Agency) to AURA as the managing organization.
“The Gemini Board has enjoyed a very productive relationship with AURA over the past years in the management of the Gemini Observatory,” noted Rene Walterbos (New Mexico State University, current Chair of the Gemini Board). “We are pleased that AURA will continue to manage Gemini and are excited to see the new directions of the Observatory as our Gemini partnership evolves.”
AURA President Matt Mountain thanked the staff of Gemini Observatory for their professionalism and creativity as the facility moves into this new era of operations, saying, “It’s the people at Gemini who make the Observatory, and working with our international community, I’m looking forward to the future groundbreaking science made possible by our partnership.”