AURA, the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy,
is a consortium of universities, and educational and other non-profit institutions, that operates world-class astronomical observatories that we term "centers." Our members are 40 U.S. Institutions and 4 international affiliates. We view ourselves as acting on behalf of the science communities that are served by our centers, and as trustees and advocates for the centers' missions.
AURA Observatory in Chile (AURA-O) oversees the operations of the AURA and affiliated facilities in Chile. AURA-O manages three major NSF-funded optical astronomical facilities with components in Chile:
AURA-O began activities in Chile in 1961 with support from the University of Chile, and soon thereafter established the first major international observatory in Chile, the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory (CTIO). CTIO, now part of NOAO, operates the Blanco 4m telescope, which was the largest telescope in the Southern Hemisphere from its construction in 1974 until 1998. In the period from 1995 to 1999, the CTIO Blanco 4m telescope led the way in the discovery of the accelerating universe (leading to the Nobel Prize in Physics 2011). Both groups utilized the Blanco to discover the supernovae used to measure the acceleration of the universe, and the supernovae were followed up using additional AURA facilities, including other NOAO facilities and the Hubble Space Telescope. This discovery was recently recognized with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics.
In 2000, AURA began operations of the Gemini-South 8m telescope, the twin of Gemini-North in Hawaii, completing the internationally-funded Gemini Observatory, whose current partners include the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Soon thereafter, the Southern Astrophysical Research telescope (SOAR) began operations, with partners including Brazil, University of North Carolina, and Michigan State University.
AURA-O currently over 20 astronomical telescopes on Cerros Tololo & Pachon, with several more telescopes and astronomical projects under development, with mirror diameters from 0.4m to 8.4m (LSST). In addition, AURA-O hosts a wide range of other scientific facilities, including two atmospheric studies (SSI & the Andes Lidar Observatory), a geophysical station (UChile/IRIS), a solar observing station (GONG), and a station for the Chilean aeronautical administration (DGAC). AURA-O operates in Chile under Chilean law, through an Agreement with the University of Chile and under the auspices of the Chilean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and according to the AURA-O Charter
Since 1961, AURA has managed an integrated U.S. Federal (NSF) investment in Chile of almost $1 billion USD, and has managed a total investment including international partners of well over $1B.