Site & Tenants


AURA Observatory (AURA-O) Site

The AURA Observatory site in Chile consists of two sections of land.   The actual telescope sites are located on AURA's "Estancia El Totoral", a site of more than 90,000 acres including two operational mountaintops, Cerro Tololo at 2,200m and Cerro Pachon at 2,750m.  In La Serena, AURA-O operates the "AURA Recinto", a 33 acre compound hosting offices, laboratories, administration and facilities support staff. 

AURA Observatory in Chile manages the site under the general terms of the AURA Observatory Charter (pdf), which sets out the fundamental operational terms and relationships between AURA Observatory and the programs and other units operating on the AURA site.  The responsibility for managing the operations and maintenance of the shared infrastructure of the AURA-O Site has been delegated to NOAO-South Facilities and Operations group.

NOTE: Every winter, the mountaintop site operates under the Winter Operations Plan (Plan Invierno).  This plan generally is in place from 15 April to 15 September every year.  Anyone planning or executing activities on the mountains should be aware of the procedures described in this plan.  The plan is summarized in a single-page English "instructivos", and is detailed in the full Plan Invierno 2017 (Spanish only). For more information or past plans, please visit the Plan Invierno page.

Major Astronomical Programs:

Tenant Astronomical Projects

  • SMARTS (Small and Medium Aperture Research Telescope System)
  • University of Michigan Curtis Schmidt (currently not operational)
  • GONG (Global Oscillation Network Group)
  • WHAM (Wisconsin H-Alpha Mapper)
  • SARA (Southeastern Association for Research in Astronomy)
  • LCOGTN (Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network)
  • mEarth (in commissioning)
  • KMTnet (in commissioning)
  • T80S (under construction)

Additional non-astronomical Projects

  • SSI Airglow Study
  • ALO (Andes Lidar Observatory)
  • UChile/IRIS Seismic Monitoring Station
  • DGAC (Chilean FAA-equivalent) Weather Station

Observing Time on AURA Observatory Facilities

In general, observing time on the above facilities is managed by each program or project through their own time allocation processes.  Open access is available to any astronomer worldwide for time on Gemini, NOAO, and SOAR telescopes based on the "open skies" policy of NOAO/NSF through the merit-based peer review of the NOAO time allocation process.  Details on proposing through this channel are available at the NOAO Proposal Information page.

For the research facilities on the AURA-O site, ten percent (10%) of the scientific observing time is reserved for the Chilean astronomical community.  Most of the Chilean time is managed through the CNTAC, Chilean National Time Allocation Committee, which is managed by the University of Chile Department of Astronomy.  Information for applying for Chilean observing time on AURA-O facilities is available on our Chilean Access page.  Chilean time on Gemini is managed through the CONICYT call for proposals.

Site Services and Fees

NOAO South has been given the responsibility for managing the operations of the AURA-O Site, including all shared facilities such as roads, dorms, kitchen and dining facilities as well as utilities including electricity, water, gas, and communication lines.  The services provided are documented in the Service Level Agreement.  The NOAO South Facilities group provides the infrastructure support services at cost to all tenants, and recovers costs through site fees.  Site fees include "per use" fees, such as for nights in the dorm and costs of individual meals, and more general fees including a "share fee" for mountain infrastructure support and a "census fee" for administrative and La Serena infrastructure support.  The model for calculating these fees is documented in the "Two Mountain Model" description.  The fees are updated annually, usually in the northern fall/southern spring period, for each fiscal year which starts Oct 1.

Site fees

AURA Site Users' Meetings