The National Solar Observatory is an organization which focuses on the study of the sun. It is operated through the cooperation of the National Science Foundation and the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), a collective organization which includes member institutions from all over the United States. Two facilities are operated by the National Solar Observatory as part of its mission; these facilities are open to the public and the organization in fact encourages visitors as part of its educational outreach programs. Researchers can use the telescopes by arrangement.
There are several aspects to the mission of the National Solar Observatory. The organization finds the sun to be an object of intense interest both as the nearest star and as a celestial body which has major influence on life on Earth. It promotes research of the sun by providing facilities and equipment to conduct research, along with support staff. In addition, the National Solar Observatory engages in education programs to get people excited about astronomy and interested in the sun, and it provides data about sun spots and other scientific phenomena to the scientific community.
Two observatories in the American Southwest are operated by the National Solar Observatory. One is at Kitt Peak, Arizona, and the other is on Sacramento Peak in New Mexico. These observatories have several telescopes available to researchers, along with advanced scientific instruments to assist with observation of the sun. Data amassed by these facilities has been of great help in coming to a greater understanding on the Sun and its role on the solar system.
Researchers who want to take advantage of the facilities at a National Solar Observatory site can apply to conduct research, and they may be eligible for grants and other assistance as well. Telescope schedules are often heavily booked, so researchers are encouraged to request telescope time well in advance to ensure that they have the access they need. Coordination between visiting astronomers and support staff is also very important to ensure that telescope time is efficiently used.
Visitors to the National Solar Observatory can drop in on the visitor's centers of both facilities during the day. Guided tours of the facilities themselves are available at set times, and people can also set up private tours, depending on the prevailing schedule at the facility. The Kitt Peak Observatory also offers nighttime stargazing programs in addition to day visits, and both facilities are located in the midst of beautiful natural environments which provide plenty of space for exploration and enjoyment of nature.