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NRC pledges $50m for international astronomy projects and Canada-US Napra Agreement

Ottawa, ON June 4, 2003 The National Research Council (NRC) has committed to increase funding for astronomy and astrophysics research programs by more than C$50 million over five years. The funding will allow NRC to finalize collaborative agreements with the National Science Foundation (NSF) of the United States, and to give Canadians a role in the design, construction and use of many of the world’s most important astronomy observatories.

NRC will implement the Long Range Plan for Astronomy and Astrophysics in part through the Canada-US North American Program in Radio Astronomy (NAPRA), a bilateral arrangement which will offer Canadians access to the US national radio astronomy facilities of the NSF’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) on the same basis as US researchers. These facilities include many unique-in-the-world observatories plus the planned Expanded Very Large Array (EVLA) in New Mexico.

NAPRA and an associated agreement also establish the framework for Canadian participation in the Atacama Large Millimetre Array (ALMA), World Observatory involving European, as well as US astronomy agencies to be built in Chile. Canadian involvement in ALMA will be announced at a later date.

The EVLA is a dramatic upgrading of the NRAO’s VLA observatory near Socorro, New Mexico. The VLA facility is one of the world’s premier radio observatories and often cited as the most famous, because of its profile in books and film (for example, Carl Sagan’s Contact, starring Jodi Foster). Canada’s NRC will construct a next-generation digital correlator system for the EVLA.

NRC says it will fund these new initiatives within the context of incremental resources provided in the February 2003 federal budget and established programs. NRC operates federal astronomical observatories in Canada through its British Columbia-based NRC Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (NRC-HIA).

“We are extremely proud that NRC-HIA technology has been chosen for the core system of the EVLA project,” said Dr Arthur Carty, NRC president, noting that NRC-HIA is also today celebrating the successful commissioning of its Altair adaptive optics system on the Gemini North Telescope. “Such international recognition is a tremendous boost for Canadian science and innovation.”