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UArizona leads nation in astronomy, astrophysics research spending

University spent nearly $122M in FY 2020
The University of Arizona has long been considered a global leader in astronomy and planetary sciences.
Posted at 10:25 PM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-08 21:55:09-05

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Many call Tucson the astronomy capital of the world, and for good reason.

The University of Arizona spent $121,908,000 on astronomy and astrophysics research in fiscal year 2020, more than any other school, according to a survey from the National Science Foundation.

Most of that goes toward the university’s contributions to developing NASA planetary missions and the research behind them.

Professor Mark Marley graduated from UArizona before working at NASA for 20 years. Last year, he returned to campus to become head of the school’s Department of Planetary Sciences and Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL).

“Really it’s the backbone of the faculty and our research staff that make all these things possible,” he said. “The thing that really strikes me coming back is just the entrepreneurial spirit of the faculty. People will spend years developing and proposing a mission proposal to NASA. And sometimes given how much competition there is, these things are not successful.”

But many projects and missions developed by UArizona have seen incredible success.

Marley says the Osiris-REx mission was developed at LPL. It sent a craft to the asteroid Bennu, which is planning to bring back the largest Asteroid sample ever to return to Earth.

Marley says his department is also currently developing the NEO Surveyor mission with funding from NASA, which will scan skies for thousands of smaller near-Earth asteroids that could end up impacting our planet.

Within the separate astronomy department, one big success launched on Christmas Day: the James Webb Space Telescope.

UArizona regents professors of astronomy George and Marcia Rieke helped create the telescope’s infrared technology, which will allowing it to look deeper into space than we ever have before.

The telescope is preparing to capture dramatic images from space for decades to come.

That’s only scratching the surface of the university’s recent accomplishments.

Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation Betsy Cantwell says everyone from postdoctoral researchers to multi-decade faculty members have seen success in sending their designs and ideas into space.

“We have the assets, we have the physical construction, we have the research capability and we have colleagues for them to work with, that’s what drives scientists,” she said.

Taking on a universe of unknowns in outer space also allows these scientists to learn more about us here at home.

“It allows us to place Earth in context with our neighboring planets and help us understand why Earth is special,” Marley said.