Working to expand professional development opportunities for science educators across the United States, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy program, known as SOFIA, has selected 14 two-person teams for its 2015 Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors.
The flying observatory is a highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner carrying a 100-inch (2.5-meter) effective diameter telescope. Fitted with instruments that collect data at infrared wavelengths, SOFIA flies at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet (12-14 kilometers) on 10-hour overnight science missions.
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, Program began its third season of science flights on Jan. 13, 2015. SOFIA is NASA's next generation flying observatory and is fitted with a 2.5-meter (100-inch) diameter telescope that studies the universe at infrared wavelengths.
SOFIA landed at its operations base in Palmdale, Calif. at 3:20 p.m. local time, Sunday, Dec. 14, after a five-month heavy maintenance visit to the Lufthansa Technik facility in Hamburg, Germany.
The German Aerospace Center (DLR)'s (English version) web feature regarding SOFIA's departure from Hamburg on December 14, plus the farewell-to-SOFIA media event held November 21 in Hamburg that included speeches by NASA officials, can be viewed here.
On Nov. 25, 2014, the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart, celebrated its 10th anniversary with project partners, academic collaborators, and friends. The DSI was formed to support the development and operation of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
Click the movie below to view a time-lapse video of SOFIA's third month of maintenance (September 2014) at the Lufthansa Technik facility in Hamburg, Germany. In September, Lufthansa Technik engineers continued inspection of the aircraft including maintenance on the engine pylons and re-installation of the displays in the on-board consoles, while staff from the University of Stuttgart's German SOFIA Institute continued maintenance on the telescope assembly. SOFIA is expected to return to the U.S. in December and resume science flights in January 2015.
An international scientific team led by scientists at the University of Cologne, Germany, applied a new method of age determination to a combination of data from SOFIA and other observatories to make a surprising discovery: The star forming cloud IRAS 16293-2422, located at a distance of about 400 light years in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, is at least 1 million years old, yet it is still making sun-like stars.
The book “NASA’s Kuiper Airborne Observatory, 1971-1995: An Operations Retrospective With a View to SOFIA,” chronicles the history of NASA’s airborne astronomy program. Authors Edwin F. Erickson (Astrophysics Branch, research scientist, now retired), and SOFIA Associate Scientist Allan W. Meyer focus on the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO), but also feature the Ames-based airborne laboratories and observatories that preceded it: the Convair 990, the Learjet Observatory, and the U-2 research aircraft.
SOFIA's instruments cover a wide range of wavelengths, from the near-ultraviolet to the far-infrared, as well as a wide range of spectral resolutions, from the broadband filters in the three infrared cameras to the very high resolution of the GREAT (German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies) far-infrared heterodyne spectrometer. Capability "footprints" of SOFIA's planned suite of seven first-generation science instruments are shown in the graphic above.
The Cycle 2 cohort of Airborne Astronomy Ambassador (AAA) educators flew as partners with scientific investigators on SOFIA flights during March, April, and May 2014. AAA teams are competitively selected based on their plans for STEM education enhancements plus NASA- and SOFIA-oriented public engagement activities in their respective home communities.
Click on the movie below to view the entire playlist of six videos of the Cycle 2 Ambassadors and their flights, produced by NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center's video team and the SOFIA Outreach group.
What an exciting time it’s been for the SOFIA Program.
As a testament to the professionalism of our aircraft maintainers and our flight, science, and instrument teams, SOFIA has departed on 93 percent of its scheduled flights, which exceeds our stated 2014 goal of 89 percent. During these operations we have achieved more than eight research hours per flight in support of more than 40 Cycle 2 guest investigators.
With successful commissioning of a new “H” (high-frequency) channel, SOFIA’s GREAT (German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies) far-infrared spectrometer is ready to open new celestial windows for the world’s scientific community.
Astronomers are eagerly waiting to begin use of a new instrument to study celestial objects: a high-resolution, mid-infrared spectrograph mounted on NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), the world's largest flying telescope.
On June 2, 2014, during the 224th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Boston, Massachusetts, Paul Hertz, director of NASA's Astrophysics Division, announced that the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has passed its Key Decision Point E (KDP-E) and been transitioned into the operational phase.
"We have now formally completed the development phase of SOFIA and declared the observatory operational. That's the equivalent of a launch for a space mission," said Hertz.
The scientific capabilities of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) were increased substantially on April 15, 2014, with completion of commissioning tests and the first scientific observations made by the Field-Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer, FIFI-LS.
On March 31, a team from the University of California at Davis and NASA Ames installed the Echelon-Cross-Echelle Spectrograph (EXES) science instrument on SOFIA. EXES is a mid-infrared spectrograph that collects data at wavelengths between 4.5 to 28.3 microns, a region of the spectrum with many molecular transitions. SOFIA, a joint project involving NASA and the German Space Agency, is a Boeing 747SP aircraft that carries a 2.5-meter telescope to the stratosphere and above 99 percent of the Earth’s atmospheric water vapor for eight to nine hour observing sessions.
The FIFI-LS (Field-Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer) instrument developed by the University of Stuttgart was carried aloft by SOFIA for its “first-light” flight on March 7, and subsequently completed its first series of commissioning flights. Right “out of the box”, the instrument displayed exceptional performance.
On Feb. 18, 20, 24, and 26, NASA's flying observatory focused on the explosion known as a supernova that obliterated the remains of a star about the mass of the Sun in the Messier 82 galaxy (M82). Located 11 million light years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major, the exploding star is named Supernova (SN) 2014J.
When rings were first discovered around the planet Uranus, Allan Meyer was there. When water erupted out of Halley’s Comet, Allan Meyer was there, too. He wasn't in space but in the stratosphere, operating the telescope on a NASA airborne observatory.