NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has returned from a six-week deployment to study portions of the universe visible only from Earth's Southern Hemisphere. The flying observatory was based at the National Science Foundation's U.S. Antarctic Program facility at Christchurch International Airport from June 15 to July 24.
In a special celestial event visible only from the Southern Hemisphere, Pluto passed directly between a distant star and the Earth on the morning of June 30, New Zealand time (June 29 in the U.S.). As the dwarf planet and its atmosphere were backlit by the star, this “occultation” caused a faint shadow of Pluto to move across the surface of Earth at more than 53,000 mph, creating a ripe opportunity to perform scientific analysis – if instruments and observers could be in the right place at the right time.
NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, departed from Christchurch, New Zealand at 6:20 pm local time June 19 for the first of 15 planned Southern Hemisphere deployment science flights.
For the next five weeks SOFIA will operate from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Program facility at Christchurch International Airport. Flying out of New Zealand enables SOFIA to study celestial objects that are more easily observed, or can only be observed, from southern latitudes.
The German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) has undergone a transformation. The far-infrared spectrometer was upgraded from one to 14 detectors and was renamed "upGREAT." The addition of the new detectors has improved the instrument's sensitivity by 30 percent. Read more.
Using NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), an international scientific team discovered that supernovae are capable of producing a substantial amount of the material from which planets like Earth can form.
These findings are published in the March 19 online issue of Science magazine.
"Our observations reveal a particular cloud produced by a supernova explosion 10,000 years ago contains enough dust to make 7,000 Earths," said Ryan Lau of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.
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.