SOFIA Highlights: Observatory update

FIFI-LS Mapping of the HII Region of M17-SW

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, released its call for observing proposals from the U.S. and international astronomical communities. Approximately 500 hours of observing time are available for flights in 2019. Proposals that will use SOFIA data to enable Ph.D. theses will also be supported. The deadline for submitting the Phase I proposals is September 7, 2018, at 9 p.m. PDT.

SOFIA takes off from Christchurch International Airport

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, is preparing to head to Christchurch, New Zealand, to study celestial objects best viewed from the Southern Hemisphere.

SOFIA prepares for take off from Hamburg, Germany, after finishing heavy maintenance at Lufthansa Technik.

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, has returned from an extended maintenance period and will resume science flights on May 22.

The May 22 mission will be a 10-hour, overnight flight where SOFIA will observe a number of celestial objects including an area of dense gas in the constellation Sagittarius. Researchers will also study the material remaining after a supernova explosion to better understand how these cataclysmic events impact the surrounding area and if these interactions form cosmic rays.

Eric Becklin (back left) observing Pluto and a background star in 2015

The American Astronomical Society, AAS, awarded the Henry Norris Russell Lectureship to Eric Becklin, senior science advisor for SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. The lectureship is awarded annually based on "a lifetime of eminence in astronomical research, and for his leadership role in turning infrared astronomy into a fundamental tool for understanding astronomy and astrophysics."

360 degree view of SOFIA's mission control center

Now it’s possible to explore NASA’s flying observatory with a new 3-D virtual tour that brings users aboard SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

NASA Spitzer image showing the portion of the Rho Oph dark cloud observed and HAWC+ image showing systematic variations in the polarization.

Astronomers from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, Northwestern University, and the University of Maryland were on hand at the 231st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, D.C., to discuss new scientific results describing how their studies of dust grain polarization and celestial magnetic fields are leading to a better understanding of star formation, theories about how gas cools in the interstellar medium, and how magnetic fields are creating stellar winds around black holes.

Image of polarization measurements capturing the structure of the magnetic field in the Orion star forming region.

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, is preparing for its 2018 observing campaign, which will include observations of celestial magnetic fields, star-forming regions, comets, Saturn’s giant moon Titan and more.

This will be the fourth year of full operations for SOFIA, with observations planned between February 2018 and January 2019. Research flights will be conducted primarily from SOFIA’s home base at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. Highlights from these observations include:

Rainer Strecker, Deutsches SOFIA Institut quality manager, conducts a final inspection and cleaning of GREAT

The German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, or GREAT, instrument was successfully mounted on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, airborne observatory for the first time on Jan. 21, 2011. A number of tests will follow before the first scientific flights of SOFIA with GREAT take place in April 2011.

"Thanks to all who participated in the project over the years and contributed to the completion of the instrument," said Rolf Guesten, principal investigator for GREAT at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany.

Map of planetary nebula NGC 7027

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.

FIFI-LS mounted on the SOFIA telescope for the first time

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.