Flash Call for FORCAST Observations

The SOFIA program invites Director's Discretionary Time (DDT) proposals, through this "Flash Call", for observations with the FORCAST Long Wavelength Camera in the celestial region: RA, Dec: 13h - 19h, > +70˚, to be executed during flights at the end of June 2021. A total of up to ~6h of observing time is available, depending on detailed flight planning constraints. 

The defining observations for three of the flights in the upcoming SOFIA/FORCAST series (OC8O), June 28 - July 3, are of the Moon, using the Short Wavelength Camera. Because of array latency, scientific observations with that camera are not viable for the rest of each flight. Based on initial flight plans, a set of end-of-flight, return-legs are, however, available for observations with the Long Wavelength Camera (LWC), in imaging or grism mode. Scientific observations with the FPI+ camera are also possible.

Because the details of flight legs are only settled once flight plans are laid out (relatively close to the flight dates), the turn-around for this Flash Call is short and proposals are due by 11:59pm on Wednesday May 26, 2021 (PDT). More information.

NPR Interviews USRA's Dr. Margaret Meixner on SOFIA's Instruments

SOFIA’s Instrument upgrade was a topic of interest to NPR and resulted in an interview request from the station. Dr. Margaret Meixner, Director, SOFIA Mission Operations, talked with NPR’s Brendan Byrne and the interview was aired on May 11, 2021.

Here is the link to the interview:

Dr. Meixner's interview begins right after the 16- minute mark. 

USRA's Margaret Meixner Interviewed by Federal News Network

Federal News Network radio recently interviewed Dr. Margaret Meixner, Director, SOFIA Science Mission Operations at USRA.  Listen the the interview or read a transcript here.

SOFIA Upgrading One-of-a-kind Camera

After making numerous discoveries of how magnetic fields shape our universe, an instrument flying on board the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy is about to get even faster at gathering data.

SOFIA is upgrading the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus, or HAWC+ with four new detectors that will allow it to study magnetic fields in distant galaxies four times faster than its current rate.

Read the full story here.

Instrument Roadmap Report Available

The Instrument Roadmap, a community-and science-driven plan for SOFIA's instrument suite, is now available to view. The Roadmap is focused on prioritized science cases and the technology needed to enable them. It is built on input from a large scientific community, including more than 300 participants across more than 100 institutions attending dedicated virtual workshops last summer. Read the full Instrument Roadmap report here.

SOFIA Begins First Series of Science Flights From Germany

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, will conduct its first ever series of science observations from Germany in February and March, 2021. Many of the observations seek to answer fundamental questions in astronomy, including how stars can transform galaxies and what is the origin of cosmic rays in the Milky Way galaxy.

SOFIA, a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR, recently completed scheduled maintenance and telescope upgrades at Lufthansa Technik’s facility in Hamburg, Germany. Now, the observatory will take advantage of its proximity to science teams at the Max Planck Institute of Radio Astronomy in Bonn and the University of Cologne, which operate the instrument called German Receiver at Terahertz Frequencies, or GREAT, to conduct research flights from the Cologne Bonn Airport.

“We're taking advantage of SOFIA’s ability to observe from almost anywhere in the world to conduct compelling astronomical investigations,” said Paul Hertz, director of astrophysics at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This observing campaign from Germany is an excellent example of the cooperation between NASA and DLR that has been the strength of the SOFIA program for over 25 years.”

SOFIA regularly flies to Christchurch, New Zealand, to study objects only visible in the skies over the Southern Hemisphere, and completed one science flight from Germany in 2019. But this is the first time a multi-flight observing campaign will be conducted over European soil. Over the course of six weeks, SOFIA will conduct about 20 overnight research flights that will focus on high-priority observations, including several large programs that were rescheduled from spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With new COVID-19 safety procedures in place, SOFIA will use its GREAT instrument to search for signatures of celestial molecules, ions, and atoms that are key to unlocking some of the secrets of the universe.

The observations include:

How Stars Affect Their Surroundings  

In stellar nurseries like Cygnus X, newborn stars can destroy the clouds in which they’re born. Researchers will use SOFIA to create a map of ionized carbon, a gas the young stars are heating, to better understand this process. Ionized carbon’s chemical fingerprint can determine the speed of the gas at all positions across the celestial clouds. The signal is so strong that it reveals critical details that are otherwise hidden from view deep inside natal clouds. The data may also help explain the source of the mysterious bubble-like structures that were detected by the Herschel Space Observatory and Spitzer Space Telescope but have yet to be fully understood.

Searching for Clues About Cosmic Rays

The team will search for gases that can reveal the presence of cosmic rays, highly energetic charged particles that stream through our Milky Way galaxy. When a hydrogen atom combines with another element, such as argon or oxygen, simple molecules called hydrides are formed, some of which can be used to find cosmic rays. While cosmic rays can be detected directly within our solar system, astronomers know much less about their presence elsewhere in space. By measuring the concentration of hydride molecules, SOFIA’s observations will help researchers understand how common cosmic rays are in different parts of our galaxy, providing clues about the origin of these mysterious particles.

Understanding the Evolution of The Cigar Galaxy, or M82

SOFIA previously found that the Cigar galaxy's powerful wind, driven by the galaxy's high rate of star birth, is aligned along the magnetic field lines and transports a huge amount of material out of the galaxy. Now, researchers will study ionized carbon gas, which traces star formation, to learn how this intense star birth and wind are affecting the evolution of the galaxy.


SOFIA’s GREAT instrument works like a radio receiver. Scientists tune to the frequency of the molecule they’re searching for, like tuning an FM radio to the right station. The instrument can also look for changes in signals that provide insights into how stars affect their surroundings, similar to how a radar gun bounces a signal off a moving car to determine its speed.


SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science, and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association, headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703, in Palmdale, California.

Funding Available for Archival Research

SOFIA is pleased to invite proposals for SOFIA Archival Research Programs (SARP), aimed at encouraging the use of SOFIA archival observations for impactful science.

This program will fund archival research projects primarily using SOFIA data to encourage the use of available SOFIA archival data in the Infrared Science Archive (IRSA). Two distinct types of proposals for the archival research program are solicited in this round:

  • Regular Proposals - Large programs requesting up to $150,000 per year, or more in exceptional cases, and lasting up to two years
  • Small Proposals - Targeted programs requesting up to $50,000 and lasting for one year 

This call is open to all U.S. institutions. This complements the Astrophysics Data Analysis Program (ADAP) under the NASA Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) solicitation. Proposals are due February 12, 2021Learn more here.

SOFIA Departs for Scheduled Maintenance

SOFIA departed for scheduled maintenance at Lufthansa Technik’s facility in Hamburg, Germany, on Sept. 29, 2020. Lufthansa Technik's 747SP specialists will perform scheduled inspections and maintenance in coordination with flight, aircraft and scientific personnel from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center and Ames Research Center. Scheduled maintenance such as this is required for all aircraft, much like the regular servicing done on cars. Staff from the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) will also perform upgrades to the flying observatory's telescope. The maintenance is expected to be completed early next year. 

SOFIA at the 237th AAS Virtual Meeting

The SOFIA Science Center is organizing the special session 'Assessing the Impact of Stellar Feedback' at the 237th AAS meeting (online). The oral session will be held on Tuesday January 12, from 4:10 pm to 5:40 pm (Eastern Time). More information here.

SOFIA Returns to Flight

NASA’s flying observatory, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, has returned to science operations with a new series of flights designed to study the chemistry of galaxies.

SOFIA flights were suspended on March 19 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the resumption of flights out of SOFIA’s base at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, new procedures are in place to ensure the health and safety of staff while enabling the observations of celestial targets visible from the Northern Hemisphere. SOFIA started by flying two flights beginning Aug. 17, to allow the team time to evaluate and adjust the new procedures, and now plans to return to its regular observing schedule with about four flights each week.

"We are so thrilled to begin observations again and very thankful to the scientists, operations staff and pilots who are returning us to flight," said Margaret Meixner, SOFIA’s science mission operations director at the Universities Space Research Association. "In this flight series, SOFIA is studying the chemistry that influences the creation and evolution of galaxies across cosmic history. We cannot wait to see the data."

The team will explore distant galaxies to learn how black holes control the galaxies’ growth and how quickly stars form in them. To further understand how stars are born, the team will examine how magnetic fields affect the celestial clouds that incubate natal stars.

In June, SOFIA’s annual deployment to Christchurch, New Zealand was deemed not feasible given ongoing concerns related to the pandemic. Instead a new schedule was coordinated to take advantage of observing opportunities from California. New safety procedures are designed to meet NASA and Federal Aviation Administration requirements for safety and return to on-site work. New procedures include flying a minimal number of mission crew, social distancing and personal protective equipment for staff, and extra sanitation of the aircraft during and in-between flights.