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  • richardmitnick 2:46 pm on September 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA Blueshift: “A Ride on SOFIA” 

    NASA Blueshift
    NASA Blueshift

    September 5, 2014
    Maggie Masetti

    This is a guest blog by astronomer Brian Williams

    NASA SOFIA

    A joint project between NASA and the German space agency (DLR), the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, is a bit of a departure from NASA’s traditional telescope fleet. Rather than flying in space, SOFIA features a 2.5-meter telescope implanted into the side of a modified Boeing 747SP. The telescope observes the cosmos in infrared wavelengths beyond what our eyes can see, and doing so requires getting above the water vapor in the atmosphere close to the Earth’s surface that absorbs infrared radiation. SOFIA accomplishes this by flying at around 40,000 feet, revealing a part of the spectrum that is inaccessible from the ground.

    In May, I had observations being done on SOFIA to observe a bright supernova that exploded a few years ago. The supernova, given the catalog number 2010jl, had been observed with Spitzer last year, where it was noted to be bright in the infrared, several years post-explosion. This is quite rare, and we were granted follow-up observations with SOFIA to observe at even longer wavelengths. By observing at various places in the spectrum, we can put better constraints on the source of the bright emission and determine what is special about this supernova that makes its surroundings glow brightly several years after exploding. As part of this, I got the chance to go on the observing flight on the night of May 5-6th. Here’s the story of the experience.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    sj

    This composite image of UGC 5189A shows X-ray data from Chandra in purple and optical data from Hubble Space Telescope in red, green and blue. SN 2010jl is the very bright X-ray source near the top of the galaxy (X-ray image: NASA / CXC / Royal Military College of Canada / P. Chandra et al; Optical image: NASA / STScI)

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA/Chandra

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    SOFIA flies out of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, CA, about an hour north of Los Angeles. I arrived at Armstrong’s Hangar 703 early in the afternoon of the 5th. I had electronically requested temporary security access through my NASA badge to save myself paperwork at the gate. Crossing my fingers that everything had been filled out correctly, I held my badge up to the security scanner. The light changed from red to green, and I heard an electronic locking mechanism open. I was good to go. I met up with my contact person inside and met some of the other people who would be onboard the night’s flight: a group of half a dozen middle and high school teachers from across the country, chosen as part of SOFIA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors Program.

    drive
    Driving up to the hangar that houses SOFIA, on the left. Credit: Brian Williams

    Up first at 3:00 was an airplane safety briefing required for anyone who had not flown on SOFIA before. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was really necessary. I fly roughly 50,000 miles a year… I think I know how to find the exits on a plane. That said, this hour long briefing was surprisingly useful and interesting. I learned that there’s a correct and incorrect way to use the sliderafts (hint: jump onto the slide, don’t sit) and don the life preservers. I held some of the equipment that you hear about in the pre-flight videos that we all ignore on commercial flights. I put on a portable oxygen mask (SOFIA is not laid out like a normal plane, having most of the seats removed for equipment, so the typical oxygen masks that fall from the overhead compartment are not on the aircraft). I even learned how to use the emergency escape ropes from a hatch on top of the cockpit, which apparently are real things. They took us on a walk-through of the aircraft, pointing out where various important things are. Flashlights, fire extinguishers, life preservers, the like. They took us into the cockpit. They let me sit in the pilot’s seat. This wasn’t part of the safety briefing. I believe the safety officer said that no one had ever asked him that before, but he said it was fine, and it just goes to show what you can get if you ask for it.

    board
    Boarding the plane for the safety walkthrough. Credit: Brian Williams

    cockpit
    Me in the cockpit. I didn’t touch anything. Credit: Brian Williams

    brian
    I didn’t get to wear this jacket during the flight, but I borrowed it for this pic. A few minutes before takeoff. Credit Brian Wiliams

    After a break for food, we met for the pre-flight mission briefing. This involved everyone who would be on the flight that night, as well as a few support staff on the ground. The flight personnel that night consisted of two pilots and a flight engineer upstairs in the cockpit, a lead and assistant mission director, two instrument scientists, two telescope operators, three German scientists from DLR who were monitoring the telescope operation for an upcoming servicing, a safety officer, the six teachers, and me. I’ve almost certainly forgotten someone, but that’s approximately correct. We went over the flight plan for the evening and got the latest updates on the weather and atmospheric conditions and the status of the instruments onboard. Everything looked great. As the only “guest scientist” on the flight, they asked me to say a few words about what we’d be observing that night. When it was over we headed out to the plane for the flight to begin. Wheels up at 7:05 pm PDT.

    test
    SOFIA on the tarmac, being prepped for flight. Credit: Brian Williams

    The flight lasted about ten hours, landing at 4:58 on the morning of May 6th. While SOFIA’s telescope has some flexibility in where it can point, it is still largely tied to a direction that is approximately perpendicular to the direction the plane is flying. Thus, what looks like a nonsensical route for a plane to fly is actually a carefully choreographed dance designed to place all the night’s targets within view. We started off flying northeast until we were over Colorado, then turned northwest to fly all the way up to British Columbia. We then backtracked to Montana, flew over North Dakota, then headed back northwest again to Alberta. Finally, we had a long, straight shot back to southern California for a landing. The flight itself drags on a bit over the course of the night after the initial excitement wears off. There are no in-flight movies or meals. There’s only so much you can chat with people after that many hours. They did allow us go up to the cockpit and hang out with the pilots, so that was neat. A few people napped. We weren’t awarded frequent flier miles, but it was still a great experience. Upon landing, the crew went home and the teachers went to their hotel. I took advantage of the crash-pad at Armstrong and slept for a few hours before driving back to LA to get on another plane and head home.

    take
    Brian, getting ready for takeoff. Credit: Brian Williams

    people
    Interior of the plane in flight, facing forward, showing some of the flight crew. Credit: Brian Williams

    view
    Shortly after takeoff, looking back at NASA’s Armstrong Research Center and the runway. Credit: Brian Williams

    rear
    Facing the rear of the plane and the telescope. Credit: Brian Williams

    The data didn’t show a direct detection of supernova 2010jl, but all hope is not lost. We prepared for that possibility, and my colleagues and I are analyzing the data to see if useful upper limits can be extracted from the data. Much like the curious case of the dog that didn’t bark, sometimes not seeing a thing can tell you as much about it as if you had seen it, if you can figure out why it isn’t there. A negative signal may imply that the type of dust that is present around this supernova doesn’t emit much light at the longer wavelengths that SOFIA observes at. It may also mean that the overall brightness has faded over the course of a few months. Follow-up observations with other instruments and theoretical modeling of the emission that we see and don’t see will allow us to answer these questions.

    See the full article here.

    Blueshift is produced by a team of contributors in the Astrophysics Science Division at Goddard. Started in 2007, Blueshift came from our desire to make the fascinating stuff going on here every day accessible to the outside world.

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  • richardmitnick 8:38 pm on May 8, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    News for NASA/SOFIA: “NASA SOFIA Program Seeks Partnerships at Industry Day” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    April 17, 2014
    Jay Levine, X-Press editor

    The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, program hosted an industry day April 11 to seek partners for the world’s largest flying infrared astronomical observatory.

    sofia
    Its primary mirror covered by a protective sun shade, the German-built infrared telescope nestled in its cavity in the rear fuselage of NASA’s SOFIA flying observatory is easily visible in this close-up image taken during an April 2010 test flight. Image Credit: NASA / Jim Ross

    Conducted at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s Building 703 in Palmdale, Calif., presentations focused on the flying observatory’s capabilities and how industry can partner with NASA for observations. The day also included tours of the science labs and the NASA 747SP that houses SOFIA’s German-made telescope.

    “The President’s fiscal year 2015 budget request to Congress proposes to greatly reduce funding for SOFIA,” said Paul Hertz, NASA’s Director of Astrophysics in explaining the Industry Day objectives. “Unless partners are able to support the U.S. portion of SOFIA costs, there will be inadequate funding to continue SOFIA operations and NASA would place the aircraft into storage by FY 2015.”

    SOFIA program manager Eddie Zavala discusses the flying observatory’s capabilities with USRA legislative affairs representative Kevin Schmadel at an industry day aimed at building partnerships between NASA and industry to conduct astronomical science missions.
    Image Credit: NASA / Jay Levine

    “NASA is now in the process of seeking out potential partners interested in joining the NASA/DLR team and contribute to the continued operation of SOFIA beyond the current fiscal year,” he added. “The SOFIA Industry Day at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center gives the agency and the SOFIA program team an opportunity to show off SOFIA to prospective partners and to the world. It also gives a chance to talk with those seeking more information about NASA’s plans for SOFIA and the opportunities that are being created.”

    On April 1, NASA issued a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit potential partners for scientific investigations. Costs are estimated at $1 million per night for a dedicated mission. The SOFIA team has set April 31 as the deadline for submission of proposals in order to solidify partnership agreements prior to the beginning of the 2015 fiscal year on Oct. 1. The RFI is available at: http://go.nasa.gov/1jvKupw

    2
    SOFIA Program Manager Eddie Zavala explained during the briefings that the observatory reached full operational capability on Feb. 21 and SOFIA has already demonstrated that it is a key part of NASA’s scientific observation assets.

    “What makes SOFIA unique is that its instrument complement covers a broad range of the infrared wavelengths,” Zavala said. “Because the observatory is an aircraft, the instruments can be improved and upgraded to take advantage of emerging technologies. The observatory can also quickly react to transient and unplanned events, such as comets. Additionally, SOFIA is capable of temporary operations from other locations such as the Southern Hemisphere, where SOFIA can observe objects of interest that are only seen in the skies at that latitude. The observatory can also fly to remote areas to observe phenomena where there are no other telescope facilities.”

    SOFIA is the only infrared telescope available to the astronomical community to provide data over a very large portion of the infrared spectrum, said Pam Marcum, SOFIA’s project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field. Calif.

    “SOFIA has much to offer potential partners,” she explained. “SOFIA has capabilities to acquire one-of-a-kind data that could provide a key to unlocking long-standing questions about the universe, the Milky Way and even the origins of the solar system.”

    “SOFIA has high angular resolution at wavelengths at which warm dust glows most brightly,” she explained. “This important capability alone is key to answering questions on how stars, such as our own sun, came to be. For example, in cases where other observatories may have seen a single ‘blob’ of infrared light, SOFIA acts like a high-precision camera that can distinguish individual stars within the clump and to perform an accurate census of newly formed stars in that region.”

    men
    Industry day attendees boarded NASA’s SOFIA airborne observatory for a look at the high-tech infrared telescope, mission instruments and systems. Also on the agenda were briefings about the SOFIA and a tour of the science laboratories where the instruments are prepared for installation.
    Image Credit: NASA / Jay Levine

    In addition to seeing through interstellar dust clouds, SOFIA is able to separate light into component colors with very high precision, allowing detailed investigation of the components and motions of celestial objects.

    “Armed with those tools, SOFIA observations that peer into the core of clouds with nascent stars could provide answers to elusive questions about the earliest phases of star formation,” Marcum said. “Do stars form by themselves, or do they always form in groups? If molecular clouds always produce multiple stars, then why doesn’t our sun at least have a twin? Such studies potentially will help researchers better understand planet formation around protostars by identifying the conditions most conducive to formation, such as chemical processing around of the protostar.”

    SOFIA is able to provide data on bright, star-forming regions, which are generally too bright for space-based telescopes to clearly see, Marcum said.

    For investigations such as catching a cloud in the act of collapsing and producing a star, Marcum explained that the range of wavelengths at which SOFIA observes is a “sweet spot.” In other words, the dusty cocoon surrounding the developing star would be too opaque to allow shorter wavelength light to pass out of the cloud, while the cocoon would be too transparent at longer wavelengths to definitively determine that the cloud was actually collapsing.

    “In addition, the observatory flies above 99 percent of the water vapor within the Earth’s atmosphere, which gives the observatory clear visibility within certain wavelength ranges that are blocked to observations by ground-based telescopes,” Marcum said. “While terrestrial atmospheric humidity is the bane of an infrared astronomer, ironically the formation of water in space is a poorly understood process for which SOFIA will provide essential data, as well as for investigations of other life-essential molecules.”

    See the full article here.

    SOFIA is a joint program of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and is based and managed at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    NASA


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  • richardmitnick 7:18 pm on March 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/SOFIA: “SOFIA Spots Recent Starbursts in the Milky Way Galaxy’s Center” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    January 8, 2013
    J.D. Harrington
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-5241
    j.d.harrington@nasa.gov

    Nicholas A. Veronico
    SOFIA Science Center
    Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
    650-604-4589
    nveronico@sofia.usra.edu

    Researchers using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) have captured new images of a ring of gas and dust seven light-years in diameter surrounding the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and of a neighboring cluster of extremely luminous young stars embedded in dust cocoons.

    The images of our galaxy’s circumnuclear ring (CNR) and its neighboring quintuplet cluster (QC) are the subjects of two posters presented this week during the American Astronomical Society’s meeting in Long Beach, Calif. Ryan Lau of Cornell University and his collaborators studied the CNR. Matt Hankins of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway is lead author of the other paper, regarding the QC.

    SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches (2.54 meters) to altitudes as high as 45,000 feet (13.7 kilometers).

    The images were obtained during SOFIA flights in 2011 with the Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) instrument built by a team with principal investigator Terry Herter of Cornell.

    NASA Forcast
    FORCAST

    FORCAST offered astronomers the ability to see the CNR and QC regions and other exotic cosmic features whose light is obscured by water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere and interstellar dust clouds in the mid-plane of the Milky Way. Neither ground-based observatories on tall mountain peaks nor NASA’s orbiting Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes can see them.

    The images may be seen by visiting:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sofia or http://www.sofia.usra.edu

    Each image is a combination of multiple exposures at wavelengths of 20, 32, and 37 microns.

    1a

    1b

    2a

    2b

    Figure 1a shows the CNR and Figure 2a shows the QC. The CNR and other exotic features revealed by SOFIA’s FORCAST camera are invisible to Hubble’s near-infrared camera, as shown for comparison in figures 1b and 2b. Figure 3 [missing from article] shows the two fields studied in these papers as square insets on a large-scale image of the galactic center made by the Spitzer Space Telescope at a wavelength of 8 microns.

    “The focus of our study has been to determine the structure of the circumnuclear ring with the unprecedented precision possible with SOFIA” said Lau. “Using these data we can learn about the processes that accelerate and heat the ring.”

    The nucleus of the Milky Way is inhabited by a black hole with 4 million times the mass of the sun and is orbited by a large disk of gas and dust. The ring seen in Figure 1a is the inner edge of that disk. The galactic center also hosts several exceptionally large star clusters containing some of the most luminous young stars in the galaxy, one of which is the Quintuplet Cluster seen in Figure 2. The combination of SOFIA’s airborne telescope with the FORCAST camera produced the sharpest images of those regions ever obtained at mid-infrared wavelengths, allowing discernment of new clues about what is happening near the central black hole.

    “Something big happened in the Milky Way’s center within the past 4 million to 6 million years which resulted in several bursts of star formation, creating the Quintuplet Cluster, the Central Cluster, and one other massive star cluster.” said Hankins, lead author of the QC paper. “Many other galaxies also have so-called ‘starbursts’ in their central regions, some associated with central black holes, some not. The Milky Way’s center is much nearer than other galaxies, making it easier for us to explore possible connections between the starbursts and the black hole.”

    SOFIA Chief Scientific Advisor Eric Becklin, who is working with the CNR group, determined the location of the galaxy’s nucleus as a graduate student in the 1960s by laboriously scanning a single-pixel infrared detector to map the central region.

    “The resolution and spatial coverage of these images is astounding, showing what modern infrared detector arrays can do when flown on SOFIA,” Becklin said. “We hope to use these data to substantially advance our understanding of the environment near a supermassive black hole.”

    See the full article here.

    SOFIA is a joint program of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and is based and managed at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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  • richardmitnick 3:04 pm on March 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/SOFIA: “SOFIA Observatory Peers Into Heart of Orion Nebula” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    December 19, 2011 [Really? And they are just putting this up now?]

    Beth Hagenauer
    Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.
    661-276-7960
    beth.hagenauer-1@nasa.gov

    Nicholas A. Veronico
    SOFIA Science Center
    NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
    650-604-4589
    nveronico@sofia.usra.edu

    A new image from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) shows a complex distribution of interstellar dust and stars in the Orion nebula. Interstellar dust, composed mostly of silicon, carbon and other heavy elements that astronomers refer to generically as “metals,” plus some ice and organic molecules, is part of the raw material from which new stars and planets are forming.

    sofia
    The two insets display mid-infrared images showing portions of the Orion nebula star-forming region, also known as Messier 42 (M42). The SOFIA images were produced by SOFIA staff scientist James De Buizer and his collaborators from data obtained in May – June 2011 during the SOFIA’s Basic Science program. The observations were made using the Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) instrument, led by principal investigator Terry Herter of Cornell University. Those observations are subjects of scientific papers to be submitted to The Astrophysical Journal.

    forcast
    Cornell University’s Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope, or FORCAST, is mounted on the telescope during preparation leading to Short Science flights. (NASA photo)

    The view from Hubble
    orion
    NASA, ESA, M. Robberto (Space Telescope Science Institute/ESA) and the Hubble Space Telescope Orion Treasury Project Team
    In one of the most detailed astronomical images ever produced, NASA/ESA’s Hubble Space Telescope captured an unprecedented look at the Orion Nebula. … This extensive study took 105 Hubble orbits to complete. All imaging instruments aboard the telescope were used simultaneously to study Orion. The Advanced Camera mosaic covers approximately the apparent angular size of the full moon.

    The SOFIA’s large telescope is able to resolve many individual protostars and young stars as well as knots of dust and gas that could be starting the process of gravitational contraction to become stars. The massive protostar known famously as the BN (Becklin-Neugebauer) Object stands out as the individual blue source in the red inset box. The BN/KL region of Orion gets its name from the initials of pioneering infrared astronomers Eric Becklin, Gerry Neugebauer, Doug Kleinmann and Frank Low who mapped it in the late 1960s and early 1970s, using some of the first astronomical infrared detectors. In this image, infrared light with wavelengths of 20, 31, and 37 microns, symbolized respectively by blue, green and red, is seen coming from relatively cool interstellar dust with temperatures of approximately 100 – 200 kelvins.

    The SOFIA image in the blue inset box shows the Ney-Allen Nebula, a region of intense infrared emission that was discovered surrounding the luminous Trapezium stars by astronomers Ed Ney and David Allen. Some of the compact features shown here are disks of dust and gas around young solar-mass stars that could be planetary systems in the process of formation. In this image, blue, green and red respectively symbolize infrared light with wavelengths of 8, 20, and 37 microns, coming from material as warm as 500 kelvins (450 F).

    The large background image is a composite of data from the Spitzer Space Telescope in which light with wavelengths of 7.9, 4.5, and 3.6 microns (represented respectively by red, green and blue) is emitted from hot dust and gas heated by embedded stars, and from the stars themselves. The BN/KL region is so bright as to be over-exposed in the Spitzer image.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    The two SOFIA images were made at combinations of wavelengths and angular resolutions unavailable to any other observatory on the ground or in space. The SOFIA and Spitzer images of Orion together provide a comprehensive view of stages of star formation from cold interstellar clouds to fully-fledged stars.

    The SOFIA airborne observatory incorporates a 17-ton reflecting telescope with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters (100 inches) mounted inside an extensively modified Boeing 747SP. The SOFIA aircraft flies at altitudes as high as 45,000 feet (14 km), above more than 99 percent of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere that blocks most infrared radiation from celestial sources.

    The SOFIA is a joint program of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and is based and managed at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    For more information about the SOFIA, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sofia

    See the full article here.

    SOFIA is a joint program of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and is based and managed at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    NASA


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  • richardmitnick 10:19 am on March 7, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From NASA/SOFIA: “SOFIA’s Target of Opportunity: Observing Supernova 2014J” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    March 6, 2014
    Nicholas A. Veronico, SOFIA Science Center
    NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

    On four flights in late February, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) focused on an 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.

    three
    The first two images above show the central portions of galaxy M82 prior to the supernova explosion, while the right image shows supernova SN2014J taken by the FLITECAM instrument on the SOFIA observatory on Feb. 20.
    Image Credit: NASA/SOFIA/FLITECAM team / Sachindev Shenoy

    m82
    Messier 82

    NASA called upon SOFIA to view the supernova on Feb. 18, 20, 24 and 26 using the converted jetliner’s 2.5-meter diameter telescope that is optimized for collecting radiation at infrared wavelengths. SOFIA is able to fly above 99 percent of the water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere that blocks most infrared light from being observed by ground-based telescopes.

    Supernova 2014J is a Type 1a supernova, known to astronomers as a “standard candle.” The power output of a standard candle is well-known. In the same way that you can estimate the distance of a flashlight of known wattage by seeing how bright or faint it appears, astronomical standard candles allow determination of distances to objects that are extremely far away. Type 1a supernovae are the main yardsticks used to measure the expansion of the universe and demonstrate that the expansion is actually accelerating.

    Supernovae are also important in a way that’s surprisingly relevant to life on Earth. Most of the atoms in the universe more massive than iron (such as nickel, lead, gold, silver, and platinum) are made in the incomprehensible heat of supernova explosions. Essentially all the gold or silver you own, and the nickel in the coins in your pocket, was forged originally in supernova explosions that happened long before Earth formed.

    “SN 2014J is the brightest and closest Type 1a supernova we’ve seen in the last 40 years and that’s why it’s exciting,” said Erick Young, science mission operations director from the SOFIA Science Center at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. “We have been finishing our last instrument commissioning tests as we prepare to transition from an experimental platform into a fully operational observatory. While we were airborne, we wanted to use Supernova 2014J as a test target. We’ve taken some very interesting images of the exploding star, but what the scientific community wants to study most is the spectroscopic data we’ve obtained using the FLITECAM (First Light Infrared Test Experiment CAMera) instrument.”

    people
    SOFIA instrument scientist Maureen Savage, Sarah Langdon of UCLA, FLITECAM Principal Investigator Ian McLean of UCLA, SOFIA Senior Science Advisor William Vacca, and SOFIA Chief Science Advisor Eric Becklin review infrared data of SN2014J during a SOFIA observatory mission in February 2014.
    Image Credit: NASA/USRA / Nick Veronico

    Developed by Professor Ian McLean and his team at the University of California, Los Angeles, FLITECAM is a near-infrared camera with spectrographic capabilities. Its near-infrared camera detects light in the 1- to 5.2-micron wavelength range. Each element has its own unique spectral signature, which FLITECAM can record using its grism spectrometer. The FLITECAM team is using those data to study infrared spectral lines that cannot be detected from Earth or from any current space observatory.

    Astronomers estimate that the first light from the SN2014J explosion reached Earth during the night of Jan. 14-15, but was first noticed on Jan. 21 by a group of students at the University of London Observatory. In the weeks following its discovery, most telescopes on Earth and in space have observed the exploding star to produce a variety of intriguing images.

    SOFIA’s supernova studies were accomplished using a pool of observing hours that Science Mission Operations Director Young can use for targets that require a quick reaction, such as SN2014J, or other unusual projects. Five principal investigators were awarded observing time to use SOFIA’s instrumentation during the next few months to study SN2014J. The scientists whose proposals were selected were Peter Garnavich from the University of Notre Dame, Bob Gehrz from the University of Minnesota, Jason Spyromillo from the European Southern Observatory, plus SOFIA staff scientists Ryan Hamilton and Bill Vacca.

    Observations Over the Pacific Ocean

    For its observations on the night of Feb. 20-21, SOFIA took off from its home base at the NASA Science and Aircraft Integration Facility in Palmdale, Calif., for the nearly 10-hour mission.

    FLITECAM can be co-mounted onto the SOFIA telescope with the High-speed Imaging Photometer for Occultations (HIPO) instrument. During the flight, the HIPO instrument team from the Lowell Observatory, in Flagstaff, Ariz., used the time to finish some commissioning tests, testing HIPO’s sensitivity to objects near the horizon during twilight. Measurements from these tests will be used to determine observing procedures for future observations.

    Observations of Supernova 2014J began 750 miles north of Hawaii and continued in a sweeping arc back to the U.S. mainland.

    “This supernova was a good target for our commissioning because it is both relatively bright and has high contrast against the galaxy – this single exploding star outshines the other 100 billion stars in the M82 galaxy,” said McLean.

    “Astronomers would like to observe the supernova across the entire optical and infrared spectrum without any obscuration caused by absorption in Earth’s atmosphere,” McLean noted. “You really cannot make those observations from the ground, even from a site like Mauna Kea in Hawaii, which is at 14,000 feet. There’s still strong absorption at a number of near-infrared wavelengths, especially from 1.37 to 1.50 microns between the J and H bands, and from 1.8 to 2.0 microns between the H and K bands.

    (Near-infrared wavelength ranges in which Earth’s atmosphere is especially transparent have been given letter designations by astronomers: J = 1.13 to 1.37 microns, H = 1.50 to 1.80 microns, K = 2.01 to 2.42 microns.)

    “We know that the spectra of the supernova have strong emission features in those wavelength ranges,” he said. “Using FLITECAM, it was easy to place the spectrograph slit on to the bright supernova star and get its spectrum. We have, indeed, measured the spectrum continuously from 1 to 3 microns with no interruptions due to atmospheric water vapor absorption, so those data are pretty spectacular.

    “To be able to observe the supernova without having to make assumptions about the absorption of the Earth’s atmosphere is great,” McLean continued. “You could make these observations from space as well, if there was a suitable infrared spectrograph to make those measurements, but right now there isn’t one. So this observation is something SOFIA can do that is absolutely unique and extremely valuable to the astronomical community.”

    On board SOFIA during the supernova observations was guest investigator Howie Marion from the University of Texas at Austin. He was observing as the spectra were gathered on the flight.

    “There is very high atmospheric opacity between the H- and K-bands. In spectra obtained with ground-based observations, that region is so noisy that the results are unusable,” Marion said. “The FLITECAM spectrum has a good signal-to-noise ratio in that area because the opacity is so much lower at 43,000 feet. Connecting the dots across the gap from 1.8 to 2 microns is important because of the spectral features that are revealed and also to determine the shape of the continuum through the H- and K-bands. FLITECAM provided a beautiful continuous spectrum.

    “When a Type 1a supernova explodes, the densest, hottest region within the core produces nickel 56. The radioactive decay of nickel-56 through cobalt-56 to iron-56 produces the light we are observing tonight,” said Marion. “At this life phase of the supernova, about one month after we first saw the explosion, the H- and K-band spectra are dominated by lines of ionized cobalt. We plan to study the spectral features produced by these lines over a period of time and see how they change relative to each other. That will help us define the mass of the radioactive core of the supernova. Understanding small changes in the core mass from one Type 1a supernova to the next is an important part of predicting the total power output of each individual event. That information, in turn, will help studies of how dark matter and dark energy affect the expansion of the universe.”

    SOFIA and Supernova 2014J in the Coming Months

    “During the course of these four flights, we’ve dedicated approximately eight hours of observing time to Supernova 2014J,” said Young. “Later this year we’ll install the Faint Object InfraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) instrument to make additional follow-up observations at mid-infrared wavelengths.

    “All the data we’ve collected on Supernova 2014J will become public as soon as it is processed into a scientifically presentable form. The raw data will be accessible through our data cycle system in a few days, the imaging data a few days after, followed in a couple of weeks by the grism (spectroscopy) data. SOFIA’s observations soon will be available to the astronomical community and we look forward to seeing the resulting scientific insights that they provide.”

    Supernova SN2014J principal investigators include Peter Garnavich of the University of Notre Dame, Bob Gehrz of the University of Minnesota, Jason Spyromillo of European Southern University, Ryan Hamilton and William Vacca of the Universities Science Research Association’s SOFIA Science Center at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

    See the full article here.

    SOFIA is a joint program of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and is based and managed at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 5:26 pm on November 5, 2013 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA SOFIA   

    From NASA/SOFIA: “SOFIA Set to Begin Cycle 2 Astronomy Observations” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    Nov. 5, 2013

    Nicholas A. Veronico, public affairs
    NASA Ames Research Center

    Beth Hagenauer, public affairs
    NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

    NASA, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the SOFIA Science Center, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) have announced the selection of 51 investigations to study the universe using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). SOFIA, a joint program between NASA and the DLR, is set to begin its second full cycle of science flights from February through December 2014.

    sofia
    The SOFIA flying observatory deployed to Christchurch, New Zealand, in July 2013 for an opportunity to study the skies above the Southern Hemisphere.
    Image Credit: NASA / Carla Thomas

    The SOFIA observatory is a substantially modified 747SP aircraft that carries a telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches (2.5 meters) to altitudes above 39,000 feet (12 km), beyond the obscuring layer of water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere.

    “More than 1,000 hours of observing time were requested, three times the amount available, evidence of SOFIA’s desirability to astronomers,” said SOFIA Science Missions Operations Director Erick Young in announcing the awards of observing time. “The approved projects make good use of the observatory’s capabilities to study objects ranging from Earth’s solar system neighbors to galaxies hundreds of millions of light years away.”

    jg
    Jurgen Stutzki, deputy principal investigator for the GREAT spectrometer, was aboard the SOFIA flying observatory for a flight to study the universe during the 2013 deployment to the Southern Hemisphere.
    Image Credit: NASA / Carla Thomas

    As of Nov. 5, the SOFIA has conducted 23 of 30 planned Cycle 1 science flights, including nine flights during a Southern Hemisphere deployment to New Zealand from its base at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.

    The newly announced observing period, known as Cycle 2, contains 47 science flights grouped into multi-week observing campaigns spread through an 11-month span. The Cycle 2 science flights include approximately 350 research flight hours, about 200 hours of which have been awarded to guest investigators whose proposals to do research using SOFIA were evaluated by either a U.S. or a German-chartered peer review panel.

    In addition to the science flights planned for Cycle 2, the SOFIA program will undertake commissioning observations needed to make two more of the observatory’s seven first-generation scientific instruments ready for use by guest investigators. Those instruments, the EXES (Echelon-Cross-Echelle Spectrograph), a high-resolution mid-infrared spectrograph, and the FIFI LS (Field Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer), will be available to researchers on a limited basis.

    “In the past year, SOFIA has become a first-class asset to the world scientific community,” said Pam Marcum, NASA SOFIA Project Scientist. “This SOFIA Cycle 2 announcement marks an important step in our progress toward routine operations. Infrared studies from these observations will enhance our knowledge of the life cycles of stars, how planets form, the chemistry of the interstellar medium, and much more.”

    men
    Astronomers aboard the SOFIA flying observatory pore over data gathered by the GREAT spectrometer while on a flight from Christchurch, New Zealand, during the program’s first deployment to the Southern Hemisphere. Image Credit: NASA / Carla Thomas

    See the full article here.

    SOFIA is a joint program of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and is based and managed at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    NASA


    ScienceSprings is powered by MAINGEAR computers

     
  • richardmitnick 6:11 pm on December 9, 2012 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA SOFIA,   

    From NASA SOFIA: “SOFIA Observatory Peers Into Heart of Orion Nebula” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    “A new image from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) shows a complex distribution of interstellar dust and stars in the Orion nebula. Interstellar dust, composed mostly of silicon, carbon and other heavy elements that astronomers refer to generically as “metals,” plus some ice and organic molecules, is part of the raw material from which new stars and planets are forming.

    orion
    The entire Orion Nebula in visible light. Credit: NASA/ESA

    The two insets [below image] display mid-infrared images showing portions of the Orion nebula star-forming region, also known as Messier 42 (M42). The SOFIA images were produced by SOFIA staff scientist James De Buizer and his collaborators from data obtained in May – June 2011 during the SOFIA’s Basic Science program. The observations were made using the Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) instrument, led by principal investigator Terry Herter of Cornell University. Those observations are subjects of scientific papers to be submitted to The Astrophysical Journal.

    image
    This graphical representation from the SOFIA Science Center compares two infrared images of the heart of the Orion nebula captured by the FORCAST camera on the SOFIA airborne observatory’s telescope with a wider image of the same area from the Spitzer space telescope. (SOFIA image — James De Buizer / NASA / DLR / USRA / DSI / FORCAST; Spitzer image — NASA/JPL)

    The SOFIA airborne observatory incorporates a 17-ton reflecting telescope with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters (100 inches) mounted inside an extensively modified Boeing 747SP. The SOFIA aircraft flies at altitudes as high as 45,000 feet (14 km), above more than 99 percent of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere that blocks most infrared radiation from celestial sources.

    Not too shabby!!

    See the full article here.

    The SOFIA is a joint program of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and is based and managed at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    NASA

     
  • richardmitnick 9:40 pm on November 24, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , INL, , , , , , , , , , , NASA SOFIA, , , , , , , , , , ,   

    Advocate for Basic Research at D.O.E. Labs and NASA After the Deficit Reduction Debacle in Washington 

    The recent deficit super committee debacle in Washington means possible debilitating budget cuts to your D.O.E labs and NASA missions. Please get ready to write, email, phone, your congressional representatives and senators. It’s your tax dollars, folks.

    Here’s what’s at risk:


    D.O.E.:


    Argonne


    Ames


    Berkeley


    Brookhaven


    Fermilab


    INL


    Jefferson


    Livermore


    Los Alamos


    NSCL


    Oak Ridge


    Pacific Northwest


    Princeton Plasma Physics


    Sandia


    SLAC

    US/LHC


    The many other aspects of the D.O.E. Office of Science


    NASA:


    Hubble (Yes, there is still a budget for Hubble)


    Fermi

    i2
    Goddard


    Chandra

    nh
    Herschel


    JPL

    nk
    Kepler

    nsofia
    SOFIA


    Spitzer


    Webb


    WISE

    All of the other missions, current and future.

    Everything is at risk. The U.S. future as a leader in basic scientific research is at risk. Remember the Superconducting Super Collider? Killed off in 1993 by the dimwitted (then Democrat dominated) Congress?

    The tax dollars are yours. Visit the D.O.E lab and NASA mission web sites. Look around. See if you think that these are worthy of your tax dollars.

    Read back through past entries in this blog, you will see that it is not all High Energy Physics, Astronomy, and rocket science. It is also Biology, Chemistry, Medicine, Genetics, Clean and Renewable Energy, Ecology, Climate, you name it, our great labs and NASA missions are there to help make our lives better.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:07 pm on November 1, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA,   

    NASA’s SOFIA Flying Telescope 

    i1
    Inside, SOFIA is fitted with a 100-inch diameter airborne infrared telescope.

    “NASA is developing the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – or SOFIA - as a world-class airborne observatory that will complement the Hubble, Spitzer, Herschel and James Webb space telescopes and major Earth-based telescopes.

    i4
    The mother ship with open door

    SOFIA is a joint program by NASA and DLR Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt (German Aerospace Center). Major aircraft modifications and installation of the telescope has been carried out at L-3 Communications Integrated Systems facility at Waco, Texas. Completion of systems installation, integration and flight test operations are being conducted at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., from 2007 through 2010. SOFIA’s science operations are being planned jointly by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI) under leadership of the SOFIA Science project at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field near San Jose, Calif.

    Unparalleled Astronomical Science Capabilities

    SOFIA’S 2.5-meter (100 inch) diameter reflecting telescope provide[s]* astronomers with access to the visible, infrared and sub-millimeter spectrum, with optimized performance in the mid-infrared to sub-millimeter range. During its 20-year expected lifetime it will be capable of “Great Observatory”–class astronomical science.

    SOFIA continue[s] the legacy of prominent planetary scientist Dr. Gerard Kuiper, who began airborne astronomy in 1966 with a 12-inch telescope aimed out a window of a converted Convair 990 jetliner. His work led to the development of NASA’s Kuiper Airborne Observatory, a modified C-141 aircraft incorporating a 36-inch reflecting telescope that flew from 1974 to 1995. During its 21-year lifetime, the Kuiper Airborne Observatory focused on solar system, galactic and extra-galactic astronomy, and discovered the rings of Uranus, a ring of dust around the center of the Milky Way, luminous infrared galaxies, complex organic molecules in space and water in comets.

    As the world’s largest airborne astronomical observatory, SOFIA provide[s] three times better image quality and vastly increased observational sensitivity than the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. From a base at NASA Dryden, SOFIA mission operations [are] conducted over virtually the entire globe. Missions will be flown at altitudes of 39,000 to 45,000 feet, above 99 percent of the water vapor in the lower atmosphere that restrict the capabilities of ground-based observatories over most of the infrared and sub-millimeter spectral range.

    By recording infrared measurements not possible from the ground, SOFIA [is] able to observe occultations of stars by solar system objects to help determine the objects’ sizes, compositions and atmospheric structures. It help[s] answer many fundamental questions about the creation and evolution of the universe, including how stars and planets are formed, how organic materials necessary for life form and evolve, and the nature of the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy.

    Technology Development

    SOFIA [is] an outstanding laboratory for developing and testing astronomical instrumentation and detector technology. Its nine first-generation cameras and spectrographs and later generation instruments will enable a wide variety of astronomical science observations not possible from other Earth- and space-borne observatories. Once validated, these instruments will be useful in future space missions and ground-based observatories. SOFIA’s ability to return to earth after each flight will enable frequent opportunities to upgrade and install new science instruments. This in turn will stimulate and enable the development of new astronomical technology throughout its lifetime.”

    i3
    MESSIER 42 (The Orion Nebula)in three images from left to right, Hubble (visible), ESO (near-infrared)(platform not named) and SOFIA (mid-infrared)

    See the full NASA article here.

    *NASA needs to bring this description up to date. SOFIA can be seen on a night mission in the BBC video “Extreme Astronomy”.

     
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