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  • richardmitnick 9:07 pm on August 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)   

    From Sofia: ” ‘Kitchen Smoke’ Molecules in Nebula Offer Clues to the Building Blocks of Life” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    Aug. 16, 2016
    Dr. Dana Backman
    SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

    Kassandra Bell
    SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

    1
    Combination of three color images of NGC 7023 from SOFIA (red & green) and Spitzer (blue) show different populations of PAH molecules.
    Credits: NASA/DLR/SOFIA/B. Croiset, Leiden Observatory, and O. Berné, CNRS; NASA/JPL-Caltech/Spitzer.

    Using data collected by NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) and other observatories, an international team of researchers has studied how a particular type of organic molecules, the raw materials for life – could develop in space. This information could help scientists better understand how life could have developed on Earth.

    Bavo Croiset of Leiden University in the Netherlands and his collaborators focused on a type of molecule called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are flat molecules consisting of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern, surrounded by hydrogen. PAHs make up about 10 percent of the carbon in the universe, and are found on the Earth where they are released upon the burning of organic material such as meat, sugarcane, wood etc. Croiset’s team determined that when PAHs in the nebula NGC 7023, also known as the Iris Nebula, are hit by ultraviolet radiation from the nebula’s central star, they evolve into larger, more complex molecules. Scientists hypothesize that the growth of complex organic molecules like PAHs is one of the steps leading to the emergence of life.

    Some existing models predicted that the radiation from a newborn, nearby massive star would tend to break down large organic molecules into smaller ones, rather than build them up. To test these models, researchers wanted to estimate the size of the molecules at various locations relative to the central star.

    Croiset’s team used SOFIA to observe Nebula NGC 7023 with two instruments, the FLITECAM near-infrared camera and the FORCAST mid-infrared camera. SOFIA’s instruments are sensitive to two wavelengths that are produced by these particular molecules, which can be used to estimate their size. The team analyzed the SOFIA images in combination with data previously obtained by the Spitzer infrared space observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on the Big Island of Hawaii.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    CFHT Telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
    CFHT Interior
    CFHT Telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    The analysis indicates that the size of the PAH molecules in this nebula vary by location in a clear pattern. The average size of the molecules in the nebula’s central cavity, surrounding the illuminating star, is larger than on the surface of the cloud at the outer edge of the cavity.

    In a paper published in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The team concluded that this molecular size variation is due both to some of the smallest molecules being destroyed by the harsh ultraviolet radiation field of the star, and to medium-sized molecules being irradiated so they combine into larger molecules. Researchers were surprised to find that the radiation resulted in net growth, rather than destruction.

    “The success of these observations depended on both SOFIA’s ability to observe wavelengths inaccessible from the ground, and the large size of its telescope, which provided a more detailed map than would have been possible with smaller telescopes,” said Olivier Berné at CNRS, the National Center for Scientific Research in Toulouse, France, one of the published paper’s co-authors.

    For more information on SOFIA, go to:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sofia

    For more information SOFIA Science, go to:

    https://www.sofia.usra.edu/

    See the full article here .

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    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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  • richardmitnick 3:44 pm on June 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , FU Orionis Gluttonous Star May Hold Clues to Planet Formation, , NASA SOFIA,   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Gluttonous Star May Hold Clues to Planet Formation” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    June 14, 2016
    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    The brightness of outbursting star FU Orionis has been slowly fading since its initial flare-up in 1936. Researchers found that it has dimmed by about 13 percent in short infrared wavelengths from 2004 (left) to 2016 (right). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    In 1936, the young star FU Orionis began gobbling material from its surrounding disk of gas and dust with a sudden voraciousness. During a three-month binge, as matter turned into energy, the star became 100 times brighter, heating the disk around it to temperatures of up to 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit (7,000 Kelvin). FU Orionis is still devouring gas to this day, although not as quickly.

    This brightening is the most extreme event of its kind that has been confirmed around a star the size of the sun, and may have implications for how stars and planets form. The intense baking of the star’s surrounding disk likely changed its chemistry, permanently altering material that could one day turn into planets.

    “By studying FU Orionis, we’re seeing the absolute baby years of a solar system,” said Joel Green, a project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland. “Our own sun may have gone through a similar brightening, which would have been a crucial step in the formation of Earth and other planets in our solar system.”

    Visible light observations of FU Orionis, which is about 1,500 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Orion, have shown astronomers that the star’s extreme brightness began slowly fading after its initial 1936 burst. But Green and colleagues wanted to know more about the relationship between the star and surrounding disk. Is the star still gorging on it? Is its composition changing? When will the star’s brightness return to pre-outburst levels?

    To answer these questions, scientists needed to observe the star’s brightness at infrared wavelengths, which are longer than the human eye can see and provide temperature measurements.

    Green and his team compared infrared data obtained in 2016 using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, to observations made with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in 2004.

    NASA/DLR SOFIA
    NASA/DLR SOFIA

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    SOFIA, the world’s largest airborne observatory, is jointly operated by NASA and the German Aerospace Center and provides observations at wavelengths no longer attainable by Spitzer. The SOFIA data were taken using the FORCAST instrument (Faint Object infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope).

    NASA/SOFIA Forcast
    NASA/SOFIA Forcast

    “By combining data from the two telescopes collected over a 12-year interval, we were able to gain a unique perspective on the star’s behavior over time,” Green said. He presented the results at the American Astronomical Society meeting in San Diego, this week.

    Using these infrared observations and other historical data, researchers found that FU Orionis had continued its ravenous snacking after the initial brightening event: The star has eaten the equivalent of 18 Jupiters in the last 80 years.

    The recent measurements provided by SOFIA inform researchers that the total amount of visible and infrared light energy coming out of the FU Orionis system decreased by about 13 percent over the 12 years since the Spitzer observations. Researchers determined that this decrease is caused by dimming of the star at short infrared wavelengths, but not at longer wavelengths. That means up to 13 percent of the hottest material of the disk has disappeared, while colder material has stayed intact.

    “A decrease in the hottest gas means that the star is eating the innermost part of the disk, but the rest of the disk has essentially not changed in the last 12 years,” Green said. “This result is consistent with computer models, but for the first time we are able to confirm the theory with observations.”

    Astronomers predict, partly based on the new results, that FU Orionis will run out of hot material to nosh on within the next few hundred years. At that point, the star will return to the state it was in before the dramatic 1936 brightening event. Scientists are unsure what the star was like before or what set off the feeding frenzy.

    “The material falling into the star is like water from a hose that’s slowly being pinched off,” Green said. “Eventually the water will stop.”

    If our sun had a brightening event like FU Orionis did in 1936, this could explain why certain elements are more abundant on Mars than on Earth. A sudden 100-fold brightening would have altered the chemical composition of material close to the star, but not as much farther from it. Because Mars formed farther from the sun, its component material would not have been heated up as much as Earth’s was.

    At a few hundred thousand years old, FU Orionis is a toddler in the typical lifespan of a star. The 80 years of brightening and fading since 1936 represent only a tiny fraction of the star’s life so far, but these changes happened to occur at a time when astronomers could observe.

    “It’s amazing that an entire protoplanetary disk can change on such a short timescale, within a human lifetime,” said Luisa Rebull, study co-author and research scientist at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), based at Caltech, Pasadena, California.

    Green plans to gain more insight into the FU Orionis feeding phenomenon with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which will launch in 2018.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated
    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    SOFIA has mid-infrared high-resolution spectrometers and far-infrared science instrumentation that complement Webb’s planned near- and mid-infrared capabilities. Spitzer is expected to continue exploring the universe in infrared light, and enabling groundbreaking scientific investigations, into early 2019.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    For more information about Spitzer, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    http://spitzer.caltech.edu

    For more information about SOFIA, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sofia

    http://www.dlr.de/en/sofia

    See the full article here .

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 10:07 am on June 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA, SOFIA Pinpoints Water Vapor in Young Star AFGL 2591   

    From SOFIA: “SOFIA Pinpoints Water Vapor in Young Star” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    June 8, 2016
    Kassandra Bell
    SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

    Dr. Dana Backman
    SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

    1
    Infrared spectrum of the protostar AFGL 2591 made by the EXES instrument on SOFIA, superimposed on an infrared image of the protostar and the nebula that surrounds it, made by the Gemini Observatory. Credits: Spectrum Image: NASA/DLR/USRA/DSI/EXES Team/N. Indrolio (U. Michigan & JHU); Credit Background Image: C. Aspin et al. / NIRI / Gemini Observatory / NSF.

    A team of scientists using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has pinpointed the amount and location of water vapor around a newly forming star with groundbreaking precision.

    Using data collected aboard SOFIA, the team determined that most of this young star’s water vapor is located in material flowing away from the star, rather than within the disk of matter orbiting around it. This location is unexpected, indicating that if planets formed around this star, they might receive only a small fraction of the water in the system.

    These observations were made possible by using SOFIA’s airborne vantage point in the Stratosphere — at an altitude above 99% of Earth’s water vapor, which prevents this type of measurement from the ground– as well as the precision and sensitivity of the EXES (Echelon-Cross-Echelle Spectrograph) instrument aboard SOFIA. The instrument spreads infrared light into its component colors with very high detail, providing scientists with more information about this light than was previously possible.

    “This detection of water vapor would have been impossible for any ground-based observatory, and there are currently no space-borne telescopes providing this capability,” said SOFIA project scientist Pamela Marcum. “These mid-infrared observations allow us to directly measure the amount of water vapor in this young star, expanding our understanding of the distribution of water in the universe and its eventual incorporation into planets. The water detected today could be the oceans of tomorrow in planets that form around these new stars.”

    These findings were published in Astrophysical Journal Letters in 2015. The team was led by scientists at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore Md, and the University of California at Davis.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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  • richardmitnick 6:12 am on June 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA, SOFIA Heads to New Zealand to Study Southern Skies   

    From SOFIA: “SOFIA Heads to New Zealand to Study Southern Skies” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    June 6, 2016
    Monroe Conner

    The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand, to study the Southern Hemisphere’s skies June 6.

    For the next eight weeks, the aircraft-based observatory will operate from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Program facility at Christchurch International Airport. The airborne platform puts the observatory above 99% of Earth’s infrared-blocking water vapor, and enables it to conduct observations from almost anywhere in the world. When flying from New Zealand, astronomers on board SOFIA can study celestial objects that are best observed from southern latitudes, such as star formation within the Magellanic Clouds.

    The Magellanic Clouds are two satellite galaxies of our Milky Way Galaxy.

    Small Magellanic Cloud. NASA/ESA Hubble and ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2
    Small Magellanic Cloud. NASA/ESA Hubble and ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2

    Large Magellanic Cloud. Adrian Pingstone  December 2003
    Large Magellanic Cloud. Adrian Pingstone December 2003

    From the aircraft’s home base in California, scientists on SOFIA typically study star formation within the Milky Way, but flying in the Southern Hemisphere gives scientists a view of star formation within these neighboring galaxies. Comparing stellar evolution in the Magellanic Clouds and the Milky Way enables scientists to better understand how the earliest generations of stars in our universe formed.

    “It’s hard to beat the quality of the science data that we obtain while observing from New Zealand,” said Program Manager Eddie Zavala, “We are looking forward to another outstanding series of observations.”

    This year’s observations follow Southern observing flights last year, which included studying Pluto’s atmosphere just two weeks before NASA’s New Horizons mission made its nearest approach to Pluto. The next eight weeks include 24 observing flights, using three of the observatory’s seven instruments. Because it’s based on an aircraft, SOFIA can carry heavier, more powerful instruments than spaced-based observatories. These instruments can also be changed and upgraded to accommodate a variety of observations

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    NASA image

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  • richardmitnick 5:06 pm on May 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA SOFIA   

    From SOFIA: “Flying Observatory Detects Atomic Oxygen in Martian Atmosphere” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    May 6, 2016
    Kassandra Bell

    An instrument onboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) detected atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars for the first time since the last observation 40 years ago. These atoms were found in the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere known as the mesosphere.

    Atomic oxygen affects how other gases escape Mars and therefore has a significant impact on the planet’s atmosphere. Scientists detected only about half the amount of oxygen expected, which may be due to variations in the Martian atmosphere. Scientists will continue to use SOFIA to study these variations to help better understand the atmosphere of the Red Planet.

    “Atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is notoriously difficult to measure,” said Pamela Marcum, SOFIA project scientist. “To observe the far-infrared wavelengths needed to detect atomic oxygen, researchers must be above the majority of Earth’s atmosphere and use highly sensitive instruments, in this case a spectrometer. SOFIA provides both capabilities.”

    The Viking and Mariner missions of the 1970s made the last measurements of atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere. These more recent observations were possible thanks to SOFIA’s airborne location, flying between 37,000-45,000 feet, above most of the infrared-blocking moisture in Earth’s atmosphere. The advanced detectors on one of the observatory’s instruments, the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT), enabled astronomers to distinguish the oxygen in the Martian atmosphere from oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere.

    NASA SOFIA GREAT
    NASA SOFIA GREAT

    Researchers presented their findings in a paper* published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics in 2015.

    1
    SOFIA/GREAT spectrum of oxygen [O I] superimposed on an image of Mars from the MAVEN mission. The amount of atomic oxygen computed from this SOFIA data is about half the amount expected.
    Credits: SOFIA/GREAT spectrum: NASA/DLR/USRA/DSI/MPIfR/GREAT Consortium/ MPIfS/Rezac et al. 2015. Mars image: NASA/MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission)

    NASA/Mars MAVEN

    *Science paper:
    First detection of the 63 μm atomic oxygen line in the thermosphere of Mars with GREAT/SOFIA⋆

    See the full article here .

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    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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  • richardmitnick 2:33 pm on April 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , HAWC+ camera, NASA SOFIA   

    From SOFIA: “One-of-a-Kind Camera Added to SOFIA” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    April 26, 2016

    Media contact: Kassandra Bell
    SOFIA Science Center, NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

    NASA SOFIA High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus HAWC+ Camera
    NASA SOFIA High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus HAWC+ Camera

    The newest instrument, an infrared camera called the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus (HAWC+), was installed on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, this week. This is the only currently operating astronomical camera that makes images using far-infrared light, allowing studies of low-temperature early stages of star and planet formation. HAWC+ includes a polarimeter, a device that measures the alignment of incoming light waves. With the polarimeter, HAWC+ can map magnetic fields in star forming regions and in the environment around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

    Sag A* NASA&'s Chandra X-Ray Observatory 23 July 2014, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way
    Sag A* NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory 23 July 2014, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way

    These new maps can reveal how the strength and direction of magnetic fields affect the rate at which interstellar clouds condense to form new stars. A team led by C. Darren Dowell at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and including participants from more than a dozen institutions developed the instrument.

    See the full article here .

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    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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  • richardmitnick 1:13 pm on April 13, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA   

    From SOFIA: “Eight Things to Know About Our Flying Observatory” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    Our flying observatory, called SOFIA, is the world’s largest airborne observatory. It is a partnership with the German Aerospace Center (DLR). SOFIA studies the life cycle of stars, planets (including Pluto’s atmosphere), how interstellar dust can contribute to planet formation, analyzes the area around black holes, and identifies complex molecules in space.

    1. A Telescope in an Airplane
    1
    SOFIA stands for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy. It is a Boeing 747SP aircraft that carries a 100-inch telescope to observe the universe while flying between 38,000 and 45,000 feet – the layer of Earth’s atmosphere called the stratosphere.

    2. The Short Aircraft Means Long Flights
    2
    SP stands for “special performance.” The plane is 47 feet shorter than a standard 747, so it’s lighter and can fly greater distances. Each observing flight lasts 10-12 hours.

    3. It Flies with A Hole in the Side of the Plane…
    3
    The telescope is behind a door that opens when SOFIA reaches altitude so astronomers on board can study the universe. The kind of light SOFIA observes, infrared, is blocked by almost all materials, so engineers designed the side of the aircraft to direct air up-and-over the open cavity, ensuring a smooth flight.

    4. …But the Cabin is Pressurized!
    4
    A wall, called a pressure bulkhead, was added between the telescope and the cabin so the team inside the aircraft stays comfortable and safe. Each flight has pilots, telescope operators, scientists, flight planners and mission crew aboard.

    5. This Telescope Has to Fly
    5
    Water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere blocks infrared light from reaching the ground. Flying at more than 39,000 feet puts SOFIA above more than 99% of this vapor, allowing astronomers to study infrared light coming from space. The airborne observatory can carry heavier, more powerful instruments than space-based observatories because it is not limited by launch weight restrictions and solar power.

    6. Studying the Invisible Universe
    6
    Humans cannot see what is beyond the rainbow of visible light. However, many interesting astronomical processes happen in the clouds of dust and gas that often surround the objects SOFIA studies, like newly forming stars. Infrared light can pass through these clouds, allowing astronomers to study what is happening inside these areas.

    7. The German Telescope
    7
    The telescope was built our partner, the German Aerospace Center, DLR. It is made of a glass-ceramic material called Zerodur that does not change shape when exposed to extremely cold temperatures. The telescope has a honeycomb design, which reduces the weight by 80%, from 8,700 lb to 1,764 lb. (Note that the honeycomb design was only visible before the reflective aluminum coating was applied to the mirror’s surface).

    8. ZigZag Flights with a Purpose
    8
    The telescope can move up and down, between 20-60 degrees above the horizon. But it can only move significantly left and right by turning the whole aircraft. Each new direction of the flight means astronomers are studying a new celestial object. SOFIA’s flight planners carefully map where the plane needs to fly to best observe each object planned for that night.

    Make sure to follow us on Tumblr for your regular dose of space: http://nasa.tumblr.com

    See the full article here .

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    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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  • richardmitnick 12:33 pm on March 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA, Star Eruptions Create and Scatter Elements with Earth-like Composition   

    From SOFIA: “SOFIA Observatory Indicates Star Eruptions Create and Scatter Elements with Earth-like Composition” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    March 8, 2016
    Dr. Dana Backman
    SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

    Observations made with NASA’s flying observatory, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) indicate that nova eruptions create elements that can form rocky planets, much like Earth.

    Astronomers occasionally see a nova, which may appear as a “new” star that grows brighter and then fades away after a few weeks. In fact, “nova” (plural, novae) is the Latin word for “new.” We now know that novae are not actually new stars, but rather are associated with stellar old age: explosions occurring on the surfaces of burned-out stars. They are less violent and more common than the star-shattering explosions called supernovae that completely destroy an aging star.

    Principal investigator Bob Gehrz of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, and collaborators have been using SOFIA to study novae as part of an ongoing research program to understand the role these objects play in creating and injecting elements into the material between the stars called the interstellar medium.

    Gerhz and his team found high levels of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, neon, magnesium, aluminum and silicon in the Nova Delphini, which erupted in 2013 in the constellation Delphinum (the Dolphin). Some of these elements can be found in living things, whereas others are important constituents of rocky planets such as Earth.

    There is evidence that when the universe began in the Big Bang, only trace amounts of elements other than hydrogen and helium were created. Atoms of heavier elements were made later by processes inside stars, or during star death throes such as nova and supernova explosions.

    The observations of the Nova Delphini debris cloud indicate that novae in general may be a major source of medium-weight elements in the universe. Their paper was published in the Astrophysical Journal.

    SOFIA’s Program Scientist Pam Marcum noted that “these spectra of Nova Delphinum could only be obtained by SOFIA, not by any observatory on the ground or currently in space, because of SOFIA’s unique access to the specific range of infrared wavelengths needed for these measurements.” She continued, “this research is part of the broad, ongoing effort by astronomers to understand the life cycles of stars, and how the formation of planets like Earth fit into those cycles.”

    The observations for these findings were gathered with the FORCAST instrument on SOFIA, the Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope, which can gather images and spectra of planets, stars, interstellar clouds and galaxies at mid-infrared wavelengths.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

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    Stem Education Coalition

    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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  • richardmitnick 10:24 am on February 23, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , NASA SOFIA, The Cycle 4 program   

    From SOFIA: “SOFIA Begins Fourth Year of Observations Targeting Planets, Asteroids, Stars, Galaxies, and More” 

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    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    Feb. 19, 2016
    Nicholas A. Veronico

    SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.


    NASA’s “flying” telescope, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aboard a highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner, began its fourth series of science flights on Feb. 3, 2016.

    This operational period, known as “Cycle 4,” is a one-year-long observing period in which SOFIA is scheduled for 106 flights between now and the end of January 2017.

    “The Cycle 4 program will make more than 550 hours of observations,” said Pamela Marcum, NASA’s SOFIA Project Scientist. “We’ll be studying objects spanning the full gamut of astronomical topics including planets, moons, asteroids and comets in our solar system; star and planet formation; extrasolar planets and the evolution of planetary systems; the interstellar medium and interstellar chemistry; the nucleus of the Milky Way galaxy, and nearby normal and active galaxies.”

    SOFIA’s instruments observe infrared energy – one part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes visible light, x-rays, radio waves and others. Many objects in space, for example newborn stars, emit almost all their energy at infrared wavelengths and are undetectable when observed in ordinary visible light. In other cases, clouds of gas and dust in space block visible light objects but allow infrared energy to reach Earth. In both situations, the celestial objects of interest can only be studied using infrared facilities like SOFIA.

    “During the February third flight, the target objects ranged from a young planetary system around the naked-eye star Vega, only 25 light years from us, to an infant star 1,500 light years away in the Orion star forming region,” said Erick Young, SOFIA’s Science Mission Operations Director, describing the science conducted on Cycle 4’s inaugural flight. “We also observed a supermassive black hole hidden behind dense dust clouds in the center of a galaxy 170 million light years away.”

    Scientists from the University of Georgia, University of Arizona, University of Texas at San Antonio, and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, plus their collaborators from institutions in the United States and Europe, obtained data using the Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) mounted on SOFIA’s telescope for imaging and spectroscopic observations during the flight.

    NASA SOFIA Forcast
    FORCAST

    Later in Cycle 4, the SOFIA observatory is scheduled to deploy to the Southern Hemisphere for seven weeks in June and July 2016, with 24 science flights planned from a base at Christchurch, New Zealand. There, scientists will have the opportunity to observe areas of interest such as the Galactic Center and other parts of the Milky Way that are not visible or difficult to observe from the Northern Hemisphere.

    The far-infrared High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-plus (HAWC+) will be added to SOFIA’s suite of seven cameras, spectrometers, and high-speed photometers during the latter part of Cycle 4. HAWC+’s optics, state-of-the art detector arrays, and upgradability will permit a broad range of important astrophysical investigations, including the unique and powerful capability of mapping magnetic fields in molecular clouds.

    For a list of science programs selected for Cycle 4, visit:

    https://www.sofia.usra.edu/Science/proposals/cycle4/results.html

    For more information about SOFIA, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sofiahttp://www.dlr.de/en/sofia

    For information about SOFIA’s science mission, visit:

    http://www.sofia.usra.eduhttp://www.dsi.uni-stuttgart.de/index.en.html

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    NASA image

    DLR Bloc

     
  • richardmitnick 11:13 am on January 26, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA   

    From NASA SOFIA: “SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors Program” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) mission is responsible to NASA for conducting an Education and Public Outreach program that exploits the unique attributes of airborne astronomy to contribute to national goals for the reform of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, and to the elevation of public scientific and technical literacy.

    SOFIA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) effort is a professional development program aspiring to improve teaching, inspire students, and inform the community. It builds upon the legacy of NASA’s highly successful FOSTER (Flight Opportunities for Science Teacher EnRicment) program that flew educators aboard the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO) from 1990 – 1995.

    SOFIA’s AAA program now enters its Cycle 2 phase: 12 AAA educator teams representing educators from 10 states were selected.

    For the Cycle 1 phase of SOFIA’s AAA program, 13 AAA educator teams plus alternates were selected in a highly competitive application process. Selected educators came from a variety of backgrounds, and their institutions included a school for the deaf, an alternative education site (developmentally challenged), highly underserved student populations, rural schools, and a Native American school site.

    The Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors “Pilot” program for educator professional development successfully flew six teachers on the observatory during the summer of 2011, representing California, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Virginia (Washington DC). Evaluation confirmed the program’s positive impact on the teacher participants, on their students, and in their communities. Teachers not only incorporated content knowledge and specific components of their experience into their curricula, they also have also given dozens of presentations and implemented teacher professional development workshops. Their efforts to date have impacted thousands of students and teachers.

    As part of preparation and training for their flight experience, AAA program participants complete a graduate-level Astronomy for Teachers on-line course administered by Montana State University and National Teacher Enhancement Network. Teams are paired with an astronomer with observatory time, and they work with this astronomer throughout the research, from preparation to data analysis. AAAs optimally fly aboard the observatory twice, will implement classroom lessons based on their experiences, and will complete an outreach plan.

    Selection into this prestigious program is truly an honor for the educators and their school, planetarium, or observatory.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.
    NASA

     
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