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  • 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

     
  • richardmitnick 4:36 pm on September 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA   

    From NASA Sofia: “SOFIA Begins 2015 Southern Hemisphere Science Flights” A Little Late 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    June 19, 2015
    Nicholas A. Veronico

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

    650-604-4589 / 650-224-8726

    nicholas.a.veronico@nasa.gov / nveronico@sofia.usra.edu

    Kate K. Squires 

    Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. 

    661-276-2020 

    kate.k.squires@nasa.gov

    NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, departed from Christchurch, New Zealand at 6:20 pm local time June 19 for the first of 15 planned Southern Hemisphere deployment science flights.

    For the next five weeks SOFIA will operate from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Program facility at Christchurch International Airport. Flying out of New Zealand enables SOFIA to study celestial objects that are more easily observed, or can only be observed, from southern latitudes.

    “SOFIA’s 2013 deployment to New Zealand and the resulting observations were of great scientific value,” said Eddie Zavala, SOFIA program manager. “Our research staff and guest investigators have been looking forward to building on that success with our return to the Southern Hemisphere this month.”

    During this deployment, five cameras and spectrographs will be used: the Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) and the German REceiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) for a total of 15 flights, plus the First Light Infrared TEst CAMera (FLITECAM), the High Speed Imaging Photometer for Occultations (HIPO), and the Focal Plane Imager (FPI) in ensemble during one flight to observe a stellar occultation by Pluto.

    “Many of the observations planned for this deployment are aimed at studying the formation of massive stars,” said Pamela Marcum, SOFIA’s Project Scientist. “Massive protostars are rare, so even the nearest examples are more than a thousand light years away. SOFIA’s large telescope enables astronomers to resolve distant groups of such stars, allowing uniquely detailed observations of them and the material that surrounds them.”

    “We are also interested in the other end of the stellar life cycle,” noted Dana Backman, astronomer and manager of SOFIA’s Outreach programs. “During late stages, many stars develop intense winds, ejecting large amounts of their material into surrounding space. As those winds cool, some of the gas condenses into dust particles. The gas and dust are recycled into the interstellar medium, adding to the raw material for subsequent generations of stars and planets. Researchers want a more complete understanding of how that all happens.”

    Observing from the Southern Hemisphere also enables SOFIA to view the Magellanic Clouds, two satellite galaxies of the Milky Way Galaxy that have had fewer generations of stars, and therefore contain smaller proportions of heavy elements, than our own galaxy. Comparing star formation and stellar evolution in the Magellanic Clouds versus the Milky Way can help refine an understanding of how the earliest generations of stars in the Universe formed from gas containing little or no heavy elements.

    FLIPO and the FPI are expected to observe Pluto as it passes in front of a background star on June 29. That occultation event is fortuitously soon before the New Horizons spacecraft’s closest approach to Pluto on July 14. The near-coincidence of observations by SOFIA and New Horizons could provide investigators with a singular opportunity to link the fly-by spacecraft’s “snap shot” measurements with an ongoing Earth-based research program monitoring long-term changes in Pluto’s atmosphere.

    SOFIA is scheduled to return to the United States on July 24.

    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. The aircraft is based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California is home to the SOFIA Science Center that is managed by NASA in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart.

    For a media kit with information about SOFIA’s Southern Hemisphere deployment, visit:
    http://www.sofia.usra.edu/News/media/NZ/NZ2015.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

    Read the DLR news release (in English) regarding the deployment at:
    http://www.dlr.de/dlr/en/desktopdefault.aspx/tabid-10212/332_read-13949/year-all/#/gallery/19764

    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

     
  • richardmitnick 7:24 am on April 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA, ,   

    From SOFIA: “NASA’s SOFIA Finds Missing Link Between Supernovae and Planet Formation” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    March 19, 2015
    Last Updated: April 18, 2015
    Editor: Sarah Ramsey

    Felicia Chou
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-5241
    felicia.chou@nasa.gov

    Nicholas Veronico

    SOFIA Science Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
    650-604-4589 / 650-224-8726

    nicholas.a.veronico@nasa.gov / nveronico@sofia.usra.edu

    Kate K. Squires

    Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. 

    661-276-2020 

    kate.k.squires@nasa.gov

    1

    Using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), an international scientific team discovered that supernovae are capable of producing a substantial amount of the material from which planets like Earth can form.

    These findings are published in the March 19 online issue of Science magazine.

    “Our observations reveal a particular cloud produced by a supernova explosion 10,000 years ago contains enough dust to make 7,000 Earths,” said Ryan Lau of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

    The research team, headed by Lau, used SOFIA’s airborne telescope and the Faint Object InfraRed Camera for the SOFIA Telescope, FORCAST, to take detailed infrared images of an interstellar dust cloud known as Supernova Remnant Sagittarius A East, or SNR Sgr A East.

    2
    Supernova remnant dust detected by SOFIA (yellow) survives away from the hottest X-ray gas (purple). The red ellipse outlines the supernova shock wave. The inset shows a magnified image of the dust (orange) and gas emission (cyan).Credits: NASA/CXO/Lau et al

    The team used SOFIA data to estimate the total mass of dust in the cloud from the intensity of its emission. The investigation required measurements at long infrared wavelengths in order to peer through intervening interstellar clouds and detect the radiation emitted by the supernova dust.

    Astronomers already had evidence that a supernova’s outward-moving shock wave can produce significant amounts of dust. Until now, a key question was whether the new soot- and sand-like dust particles would survive the subsequent inward “rebound” shock wave generated when the first, outward-moving shock wave collides with surrounding interstellar gas and dust.

    “The dust survived the later onslaught of shock waves from the supernova explosion, and is now flowing into the interstellar medium where it can become part of the ‘seed material’ for new stars and planets,” Lau explained.

    These results also reveal the possibility that the vast amount of dust observed in distant young galaxies may have been made by supernova explosions of early massive stars, as no other known mechanism could have produced nearly as much dust.

    “This discovery is a special feather in the cap for SOFIA, demonstrating how observations made within our own Milky Way galaxy can bear directly on our understanding of the evolution of galaxies billions of light years away,” said Pamela Marcum, a SOFIA project scientist at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

    For more information about SOFIA, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sofia

    or

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

    For information about SOFIA’s science mission and scientific instruments, visit:

    http://www.sofia.usra.edu

    or

    http://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

     
  • richardmitnick 4:26 pm on March 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA, ,   

    From SOFIA: “NASA’s SOFIA Finds Missing Link Between Supernovae and Planet Formation” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    March 19, 2015
    Felicia Chou
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-5241
    felicia.chou@nasa.gov

    Nicholas Veronico

    SOFIA Science Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
    650-604-4589 / 650-224-8726

    nicholas.a.veronico@nasa.gov / nveronico@sofia.usra.edu

    Kate K. Squires

    Armstrong Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif. 

    661-276-2020 

    kate.k.squires@nasa.gov

    1
    SOFIA data reveal warm dust (white) surviving inside a supernova remnant. The SNR Sgr A East cloud is traced in X-rays (blue). Radio emission (red) shows expanding shock waves colliding with surrounding interstellar clouds (green). Image Credit: NASA/CXO/Herschel/VLA/Lau et al

    [These two following telescopes are clearly present in the above credit, important to the mission, but unnamed by the writers]

    ESA Herschel
    ESA/Herschel

    NRAO VLA
    NRAO/VLA

    Using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), an international scientific team discovered that supernovae are capable of producing a substantial amount of the material from which planets like Earth can form.

    These findings are published in the March 19 online issue of Science magazine.

    “Our observations reveal a particular cloud produced by a supernova explosion 10,000 years ago contains enough dust to make 7,000 Earths,” said Ryan Lau of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

    The research team, headed by Lau, used SOFIA’s airborne telescope and the Faint Object InfraRed Camera for the SOFIA Telescope, FORCAST, to take detailed infrared images of an interstellar dust cloud known as Supernova Remnant Sagittarius A East, or SNR Sgr A East.

    2
    Supernova remnant dust detected by SOFIA (yellow) survives away from the hottest X-ray gas (purple). The red ellipse outlines the supernova shock wave. The inset shows a magnified image of the dust (orange) and gas emission (cyan). Image Credit: NASA/CXO/Lau et al

    The team used SOFIA data to estimate the total mass of dust in the cloud from the intensity of its emission. The investigation required measurements at long infrared wavelengths in order to peer through intervening interstellar clouds and detect the radiation emitted by the supernova dust.

    Astronomers already had evidence that a supernova’s outward-moving shock wave can produce significant amounts of dust. Until now, a key question was whether the new soot- and sand-like dust particles would survive the subsequent inward “rebound” shock wave generated when the first, outward-moving shock wave collides with surrounding interstellar gas and dust.

    “The dust survived the later onslaught of shock waves from the supernova explosion, and is now flowing into the interstellar medium where it can become part of the ‘seed material’ for new stars and planets,” Lau explained.

    These results also reveal the possibility that the vast amount of dust observed in distant young galaxies may have been made by supernova explosions of early massive stars, as no other known mechanism could have produced nearly as much dust.

    “This discovery is a special feather in the cap for SOFIA, demonstrating how observations made within our own Milky Way galaxy can bear directly on our understanding of the evolution of galaxies billions of light years away,” said Pamela Marcum, a SOFIA project scientist at Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California.

    SOFIA is a heavily modified Boeing 747 Special Performance jetliner that carries a telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches (2.5 meters) at altitudes of 39,000 to 45,000 feet (12 to 14 km). SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. The aircraft observatory is based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center facility in Palmdale, California. The agency’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, is home to the SOFIA Science Center, which is managed by NASA in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart.

    For more information about SOFIA, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sofia

    or

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

    For information about SOFIA’s science mission and scientific instruments, visit:

    http://www.sofia.usra.edu

    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

     
  • richardmitnick 1:26 pm on January 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA   

    From SOFIA: “NASA’s Airborne Observatory Begins 2015 Science Campaign” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    January 14, 2015

    Felicia Chou

    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-5241

    felicia.chou@nasa.gov

    Nicholas A. Veronico

    SOFIA Science Center, Moffett Field, California

    650-604-4589 / 650-224-8726
    nicholas.a.veronico@nasa.gov
    nveronico@sofia.usra.edu

    1
    NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is seen performing ground tests prior to its first science flight of 2015. The year’s first mission was flown on the night of Jan. 13/14, with the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) spectrometer on board.
    Image Credit: NASA/USRA/Greg Perryman

    The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, Program began its third season of science flights on Jan. 13, 2015. SOFIA is NASA’s next generation flying observatory and is fitted with a 2.5-meter (100-inch) diameter telescope that studies the universe at infrared wavelengths.

    “Last night’s flight used the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) spectrometer to study the chemical composition and motions of gas in a star-forming region, a young star, and a supernova remnant,” said Pamela Marcum, NASA’s SOFIA project scientist. “Observing at infrared wavelengths enables us to see through interstellar dust to record the spectral signatures of molecules in these regions. From this we can study the abundances of molecules and their formation process.”

    Water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs infrared radiation, preventing a large section of the infrared spectrum from reaching ground-based observatories. SOFIA is a heavily modified Boeing 747 Special Performance jetliner that flies at altitudes between 39,000 to 45,000 feet (12 to 14 km), above more than 99 percent of Earth’s atmospheric water vapor giving astronomers the ability to study celestial objects at wavelengths that cannot be seen from ground-based observatories.

    “The flights in January will conclude SOFIA’s second annual observing series, known as Cycle 2, and the observatory will begin the Cycle 3 programs in March,” said Erick Young, SOFIA’s observatory director and a member of the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) team that operates the SOFIA Science Center at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. “Plans for Cycle 3 include 70 flights with more than 400 hours of science observations. The observations will span a broad range of astronomical topics including the interstellar medium, star formation, stars, bodies in our solar system, and extrasolar planets.”

    The observatory is expected to make a deployment to the Southern Hemisphere in June 2015, with science flights based out of 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 from the Northern Hemisphere.

    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.

    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 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 4:09 pm on November 21, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA SOFIA   

    From NASA/SOFIA: “SOFIA Observations Help Determine the Age of a Star Nursery” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    An international scientific team led by scientists of the Coordinated Research Center (CRC) 956 at the University of Cologne, Germany, applied a new method of age determination to a combination of data from SOFIA and other observatories to make a surprising discovery: The star forming cloud IRAS 16293-2422, located at a distance of about 400 light years in the direction of the constellation Ophiuchus, is at least 1 million years old yet is still making sun-like stars. This is in conflict with current models, which predict star formation should proceed much more rapidly. That result is published in this week’s volume of Nature magazine by researchers from Cologne plus the University of Helsinki and the Max Planck Institutes for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR; Bonn) and Extraterrestrial Physics (MPE; Garching).

    Stars like our sun and their planetary systems form from cold and dense interstellar gas and dust clouds that collapse under their own weight. In the first step the material condenses into stellar “embryos” called protostars. Details of how such condensations occur, and on what timescales, are not very well understood. For example, do the clouds “free-fall” toward their respective centers solely under the influence of gravity, or is the collapse significantly slowed by other factors? “Since this process takes much longer than human history, it cannot just be followed as a function of time. Instead, one needs to find an internal clock that allows us to read off the age of a particular star forming cloud,” says lead author Sandra Brünken.

    s
    The GREAT far-infrared spectrometer onboard SOFIA. The instrument is
    shown mounted on the telescope flange inside the pressurized cabin.
    © R. Güsten

    Here is where SOFIA flies in to help: The molecule H 2D + (a combination or two atoms of ordinary ‘ light’ hydrogen plus one atom of ‘heavy’ hydrogen, deuterium) is enriched in dense and cold star forming regions. The spin axes of the two H atom nuclei within each molecule flip their relative orientations at a known rate. Molecules with one nuclear spin orientation emit and absorb a spectral line at a far-infrared wavelength of 219 microns (1.37 THz, ‘para’ state, anti-parallel spins). Molecules with the opposite spin emit and absorb at a radio wavelength of 0.806 millimeters (372 GHz, ‘ortho’ state, parallel spins). Because Earth’s atmosphere absorbs all far-infrared radiation from celestial sources, the only observatory able to detect the 219-micron line is SOFIA, operating at an altitude of about 14 km, carrying the GREAT (German Receiver for Astronomy at THz Frequencies) spectrometer. Another advantage is that – in contrast to satellites – the newest technology could be implemented on SOFIA on short time scales; until recently, no instrument was available that could detect the critical range of wavelength for this study. Complementary observations of the millimeter-wavelength line were obtained using the ground-based APEX (Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment) telescope located in the Chilean Andes at an altitude of 5100 meters (16,700 feet). In their Nature publication the team around Stephan Schlemmer at the University of Cologne explains why the ratio of the ortho (APEX) to para (SOFIA) states of H 2D + in cold and dense gas clouds allows an accurate age estimation of Sun-like star nursery. Reading this chemical clock for IRAS 16293-2422 yields an age of at least 1 Million years.

    ESO APEX
    ESO/APEX

    “These H 2D + measurements introduce a basic new method for age determinations in cold molecular clouds, with SOFIA’s far infrared spectroscopy capable of playing a major role” , comments Hans Zinnecker from the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart, who is Deputy Director of SOFIAs Science Mission Operations located at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. “This underlines the future potential of SOFIA, since at the moment the NASA/DLR airborne observatory is the only one that allows astronomers to detect far infrared radiation from the cosmos.”

    See the full article here.

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    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 2:46 pm on September 6, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA SOFIA   

    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
    Tags: , , , , NASA SOFIA   

    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
    Tags: , , , , NASA SOFIA   

    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.

    NASA


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  • richardmitnick 3:04 pm on March 17, 2014 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)

    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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