Cornell: CU telescope debuts on NASA's SOFIA

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Cornell: CU telescope debuts on NASA's SOFIA

Postby bystander » Tue May 25, 2010 1:35 am

NASA's airborne observatory prepares for debut flight featuring Cornell-made instrument
Cornell University - 24 May 2010
When the first photons meet the 2.7-meter telescope aboard SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, in flight May 25, it will be the long-awaited result of more than 13 years of work by hundreds of scientists and engineers around the world.

It will also be the beginning of a new era in astronomy, scientists say. And it will be a particularly sweet moment for Cornell professor of astronomy Terry Herter, leader of the team that designed and built FORCAST (the Faint Object InfraRed Camera for the SOFIA Telescope), the first instrument to fly on the observatory.

SOFIA, a modified Boeing 747SP fitted with a German-built telescope that measures radiation primarily in the infrared, is about to begin what researchers hope will be some 20 years of observing the universe. The mission is a joint program by NASA and the German Aerospace Center.

With an evolving variety of instruments that can be changed and updated as technology progresses over the years, the observatory could help answer questions about planet and star formation, the composition of nearby galaxies and the center of our own galaxy, features of the interstellar medium and the planets of our solar system.

The observatory combines the advantages of space-based telescopes like the Spitzer Space Telescope and the Hubbell Space Telescope with the benefits of ground-based observatories ... Flying at 35,000-45,000 feet, it will allow researchers to see phenomena that are obscured from the ground by atmospheric water vapor. But because it returns to the ground, researchers can change instruments and make adjustments and modifications that would be impossible with a space telescope ... SOFIA is also mobile -- it can travel to different places around the world to observe transient events.

To keep it stable in flight, the telescope is suspended over a giant spherical bearing -- similar to how a puck is suspended over an air hockey table. Small torquer motors use magnetic fields to keep the telescope centered.

Five instruments are ready for use on SOFIA (one at a time), with many more in the pipeline. First in line is FORCAST, an infrared camera that can take 100 images per second, making it ideally suited for characterizing the telescope on its initial flights. On the debut six-hour flight, FORCAST will also measure the thermal emission from the telescope itself -- vital information for every instrument to follow -- and take infrared photos of test targets in the sky.

The story behind SOFIA -- 13 years in the making
Cornell University - 24 May 2010
The SOFIA project has been in the making for more than 13 years -- but the airplane has an even longer history. Originally owned by Pan Am, the 747SP (Special Performance) was named the Clipper Lindbergh and christened by Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1977 on the 50th anniversary of Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic.

The Boeing 747SP differs from a modern 747 in a few ways. Most notably, it's 45 feet shorter and, thus, lighter -- which allowed it to make long transoceanic flights without stopping to refuel. (Modern 747s have much more efficient engines.)
...
Since NASA bought the Clipper Lindbergh in 1997, SOFIA has undergone more than a few changes. Among many other things, it has a 16-by-23-foot door cut into the port side for the telescope and a bump near the rear of the plane that smoothes out airflow around the fuselage when the telescope door is open.
...
Inside, the plane has a few remnants of its past: several original seats; the spiral staircase to the upper deck; an array of analog instruments in the cockpit. But most of the seats are a hodgepodge of military airplane seats at workstations, facing backward toward the massive, 17-ton telescope and instruments.

The cabin also includes an area for educators and reporters who will take part in flights as part of the mission's effort to educate and engage the public. And the telescope itself is part of a pressure bulkhead that allows the main cabin to stay pressurized despite the open door behind it.

Despite its novelty, SOFIA follows a long history of airborne astronomy that started with observations made from biplanes in the 1920s and '30s. Most recently, NASA's Kuiper Airborne Observatory, a modified Lockheed C-141 with a 1-meter infrared telescope that operated 1974-95, was the vehicle for discoveries including the rings around Uranus, the atmosphere around Pluto and the presence of water vapor in the interstellar medium.
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Re: Cornell: CU telescope debuts on NASA's SOFIA

Postby bystander » Thu May 27, 2010 12:30 am

NASA's SOFIA Observatory Obtains 'First Light' Imagery
NASA Ames SOFIA - 26 May 2010
NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, successfully obtained its first in-flight, nighttime celestial observations during its “First Light” mission early Wednesday morning, May 26. Scientists are now processing the data gathered with the German-built 2.5-meter telescope and Cornell University's Faint Object infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope, or FORCAST, mounted in the highly modified Boeing 747SP.

SOFIA Image Gallery Slide Show
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Re: Cornell: CU telescope debuts on NASA's SOFIA

Postby neufer » Thu May 27, 2010 2:43 am

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wide-field ... y_Explorer wrote:
<<Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) is a NASA-funded infrared-wavelength astronomical space telescope launched on 14 December 2009. The Earth-orbiting satellite carries a 40-centimetre diameter infrared-sensitive telescope, which will survey the entire sky over the course of six months through images made in the 3 to 25 μm wavelength range.>> (above the 4.3 & 15 μm CO2 bands & the 9.6 μm O3 band)

Image
Sophia is a female name derived from σοφία,
the Greek word for "Wisdom."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SOFIA wrote:
<<The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is based on a Boeing 747SP wide-body aircraft that has been modified to carry a 250-centimetre diameter infrared-sensitive telescope in the aft section of the fuselage. SOFIA's flight capability allows it to rise above almost all of the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere. At the aircraft's cruising altitude, 85% of the full infrared range will be available. Once ready for use, the expectation is for observing flights to be flown 3 or 4 nights a week for the next 20 years.

The optical system uses a Cassegrain reflector design with a parabolic primary mirror and a remotely configurable hyperbolic secondary. In order for the telescope to fit into the fuselage, the primary is shaped to an f-number as low as 1.3. However, the resulting optical layout has an f-number of 19.7. The telescope looks out of a large door in the side of the fuselage near the airplane's tail, and will initially carry nine instruments for infrared astronomy at wavelengths from 1–655 micrometres and high-speed optical astronomy at wavelengths from 0.3–1.1 micrometres. The main instruments are the FLITECAM, a near infrared camera covering 1–5 micrometres; FORCAST, covering the mid-infrared range of 5–40 micrometres, and HAWC, which spans the far infrared in the range 40–300 micrometres.>>
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SOFIA: “First Light” in Flight

Postby bystander » Fri May 28, 2010 5:10 pm

NASA’S Airborne Observatory Sees “First Light” in Flight
NASA SOFIA - 28 May 2010
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a joint program by NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), achieved a major milestone May 26, 2010, when the airborne observatory made its first in-flight nighttime observations. Astronomers call the first observations by a new observatory “first light.”

The highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner, fitted with a 100-inch (2.5-meter) diameter reflecting telescope, took off from NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. The in-flight personnel consisted of an international crew from NASA, Universities Space Research Association (USRA), the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) and Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. During the six-hour flight at altitudes up to 35,000 feet, the crew of 10 scientists, engineers and technicians worked at consoles in the aircraft’s main cabin to gather telescope performance data.

The stability and precise pointing of the German-built telescope met or exceeded the expectations of the engineers and astronomers who put it through its paces during the flight.

The highly sensitive Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST), used for these inaugural observations was operated in flight by its builders, a team led by Cornell’s Terry Herter. In a few minutes FORCAST is able to capture images that would require many-hour exposures by ground-based observatories blocked from a clear infrared view of the universe by the Earth’s water vapor. SOFIA’s operational altitude, above more than 99 percent of the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere, will allow the airborne observatory to receive 80 percent or more of the infrared light accessible to a space observatory.

    Image
    This composite infrared image of Jupiter was made by Cornell University’s FORCAST camera during the SOFIA observatory’s "first light" flight. A recent visual-wavelength picture of approximately the same side of Jupiter is shown for comparison. (Anthony Wesley)
    Image
    Composite infrared image of the central portion of galaxy M82, from SOFIA’s First Light flight, at wavelengths of 20 (blue), 32 (green) and 37 microns (red). The middle inset image shows the same portion of the galaxy at visual wavelengths. The infrared image sees past the stars and dust clouds apparent in the visible-wavelength image into the star-forming heart of the galaxy. The long dimension of the inset boxes is about 5400 light years. (N. A. Sharp/NOAO/AURA/NSF)
    Click to play embedded YouTube video.
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Nature: Astronomy: Ready for boarding — finally

Postby bystander » Wed Jul 21, 2010 8:22 pm

Astronomy: Ready for boarding — finally
Nature News | 21 July 2010
NASA and Germany have spent 15 years and billions of dollars on SOFIA, an airborne telescope that is about to produce its first results. Eric Hand asks whether the science will justify the cost.

The hangar is so big that it once held a fleet of pirate ships. That was back when this 20,000 square-metre NASA facility in the desert town of Palmdale, California, was being used as a soundstage for the 2007 film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End.

Today, the film crews have long since packed up and gone. But the NASA mechanics pedalling around the squeaky-smooth concrete floor on bicycles are still tending to a diva as high-maintenance as any in Hollywood — a Boeing 747 that fits into one corner with room to spare. Like many a Tinseltown star, the jumbo jet is ageing: its fresh coat of paint covers an airframe that first carried passengers in 1977. And it has clearly undergone plastic surgery. There is the telltale swelling of the fuselage just behind the wings, for example, where incisions outline a retractable door. There are also a multitude of less visible fixes on the inside, all focused on what lies behind the door: a 2.5-metre telescope that has turned this formerly plain jet into the much heralded Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
...
SOFIA's long-suffering science team has a lot to prove. Inaugurated in 1996 as a joint project between NASA, which modified the 747, and the German Space Agency (DLR), which built the telescope and pays 20% of the costs, SOFIA is designed to give astronomers a clear view of the Universe at infrared wavelengths — a part of the spectrum rich with information about galaxies, planets and newborn stars. But to accomplish that mission, the plane will have to lift the 20-tonne telescope at least 12 kilometres into the air, and then fly through the stratosphere at some 1,000 kilometres an hour with the open door forming a 3-metre-wide hole in its fuselage.

The technical challenges of engineering such a radically modified plane, combined with management failures, have already put SOFIA almost a decade behind schedule — the original completion date was supposed to be 2001 — and roughly tripled its development costs. Its estimated total cost, including 20 years of operation, now comes to about US$3.75 billion — a price tag that by one measure, dollars per hour of observation, would make SOFIA as costly as the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA's most expensive astronomy mission ever (see Table 1). The delays have also meant that competing infrared astronomy missions such as the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory— which was supposed to launch well after SOFIA — have instead gone up first and scooped some of the creamiest science. The result is that any mention of SOFIA now leads many astronomers to respond with eye-rolling and shoulder shrugs.
...
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Re: Nature: Astronomy: Ready for boarding — finally

Postby neufer » Wed Jul 21, 2010 9:00 pm

The best laid planes of mice and men.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Of_Mice_and_Men wrote:
<<Of Mice and Men is a novella by John Steinbeck. Published in 1937, it tells the tragic story of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers during the Great Depression in California. Based on Steinbeck's own experiences as a bindlestiff in the 1920s (before the arrival of the Okies he would vividly describe in The Grapes of Wrath), the title is taken from Robert Burns's poem, "To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough", which read: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft agley.">>

bindlestiff n., A hobo, especially one who carries a bedroll. [English bindle, bundle (probably from German dialectal bindel, from Middle High German bündel, from binden, to bind, from Old High German binten; + stiff.]

bystander wrote:Astronomy: Ready for boarding — finally
Nature News | 21 July 2010
NASA and Germany have spent 15 years and billions of dollars on SOFIA, an airborne telescope that is about to produce its first results. Eric Hand asks whether the science will justify the cost.

The hangar is so big that it once held a fleet of pirate ships. That was back when this 20,000 square-metre NASA facility in the desert town of Palmdale, California, was being used as a soundstage for the 2007 film Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. Like many a Tinseltown star, the jumbo jet is aging: its fresh coat of paint covers an airframe that first carried passengers in 1977. Inaugurated in 1996 as a joint project between NASA, which modified the 747, and the German Space Agency (DLR), which built the telescope and pays 20% of the costs, SOFIA is designed to give astronomers a clear view of the Universe at infrared wavelengths. But to accomplish that mission, the plane will have to lift the 20-tonne telescope at least 12 kilometres into the air, and then fly through the stratosphere at some 1,000 kilometres an hour with the open door forming a 3-metre-wide hole in its fuselage. The technical challenges of engineering such a radically modified plane, combined with management failures, have already put SOFIA almost a decade behind schedule and roughly tripled its development costs. Its estimated total cost [in] dollars per hour of observation would make SOFIA as costly as the Hubble Space Telescope. The delays have also meant that competing infrared astronomy missions such as the European Space Agency's Herschel Space Observatory— which was supposed to launch well after SOFIA — have instead gone up first and scooped some of the creamiest science. The result is that any mention of SOFIA now leads many astronomers to respond with eye-rolling and shoulder shrugs.
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UCLA: SOFIA will likely help solve mysteries about our galax

Postby bystander » Thu Aug 26, 2010 2:43 pm

NASA's SOFIA will likely help solve mysteries about our galaxy
University of California, Los Angeles | 25 Aug 2010
UCLA astronomers play major role in new airborne observatory

How were millions of young stars able to form at the center of our Milky Way galaxy in the presence of an enormous black hole with a mass 4 million times that of the sun? This and other important questions may be answered by the NASA mission SOFIA, which is scheduled to make its first scientific measurements in the next few months.

SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), a modified 747SP jetliner, is the world's largest airborne observatory. It is expected to fly into the stratosphere at altitudes up to 45,000 feet about three to four nights a week for the next 20 years — some 2,800 flights in all. The mission's infrared telescope detects heat radiation rather than visible light. Flown by NASA pilots, most trips will last from eight to 10 hours.

SOFIA's telescope will provide the clearest view of the center of our Milky Way galaxy at wavelengths in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum that are 50 to 100 times longer than those to which the human eye is sensitive. These wavelengths do not get through our atmosphere, but SOFIA's telescope can detect this invisible infrared energy because it flies above 99 percent of the water vapor in the atmosphere.

Most of the radiation from the region around the black hole and the galactic center — some 26,000 light years away — is emitted at these wavelengths. Millions of young stars packed closely together in this region are obscured by enormous quantities of dust but are easier to observe in the infrared because infrared light can penetrate the dust. More star formation is occurring in this region than anywhere else in the galaxy.
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NASA: SOFIA Prepares For Early Science Flights

Postby bystander » Tue Oct 05, 2010 5:57 pm

SOFIA Observatory Prepares For Early Science Flights
NASA SOFIA | 05 Oct 2010
Testing of the entire integrated observatory system and individual subsystems on NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy 747SP is slated to occur during October during a series of nighttime, ground-based observations. The Faint Object InfraRed Camera for the SOFIA Telescope, or FORCAST, instrument will be mounted on the telescope for these tests.

Later this fall, the SOFIA 747SP will take to the night sky for several flights to check the entire observatory system. This will be followed by a series of initial science flights by the airborne astronomical observatory.

The FORCAST instrument, developed by a team of scientists working under the direction of principal investigator Terry Herter of Cornell University, will remain on the SOFIA’s German-built telescope during the first flights when the flying observatory will begin its study of the universe.
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SOFIA: Searching the Heavens for Newborn Stars

Postby bystander » Wed Dec 01, 2010 6:06 pm

Searching the Heavens for Newborn Stars
NASA USRA SOFIA | 29 Nov 2010
SOFIA, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is ready to take off into the heavens for its first science flight this week.

Two astronomy professors, Mark Morris of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and Paul Harvey of the University of Colorado at Boulder will use the Faint Object InfraRed Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST), a mid-spectrum infrared camera developed by Terry Herter of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. to learn more about star formation from the airborne observatory.

"My primary target is the Orion nebula, which is a star formation factory," Morris said. "It's close and offers the best views of stars forming right before our very eyes."

Morris hopes to better understand the complexities of the star formation process by viewing the infrared energy emitted by warm dust in the interstellar clouds that are forming the stars. The dust is heated by the luminous, newborn stars.

"Nature doesn't form stars in isolation," he said. "It forms them in clusters, out of natal clouds that collapse under their own gravity. If you observe carefully, you start to get a clearer picture of how all the new stars are interacting with each other and with their environment."

Harvey's immediate goal is to use the unique combination of high image IR resolution available with SOFIA and FORCAST to study the distribution of dust and gas around Sharpless 140, a young, forming star cluster. Sharpless 140 lies almost 3,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cepheus.

"Observing the birth of stars in our own galaxy is critical, because planetary systems form at the same time that a central star is formed," Harvey said. "Some of the most luminous galaxies in the universe appear to be powered by extreme bursts of star formation."
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SOFIA Opens New Window on Star Formation in Orion

Postby bystander » Wed Jan 12, 2011 1:22 am

SOFIA Opens New Window on Star Formation in Orion
NASA ARC USRA DFRC SOFIA | 2011 Jan 11
A mid-infrared mosaic image from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, offers new information about processes of star formation in and around the nebula Messier 42 in the constellation Orion. The image data were acquired using the Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope, or FORCAST, by principal investigator Terry Herter, of Cornell University during SOFIA’s Short Science 1 observing program in December 2010.

SOFIA’s mid-infrared image of Messier 42, plus comparison images of the same region made at other wavelengths by other observatories, are available at: http://www.nasa.gov/sofia.

SOFIA's view combines images at mid-infrared wavelengths of 19.7 microns (green) and 37.1 microns (red). The latter wavelength cannot be accessed by any telescope on the ground or currently in space. Detailed structures in the clouds of star construction material can be seen, as well as warm clouds of dust and gas surrounding, and partly obscuring, a cluster of luminous newborn stars at upper right.

The left and center panels of the three-image comparison have the same scale and orientation as the SOFIA image.

The image in the left panel, made at wavelengths visible to the human eye, shows dense clouds of interstellar dust blocking our view into parts of the star forming region, plus the rosy glow of hydrogen gas excited by radiation from the young stars just above the center.

In the center panel, the near-infrared image penetrates some of the dust and reveals numerous stars at various stages of formation, embedded inside the clouds.

SOFIA’s observations reveal distinctly different aspects of the M42 star formation complex than the other images. For example, the dense dust cloud at upper left is completely opaque in the visible-light image, partly transparent in the near-infrared image, and is seen shining with its own heat radiation in the SOFIA mid-infrared image. The hot stars of the Trapezium cluster are seen just above the centers of the visible-light and near-infrared images, but they are almost undetectable in the SOFIA image. At upper right, the dust-embedded cluster of high-luminosity stars that is the most prominent feature in the SOFIA mid-infrared image is less apparent in the near-infrared image and is completely hidden in the visible-light image.

For more information about SOFIA, visit:
http://www.nasa.gov/sofia
http://www.dlr.de/en/sofia

For information about SOFIA's science mission, visit:
http://www.sofia.usra.edu
http://www.dsi.uni-stuttgart.de/index.en.html
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Re: SOFIA Opens New Window on Star Formation in Orion

Postby neufer » Wed Jan 12, 2011 3:05 am

ImageImage
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Re: SOFIA Opens New Window on Star Formation in Orion

Postby bystander » Wed Jan 12, 2011 3:30 am

So that's Orion in the background of the image on the left?
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Re: SOFIA Opens New Window on Star Formation in Orion

Postby neufer » Wed Jan 12, 2011 3:54 am

bystander wrote:So that's Orion in the background of the image on the left?

O'Ryan (head of the Irish Paparazzi):
He was trying to attain enough altitude so that water vapor wouldn't fog his lenses.
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Re: SOFIA Opens New Window on Star Formation in Orion

Postby bystander » Wed Jan 12, 2011 4:57 am

neufer wrote:O'Ryan (head of the Irish Paparazzi):
He was trying to attain enough altitude so that water vapor wouldn't fog his lenses.

Ahh, I thought Orion was a place not a person.
SOFIA Opens New Window ... in Orion
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Re: SOFIA Opens New Window on Star Formation in Orion

Postby neufer » Wed Jan 12, 2011 10:48 am

bystander wrote:
neufer wrote:O'Ryan (head of the Irish Paparazzi):
He was trying to attain enough altitude so that water vapor wouldn't fog his lenses.

Ahh, I thought Orion was a place not a person.
SOFIA Opens New Window ... in Orion

The full header should read:

SOPHIA Opens New Window on Star Formation in O'Ryan's Camera.

["Camera" means "bedroom" in Italian.]
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Re: Cornell: CU telescope debuts on NASA's SOFIA

Postby Beyond » Wed Jan 12, 2011 4:36 pm

HEY!! Lets have more about Sophia's window on the right! There's still more hidden discoveries to be uncovered there. :D
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ARC: GREAT Spectrometer Readied For Flight on SOFIA

Postby bystander » Sun Apr 10, 2011 3:43 pm

GREAT Spectrometer Readied For Flight on SOFIA
NASA ARC SOFIA | 2011 Mar 30
Image
(Credit: DLR/GREAT)
Scientists recently completed a series of nighttime, ground-based testing of the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, or GREAT, spectrometer in preparation for a series of astronomical science flights on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy in April. With the SOFIA 747SP aircraft positioned on the ramp outside NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility, the upper door covering the telescope was opened and GREAT’s interaction with the telescope was evaluated.

The GREAT instrument is a receiver for spectroscopic observations at far-infrared frequencies between 1.2 and 5 terahertz (wavelengths between 60 and 250 microns). Those wavelengths are not accessible from ground-based telescopes because of atmospheric water vapor absorption.

GREAT is one of two first-generation instruments built for SOFIA by a consortium of German research institutes, including the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy, the University of Cologne, the German Aerospace Center and the Max Planck Society. The Max Planck Society and German Research Society financed the development of the instrument.

SOFIA Completes First Flight of German Science Instrument
NASA ARC SOFIA | 2011 Apr 07
GREAT_first_science.jpg
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, completed its first science flight Wednesday, April 6, using the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) scientific instrument. GREAT is a high-resolution far-infrared spectrometer that finely divides and sorts light into component colors for detailed analysis.

SOFIA is the only operational airborne observatory. It is a joint program between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The observatory is a heavily modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a reflecting telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches. Flying at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet, above the water vapor in Earth's lower atmosphere that blocks most infrared radiation from celestial sources, SOFIA conducts astronomy research not possible with ground-based telescopes.

"SOFIA's onboard crew seamlessly combined scientists, engineers and technicians from the U.S. and Germany, working together on an observatory developed in the U.S., using a telescope and instrument built in Germany, to gather data of great interest to the entire world's scientific community," said Bob Meyer, NASA's SOFIA Program manager at the agency's Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif.

GREAT Principal Investigator Rolf Guesten of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, and his team conducted observations high above the central and western United States beginning the night of April 5 with their instrument installed on SOFIA's telescope.

Among their targets were IC 342, a spiral galaxy located 11 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Camelopardalis ("The Giraffe"), and the Omega Nebula (known as M17), 5,000 light-years away in Sagittarius. The team captured and analyzed radiation from ionized carbon atoms and carbon monoxide molecules to probe the chemical reactions, motions of matter and flows of energy occurring in interstellar clouds. Astronomers have evidence such clouds in both IC 342 and M17 are forming numerous massive stars.

"These first spectra are the reward for the many years of work creating this technology, and underline the scientific potential of airborne far-infrared spectroscopy," Guesten said.

GREAT focused on strong far-infrared emissions from interstellar clouds that cool the clouds. The balance between heating and cooling processes regulates the temperature of the interstellar material and controls initial conditions for the formation of new stars.

"These observations give us unique information about the physical processes and chemical conditions in the stellar nurseries," said Juergen Stutzki, a co-investigator on the GREAT team. "SOFIA will give us new and deep insight into how stars form."

GREAT, one of two German first-generation SOFIA scientific instruments, was developed by the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy and the University of Cologne in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research and the DLR Institute of Planetary Research.

"This first science flight with a German instrument is a huge milestone for the SOFIA observatory," said John Gagosian, SOFIA program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "GREAT, in combination with SOFIA's other German and U.S.-developed instruments, demonstrates SOFIA's extraordinary versatility, allowing it to play a unique and essential role alongside the Spitzer and Herschel spacecraft."

High flying astronomy with German instrument
Max Planck Gesellschaft | 2011 Apr 14
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Re: Cornell: CU telescope debuts on NASA's SOFIA

Postby neufer » Wed Nov 23, 2011 2:08 pm

http://www.universetoday.com/91217/sofi ... more-91217 wrote:SOFIA Reveals Star-Forming Region W40
by Tammy Plotner on November 22, 2011

<<Around 1957 light years away, a dense molecular cloud resides beside an OB star cluster locked in a massive HII region. The hydrogen envelope is slowly beginning to billow out and separate itself from the molecular gas, but we’re not able to get a clear picture of the situation thanks to interfering dust. However, by engaging NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), we’re now able to take one of the highest resolution mid-infrared looks into the heart of an incredible star-forming region known as W40.

Onboard a modified 747SP airliner, the Faint Object infraRed Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) has been hard at work utilizing its 2.5 meter (100″) reflecting telescope to capture data. The composite image shown above was taken at wavelengths of 5.4, 24.2 and 34.8 microns. Why this range? Thanks to the high flying SOFIA telescope, we’re able to clear Earth’s atmosphere and “get above” the ambient water vapor which blocks the view. Not even the highest based terrestrial telescope can escape it – but FORCAST can!

With about 1/10 the UV flux of the Orion Nebula, region W40 has long been of scientific interest because it is one of the nearest massive star-forming regions known. While some of its OB stars have been well observed at a variety of wavelengths, a great deal of the lower mass stars remain to be explored. But there’s just one problem… the dust hides their information. Thanks to FORCAST, astronomers are able to peer through the obscuration at W40′s center to examine the luminous nebula, scores of neophyte stars and at least six giants which tip the scales at six to twenty times more massive than the Sun.

Why is studying a region like W40 important to science? Because at least half of the Milky Way’s stellar population formed in similar massive clusters, it is possible the Solar System also “developed in such a cluster almost 5 billion years ago”. The stars FORCAST measures aren’t very bright and intervening dust makes them even more dim. But no worries, because this type of study cuts them out of dust that’s only carrying a temperature of a few hundred degrees. All that from a flying observatory!>>
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NASA: Science Instrument Upgrade for SOFIA

Postby bystander » Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:43 am

NASA Selects Science Instrument Upgrade For Flying Observatory
NASA Ames Research Center | SOFIA | 2012 Apr 17
NASA has selected a science instrument upgrade to the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) airborne observatory. The instrument, the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera (HAWC), will provide a sensitive, versatile and reliable imaging capability to the SOFIA user community. The upgrade involves two proposals that will allow the observatory to measure the structure and strength of magnetic fields in diverse objects throughout the universe, such as star-forming clouds and galaxies. This will help astronomers better understand how stars, planets and galaxies form and evolve.

SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that carries a telescope with a 100-inch (2.5-meter) diameter reflecting mirror that conducts astronomy research not possible with ground-based telescopes. By operating in the stratosphere at altitudes up to 45,000 feet, SOFIA can make observations above the water vapor in Earth's lower atmosphere.

"SOFIA has the ability to become a world-class airborne observatory that complements the Hubble, Spitzer and Herschel space telescopes," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's Science Mission Directorate associate administrator. "This upgrade will greatly broaden SOFIA's capabilities."

Last August, the agency released an Announcement of Opportunity for SOFIA second-generation instrument investigations and received 11 proposals. The selected proposals were judged to have the best science value and feasible development plans.

The selected proposals are:

-- The High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera Polarization (HAWC-Pol), Charles Dowell, principal investigator, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. This investigation upgrades the HAWC instrument to include the capability to make polarimetric observations at far-infrared wavelengths. The investigation's main goals are to measure the magnetic field in the interstellar medium, star forming regions and the center of the Milky Way.

-- HAWC++, Johannes Staguhn, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. This investigation will provide a sensitive, large-format detector array to the HAWC-Pol investigation, increasing its observing efficiency and providing a broader range of targets.
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NASA: SOFIA Featured in ApJL Special Edition

Postby bystander » Fri Apr 20, 2012 4:53 am

NASA's SOFIA Featured in the Astrophysical Journal Letters Special Edition
NASA Ames Research Center | SOFIA | 2012 Apr 19
The Astrophysical Journal, a leading professional astronomy research publication, will issue a special edition of its Letters volume on April 20 with papers about observations made with NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) airborne telescope.

SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that carries a telescope with a 100-inch (2.5-meter) diameter reflecting mirror that conducts astronomy research not possible with ground-based telescopes. By operating in the stratosphere at altitudes up to 45,000 feet, SOFIA can make observations above the water vapor in Earth's lower atmosphere.

"This is really SOFIA's debut on the world scientific stage," said Chris Davis, SOFIA program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "World-class observatories such as the Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer space telescopes had their Astrophysical Journal special editions, and now SOFIA joins their prestigious ranks."

The eight SOFIA papers featured in the special edition cover diverse research on topics including SOFIA's capabilities as a flying observatory and its study of star formation in our galaxy and beyond.

"Studies of star and planet formation processes are one of SOFIA's 'sweet spots,'" said SOFIA Science Mission Director Erick Young. "SOFIA's infrared instruments can see into the dense clouds where stars and planets are forming and detect heat radiation from their construction material. By getting above the Earth's atmospheric water vapor layer that blocks most of the infrared band, SOFIA's telescope can view the glow from forming stars at their strongest emission wavelengths."

The infrared images analyzed in these papers were obtained with the FORCAST (Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope) instrument during SOFIA's first science observations in December 2010. Papers based on observations with SOFIA and the GREAT spectrometer (German Receiver for Astronomy at THz Frequencies) will be published in a May 2012 special volume of the European journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.

NASA Selects Johns Hopkins-Led Science Investigation Upgrade for Flying Observatory
Johns Hopkins University | 2012 Apr 20
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