SOFIA School 2023 Registration Now Open

April 18-21, 2023
7:30-11:00 am Pacific Time

Registration is now open for SOFIA School 2023. This free virtual event is designed for anyone who considers using astronomical mid- and far-IR data in their scientific research. Through scientific, analysis and data reduction examples, paired with lectures on fundamental concepts, attendees will be introduced to the range of scientific information leveraged by such data, on a variety of sources. The school will focus on SOFIA data, but the content presented will be relevant to other mid-/far-IR data from balloon facilities or satellites. More information on the school website.

EXES Pipeline is Now Public

We are pleased to announce that the first EXES data processing and calibration pipeline is now available to the public. Users may run the pipeline to better understand the different calibration steps, to customize their own data reductions, or to reprocess older archival data which may benefit from recent improvements to the pipeline (e.g. improved order merging).

The pipeline software is available through SOFIA's pipeline GitHub repository. A detailed description of the data reduction process and pipeline capabilities is available in the pipeline user manual which can be found on our Data Pipelines web page.

SOFIA Transition from Operations to an Orderly Closeout

As of October 1, SOFIA ended science flight operations. We thank you for being excellent users of SOFIA and for your support at webinars, workshops, and conferences. Your insightful and brilliant proposals pushed the limits of the SOFIA platform and far-infrared science. We are looking forward to many more years of your support in continuing to use the SOFIA archive to explore and study the infrared universe.  

What to expect: There are a number of things that will be changing over the next 6-12 months with the majority of science operations closeout concluding in September 2023:

  1. Helpdesk: SOFIA’s helpdesk is still being supported at the SOFIA science center and will transition to IRSA in the future. If you need any support with your data, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us! 
  2. Highlighting Scientific Results: We want to hear about your exciting results (as early as possible!) so please keep our amazing science writer, Anashe Bandari (, in the loop. Eventually, the Ames Office of Communications will take over this work. We’ll provide updated information for you when that happens. For our most recent stories please check out our blog.
  3. Data Archiving and Data Processing: All the data that has been collected over the last few months will be processed as usual and hosted at IRSA. Please expect emails about your data’s availability within the normal window for data processing. By September 2023, we will be archiving all the engineering data as well as reprocessed data from cycles 5-9. Check out SOFIA’s page on IRSA.
  4. Newsletter: We will still be sending newsletters out monthly highlighting recent scientific results and the activities associated with the observatory and the mission. 
  5. Website and Social Media: We will be transitioning all the information from the website over to IRSA. This includes user tools like the data cookbooks, data processing pipelines, abstracts from selected proposals, and SOFIA User’s Group reports. The website and our social media handles will be ramped down sometime next year. We will keep you posted about these changes. 
  6. Data Cycle System Server: Access to this server will eventually be restricted. This should cause no interruption for users, but associated services like the time estimators and access to copies of observing proposals will cease. Observers may wish to download their proposals now, for their records, using the MyProposals feature. If you have questions for your assigned support scientists, please message them directly or use the helpdesk.
  7. Grant Support: The administration of grants and associated support will continue for the next 24 months. Any changes will be communicated in a timely manner. 

Podcast featuring Jessica Sutter on SOFIA and the far infrared universe

At a press conference on SOFIA at the Winter 2021 meeting of the American Astronomical Association, Jessica Sutter, a postdoctoral researcher at USRA, spoke on “A Map of the Molecular Ring and Arms of a Spiral Galaxy.” That talk sparked the interest of Ethan Siegel, a science communicator and an astrophysicist who writes for Forbes, and for his blog, “Starts With A Bang.” His interview with Jessica, which was published on March 19, 2022, is an interesting and informative podcast demonstrating the uniqueness of SOFIA and its capabilities in the far infrared. It’s an excellent validation of SOFIA science. Listen to the podcast here.

New Public Data Pipeline: HAWC+

We are pleased to announce that the HAWC+ data processing and calibration pipeline is now available to the public for all HAWC+ modes. Users may run the pipeline to better understand the different calibration steps, to customize their own data reductions (e.g. spatial binning), or to reprocess older archival data which may benefit from recent pipeline improvements.

The pipeline software is available through SOFIA's pipeline GitHub repository. A detailed description of the data reduction process and pipeline capabilities is available in the pipeline user manual which can be found on our Data Pipelines web page.

EXES Data Cookbooks Available

We have created new SOFIA data analysis “cookbooks” for EXES. This includes a jupyter notebook for EXES data inspection, and another for telluric correction with models from the Planetary Spectrum Generator. We have also added a new GREAT cookbook for data inspection and visualization in python. The cookbooks have all been reformatted and are now hosted on a new readthedocs site. We will continue to develop and expand these cookbooks. More information here.

SOFIA—Soaring into the Future

Dear Colleagues,

The current and future science of SOFIA is exciting and compelling, but the Decadal Survey on Astronomy and Astrophysics 2020 report (Astro2020 Decadal report) placed SOFIA into a static box that misses the tremendous scientific growth SOFIA has experienced over the past two years. Because SOFIA is on an inflection point in science return, it is appropriate for SOFIA to continue on its path for Senior Review.

The Astro2020 Decadal report recognizes the importance of the far-infrared (far-IR) wavelength range for studies in astrophysics. The next generation Great Observatories program, with its associated technology and mission architecture maturation plan, includes an IR/far-IR observatory. A new probe line offers an opportunity to compete for a far-IR probe that would be operational in the early 2030s. For the next decade, SOFIA will continue to be the only far-IR observatory that provides access to the astronomical community to advance exploration. SOFIA will prepare the astronomical community both scientifically and technologically for this ambitious future. It advances the science by directly addressing one-third of the Astro2020 Decadal report science priorities. Moreover, the community can exploit the opportunity SOFIA provides to train the next generation of astronomers and instrument builders who will define, develop, and use the future far-IR space observatories described in the Astro2020 Decadal report. 

SOFIA’s efficiency and science productivity are on the right trajectory for SOFIA to achieve its full scientific potential. All the recommendations from the Flagship Mission Review (NASA’s 2019 review of SOFIA) have been addressed. SOFIA is now delivering on NASA’s investment with scientific payoff. There has been an outpouring of amazing science results from SOFIA ranging from the Earth to high-redshift galaxies. 

  • SOFIA has doubled its annual science publication rate over the past three years. 
  • NASA’s Astrophysics Advisory Committee (APAC) applauded recent efforts to improve the scientific productivity of SOFIA in their letter for the March 2021 meeting
  • SOFIA’s observing time is increasing over time. In our Cycle 10 Call for Proposals, to be executed from October 2022 to September 2023, the number of research hours increases by 50% from Cycle 7 and the number of Southern Hemisphere flights doubles. 
  • Our SOFIA User community of investigators and authors is 2,138 strong and growing. 
  • Virtual science workshops and other community engagement activities have increased our wider SOFIA community size by 42% this past year alone. 
  • SOFIA has increased grant support for observers and archival users to better support users.
  • Cycle 10 introduces new opportunities for time domain studies in the far-IR.

Contributing to multi-messenger science, SOFIA offers joint observing programs with GBT and IRTF, pilot programs with HST, and joint science talks and conferences with ALMA. We have several Cycle 9 programs that directly support JWST Cycle 1 observations and expect more in Cycle 10. SOFIA provides critical far-IR observations of targets under investigation with JWST. Additionally, SOFIA can offer mid-IR spectroscopic opportunities for select JWST targets with higher spectral resolving power, as well as measurements of bright sources that saturate JWST’s instruments. This coming year, SOFIA maintains our energetic community engagement activities, adding a virtual far-IR school for students and early career scientists and an in-person meeting. 

Preparations are in an advanced stage to present SOFIA to the 2022 Senior Review panel, which evaluates the progress of operating missions since their last review, their plans for the future, and their scientific merit with respect to NASA and Astro2020 Decadal report priorities. SOFIA is the first human crewed observatory to enter Senior Review. While the human crewed aspect may limit total hours that science observations can be conducted, there are advantages to this suborbital platform. Like HST, SOFIA can repair and update its instruments technologically but does so more cost effectively and with a faster delivery schedule. SOFIA’s instrument roadmap outlines a science-driven plan for new instruments that can increase scientific performance by a factor of ten, opening up new science discovery space. Cost savings from efficiencies within SOFIA are returned to the community to support this important instrument development program.

Suborbital programs such as SOFIA are essential to further science and technology to be used in space missions. The balloon program, which is another suborbital portfolio, focuses on PI-driven far-IR observations with very limited science hours, no fully supported community guest observer calls, and small publication rates. However, far-IR technology developed in the innovative and experimental balloon platforms can be applied in a more capable instrument on SOFIA which has larger aperture, power, mass, and volume envelopes. SOFIA offers the only reliable and repeatable suborbital platform for guest observers and instrument maturation, supporting a scientifically diverse opportunity for the astronomical community. Moreover, SOFIA is the only flagship mission capable of far-IR observations that can follow up on discoveries made with Herschel and (cold) Spitzer, both of which had limited lifetimes.

We are grateful for your letters of support (e.g., this letter from the IRSTIG), as we enter our final preparations for Senior Review. We are most delighted by your published papers which are pouring in steadily – keep them coming, every paper counts! Papers are the strongest way to show your support. Thanks.

Happy Holidays!

Margaret Meixner
Director of SOFIA Science Mission Operations

EXES Becomes Facility Instrument

On October 1st, 2021, the Echelon-Cross- Echelle Spectrograph instrument onboard SOFIA (EXES) became a facility science instrument, joining FORCAST, HAWC+ and FIFI-LS. EXES has demonstrated its performance on SOFIA for many years as a PI-led instrument, has completed commissioning, and has a mature data reduction pipeline.The transition from a PI-led instrument to a facility science instrument was initiated with the goal of expanding EXES community to maximize the scientific potential and impact of the instrument.

New Public Data Pipeline: FLITECAM

We are pleased to announce that the FLITECAM pipeline is now available to the public. This new and improved pipeline will allow users to reprocess archival FLITECAM data and better understand FLITECAM’s science products. The pipeline software and its documentation are available through SOFIA's GitHub repository. Additional information, including user manuals and step-by-step tutorials for FLITECAM’s imaging and grism modes, can be found on our Data Pipelines web page.

Announcements Archive