Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors

NASA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (AAA) is managed by the SETI Institute ( is a three-part professional development (PD) experience for high school physics and astronomy teachers. The program is composed of: (1) blended-learning professional development comprised of webinars, asynchronous content learning, and a series of hands-on workshops, (2) a STEM immersion experience at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s B703 science research aircraft facility in Palmdale, California, and (3) ongoing participation in the AAA community of practice (CoP) connecting participants with astrophysics and planetary science Subject Matter Experts (SMEs).

Educators interested in applying for the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program should visit the website for more information.

Outreach and Public Engagement Support Materials

The SOFIA Outreach team has developed classroom activities related to SOFIA science and technology. These activities and modules are consistent with National Science Education Standards and Next Generation Science Standards, are age and grade-appropriate, and have been thoroughly tested and evaluated by practicing teachers.

Active Astronomy: Classroom Activities for Learning About Infrared Light
A set of five activities that focus on improving student understanding of infrared light.

Most students are familiar with the rainbow of colors that make up visible light. They're often less comfortable dealing with light from the other portions of the electromagnetic spectrum – gamma rays, x-rays, ultraviolet light, visible light, infrared light, microwaves, and radio waves. Students may not realize the important role played by non-visible light in their everyday lives. For example, TV remote controls, car-locking systems, and some grocery store check-out scanners use infrared light to signal between devices or read bar-codes. Computers use infrared light to read CD-ROMs. Night-vision goggles register infrared light (also known as heat radiation), as do search-and-rescue monitors that look for the heat given off by someone lost in the wilderness at night.

These hands-on and demonstration activities are designed to complement instruction on the electromagnetic spectrum for middle and high school students; they are not a complete curriculum. Each activity has been designed to take 1-2 class periods.

Get details and files to download

Grade Level - Middle/High School

Exploring Invisible Light Activity

  1. Exploring Invisible Light PDF
  2. Science Behind the Scenes PDF

The temperature sensitive film (stock #72-373) is available online at Edmund Optics.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Electromagnetic Spectrum poster

A poster about the electromagnetic spectrum was designed by the NASA Origins Forum missions' E/PO personnel. The front of the poster is a visual-wavelength image of the Whirlpool Galaxy (Messier 51) from the Hubble Space Telescope compared with a row of images of the same galaxy at a range of wavelengths from X-ray to radio. The back of the poster is covered by text containing background information and some classroom activities to teach the properties of electromagnetic waves.

Grade Level - Middle-High School

Download front and back of poster (pdf)

Download a pdf file of the back of the poster, tiled into 8.5 x 11 pages for printing.

SOFIA Literature and Promotional Materials

SOFIA fact sheets and brochures can be found on the Media Portal page.

SOFIA Activity Sheet

SOFIA Bookmark

SOFIA sticker

SOFIA Public Engagement Presentations

Please credit "NASA/SOFIA Outreach" when using these presentations.

SOFIA Overview (pptx, 61 MB)

Triton and Occultations (pptx, 2 MB)

Presentation on the histories of infrared astronomy & airborne astronomy by N. Veronico to the SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador educators Cycle 6 cohort, in a web video conference, March 2018

Airborne Astronomy History (N. Veronico) (v. March 2018) (pptx, 6.1 MB)

Talk given by D. Backman at the California Association for Gifted education conference, Palm Springs, February 28, 2016.

NASA's SOFIA: Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (pdf, 7 MB)

Talk given by D. Backman at Monterey Peninsula College, November 7, 2015.

NASA's SOFIA: Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (pdf, 7 MB)

Workshop on the IYL, Electromagnetic Spectrum and Multiwavelength Astronomy presented by P. Harman C. Clark at the CSTA Education Conference in Sacramento, on October 24, 2105.

International Year of Light: The Visible and The Invisible! (ppt, 12 MB)

Presentation on recent SOFIA science results by D. Backman at the NSTA-West / CSTA conference in Long Beach, 8:00 AM Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Recent SOFIA Science Results (v. December 2014) (ppt, 37.9 MB)

Workshop on the Electromagnetic spectrum, Infrared Radiation, and Infrared Astronomy presented by D. Backman at the NSTA-West / CSTA conference in Long Beach, 5:00 PM Thursday, December 4, 2014.

Cool is Hot: The EM Spectrum, IR Radiation, and IR Astronomy (v. December 2014) (ppt, 10.7 MB)

Education Resources Regarding infrared Light (v. December 2014) (pdf, 141 kB)

Workshop on the Electromagnetic Spectrum and Multiwavelength Astronomy presented by P. Harman at the NSTA-West / CSTA conference in Long Beach, 9:30 AM Friday, December 5, 2014.

EM Spectrum and Multiwavelength Astronomy (v. December 2014) (ppt, 10.4 MB)

Education Resources Regarding the Electromagnetic Spectrum and Multiwavelength Astronomy (v. December 2014) (pdf, 152 kB)

SOFIA ppt slide sets organized by topic, plus complete presentations by E. Zavala, D. Backman, C. Clark, and P. Harman

SOFIA Mission Operations (V. Oct. 2012) (ppt, 9MB)

SOFIA Science (V. Oct. 2012) (ppt, 13MB)

SOFIA Telescope Instruments (V. Oct. 2012) (ppt, 13MB)

SOFIA's Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors Program (V. Oct. 2012) (ppt, 10MB)

Airborne Astronomy History (V. Oct. 2012) (ppt, 22MB)

EM Radiation and Multiwavelength Astronomy (V. Oct. 2012) (ppt, 11MB)

SOFIA Aircraft History (V. Oct. 2012) (ppt, 17MB)

SOFIA Mission History (V. Oct. 2012) (ppt, 18MB)

Active Astronomy Classroom Kit (V. Oct. 2012) (ppt, 428KB)

Open Door Test video (.mov, 11MB)

SOFIA Overview and Aeronautics (E. Zavala) (V. Oct. 2012) (ppt, 10MB)

SOFIA and Active Astronomy Kits (D. Backman) (V. Oct. 2012) (ppt, 29MB)

NASA's SOFIA Mission and Cosmic Evolution (D. Backman) (V. Oct. 2012) (PDF, 39MB)

Telescopes and Multiwavelength Astronomy (D. Backman) (V. Oct. 2012) (PDF, 20MB)

Galileoscopes: Explore the EM Spectrum and the Universe (C. Clark, P. Harman, D. Backman) (V. Oct. 2012) (PDF, 9MB)

Astronomy from the Stratosphere: NASA's SOFIA Mission (D. Backman) (V Mar. 2013) (pdf, 25.8MB)

NASA's SOFIA, Cosmic Evolution, and Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors (D. Backman) (V. Apr. 2014) (pdf, 5.6MB)