SOFIA's Heavy Maintenance Visit Progresses

Click the movie below to view a time-lapse video of SOFIA's third month of maintenance (September 2014) at the Lufthansa Technik facility in Hamburg, Germany. In September, Lufthansa Technik engineers continued inspection of the aircraft including maintenance on the engine pylons and re-installation of the displays in the on-board consoles, while staff from the University of Stuttgart's German SOFIA Institute continued maintenance on the telescope assembly. SOFIA is expected to return to the U.S. in December and resume science flights in January 2015.

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Nature paper published including SOFIA/GREAT results

An international scientific team led by scientists 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 it is still making sun-like stars.

Read more on the DSI website.

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New Book Details Kuiper Flying Observatory's History

The book “NASA’s Kuiper Airborne Observatory, 1971-1995: An Operations Retrospective With a View to SOFIA,” chronicles the history of NASA’s airborne astronomy program. Authors Edwin F. Erickson (Astrophysics Branch, research scientist, now retired), and SOFIA Associate Scientist Allan W. Meyer focus on the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO), but also feature the Ames-based airborne laboratories and observatories that preceded it: the Convair 990, the Learjet Observatory, and the U-2 research aircraft.

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Capabilities of SOFIA's Science Instruments

SOFIA's instruments cover a wide range of wavelengths, from the near-ultraviolet to the far-infrared, as well as a wide range of spectral resolutions, from the broadband filters in the three infrared cameras to the very high resolution of the GREAT (German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies) far-infrared heterodyne spectrometer. Capability "footprints" of SOFIA's planned suite of seven first-generation science instruments are shown in the graphic above.

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Cycle 2 AAA SOFIA Flights

The Cycle 2 cohort of Airborne Astronomy Ambassador (AAA) educators flew as partners with scientific investigators on SOFIA flights during March, April, and May 2014. AAA teams are competitively selected based on their plans for STEM education enhancements plus NASA- and SOFIA-oriented public engagement activities in their respective home communities.

Click on the movie below to view the entire playlist of six videos of the Cycle 2 Ambassadors and their flights, produced by NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center's video team and the SOFIA Outreach group.

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Dusty Cradles in a Turbulent Nursery: The Sgr A East H II Complex at the Galactic Center

SOFIA/FORCAST images of the H II (ionized hydrogen) complex G0.02-0.07 resolved a string of three compact HII regions (labeled A, B, and C in Figure 1) plus two new infrared sources designated FIRS 1 and 2 (Figures 1 and 2). G0.02-0.07 is located in the Sagittarius A (Sgr A) region, 6 pc (20 light years) from our line of sight to the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. The Galactic Center includes a hot, turbulent interstellar medium, cloud-cloud collisions, stellar winds, and supernova shocks.

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SOFIA Mission Manager’s Update

Eddie Zavala, NASA SOFIA Program Manager

What an exciting time it’s been for the SOFIA Program.

As a testament to the professionalism of our aircraft maintainers and our flight, science, and instrument teams, SOFIA has departed on 93 percent of its scheduled flights, which exceeds our stated 2014 goal of 89 percent. During these operations we have achieved more than eight research hours per flight in support of more than 40 Cycle 2 guest investigators.

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NASA Declares Airborne Observatory Fully Operational

On June 2, 2014, during the 224th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Boston, Massachusetts, Paul Hertz, director of NASA's Astrophysics Division, announced that the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has passed its Key Decision Point E (KDP-E) and been transitioned into the operational phase.

"We have now formally completed the development phase of SOFIA and declared the observatory operational. That's the equivalent of a launch for a space mission," said Hertz.

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EXES Instrument Ready for Observations

On March 31, a team from the University of California at Davis and NASA Ames installed the Echelon-Cross-Echelle Spectrograph (EXES) science instrument on SOFIA. EXES is a mid-infrared spectrograph that collects data at wavelengths between 4.5 to 28.3 microns, a region of the spectrum with many molecular transitions. SOFIA, a joint project involving NASA and the German Space Agency, is a Boeing 747SP aircraft that carries a 2.5-meter telescope to the stratosphere and above 99 percent of the Earth’s atmospheric water vapor for eight to nine hour observing sessions.

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Commissioning Tests of SOFIA’s FIFI-LS Spectrometer Begin

The FIFI-LS (Field-Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer) instrument developed by the University of Stuttgart was carried aloft by SOFIA for its “first-light” flight on March 7, and subsequently completed its first series of commissioning flights. Right “out of the box”, the instrument displayed exceptional performance.

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SOFIA Target of Opportunity: Observing Supernova 2014J

On Feb. 18, 20, 24, and 26, NASA's flying observatory focused on the explosion known as a supernova that obliterated the remains of a star about the mass of the Sun in the Messier 82 galaxy (M82). Located 11 million light years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major, the exploding star is named Supernova (SN) 2014J.

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Target of Opportunity: Comet ISON

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) took off on a “target of opportunity” flight that included study of Comet ISON on Oct. 24, 2013. This was SOFIA's second opportunity to capture data on a comet, having previously studied Comet Hartley 2 in 2010. For the Comet ISON observations, the object was predicted to be very faint.

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FIFI-LS on its way to California

The Field-Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer (FIFI-LS) instrument was shipped from Germany on November 11th, 2013. After the instrument arrived at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility, Palmdale, Calif., several months of preparations began for its operation onboard SOFIA. The first science observing flights with FIFI-LS are currently scheduled for March 2014. Being a so-called 3-D spectrometer, FIFI-LS uses SOFIA’s valuable observing time in a quite efficient way by obtaining images and spectroscopic information simultaneously using a rather complicated mirror system (Fig. 2b).

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Science Results Archive