SOFIA/GREAT Detection of Atomic Oxygen in the Martian Atmosphere

Atomic oxygen is a key component in regulation of energy and mass exchanges within the Martian atmosphere. Neutral atomic oxygen (O I) was detected in the Martian atmosphere at a frequency of 4.7 THz (63 μm) on 14 May 2014 using the high-frequency channel of the far-infrared heterodyne spectrometer GREAT (German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies; P.I. Rolf Güsten, Max Planck Institut für Radioastronomie) onboard SOFIA. The [O I] line was found in absorption against the Mars continuum with a high signal-to-noise ratio (see figures).

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SOFIA Begins Its Fourth Annual Cycle of Science Flights

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, began its fourth annual cycle of science flights on February 3, 2016.

SOFIA is a heavily modified Boeing 74SP jetliner that carries a 100-inch (2.5-meter) telescope to 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 infrared wavelengths that cannot be seen from ground-based observatories.

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NASA SOFIA Third Generation Science Instrument Selection Enters Final Phase

The competition to develop a third generation instrument for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has been narrowed to two proposed instruments. Over the course of the next few months, the two proposal teams will work to produce detailed concept studies. Based on those studies, one of those instruments will be selected to begin development by Fall 2016, with a targeted completion date in 2018. Both of the proposed instruments are intended to expand the SOFIA airborne observatory’s spectroscopic capabilities.

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SOFIA Cycle 4 Science Program Selections Announced

The SOFIA Science Center announces selection of astrophysics research programs for science flights during the observatory’s fourth annual cycle of operations. These investigations will be conducted from February 2016 through January 2017, including a deployment to the Southern Hemisphere planned for mid-2016.

A list of the selected SOFIA Cycle 4 programs is available on the results page.

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Water Around the Protostar AFGL 2591

An international team led by scientists at Johns Hopkins University and the University of California at Davis used the EXES high-resolution mid-infrared spectrometer onboard SOFIA to determine the amount and location of water molecules around protostar AFGL 2591.  AFGL 2591 is object number 2591 in a catalog of strong infrared sources discovered by a series of small infrared telescopes launched in rockets during the 1960s by the Air Force Geophysical Laboratory.

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SOFIA Team Home After Observing the Southern Skies

NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has returned from a six-week deployment to study portions of the universe visible only from Earth's Southern Hemisphere. The flying observatory was based at the National Science Foundation's U.S. Antarctic Program facility at Christchurch International Airport from June 15 to July 24.

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SOFIA Observes Extrasolar Planet HD 189733b

The first observations of an extrasolar planet by NASA’s SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) are reported in a paper published online on July 8 in the Journal of Astronomical Telescopes, Instruments, and Systems (JATIS) by Daniel Angerhausen (NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute) and collaborators.

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SOFIA in the Right Place at the Right Time for Pluto Observations

In a special celestial event visible only from the Southern Hemisphere, Pluto passed directly between a distant star and the Earth on the morning of June 30, New Zealand time (June 29 in the U.S.). As the dwarf planet and its atmosphere were backlit by the star, this “occultation” caused a faint shadow of Pluto to move across the surface of Earth at more than 53,000 mph, creating a ripe opportunity to perform scientific analysis – if instruments and observers could be in the right place at the right time.

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SOFIA Begins 2015 Southern Hemisphere Science Flights

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.

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NASA’s SOFIA Finds Missing Link Between Supernovae and Planet Formation

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.

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NASA Educator Professional Development Program Will Fly Again in 2015

Working to expand professional development opportunities for science educators across the United States, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy program, known as SOFIA, has selected 14 two-person teams for its 2015 Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors.

The flying observatory is a highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner carrying a 100-inch (2.5-meter) effective diameter telescope. Fitted with instruments that collect data at infrared wavelengths, SOFIA flies at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet (12-14 kilometers) on 10-hour overnight science missions.

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SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador presents Tedx Talk

SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador (AAA) Jean Creighton discusses her path to astronomy and the SOFIA AAA program in this Tedx lecture at the University Wisconsin Milwaukee. 

Creighton was one of 24 selected educators to fly on SOFIA in 2014. She and the other educators are bringing the experience back to their classrooms and communities to promote science literacy.

Click on the video below to view the lecture, or view it on YouTube.

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The Galaxy's Central Molecular Zone

SOFIA measurements of ionized carbon and nitrogen gas at the edge of the Central Molecular Zone (CMZ) of the Milky Way were made with the GREAT far-IR heterodyne spectrometer (P.I. Rolf Güsten, MPIfR) as a part of SOFIA’s Guest Investigator program. The observations were made over the course of several nights in July 2013 during SOFIA’s first Southern Hemisphere deployment.

The CMZ is a 400 pc x 80 pc region around the galactic center containing 10 million solar masses of giant molecular clouds, many regions of active star formation, and frequent supernova explosions. 

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SOFIA returns home after Heavy Maintenance Visit to Germany

SOFIA landed at its operations base in Palmdale, Calif. at 3:20 p.m. local time, Sunday, Dec. 14, after a five-month heavy maintenance visit to the Lufthansa Technik facility in Hamburg, Germany.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR)'s (English version) web feature regarding SOFIA's departure from Hamburg on December 14, plus the farewell-to-SOFIA media event held November 21 in Hamburg that included speeches by NASA officials, can be viewed here.

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Science Results Archive