SOFIA Completes First Flight Of German Science Instrument

WASHINGTON -- 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."

NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the
SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the
Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia,
Md., and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart,
Germany. SOFIA is based and managed at Dryden's Aircraft Operations
Facility in Palmdale, Calif.

For more information about SOFIA, visit:


For information about SOFIA's science mission, visit:



Source: NASA

◄ Share this news!

Bookmark and Share


The Manhattan Reporter

Recently Added

Recently Commented