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Space | 15. February 2017 | posted by Fabian Walker

Video: The flying observatory SOFIA

Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
The flying observatory SOFIA is rolled into the NASA hangar in Palmdale.

How does the flying observatory SOFIA work? What is infrared astronomy? What sets SOFIA apart from other space observatories, and what happens on a typical day in the air?

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Space | 24. January 2017 | posted by Fabian Walker | 1 Comment

Video: The flying observatory SOFIA

Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
SOFIA on the runway, being prepared for its night flight over the United States in Palmdale, California.

In Palmdale, USA, approximately 60 kilometres north of Los Angeles, is the home of the flying infrared observatory SOFIA. SOFIA takes off from here, expansively gazing into space as it flies across the night sky four days a week. read more

Space | 17. April 2015 | posted by Heinz-Theo Hammes

SOFIA flight 200

Credit: DLR (CC-By 3.0)
Scientific observations using the FIFI-LS instrument were performed during SOFIA flight 200

I was given the opportunity to fly as a passenger on SOFIA'S 200th flight during the night of 12 to 13 March 2015. It was also the second flight of the new observation campaign featuring the German-developed Field-Imaging Far-Infrared Line Spectrometer (FIFI-LS), an astronomical instrument developed by the University of Stuttgart. I have to say, though, that my interest was not so much the science; rather, I wanted to experience what SOFIA 'felt' like after undergoing a lengthy refurbishment at Lufthansa Technik in Hamburg. The overhaul had included an almost complete replacement of the air conditioning and cabin panelling. During the mission briefing, the meteorologists mentioned a possibility of turbulence in the northern section of the flight route. That's what I had been hoping for. After all, I wanted to see the telescope in action. Until then, I had only heard that the telescope remains firmly focused on its target – regardless of how 'shaky' a flight might be. The flight schedule looked interesting, with turning points over Seattle and San Francisco in the north, and Albuquerque, the Texas Panhandle and Las Vegas in the south. read more

Space | 06. February 2015 | posted by Dietmar Lilienthal

New challenges for a refurbished observatory

Maintenance is connected with waiting. No wonder then that, near the end of SOFIA's five-month heavy maintenance visit at Lufthansa Technik AG in Hamburg, the researchers could hardly wait for the whole procedure to be completed. I was curious to find out exactly how scientific investigations would improve in the entirely refurbished airborne observatory. SOFIA has been back in service since 13 January, and it is already clear that the conditions for observation on board the recently maintained aircraft have been significantly enhanced.

NASA/CXC/PSU/K.Getman, E.Feigelson, M.Kuhn & the MYStIX team; Infrared:NASA/JPL-Caltech
The Flame Nebula (NGC 2024), in the constellation of Orion. High-resolution spectra of neutral oxygen and singly ionised carbon, among others, have been measured for the first time in the dark, central regions of the cloud. They permit precise information on the composition and depth structure of the cloud, and how it is moving.

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Other | 14. March 2012

SOFIA: Stars and the Space Between

The American Museum of Natural History just published a video introducing SOFIA, the NASA DLR airborne observatory. It gives a very good overview of the programme, the science and the aircraft. Watch the 8-minute feature 'SOFIA: Stars and the Space Between' here. read more

Space | 22. June 2011

Chasing Pluto's shadow


Astronomers on board SOFIA fly over most of the water vapour in the atmosphere; it is precisely this that makes the desired infrared observations possible. But the fact that SOFIA flies has another major advantage: it is a mobile observatory. In contrast to ground-based observatories, it can be used at different locations around the globe. This can be very useful, for example, for the Pluto occultation that will take place these days. read more

Space | 06. June 2011 | posted by Dietmar Lilienthal | 4 Comments

'Live' airborne astronomy

SOFIA: Teleskop

I had already been working on the SOFIA project for some years, when back in 1998, a consortium of German research institutes (Max-Planck Institute of Radio Astronomy in Bonn, University of Cologne, Max-Planck Institute of Solar System Research and the DLR Institute of Planetary Research) decided to develop the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) as the Principal Investigator-class Science Instrument for the first generation at the SOFIA Observatory. At this time, the aim was for the observatory to be operational by the end of 2001. It was not only the optimists who were expecting the GREAT spectrometer to soon enter operational service. Back then, who could have thought that it would take 13 years for GREAT to fly on SOFIA for the first time? read more

Space | 17. March 2011

Interview with Tom Speer on SOFIA


NASA's Tom Speer used to be a pilot for commercial aircraft. He now works in the SOFIA project, training new SOFIA crew members on aircraft operations. I asked Tom for an interview and he was kind enough as to answer my questions. read more

Space | 10. January 2011

NASA airborne observatory's past unearthed

Kuiper KAO Timecapsule

Fifteen years after its final flight, veterans of the Kuiper Airborne Observatory, or KAO, gathered at NASA's Ames Research Center Nov. 10, 2010 to witness the opening of a time capsule. The KAO is a highly modified Lockheed C-141A cargo transport aircraft fitted with a 36-inch telescope. The observatory was based at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, for operations that began in 1974 and ended in 1995. read more