Articles for "Astronomy"

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Space | 24. July 2018 | posted by Clemens Plank

SOFIA's record-breaking campaign in New Zealand

Das deutsche SOFIA- und GREAT-Team
Credit: © DLR
Although they worked in shifts, almost the entire German SOFIA and GREAT team in New Zealand made it onto the photo

Christchurch, New Zealand, 2 June 2018, 11:03 local time – the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) lands right on time for her fifth deployment 'down under'. We use the term deployment in connection with SOFIA to describe a temporary posting of the observatory with regular flight operations at a location other than its home base in Palmdale, California. Christchurch is the destination for June and July, when we get away from the short summer nights in California to take advantage of the benefits provided by New Zealand's winter. In addition to the longer winter nights, this is due in particular to the clear skies above the South Pacific. What is more, the Southern Hemisphere allows us to see a part of the sky that, from California, remains 'hidden' beneath the equator and is therefore simply invisible. This includes the centre of the Milky Way, as well as the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, which are of great interest to astronomers. read more

Space | 02. February 2018 | posted by Clemens Plank

SOFIA's 'open-heart surgery'

Blick aus der Cavity; im Vordergrund ist das Spiegelsystem
Credit: DLR / Clemens Plank
A rare sight – the view from inside SOFIA's telescope chamber, looking out through the telescope door opening into the Lufthansa Technik hangar

SOFIA's heart is really sensitive, which is why the doors to it are usually only opened when she is on 'Cloud 9'. At altitudes in excess of 12 kilometres, the air is very clean and there is no danger that the mirror inside SOFIA will become dirty. Any maintenance on the mirror – a thorough cleaning or its installation or removal – brings with it a high risk of damage.

At the heart of the joint NASA and DLR airborne observatory, SOFIA, is a 2.7-metre, 800-kilogram primary mirror made of fragile glass – a custom-made reflector for which there is no replacement. This is why it is only ever handled with 'velvet gloves' and treated like the princess from the fairy tale 'The Princess and the Pea'. Should the mirror break, it would be the end of SOFIA.

Yet the telescope doors have been opened on the ground? read more

Space | 19. December 2017 | posted by Clemens Plank

SOFIA, the two-fold stargazer

Credit: DLR / Clemens Plank

I have worked in the Space Science Department at the DLR Space Administration since October 2016. I could not imagine a better job than my own as SOFIA project engineer. I tend to commute between Bonn and California quite regularly as the NASA/DLR airborne observatory has its home base in Palmdale. But for around a month now, I have been in Hamburg with SOFIA.

Like any other aircraft, this one – registered as N747NA and named the Clipper Lindbergh – requires regular maintenance. This is no ordinary aircraft, though, as the Clipper Lindbergh is just one of 45 special variants of the classic Boeing 747 that were ever built: a so-called 747SP (special performance). Fewer than eight of these 'old timers' remain in service today. What is more, the Clipper Lindberg was modified to make space for the SOFIA telescope, which weighs 'just' 17 tons. So we are dealing with quite a few special features all at once. That is why inspections for its next certification are now on the agenda, and they are far more detailed than those for normal airliners or cars. read more

Space | 13. December 2017 | posted by Heinz-Theo Hammes

Why does SOFIA have a bulge?

SOFIA hump
Credit: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
SOFIA at German Aerospace Day in Cologne

You could say that SOFIA is the aircraft equivalent of the hunchback of Notredame, as unlike its elegant colleagues that we know and appreciate from normal air transport, our observatory has a hunch, or a bulge. Does that make SOFIA unattractive? Perhaps! But I believe that it is the bulge that makes the aircraft so interesting, as it hides SOFIA’s inner treasure: the telescope, the star trackers and last but not least the door system as well – with all the integral components. read more

Space | 26. April 2017 | posted by Heinz-Theo Hammes

Double anniversary for SOFIA

SOFIA Take-off
Credit: NASA
SOFIA during take-off for the Functional Check Flight on 26 April 2007

The coming week will bring two occasions to celebrate with SOFIA. Just yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the virgin flight by SOFIA's 'flying base' on 25 April 1977: operating under the registration N536PA, the Boeing 747 SP flew for the former airline PAN AM, mainly on long-haul routes to Asia or South America. There are images of the aircraft in its original livery and a detailed history of the 21441-306 airframe.

And it was 10 years ago today, on 26 April 2007, that the Boeing took off for the first time with the SOFIA observatory on board, following extensive modification of the aircraft and the installation of a telescope and door system. read more

Space | 15. February 2017 | posted by Fabian Walker | 2 Comments

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 | 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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Space | 14. March 2014 | posted by Jan Wörner | 1 Comment

SOFIA… a success story in jeopardy

SOFIA am Flughafen von Christchurch, Neuseeland

[Translated from the German original on 19 March 2014]

Since 2007, a converted Boeing 747 SP has been flying to look into the depths of space through an on-board telescope. This airborne observatory is a joint venture between the US space agency NASA and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR). As part of the current budget statement for NASA, it was announced from Washington that it would not be possible to finance continued operations as of 2015. This would not only be a major blow for the scientists that have planned a great deal of interesting astronomical research for the coming years, but also for the relationship between NASA and DLR. read more

Space | 08. March 2012 | posted by Rolf Hempel

Looking for tracks on the Moon

As a lunar observer, I am repeatedly asked whether the tracks of the six Apollo missions can be seen through a telescope. After all, the descent stages of the lunar modules, three lunar rovers and a lot of scientific equipment were left behind there. Unfortunately, this is impossible even with the largest ground-based telescopes. But on the Internet, it is possible for everyone to go out and explore. read more