Articles for "SOFIA"

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Space | 19. August 2020 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken

The SOFIA airborne observatory: Understanding the role of magnetic fields in star formation

Für diese Abbildung wurden die Magnetfelder mit einem Bild der NASA-Mission Spitzer überlagert und als Linien dargestellt.
Credit: NASA/SOFIA/T. Pillai/J. Kauffmann; NASA/JPL-Caltech/L. Allen
For this illustration, the magnetic fields were superimposed on an image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and are represented as lines. The magnetic fields are pulled along with the movement of the gas. In this image you can see the change of direction from perpendicular (top – marked red) to parallel (bottom left – marked blue) with respect to the thick black filament of dust and gas.

A research team led by Thushara Pillai from Boston University and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn has just published their work on the interaction of interstellar magnetic fields with newly forming stars in Nature Astronomy. The observations were made using the High Resolution Airborne Wideband Camera Plus (HAWC+) – the unique far-infrared polarimetry instrument on board DLR and NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). We at the DLR Space Administration supported Dr Pillai and her team’s observations through the DLR Astronomy and Astrophysics Collaborative Research project. read more

Space | 18. March 2020 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken

SOFIA observes the star Betelgeuse

Credit: ESO/M. Montargès et al.
Betelgeuse in January and December 2019, captured by the European Southern Observatory (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT)

Curiosity is high, a lot has been said and written, but nobody knows what is really happening with the star Betelgeuse. Its luminosity has decreased drastically over the last five months. Now, there is speculation that the star could soon become a supernova – the explosion at the end of a large celestial body's life. A team led by Miguel Montargès of KU Leuven in Belgium has compared two images of Betelgeuse acquired by the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in January and December 2019 and has discovered something surprising – it is not only Betelgeuse's brightness that has changed, but also its shape. read more

Space | 01. October 2019 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken

SOFIA explores Europe’s night sky

Image: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)
Star guests – SOFIA will appear on ‘Sendung mit der Maus’ (‘Show with the mouse’) on 6 October.

At last, the airborne observatory SOFIA has returned to Germany! In the early hours of the morning on 16 September, the research aircraft landed safely at Stuttgart airport and was visited by about 2000 astronomy and aircraft enthusiasts over the following two days. On the third day, it took to the skies for its first scientific flight over Europe. read more

Space | 24. July 2018 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken

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 Jan Oliver Löfken

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 Jan Oliver Löfken

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 Jan Oliver Löfken

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 Jan Oliver Löfken

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 | 17. April 2015 | posted by Jan Oliver Löfken

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