[image-36]The first group of educators in the 2014 Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program was recently immersed in an astronomical science mission during a flight aboard NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). The four teachers and informal educators were the first of 24 scheduled to fly aboard the flying telescope this year, paired with astronomers and scientists to observe first-hand how airborne infrared astronomy is conducted.
The quartet on the first mission included Héllen Tavora of the South Florida Amateur Astronomers Association and the Fox Astronomical Observatory in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Jean Creighton from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Manfred Olson Planetarium in Milwaukee; Kathy Gustavson, a science teacher at Nicolet High School in Whitefish Bay, Wisc. and Nathan Mahoney a physics teacher at Pine Crest School, Deerfield Beach, Fla.
The four ambassadors got to see up close how astronomers and scientists used the FORCAST instrument to collect data that will be used to analyze galactic dust clouds, pinpoint individual stars amidst dense star clusters, and study theories and draw conclusions about star formation based on their observations. They also interviewed many of the scientists, astronomers, mission managers and flight crew members in order to share their "life stories" of being involved with NASA with their students and peers, and as frosting on the cake, were able to view the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights – from SOFIA's windows.
After their flight, the quartet of educators took what they learned back to their classrooms and communities to promote science and astronomical literacy. The remaining 20 educators selected for this year will also be paired with astronomers who view the heavens through SOFIA's telescope periodically on flights through Mid-May.
Educators in NASA's Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program are selected through a rigorous peer-reviewed process for this yearly professional development opportunity.
A joint program of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), SOFIA incorporates a 100-inch (2.5-meter) effective diameter German-built infrared telescope mounted in a highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner. SOFIA collects data in the infrared spectrum while flying at 39,000 to 45,000 feet altitude, above the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere that blocks infrared light at lower altitudes.
SOFIA is based in Palmdale, Calif., and is managed by NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif. NASA's Ames Research Center manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.
For more information about SOFIA, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/sofia
For information about SOFIA's science mission and scientific instruments, visit:
Alan Brown, public affairs
NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center