With the sliding door over its 17-ton infrared telescope wide open, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – or SOFIA – soars over California's snow-covered Southern Sierras on a test flight in 2010 (NASA / Jim Ross) › View Larger Image MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. - The Astrophysical Journal, a leading professional astronomy research publication, will issue a special edition of its Letters volume on April 20 with papers about observations made with NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) airborne telescope.
SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that carries a telescope with a 100-inch (2.5-meter) diameter reflecting mirror that conducts astronomy research not possible with ground-based telescopes. By operating in the stratosphere at altitudes up to 45,000 feet, SOFIA can make observations above the water vapor in Earth's lower atmosphere.
"This is really SOFIA's debut on the world scientific stage," said Chris Davis, SOFIA program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "World-class observatories such as the Hubble, Chandra and Spitzer space telescopes had their Astrophysical Journal special editions, and now SOFIA joins their prestigious ranks."
The eight SOFIA papers featured in the special edition cover diverse research on topics including SOFIA's capabilities as a flying observatory and its study of star formation in our galaxy and beyond.
Cornell University's Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope, or FORCAST, is mounted on the telescope during preparation leading to Short Science flights. (NASA photo) › View Larger Image "Studies of star and planet formation processes are one of SOFIA's 'sweet spots,'" said SOFIA Science Mission Director Erick Young. "SOFIA's infrared instruments can see into the dense clouds where stars and planets are forming and detect heat radiation from their construction material. By getting above the Earth's atmospheric water vapor layer that blocks most of the infrared band, SOFIA's telescope can view the glow from forming stars at their strongest emission wavelengths."
The infrared images analyzed in these papers were obtained with the FORCAST (Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope) instrument during SOFIA's first science observations in December 2010. Papers based on observations with SOFIA and the GREAT spectrometer (German Receiver for Astronomy at THz Frequencies) will be published in a May 2012 special volume of the European journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center and is based and managed at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA's Ames Research Center at 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.
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To view The Astrophysical Journal Letters containing the SOFIA papers, visit:
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