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SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassador

George Lauffer is candidate for flying as Airborne Astronomy Ambassador aboard the SOFIA-aircraft in 2016.

S.O.F.I.A. - Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy -  

is the largest airborne observatory in the world, capable of making obser-vations that are impos-sible for even the largest and highest ground-based telescopes. During its planned 20-year lifetime, SOFIA also will inspire the development of new scientific instrumentation and foster the education of young scientists and engineers.

SOFIA is an 80/20 partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), consisting of an extensively modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a reflecting telescope with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters. The aircraft is based at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, Calif. NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. manages SOFIA's science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA; Columbia, Md.) and the German University of Stuttgart. While the USA is providing the aircraft, Germany has delivered the telescope.





Like most modern research telescopes, the SOFIA telescope uses a mirror to concentrate and focus the incoming light. When it comes to large telescopes, mirror-based systems (called "reflectors") have proven to be much more practical than lens-based telescopes (called "refractors") because they are much easier and less expensive to build and use.


Infrared Astronomy

image of orion in visible light

Orion in Visible Light
(Akira Fujii)

image of Orion in Infrared Light

Orion in the Infrared

Studying the universe using only visible light results in a very limited view, as you can see from the two images on the right. Visible light - the light you see with your eyes - reveals only part of the universe. Astronomers observe many other types of "light" to expand our views of the universe. SOFIA is designed to observe the infrared universe.

Infrared energy is just one part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes visible light, x-rays, radio waves and others.

Many objects in space emit almost all their energy at infrared wavelengths. Often, they are invisible when observed in ordinary visible light. In other cases, clouds of gas and dust in space block the light emitted by more distant objects, but allow infrared energy to reach our telescopes. In both cases, the only way to learn about other objects is to study the infrared light they emit.