The SOFIA Observatory: Revealing the Hidden Universe with Airborne Science


Tuesday, April 26 2016 - 12:00 pm, PDT
Pamela Marcum
NASA Ames Research Center

NASA’s SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) is a flying observatory used by astronomers worldwide to conduct research at primarily infrared wavelengths. The unique capabilities of this mobile observatory enables scientific investigations ranging from our own Solar System origins to how stars and their accompanying planetary systems are formed. As an airborne telescope optimized for infrared data collection, SOFIA offers the only regular access to the wide swath of infrared wavelengths obscured by Earth’s lower atmosphere and unavailable to ground-based observatories.

The presentation will focus on scientific results, some surprise discoveries, and unique analysis techniques utilizing SOFIA data. One dominant theme is how stars are able to form in extreme environments such as in the Galactic Center, where energetic radiation fields and a hot, turbulent medium in the vicinity of a supermassive black hole would seemingly be unconducive to the observed prolific star production. SOFIA offers unique tools for such studies, such as the ability to reveal “fossil” kinematic signatures showing the details of how a star forming cloud collapsed to its current state, as well as providing “clocks” capable of directly measuring the collapse timescales for comparison to theoretical predictions. Dr. Marcum will demonstrate the value of infrared observations, highlight major SOFIA discoveries and describe the idiosyncrasies of operating a flying observatory.


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