SOFIA at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Facility
SOFIA, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy flies out of Dryden in Palmdale, California. After climbing to 40,000 feet elevation, a door slides back and the mirror is oriented toward star-forming regions like the Orion constellation to use infrared astronomy and get a look at how and why stars form.
Eric Becklin is the Chief Science Adviser on SOFIA and has shepherded the project from its inception in 1996, to its current operations. He’s also my uncle.
The infrared detectors that work to document various organic compounds in Orion and other star-forming regions are highly modular, meaning they can be upgraded over time, making SOFIA’s instrumentation much more technologically agile than space-based telescopes.
It’s frustrating to consider the divisiveness of politics after being reminded that some of the world’s brightest minds are using some of the most advanced technology, to look at stars thousands of light years away.
It was a pleasure to check out the inside and outside of the aircraft. On site, there were also two U-2s which NASA uses for research purposes (no-go on photographing them) and a DC-8, which is occasionally used as a chase plane. SOFIA’s next flight is planned for January 15th, 2014. Eric fields some questions about SOFIA in the video below.