USRA Closeout Statement on SOFIA
Columbia, MD—June 15, 2022. NASA and DLR (German Space Agency) recently announced the cessation of operations of SOFIA – the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy--whose science mission operations are managed by Universities Space Research Association (USRA). SOFIA conducts a broad range of astrophysical and planetary science investigations using unique, state-of-the-art and far infrared capabilities to address key NASA astrophysics’ objectives.
USRA has been proud to work with NASA on SOFIA whose legacy has been remarkable.
SOFIA’s contributions to interdisciplinary science include significant achievements such as:
- Finding water on the Moon
- First measurements of atomic oxygen in the Earth’s mesosphere and lower thermosphere
- Determining how magnetic fields control star formation and how magnetic fields grow and develop in galaxies. Understanding the origin, amplification and morphology of the magnetic field is crucial to forming a complete picture of Galaxy development
- Discovering that Stellar winds, not supernovae disperse molecular clouds, trigger the birth of new stars and can dominate feedback
- Discerning the dynamics of interstellar gas and feedback from stars to gas through high spectral resolution
- Detecting the helium hydride molecule, the first molecule in the Universe
- Studying the composition and evolution of the Interstellar Medium (ISM) by surveying the ISM with cameras, spectrometers, and polarimeters that operate in the near-, mid-, and far-infrared wavelengths, each suited to studying a particular phenomenon
- Studies in the infrared that highlight stellar collision
- Observing a comet with “ocean-like” water, providing hints about the origins of Earth’s oceans
- Finding out how magnetic fields can help feed active black holes
- On the other hand, finding out how magnetic fields are working to keep the Milky Way’s black hole quiet
- Helping to create a panoramic view of the Milky Way’s center – spanning a distance of 600 light-years – in infrared
- Studying how a type of organic molecule could develop in space, helping to better understand how life could have developed on Earth
- Catching a glimpse of what happens after two planets collide
- Finding the amount and location of water vapor around a protostar
- Confirming that a nearby planetary system around the star Epsilon Eridani is remarkably similar to our own solar system
- Finding that dust can not only survive, but may be formed in the wake of a supernova explosion, one of the most powerful events in the universe, whose blast destroys almost everything in its path
- Observing how stellar pulsations affect the chemistry of the universe
As far as capabilities are concerned, SOFIA offers diverse competencies like high resolution spectroscopy and Far-IR polarimetry. Studies of SOFIA’s science capabilities provide compelling synergies with other observatories in NASA’s portfolio. For example, studies of the bright nearby Universe are key to illuminating the underlying physics in the more distant objects that will be targeted by the James Webb Telescope. Balloon Missions such as GUSTO and BlastPol provide direct scientific synergy with SOFIA by performing even wider-area surveys or pathfinder science of select regions. The capabilities of these facilities complement SOFIA capabilities and offer open access to a much larger observer base.
SOFIA’s instrument suite provides continuum, spectroscopic and polarization imaging in the full mid-IR and far-IR wavelength range inaccessible from the ground. The spectral resolving power of SOFIA provides measurements not possible with any other observatory. Unlike space-based IR facilities, SOFIA’s instrument detectors don’t saturate with light even on the bright targets, many of which serve as local templates for understanding the distant universe.
SOFIA’s instruments are constantly upgraded depending on the science needs. Principal Investigator teams selected through a competitive proposal process develop the instruments. Current instruments include FORCAST and HAWC+, FIFI-LS, EXES, and GREAT. All instruments remain in high demand. FORCAST and GREAT are the most mature in the instrument suite and their observations have produced the most scientific publications.
SOFIA has doubled its annual science publications over the past three years. In first eight years after starting operations, SOFIA produced over 300 scientific papers which is significantly higher than science return from far-infrared balloon programs and at a comparable hours-per-paper as the Herschel Space Observatory, the last far-infrared space observatory.
SOFIA continues to move forward with higher productivity and greater impact till the end of its term.
USRA looks forward to partner with NASA to ensure the safe fly out of SOFIA and ensure that its science legacy is captured appropriately for the astronomical community.
For more information on SOFIA’s recent accomplishments: https://www.sofia.usra.edu/sites/default/files/2022-03/SOFIA_Status_Future_Prospects_17Mar22.pdf
SOFIA Science: Remarkable Results": https://www.sofia.usra.edu/sites/default/files/2021-11/SOFIA-Science-2021.pdf
SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Space Agency at DLR. DLR provides the telescope, scheduled aircraft maintenance, and other support for the mission. NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley manages the SOFIA program, science, and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association, headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart. The aircraft is maintained and operated by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center Building 703, in Palmdale, California. SOFIA achieved full operational capability in 2014, and the mission will conclude no later than Sept. 30, 2022. SOFIA will continue its regular operations until then, including science flights and a deployment to New Zealand this summer.
Founded in 1969, under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences at the request of the U.S. Government, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), is a nonprofit corporation chartered to advance space-related science, technology and engineering. USRA operates scientific institutes and facilities and conducts other major research and educational programs. USRA engages the university community and employs in-house scientific leadership, innovative research and development, and project management expertise. More information about USRA is available at www.usra.edu.