08:08 AM

USRA Selects Scientists for SOFIA "First Light" Observations

On behalf of NASA, the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) has selected three astronomers to participate in the first scientific observations conducted by the Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that carries a 2.5-meter (98-inch) diameter airborne infrared telescope. SOFIA short science, or "first light" observations, scheduled to begin in summer 2009, are the initial steps in a 20-year celestial observation program. Naming researchers to participate in these observations marks a major program milestone.

USRA CEO and President, Dr. Frederick A. Tarantino cited scientist selection as an example of USRA's leadership and ability to foster collaboration within the scientific and academic communities. 'Working with our partner institutions, this process was overseen at the USRA-managed SOFIA Science Center at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California,' said Dr. Tarantino. 'There, USRA's expertise in space-related and technology disciplines is helping NASA develop a unique scientific instrument capable of providing a wealth of knowledge about the universe to astronomers and educators.'

Selectee David Neufeld (Johns Hopkins University) will study the chemistry of warm interstellar gas using data obtained by the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT), a spectrometer developed specifically for SOFIA by a consortium of German research institutes led by Rolf Gusten at Bonn's Max Planck Institute for Radioastronomy. Neufeld's investigation will broaden understanding of chemical reactions taking place around forming stars and in other parts of the interstellar medium. Researchers Mark Morris (University of California at Los Angeles) and Paul Harvey (University of Colorado, Boulder) will join the team using the Faint Object InfraRed Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST), a mid-spectrum infrared camera developed by Terry Herter of Cornell University. Morris will work with the FORCAST team to study the center of the Milky Way Galaxy while Harvey will work with the team to interpret observations of bright star-forming regions to determine SOFIA's current and future imaging capabilities.

'We are extremely pleased at the level of enthusiasm and the number and scope of the applications we received for the SOFIA short science program,' said Eric Becklin, SOFIA chief scientific advisor. 'The proposals we received set a high standard for future observation projects onboard SOFIA.'

SOFIA is a joint NASA and German Space Agency, Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) program. The program is currently managed at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center with the aircraft based at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility. NASA's Ames Research Center manages SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with USRA and the Deutsches SOFIA Institute (DSI).

The Universities Space Research Association, established in 1969 by the National Academy of Sciences, is a private, nonprofit consortium of 102 universities offering advanced degrees in space- and aeronautics-related disciplines. USRA's mission is to conduct leading-edge research, develop innovative technologies, promote education and policy across the breadth of space science, and operate premier science and technology facilities by involving universities, private industry and government.