A Visit to SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy)

My daughter Belyn landed a fellowship at NASA this summer working on Sofia, an extremely cool project that mounts an infrared telescope in a 747.   During flight the entire side opens up to capture infrared images that “see through” space matter that is normally blocked by visible light.  Belyn is a part of the STAR program that introduces prospective science teachers to real-life science. It is an awesome, cool, unbelievable experience that will give her lifetime memories.  However if you’ve read much of this blog you know our family has spent a good portion of our lives outside, in the mountains.  Sofia and Belyn are in Palmdale this summer, far from the rivers where Belyn has guided for the past several summers.  I know it is tough on her being in a cubicle in the desert for the summer, but I’m proud she reached out and pursued this program.   She even got to ride jump-seat in the cockpit of Sofia for takeoff, flight and landing.  Sophia flies higher than other 747s, so Belyn got to see the the blackness of the atmosphere above the plane.  How often does one, these days, get to ride in the cockpit of a 747?  I’m jealous! Sofia is super cool.  Whereas the technology on Hubble has to be proven and conservative, scientists can push the envelop on Sofia.  For example, they were getting great images on a recent flight but one scientist exclaimed that they were overdriving the sensor and were going to burn out the chip.  (For Star Trek fans: “Captain, I’m giving her all she’s got!”)  They decided to continue capturing images and indeed burned up the image sensor.  But they could replace it by the next mission the following week.  They can also replace the entire sensor package at the end of the telescope.  When we were there they were putting on a German made system to capture images, and a German team will fly with Sofia to monitor and manage the system. My wife, son and I flew ourselves down (landed at Lancaster) and they gave us a tour of Sophia, which was wonderful.  The next day we were a family lost in the hot desert.  We decided hiking would be too hot so we drove over to Six Flags Hurricane Mountain, a water park.  Not really our thing waiting in so many lines, but we did get wet which was the objective. Great job Belyn!

Belyn with Sophia
Belyn with Sofia
Belyn's photo from 45,000 feet or so
Belyn’s photo from 45,000 feet or so
Could this look any more like a big science experiment?
Could this look any more like a big science experiment?
Inside Sophia at Monitoring Stations
Inside Sofia at monitoring stations
Sophia in Flight (not my photo)
Sofia in Flight (not my photo)

3 thoughts on “A Visit to SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy)

  1. I’m a fan! So glad you’re getting to do all that Belyn

  2. Belyn, too cool… keep us posted dad!

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