WASHINGTON — NASA’s ‘flying’ telescope aboard a highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner has begun its fourth series of flights to map planets, asteroids, stars, galaxies and more.
This operational period, known as “Cycle 4”, is a one-year-long observing period in which the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is scheduled for 106 flights between now and the end of January 2017.
“The Cycle 4 program will make more than 550 hours of observations,” said Pamela Marcum, NASA’s SOFIA project scientist in a statement.
“We’ll be studying objects including planets, moons, asteroids and comets in our solar system; star and planet formation; extra solar planets and the evolution of planetary systems; the interstellar medium and interstellar chemistry; and nearby normal and active galaxies,” Marcum explained.
SOFIA’s instruments observe infrared energy – one part of the electromagnetic spectrum which includes visible light, x-rays, radio waves and others.
Many objects in space, for example newborn stars, emit almost all their energy at infrared wavelengths and are undetectable when observed in ordinary visible light.
In other cases, clouds of gas and dust in space block visible light objects but allow infrared energy to reach Earth.
In both situations, the celestial objects of interest can only be studied using infrared facilities like SOFIA.
“During the February third flight, the target objects ranged from a young planetary system around the naked-eye star Vega, only 25 light years from us, to an infant star 1,500 light years away in the Orion star forming region,” noted Erick Young, SOFIA’s science mission operations director.
“We also observed a supermassive black hole hidden behind dense dust clouds in the center of a galaxy 170 million light years away,” he added.
Later in “Cycle 4”, the SOFIA observatory is scheduled to deploy to the Southern Hemisphere for seven weeks in June and July 2016, with 24 science flights planned from a base at Christchurch, New Zealand.
There, scientists will have the opportunity to observe areas of interest such as the Galactic Center and other parts of the Milky Way that are not visible or difficult to observe from the Northern Hemisphere.
SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, manages the SOFIA program.
Stephen Hawking dies aged 76
The English physicist, who wrote ‘A Brief History of Time’ and was the subject of Oscar-winning film ‘The Theory of Everything’ , has died at home in Cambridge. He was 76.
The UK’s Press Association reported his death, citing a spokesman for the family.
Hawking, who sought to explain some of the most complicated questions of life while himself working under the shadow of a likely premature death.
He was considered a medical marvel, having lived for more than half a century with the devastating condition motor neurone disease.
Hawking’s formidable mind probed the very limits of human understanding both in the vastness of space and in the bizarre sub-molecular world of quantum theory, which he said could predict what happens at the beginning and end of time.
His work ranged from the origins of the universe itself, through the tantalizing prospect of time travel to the mysteries of space’s all-consuming black holes.
But the power of his intellect contrasted cruelly with the weakness of his body, ravaged by the wasting motor neurone disease he contracted at the age of 21.
Hawking was confined for most of his life to a wheelchair. As his condition worsened, he had to resort to speaking through a voice synthesizer and communicating by moving his eyebrows.
Doctors gave him just two years to live, but he defied them and went on to be one of the greatest minds we have ever known.
Stephen was born on January 8 1942 in Oxford – where his parents had decamped from north London for him to be born away from the worst of the wartime bombing raids.
The disease spurred him to work harder but also contributed to the collapse of his two marriages, he wrote in a 2013 memoir ‘My Brief History.’
In the book he related how he was first diagnosed: “I felt it was very unfair – why should this happen to me,” he wrote.Follow @gorkhapost