The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a joint US/German project, is a 2.5-m infrared airborne telescope carried by a Boeing 747-SP that flies in the stratosphere at altitudes as high as 45,000 ft (13.72 km). This facility is capable of observing from 0.3 μm to 1.6 mm with an average transmission greater than 80% averaged over all wavelengths. SOFIA will be staged out of the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center aircraft operations facility at Palmdale, CA. The SOFIA Science Mission Operations (SMO) will be located at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. First science flights began in 2010 and a full operations schedule of up to one hundred 8 to 10 hour-long flights per year will be reached by 2014. The observatory is expected to operate until the mid-2030s. SOFIA's initial complement of seven focal plane instruments includes broadband imagers, moderate-resolution spectrographs that will resolve broad features due to dust and large molecules, and high-resolution spectrometers capable of studying the kinematics of atomic and molecular gas at sub-km/s resolution. We describe the SOFIA facility and outline the opportunities for observations by the general scientific community and for future instrumentation development. The operational characteristics of the SOFIA first-generation instruments are summarized. The status of the flight test program is discussed and we show First Light images obtained at wavelengths from 5.4 to 37 μm with the FORCAST imaging camera. Additional information about SOFIA is available at http://www.sofia.usra.edu and http://www.sofia.usra.edu/ Science/docs/SofiaScienceVision051809-1.pdf.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We thank the entire SOFIA team for their tireless work on the SOFIA Project. R. D. G. was supported by USRA, NASA, and the US Air Force. Many thanks to Glenn Orton for assisting with the interpretation of the SOFIA First Light observations of Jupiter. We thank a referee, M. W. Werner for constructive suggestions that improved the manuscript.
- Airborne astronomy
- Infrared Astronomy
- Infrared spectroscopy
- Sub-millimeter astronomy