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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    NASA ‘scopes’ out UA scientist

    Taking pictures of the universe will reach a new level once NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, becomes fully functional at the end of this year.

    UA astronomer Erick Young will join the SOFIA team as the science mission operations director.

    “”The whole point of SOFIA is that large parts of the infrared are completely opaque because of water vapor in the atmosphere, so those parts of the spectrum are unavailable from ordinary observatories,”” Young said. “”So SOFIA will fly high enough, where the atmosphere is much more transparent.””

    SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that contains a 2.5 meter infrared telescope. SOFIA will fly at around 40,000 feet where it will be able to take pictures of a wide range of celestial objects.

    “”We’ll be observing star formation regions in our galaxy, studies of the gas and dust between stars, we’ll be observing external galaxies and planets in our own solar system,”” Young said.

    Helen Hall, program director of the Universities Space Research Association, said that Young will be a great addition to the SOFIA team.

    “”His background in infrared astronomy and science instrument development makes him a key candidate for overseeing all of that,”” she said.

    Hall also said that Young was chosen out of four final candidates for the position because of his strong background in infrared astronomy.

    At the UA, Young currently works with the detector systems for the James Webb Space Telescope, which will serve as the replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope.

    At NASA, Young said he will be responsible for running the science center, which is the interface between the SOFIA facility and the rest of the astronomical community, and he’ll also be responsible for managing the instrument program.

    “”One of the things about SOFIA is that it’s a telescope that happens to fly, but because it comes back to earth after every flight, you have the opportunity of taking out old instruments and putting in new ones,”” he said. “”So over its lifetime we should be able to have much more advanced camera and spectrometer systems.””

    Young said SOFIA will also be used as a teaching aide.

    “”One of the programs that will be part of SOFIA will be to have teachers work with the science teams and actually go on flights,”” he said. “”That was a program that they had on the previous airborne observatory and it was very successful and we want to continue that.””

    Young said he hopes that by Thanksgiving, they will have their first images from SOFIA.

    “”The telescope is installed, the airplane has actually flown but they haven’t done an open-door flight yet,”” he said. “”They’re going to have to do that very carefully because you know we’re talking about a hole in the side of an airplane that’s almost 10 feet across … you don’t want to take any chances.””

    Young will remain at Steward Observatory until the end of August but by Sep. 1 he will be working full time at NASA.

    Hall also mentioned that Young’s contribution to the SOFIA team has stirred a lot of excitement.

    “”He’s going to excite all of us in bringing a fresh look at the project that has been going on for the last 12 years,”” she said. “”The infrared astronomy community is small so someone of his caliber is very well known.””

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