A collaboration between NASA and Germany’s space agency, SOFIA is a 747 aircraft with a special telescope built into its fuselage. According to IC physics professor Luke Keller, the aircraft flies at 43,000 feet to escape the water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere.
“[The atmosphere] absorbs most of the infrared light coming from space, so the observations we want to make are impossible from telescopes located on the ground,” he says. “Infrared observations allow us to observe processes hidden by dust in space, like the formation of stars, solar systems, and even galaxies.”
Casey Byrne ’13, Rob Lewis ’13, and Martin Garay MacLean ’14 have been working with Keller for the past few years to develop data analysis software for SOFIA, and the students were given the chance to test that software during a live flight.
“As an undergraduate student, I was given a similar opportunity to participate in professional astronomy research,” Keller says. “I really enjoy being able to offer that kind of transformative experience to my students now.”
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