SOFIA Mission for Jennings

Lizzy Snow, Staff Writer

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Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy or SOFIA is a NASA and German Aerospace based program that invited two Hart High teachers onboard for observation opportunities. The SOFIA plane is a heavily modified Boeing 747SP aircraft attached with a 100-inch reflecting telescope.

Judith Jennings, a Hart High School physics and Intro to Engineering teacher and Nick Gravel, a Hart High School Physics, Sports Medicine and Geometry teacher were invited onto the flight. Gravel will go on the SOFIA mission or phase six next year. Jennings recently flew with SOFIA in phase five.

This specific SOFIA mission departed from Palmdale, California and flew north. After reaching the Oregon border, it turned around and went south to the Mexican border. After this, it circled around back to Palmdale.

Each flight has multiple legs or phases, leg one of this flight was a climb into the upper atmosphere. Leg two is calibration, or rather study of astronomical objects such as Neptune and Neptune’s moon. This helps astronomers on the flight see if telescopes are aligned properly and if the instruments need to be recalibrated.

One of the most interesting moments of the SOFIA mission for Jennings was when she was studying a nebula. A nebula is a cloud of primordial dust in which stars are created.

“We were looking at a nebula… and analyzing the polarity of light. In order to hopefully confirm… predictions we have about how stars are created,” said Jennings.

The first week of the mission was spent touring the facility and understanding the intricate work of the mission and people.

“We got to see where the telescope mirrors are coated [and] got to talk to different scientists and engineers who worked on the scientific instruments…that analyze the light the telescopes capture,” Jennings said.

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SOFIA Mission for Jennings