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The Next Generation Airborne Observatory - SOFIA

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Session 34 -- Airbourne Astronomy
Display presentation, Tuesday, 9:30-6:30, Pauley Room

[34.02] The Next Generation Airborne Observatory - SOFIA

E. F. Erickson (NASA/Ames), J. A. Davidson (SETI Institute)

NASA and the astronomical community have planned SOFIA - the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy - to extend and expand the capabilities of airborne astronomy. Just as the KAO telescope has three times the aperture of its Learjet predecessor, SOFIA's aperture will be three times that of the KAO. Thus SOFIA will surpass the angular resolution of the KAO by a factor of three and its per-pixel sensitivity by at least a factor of nine at wavelengths beyond 10 \mm..

Following the tradition of the KAO and Learjet programs, the user community will provide most of the SOFIA focal plane instruments. Scientists will fly their new instruments as soon as they become operational, assuring immediate application of state-of-the-art technology throughout the anticipated 20 year observatory lifetime. Annual peer review of submitted proposals guarantees a vigorous observing program.

Armed by 15-20 different instrument teams, reinforced by an additional $\sim$~50 guest investigator groups, and flying 160 8-hour sorties per year, SOFIA will attack a very broad range of astronomical problems. To name just a few, SOFIA will: probe km-scale structure of planetary atmospheres and ring systems; measure the luminosity function of young stellar objects down to values $\simless.$~0.1 L\sun.; identify accreting protostars; and trace structure and location of dominant energetic activity in IR-luminous galaxies with $\sim$~1 kpc resolution at 100 Mpc.

The Astronomy and Astrophysics Survey (Bahcall) committee ranked SOFIA as the highest priority moderate cost new mission for NASA in the 1990s. SOFIA has been thoroughly studied and is ready to start development. If funding is available in FY95, SOFIA could be flying by the end of the decade.

Tuesday program listing