Luke Keller

Luke Keller

Professor and Chair, Department of Physics and Astronomy

Specialty:Astrophysics, airborne astronomy, spectroscopy, optical instrumentation, natural science general education
Phone:(607) 274-3966
E-mail:lkeller@ithaca.edu
Office:264 Ctr for Natural Sciences
Ithaca, NY 14850

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Preparing for astronomy with NASA's newest airborne observatory

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Posted by Luke Keller at 12:13PM   |  Add a comment
SOFIA first light image of Jupiter

SOFIA has flown with FORCAST running and returned its very first astronomical images!

I just returned to Ithaca after nearly two weeks helping prepare FORCAST and SOFIA for these first light images. I literally had goose bumps as I watched the airplane land early Thursday morning and then downloaded the data from our infrared camera on-board. I worked at DAOF with SOFIA scientists Jim De Buizer, Bill Vacca, and FORCAST lead Terry Herter all day Thursday to process the data and produce the first light images. After 11 years of work on theSOFIA project (and I'm one of the more "recent" additions to the team!) it was a true thrill to see these images take shape on our computers. My next post will include details of how we processed the data to make the color images. SOFIA's next flights will be devoted 100% to new astronomy research and I'll be flying!

NASA press release

Note on viewing infrared images: Infrared light has colors just as there are colors in visible light, but since infrared light is invisible to humans, astronomers use “false color” images to display infrared views of the universe. In false color images, like those presented here, visible light colors (blue, green, and red) are used as proxies for the brightness in three infrared colors captured by the SOFIA/FORCAST camera system. So the color image you see is a representation of how the object might look if you could see in infrared light. Different physical processes cause emission of infrared light in different infrared colors so the three colors presented in these images indicate differences in physical characteristics like temperature, density, and chemical composition. Finally, it is important to note that in astronomy visible light images often only show us the details on the surfaces of objects while viewing infrared light allows us to look deep into the objects. Using infrared images like those enabled by SOFIA and the FORCAST camera are the only way to remotely look deep into the atmosphere of Jupiter or into the very center of the M82 galaxy. Visible light shows us the tip of the iceberg while infrared light images show us what lies beneath.

SOFIA/FORCAST image of the planet Jupiter

Jupiter: Composite (false color) infrared image of Jupiter from SOFIA’s first light. Observations were at infrared wavelengths of 5.4 (blue), 24 (green) and 37 microns (red), made by Cornell University’s FORCAST camera. A recent visible-wavelength picture of approximately the same side of Jupiter is shown for comparison.  The white stripe in the infrared image is a region of relatively transparent clouds through which the warm interior of Jupiter can be seen. (Visible light image credit:  Anthony Wesley)

MORE DETAILS: Composite (false color) infrared image of Jupiter from SOFIA’s first light flight taken at infrared wavelengths of 5.4 (blue), 24 (green) and 37 microns (red), with Cornell University’s FORCAST camera. A recent visual-wavelength picture of approximately the same side of Jupiter is shown for comparison.  The white stripe in the infrared image is a region of relatively transparent clouds through which the warm interior of Jupiter can be seen. Visible light shows us the detailed structure of the surfaces (tops) of the clouds on Jupiter while the infrared image shows us the distribution of different atmospheric components and physical characteristics of material deep under the cloud surfaces. (Visible light image credit: Anthony Wesley)

SOFIA/FORCAST image of the galaxy M82

Galaxy, M82: Composite (false color) infrared image of the central portion of galaxy M82, from SOFIA’s first light flight, taken at wavelengths of 19 (blue), 31 (green) and 37 microns (red). The middle inset image shows the same portion of the galaxy at visual wavelengths.  The infrared image views past the stars and dust clouds apparent in the visible-wavelength image into the star-forming heart of the galaxy. The long dimension of the inset boxes is about 5400 light years. (Visible light image credit:  N. A. Sharp/ NOAO/AURA/NSF)

MORE DETAILS: Composite (false color) infrared image of the central portion of galaxy M82, from SOFIA’s first light flight, taken at [infrared] wavelengths of 19 (blue), 31 (green) and 37 microns (red). The middle inset image shows the same portion of the galaxy at visible wavelengths.  The infrared image views through the stars and dust clouds apparent in the visible-wavelength image deep into the star-forming heart of the galaxy, which is totally invisible when viewed only in visible light.  Where the visible light images show features like stars and dust in the outer regions of the M82 galaxy, the infrared image reveals  the central regions of the galaxy where stars are forming much faster than they do in our own Milky Way galaxy. The long dimension of the inset boxes is equivalent to about 5400 light years at the distance of M82. (Visible light image credit:  N. A. Sharp/ NOAO/AURA/NSF)

 


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