Posted by Luke Keller at 2:46AM
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We've had a couple of years with relatively little flying while other instruments came on line and while improvements to the aircraft were under way, but FORCAST is now back in the stratosphere! We spent past two years making improvements to the camera and my Ithaca College students and I finished a new spectroscopic mode for FORCAST in collaboration with the "FORCAST Grism" team. We have added hardware and developed software to quickly record spectra with FORCAST. That allows us to disperse light entering the camera into the spectrum of infrared light; analogous to a prism dispersing visible light into a "rainbow" of colors. By comparing brightness of different colors of light from a source, astronomers can infer fundamental physical properties like chemical composition, temperature, density, and even motion.
FORCST is now in the final commissioning phase: the instrument is finished and we are conducting a series of tests over five flights that will demonstrate readiness to hand off the instrument and software to USRA as a facility instrument. We completed the first two commissioning flights on April 4th (SOFIA Flight 99) and May 30th (SOFIA flight 103) during which we recorded the first in-flight FORCAST spectra.
Recent Ithaca College alum Casey Byrne
(Physics, 2013) will be on the third FORCAST commissioning flight to help test software he helped write as part of his physics senior thesis. IC alum Rob Lewis (Physics, 2013) and student Martin Garay MacLean will fly on the final two commissioning flights. On these flight the IC folks will be helping with data quality control to insure that we make the most of the 10-hour flights to gather the best data set possible.