Sunday, November 21, 2010
On Thursday, November 18, we took off for the last of the observatory characterization flights. We tested several techniques that we will use to get the first science results in early December. The next time we fly we'll be conducting observations for new astronomical research.
The tests went very well. Follow this link to a short movie of an infrared image of a star taken with FORCAST while in flight. You will notice that the image of the star is two or three pixels across and moves around very quickly. The movie is actually five copies of a two-second clip for a total of ten seconds. The movie was recorded with FORCAST at a frame rate of 400 Hz (Hertz, or frames per second, see my previous post for a few more details). The purpose of this test was to understand telescope vibrations (and how they affect image motion) so that they can eventually be removed or at least minimized. Minimizing vibrations will improve the image quality since most objects we observe with SOFIA will be very faint so we will use long exposure times, which combined with the motion of the telescope will produce fuzzier images.
This and other tests went very well. Our final test included observations of the Orion Nebula (M42 for you astronomers), a region where stars are forming about 1500 light years from Earth. The data look so good that we expect to be able to use them for new astrophysics studies. In other words, SOFIA is ready for astronomy! [Images to come in a future post.]
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