Browsing Tag: Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

This is N747NA, better known as SOFIA. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy Photo - Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

This is N747NA, better known as SOFIA- the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – Photo: Bernie Leighton | AirlineReporter

You know, despite being a carbon-based life form and therefore largely composed of water molecules – that doesn’t mean I have to like water vapor.

It’s annoying. Think about it? You come in from outside into a warm room and your glasses fog up. Water vapor condenses and produces fog, which keeps me from flying. Sometimes, water vapor even contains annoying minerals resting in solution that can damage precision electronics. If you think I am annoyed by water vapor, talk to an astronomer! It’s worse for them.

Imagine being on the only habitable planet you know of, but having the atmosphere that keeps you alive act like a giant opaque blanket. Gross, right? That’s Earth!

With the sliding door over its 17-ton infrared telescope wide open, NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – or SOFIA – soars over California's snow-covered Southern Sierras on a test flight in 2010 - Photo: NASA

With the sliding door over its 17-ton infrared telescope wide open, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy – or SOFIA – soars over California’s snow-covered Southern Sierras on a test flight in 2010 – Photo: NASA

Now imagine that you want to look into the vast reaches of the cosmos, at wavelengths below what the human eye can see, which also happen to be even more affected by the water vapor that resides within the lower atmosphere.  A recipe for despair.

The best way to get above the earth’s vapor-barrier would be to build a satellite. I think everyone agrees on that.

If, long after your natural life ends, the billions of dollars in funding you requested to build a satellite is approved – they might name it after you and your grad student’s grandchildren may be able to profit from the data. That doesn’t seem like the best idea for continuing research at a regular tempo does it? What do you do? Well, beyond actually funding scientific endeavors more, there is a second choice.