Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Alfred Krabbe

Barbara Klett

Dr.-Ing. Thomas Keilig

Deputy SMO Director (Kalifornien)
Dr. rer. nat Bernhard Schulz

Standortleiter AFRC & SOFIA Teleskop Manager
Dipl.-Ing. Michael Hütwohl

Standortleiter ARC & und Facility Scientist
Dr. rer. nat. Jürgen Wolf

Technology Advisor
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jörg Wagner

Bildungs- und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit
Dr. rer. nat. Dörte Mehlert

Deutsches SOFIA Institut
Pfaffenwaldring 29
70569 Stuttgart

Tel. +49 (0)711/685-62379
Fax +49 (0)711/685-63596


A Bit Closer to the Stars: Four German Educators Experience Ongoing Research Aboard SOFIA

Dean of school is enthusiastic

May 18, 2016; Antje Lischke-Weis, Wolfgang Vieser (lischke@dsi.uni-stuttgart.de)

Vor dem Einsteigen
Matthias Hünsch, Andreas Lauer, Till Credner and Manuel Vogel (f. l. t. r.)
shortly before their first flight on board of SOFIA (Copyright: DSI).

In mid-May four German educator participated in a SOFIA research flight: Till Credner (Progymnasium Rosenfeld, Baden-Württemberg), Matthias Hünsch (Wichern-Schule, Hamburg), Andreas Lauer (Gymnasium Holzkirchen, Bayern) und Manuel Vogel (Gymnasium Spaichingen, Baden-Württemberg) took off on board SOFIA at 8:03 pm from Palmdale in California to experience how the close cooperation of US American and German engineers and scientists allows modern research at altitude up to about 43,000 feet (13 km). Due to the time shift between Germany and California the students could track their respective teacher‘s flight in the morning from school on https://de.flightaware.com/live/flight/NASA747.

Already, months before their flight, each educator submitted a proposal to fly on SOFIA that was based on a concept for school lessons that deal with the airborne infrared observatory. In April they all met with DSI staff in Stuttgart to learn more about their mission. Also, Helmut Wiesemeyer from the upGREAT team from Max-Planck-Institute for radio astronomy in Bonn joined the meeting to explain the operation of the science instrument that was to be mounted on the telescope during their flights. The educators met Helmut Wiesemeyer again during their flight. “It was just great J that the scientists from the upGREAT team supplied us with so much information. Hence we could follow the data we saw on the screens of the EPO consoles that are installed especially for us teachers”, summarized Andreas Lauer.

Treffen mit Eddie Zavala
Till Credner, Andreas Lauer, Mathias Hünsch und Manuel Vogel in the office
of Eddie Zavala (right), the NASA SOFIA program manager (Copyright: DSI).

The educators arrived in Palmdale (California) the weekend before their flights; already on Monday they experienced a tour through SOFIA itself and the laboratories in the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (AFRC) facility at which SOFIA is based. Two hours before take-off, Mission Director Randy Grashuis welcomed the educators and introduced them to the whole mission team. Manuel Vogel was fascinated by the mission briefing, since he mainly wants to explain to his students the advantages of SOFIA over a ground based – observatory: “I want them to learn why water vapor prevents the infrared radiation from reaching the earth’s surface. During the mission briefing I got so much detailed information relevant to our flight. That shows how important that aspect if for infrared astronomy”, Vogel comments.

After the final safety briefing on board SOFIA they took off to observe objects like our extragalactic neighbor the Andromeda galaxy (M31) as well as the Whirlpool galaxy (M51). Also, galaxy M82 that experienced a supernova explosion in 2014 was investigated with upGREAT. Till Credner, who is an enthusiastic amateur astro-photographer (http://www.allthesky.com), took a time-lapse video during the flight: ”This recording was done by a camera mounted on a cabin window of the SOFIA aircraft. It demonstrates the disturbing motion of the aircraft that the telescopes stabilization system has to counteract to guarantee sufficient quality of the science data”, he explains.

An der Lehrer - Konsole
The four educators at the so-called EPO (Education & Public Outreach)
console that is especially installed for flying educators (Copyright: DSI).

The observations of M31 was the most fascinating part of their flight. “The scientists can derive information about the velocities and temperatures of the different chemical elements in the galaxy. With that data they are able to determine the heating and cooling processes in the interstellar medium”, Mathias Hünsch explained. He also cooperates with the Hamburg Observatory and plans to forward all his experiences and his personal excitement to the students and pupils that attend the many workshops during the so called “Astro – Werkstatt”.

Back in Germany it was about 3 pm when the educators’ students followed SOFIA approaching Palmdale on https://de.flightaware.com/live/flight/NASA747. A few moments later four tired but excited German  educators filled with new ideas and experiences left this unique aircraft. The director of the Progymnasiums Rosenfeld, Christian Breithaupt, was excited, and cannot wait for Till Credner to be back: “That’s what we dreamt of for a long time. Now we can even better inspire our students for natural and engineering subjects.”

1 - EPO – Educational and Public Outreach

Additional Links:

Image Galerie


Information about the educators:


 GREAT, der „German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies“, wurde durch ein Konsortium deutscher Forschungsinstitute (Max-Planck-Institut für Radio­astrono­mie Bonn und KOSMA/Universität zu Köln, in Zusammenarbeit mit dem DLR-Institut für Planeten­for­schung) entwickelt und gebaut. Projektleiter für GREAT (PI) ist Rolf Güsten (MPIfR); als stell­vertre­tende Projektleiter (Co-Is) sind Jürgen Stutzki (Univ. Köln) und Heinz-Wilhelm Hübers (DLR, Berlin-Adlershof) beteiligt. Die Entwicklung des Instruments ist finanziert mit Mitteln der beteiligten Institute, der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, der Deutschen Forschungsgemeinschaft und des DLR.

Contact: Dörte Mehlert, Email: mehlert@dsi.uni.stuttgart.de; Tel.:0711 - 685-69632

SOFIA, the "Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy" is a joint project of the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt e.V. (DLR; German Aerospace Center, grant: 50OK0901, 50OK1301 and 50OK1701) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It is funded on behalf of DLR by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy based on legislation by the German Parliament, the State of Baden-Württemberg and the University of Stuttgart. Scientific operation for Germany is coordinated by the German SOFIA-Institute (DSI) of the University of Stuttgart, in the USA by the Universities Space Research Association (USRA).