Congratulations to Samantha Thompson, Curator at Lowell Observatory, and Rich Krueger, science and engineering teacher and robotics coach at Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy. Thompson and Krueger have been selected for the SOFIA Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program. Later this year, they will take flight alongside scientists on NASA’s flying observatory.
The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a modified 747SP jetliner equipped with a 100-inch telescope. Flying at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet, the craft collects data from the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. One of the instruments on SOFIA is the High Speed Imaging Photometer for Occultation (HIPO), a device built by astronomer Ted Dunham and his engineering team at Lowell Observatory. Lowell director Jeffrey Hall said, “Lowell Observatory has long been involved scientifically with SOFIA, so it’s very appropriate to have one of our staff members take part in the ambassador program.”
The Thompson/Krueger team was just one of 14 chosen from a highly competitive, nationwide field of educators. Each team of ambassadors will work with a professional astronomer to experience airborne astronomical research first-hand. Afterward, the educators share what they learned with their classrooms and local communities. Thompson said, “We will create one exhibit here at Lowell and one that travels around to STEM fairs, the Festival of Science, schools and elsewhere.” Because these displays will be shown at both informal (Lowell) and formal (schools) education sites, they will reach a wide range of audiences. Plus, Krueger’s students will gain valuable firsthand experience. Krueger said, “When we take the exhibit to Wheeler Park and classrooms, my students will go and help teach the concepts in the exhibits.”
Thank you to Kevin Schindler, Lowell Observatory, for allowing me to borrow heavily from his post at www.lowell.edu!