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UT Austin’s astronomy department seeks teachers to participate in NASA flying observatory program

The University of Texas at Austin’s department of astronomy is seeking central Texas teachers interested in participating in an education initiative developed in cooperation with a NASA flying observatory. The EXES Teacher Associate Program is a key part of NASA’s SOFIA project, or the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

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AUSTIN, Texas —The University of Texas at Austin’s department of astronomy is seeking central Texas teachers interested in participating in an education initiative developed in cooperation with a NASA flying observatory. The EXES Teacher Associate Program is a key part of NASA’s SOFIA project, or the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

The flying observatory known as SOFIA will take to the air at the end of 2002. The observatory consists of a Boeing 747-SP aircraft carrying an 8-foot (2.5-meter) infrared telescope, the largest airborne telescope in the world. Flying at a level of 41,000 feet, scientists at the observatory will be able to make astronomical observations not possible from the Earth’s largest and highest ground-based infrared telescopes.

Teachers participating in the EXES program will have an opportunity to fly in the plane.

EXES refers to Echelon Cross Echelle Spectrograph — a piece of equipment being designed and built by Dr. John Lacy at the department of astronomy on the UT Austin campus. The 747-SP eventually will be based in northern California at NASA’s Ames Research Center and currently is being modified at Raytheon Aircraft Integration System’s facilities in Waco. The telescope will be housed within an open port cavity in the aft section of the plane.

The EXES program provides teachers with materials on the science and technology involved in building this state-of-the-art instrument. It will demonstrate several phases of the construction and testing of the instrument. There will be sessions on astronomical topics such as techniques involved in observation, optics and spectroscopy.

The program is for teachers who live within 100 miles of Austin and who teach students in grades seven through twelve. The program consists of six one-day meetings per calendar year. Participants will be eligible to apply to accompany the instrument during flying field-tests on the airplane in 2003. Classroom activities will be correlated to the National Science Education Standards and the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills. Each participating teacher will have an EXES team member visit his or her school once during the project to give a presentation to students.

Once SOFIA is up and running, astronomers will be able to make observations four nights per week for 20 years. The plane will fly at altitudes above more than 99 percent of the infrared-absorbing water vapor that limits what usually can be studied using ground-based observatories. SOFIA is a joint effort of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is responsible for the design and construction of the telescope.

For more information, contact Dr. Mary Kay Hemenway at the Astronomy Department at (512) 471-1309 or e-mail: marykay@astro.as.utexas.edu or see the EXES Website: http://nene.as.utexas.edu/exes/epo/press199.html or the SOFIA Website is: www.sofia.arc.nasa.gov