Come explore the out-of-this-world world of infrared astronomy! Modern infrared astronomy, created by Frank J. Lowin in the mid-1960s, uses infrared radiation to study celestial objects. The science was first conducted from the ground, but securing a complete infrared picture of the cosmos from terra firma proved a challenge because most infrared radiation—critical to understanding many aspects of the origin, content, and chemical evolution of the universe—cannot penetrate Earth’s atmosphere.
The need to reach higher altitudes to observe infrared wavelengths obscured from the ground led to telescopes mounted on huge balloons and high-flying jets and observatories launched into space by rockets. For example, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), a telescope carried by a Boeing 747SP jetliner, collects data from 45,000 feet above ground and recently began its fourth observing cycle.
And while nearing the end of its life cycle, the Spitzer Space Telescope has allowed astronomers to view centers of galaxies, newly forming planetary systems, evolved stars, and organic molecules.
So what’s next? The Webb Space Telescope, the most advanced infrared telescope to date, will be launched in 2018, at which time it will be the primary infrared observatory in space.
LearningLife seminars embrace Socrates's belief in inquiry and exchange. Seminars begin with a presentation by the instructor, which is followed by a period of critical discussion. Tuition includes continental breakfast.
Robert Gehrz is a professor in the Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics and director of the Observatories at the University of Minnesota. He is a guest observer at numerous ground and space observatories, including NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, SOFIA, Spitzer Space Telescope, National Optical Astronomy Observatories, and the William Keck Observatory and NASA Infrared Telescope Facility. He was president of the American Astronomical Society from 1998−2000.