NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, regularly carries international astronomers on board its nighttime flights to study the far reaches of the galaxy.
The flying telescope also is employed to bring its science to life for educators and others, including most recently an artist associated with the Museum of Art and History in Lancaster.
Shana Mabari joined a flight from the observatory’s home base at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale on Dec. 11, where she gathered information to further her goal of communicating aerospace science through art.
“Shana Mabari was given the opportunity to fly on a SOFIA mission to observe science being conducted first-hand. Her observations and interactions with SOFIA’s international team of astronomers will become part of her interpretation of light along the magnetic spectrum for Antelope Valley’s Museum of Art and History,” USRA Manager of SOFIA Communications Nick Veronico said.
SOFIA is a highly modified 747 airliner that carries a 100-inch-diameter infrared telescope. By flying at altitudes above 41,000 feet, the world-class telescope is above most of the atmospheric water vapor that blocks infrared rays, which astronomers use to study such cosmic phenomena as the formation of stars and the building blocks of the universe.
Throughout the course of her 10-hour flight aboard SOFIA, Mabari observed astronomers at work, and intends to use what she saw as inspiration for an upcoming museum exhibit in 2020, which will examine light in space.
Mabari is known in the Antelope Valley for her monumental sculpture “Astral Challenger” at Challenger Way and Avenue L.
“It was an honor and a privilege to experience the elegant complexities of infrared astronomy, astrophysics, and astrochemistry with the NASA team,” Mabari said.
As an extension of Mabari’s project, the artist and the museum will partner with publisher Griffith Moon to create a book dedicated to the interpretations of the term “space” through text and images. This exhibit will also include the spatial installation work of Laddie John Dill and photographs by artist Jay Mark Johnson.
“This exhibit will forge an important connection between the arts and science, especially given the region’s deep history with aerospace and its creative innovation,” Lancaster Assistant City Manager Ronda Perez said.
“It is due to historic expeditions such as the one taken by NASA and Mabari earlier this month, that our community has become synonymous with the aerospace industry,” Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris said. “A new space race is underway, as so many in this ever-evolving field work to make civilian space tourism a reality. Our city champions innovation; this partnership between NASA and MOAH is yet another ‘first’ for the city of Lancaster.”
SOFIA regularly hosts educators on board its flights as part of the Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program, including several from the Antelope Valley over the years.
Additionally, actress Nichelle Nichols, best known for her role as Lt. Uhura on “Star Trek,” took part in a SOFIA mission in 2015, part of her longtime work as an ambassador for NASA’s programs and to educate and inspire future generations.
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