HIRMES: SOFIA's latest high-resolution Mid-infrared Spectrometer

  • Released Wednesday, November 15th, 2017
  • Updated Wednesday, May 3rd, 2023 at 1:47PM

A team from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, is developing a new, third-generation facility science instrument for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA.
The High Resolution Mid-InfrarEd Spectrometer (HIRMES), is a spectrometer optimized to detect neutral atomic oxygen, water, as well as normal and deuterated (or "heavy") hydrogen molecules at infrared wavelengths between 25 and 122 microns (a micron is one-millionth of a meter). These wavelengths are key to determining how water vapor, ice, and oxygen combine at different times during planet formation, and will enable new observations of how these elements combine with dust to form the mass that may one day become a planet.
HIRMES will provide scientists with a unique opportunity to study this aspect of planetary formation, as SOFIA is currently the only NASA observatory capable of accessing these mid-infrared wavelengths. Infrared wavelengths between 28 and 112 microns do not reach ground-based telescopes because water vapor and carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere block this energy. SOFIA is able to access this part of the electromagnetic spectrum by flying between 39,000 feet and 45,000 feet, above more than 99 percent of this water vapor.

Animated gif of the HIRMES cryostat CAD model.Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Stuart Banks

Animated gif of the HIRMES cryostat CAD model.

Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Stuart Banks

Flying at 39 to 45 thousand feet, SOFIA is above 99 percent of the water vapor that blocks infrared light from space, so its view is nearly equal to a satellite's.

Flying at 39 to 45 thousand feet, SOFIA is above 99 percent of the water vapor that blocks infrared light from space, so its view is nearly equal to a satellite's.

Vibration is a part of any airplane flight, so SOFIA has a complex system to isolate it.

Vibration is a part of any airplane flight, so SOFIA has a complex system to isolate it.



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NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. However, individual items should be credited as indicated above.


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