The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, known as SOFIA, is a modified Boeing 747 airplane that houses a NASA telescope.
Credit Melissa Forsyth / NPR
Scientist David Neufeld is searching for evidence of a small molecule called mercapto in interstellar gas. Here, he's inside the SOFIA, a modified 747, while it was parked at Andrews Air Force Base on Sept. 23.
Credit Melissa Forsyth / NPR
A hatch near the tail of the plane opens to let SOFIA's telescope peer out. The plane-mounted telescope flies above most of the moisture in the Earth's atmosphere, allowing for clearer images than can be captured from ground-based telescopes.
Credit Courtesy of David Neufeld
The spike marked in red on this graph from data from a recent SOFIA flight is just what researcher David Neufeld was looking for. It indicates the presence of mercapto radicals, a sulfur-hydrogen molecule, in interstellar gas.
Astronomers are lining up to use a powerful new NASA telescope called SOFIA. The telescope has unique capabilities for studying things like how stars form and what's in the atmospheres of planets.
But unlike most of the space agency's telescopes, SOFIA isn't in space — it flies around mounted in a Boeing 747 jet with a large door cut on the side so the telescope can see out. Putting a telescope in space makes sense: There's no pesky atmosphere to make stars twinkle. But why put one on a plane?
Today marks 35 years since Congress first passed what's come to be known as the Hyde Amendment, which bans most federal abortion funding.
While the actual language of the rider to the annual funding bill for the Department of Health and Human Services has changed considerably over the years, since 2003 it has allowed federal Medicaid funds to pay for abortions in cases of rape, incest, or if the life of the woman is endangered by the pregnancy.
For years scientists have been faced with a mystery about the planet Mercury. Its iron core is much bigger than that of most other planets. More than half of Mercury's mass comes from its core. In comparison, about 32 percent of Earth's mass comes from its core.
Scientists theorized that was because Mercury is so close to the sun that its rocky surface simply melted away.
A new study, which was released along with a series of other papers about Mercury in this week's issue of Science, disputes those theories.
"When Hank Williams died, he left behind a scuffed, embroidered brown leather briefcase. Like its owner, the briefcase appeared weathered beyond its years, yet it retained a dignified bearing that abuse couldn't erase."
A Hellfire missile fired from an American drone killed Anwar al-Awlaki on Friday, ending a two-year hunt for a radical cleric who had called on his followers to attack the U.S. any way they could.
Some details of the strike are sketchy. U.S. officials and the Yemeni Defense Ministry both confirmed that a drone had fired on a convoy of cars that was carrying Awlaki in northern Yemen. They said it was a joint operation, but it is unclear what role the Yemeni military played in the attack.
In writer Michael Ondaatje's mind, the "cat's table" is where the undesirables sit in a boat's dining room. It's for the hecklers, the lowly ones and the ones farthest away from power. And it's also where you'll find the narrator of Ondaatje's new novel, Michael, an 11-year-old who's on a 21-day voyage from Sri Lanka to London all on his own.
He and his companions — two other boys who are travelling alone — live by only one rule: to every day do at least one thing that is forbidden.
With all the recent turmoil in the Middle East, one piece of news that has been overlooked is the revelation that the Obama administration approved the sale of 55 deep earth penetrator bombs to Israel in 2009.
The two-year-old transaction was recently reported by Newsweek. No U.S. officials have talked openly about why the bunker busters were provided to Israel but speculation falls most heavily on a single target.