Astrophysics Branch (Code SSA)


Chief: Jessie Dotson

Assistant Chief: Christine Martinez

Branch Office: 650.604.5528



Observations, Instrument Development, and Experiments

We perform observations from ground-based and space-born telescopes to better understand the origin of stars and planetary systems and support space missions. We had more successful Spitzer space telescope proposals than any other organization, we have performed observations from the Hubble space telescope and space mission spectrometers such as Cassini VIMS, and our scientists are so well respected that they chair and sit on observatory time allocation committees.


The SOFIA water vapor monitor

We develop instruments and detectors to improve the capabilities of ground based and airborn telescopes. This is possible thanks to our scientists expertise in IR observations and our highly specialized instrument development shop tailored to producing scientific equipment and rapid prototyping which has produced flight hardware for airborne and space use. The team of technicians has extensive expertise with high vacuum systems, cryogenics, and optics. But that's not all…

Lab Facilities

Ice Spectroscopy and photo-chemistry:

Facilities include High-vacuum cryogenic equipment to simulate space ices, from interstellar grains at 10 K to icy surfaces of planets, comets, and satellites in the outer Solar System.

Alexandrite, Nd/YAG, and dye lasers and associated optical instrumentation for the vaporization, and photo-luminescence, and spectroscopic analysis of materials.

Chromatography for the analysis of organic molecules from meteorites and simulation experiments.


Instrumentation for transmission and reflection spectroscopy from the Vacuum UV through the Far IR.


Gas-phase spectroscopy: A Pulsed slit discharge nozzle that produces ultracold, very low density gas and plasmas combined with a high sensitivity cavity ringdown spectrometer.



NASA’s Kepler Telescope Discovers Ancient Planets

NASA’s Kepler Telescope Discovers Ancient Planets. New Scientist (1/27, Grossman, 297K) reports on a discovery of five ancient planets around an 11.2 billion-year old star.
Dr. Elisa Quintana

Dr. Elisa Quintana receives the Lupe Ontiveros Dream Award

Dr. Elisa Quintana, a senior fellow in the NASA Postdoctoral Program at NASA Ames Research Center received the Lupe Ontiveros Dream Award.  Dr. Quintana works with Kepler data to search for and characterize extrasolar planets.  The award was presented to Dr. Quintana at a ceremony at the Los Angeles Theatre Center on October 4, 2014.
Amattioda Choctaw

Dr. Andrew Mattioda conducts Education Outreach to the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma

July 12-15, 2014, Dr. Andrew Mattioda traveled to the Choctaw Nation Jones Academy boarding school to participate in their first STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) summer camp for Choctaw Nation youth.   Coming from a background similar to theirs, Dr. Mattioda talked with the students about the path he took to become a NASA scientist as well as career opportunities in the STEM fields.

SOFIA Gaining New Instrument

Britt Rawcliffe at Spaceflight Insider (6/5) wrote that the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is getting a new instrument called the Echelon-Cross-Echelle Spectrograph (EXES), which stated testing back in April. SOFIA program scientist Pamela Marcum said that the addition of the instrument will give SOFIA an “unprecedented ability to study celestial objects at wavelengths unavailable from ground-based telescopes.”
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