Astrophysics Branch (Code SSA)


Acting Branch Chief: Mark Fonda

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

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

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.

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.











Code SSA Highlights

Lou Allamandola awarded Oort Professorship for 2013 by Leiden Observatory
Leiden Observatory

Every year, Leiden Observatory selects a distinguished astronomer to be the Oort Professor in memory of Professor Jan Oort, the distinguished Professor of Astronomy at Leiden University who played a pioneering role in many aspects of modern astronomy. Lou has received this award for his, “leading role in developing infrared spectroscopy as a tool for […]

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Kepler Reaction Wheel Still has Elevated Levels Of Friction

Kepler Reaction Wheel Still has Elevated Levels Of Friction. Space News (4/5, Foust, Subscription Publication) reports, “A reaction wheel on NASA’s Kepler spacecraft continues to experience elevated levels of friction after a brief rest period, but project officials say that does not necessarily imply an imminent failure that could jeopardize the spacecraft’s planet-hunting mission.” Kepler […]

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Kepler Supplies More Evidence Supporting General Relativity

Kepler Supplies More Evidence Supporting General Relativity. The Los Angeles Times (4/5, Mohan, 692K) “Science Now” blog reports, “NASA’s Kepler space telescope has beamed back the latest evidence that light can be bent by gravity, an element of the theory of general relativity.” While the result was not surprising, “the findings represent the first time […]

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In memorium – Robert H. Rubin 1941-2013
Bob Rubin 1941-2013

Remembrance Gathering for Bob Rubin, Space Science and Astrobiology Auditorium, Bldg. 245, 3 p.m.POC: Sean Colgan, Ames employees are welcome to attend a remembrance gathering for Bob Rubin, April 12, at 3 p.m. Bob’s hometown was Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He completed undergraduate and graduate studies at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. His advisor, […]

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Kepler Telescope Finds Exoplanet About The Size Of The Moon

The AP (2/21, Chang) reports scientists using the Kepler telescope data have discovered a planet about the size of the moon, although the exoplanet, called Kepler-37b, “orbits too close to its sun-like star and is too sizzling to support life.” It was discovered by Thomas Barclay of the Ames Research Center and it “took […]

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FINESSE Explorer selection site review

Tom Greene attended the FINESSE Explorer mission selection site review, held at JPL on February 7. FINESSE is competing with TESS to be the next NASA Explorer astrophysics mission. Both missions study extrasolar planets; TESS would find them, while FINESSE would characterize their atmospheres. […]

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Famelab competition
Famelab competition

Ruslan Belikov participated in a science communication competition called “famelab”: and made it to the regional finals. Contestants compete to do an exciting 3-minute talk (without slides) about science to a general audience in a format similar to the “American Idol” show and are graded on content, clarity, and charisma. Here are Belikov’s two […]

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Kepler Telescope May Have Witnessed “Gravity Darkening” For First Time

ScienceNOW (2/1, Croswell, 128K) reports scientists “will report using the Kepler spacecraft to observe the brightness of a star in the constellation Cygnus more than a million times. … The world’s gravity raises the star’s surface away from its hot center, causing part of the surface to cool by just a fraction of a […]

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Kepler Telescope Resumes Operations

SPACE (1/30, Wall) reports, “NASA’s Kepler space telescope has resumed its search for alien planets after resting for 10 days to work out kinks in its attitude control system, mission officials announced” yesterday. The telescope came out of safe mode on Sunday, although “it will take time to determine if the problem is solved.” […]

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SOFIA Entering Operations Phase

In an article for the Space Review (1/21), Jeff Foust wrote about the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) based at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility, an “example of a science project that is simple in concept but dauntingly complex in execution.” According to Foust, the issues developing SOFIA “are now largely” in the […]

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