HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — A Highlands Ranch High School science teacher was selected to serve as an Ambassador in NASA’s Airborne Astronomy program.
Bob MacArthur is one of 28 teachers to be selected nationwide and the first ever from Colorado. Over the summer, he took part in the weeklong program at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, which includes participating in research flights on NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA).
“SOPHIA is a modified 747 that has been modified to fly at 43,000 feet," MacArthur said. “It’s a 100-inch telescope in the back of a 747, and you’re up there all night doing various research.”
MacArthur teaches astronomy, geology, meteorology and earth science at the high school, but said astronomy has been his passion his entire life.
“My grandfather was into astronomy, I was into astronomy, my dad’s into astronomy,” he said. “I remember looking at Halley’s comet back in 1986 with my family at the backyard barbecues with our telescopes out just having a great time.”
The Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program is designed to give high school teachers hands-on training to increase STEM student achievement through training in astrophysics and planetary science content. The educators then take a SOFIA science-oriented curriculum back to their classrooms.
“We can look at different minerals on different asteroids. We can look for water on the moon. We can study star formation, planet formation,” MacArthur said. “It’s really important to have infrared astronomy for that, and we got to be part of that.”
The application process started for MacArthur in November 2019. He said because of the pandemic, NASA had to delay the program for two years.
“I’m still processing the fact that I got to do it,” he said. “It was well worth the wait. So well worth the wait.”
MacArthur said a huge passion of his is experiencing what he teaches, and the SOPHIA program is a big part of that.
“My hope is that showing kids that this stuff is here and obtainable, and your teacher gets to have these experiences, means that you can too,” he said.
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