NASA and DLR’s 747 Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is in Christchurch. After special invitation, Dawn popped over to take a look.
The Boeing 747SP aircraft has been modified to carry a 2.7-meter reflecting telescope, that flies into the stratosphere at 38,000-45,000 feet to put SOFIA above 99 percent of Earth’s infrared-blocking atmosphere. SOFIA is made possible through a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
The aircraft allows astronomers to study the solar system and beyond in ways that are not possible with ground-based telescopes. It enables studies of transient events that often take place over oceans where there are no telescopes.
SOFIA uses Christchurch as a base to allow astronomers to study celestial objects best viewed from the Southern Hemisphere, like our neighbouring galaxy the Large Magellanic Cloud, the center of our own Milky Way galaxy, and Saturn’s moon Titan.
“In the Southern Hemisphere, the centre of our Milky Way galaxy is almost directly overhead, putting it in a prime location for us to observe it,” said Jim De Buizer, Universities Space Research Association’s SOFIA senior scientist. “We can also see the Magellanic Clouds, which have an environment similar to the early universe, letting us study star formation there as a proxy for what it was like in the early universe.”
SOFIA operates a similar schedule to regular passenger planes, flying out most evenings towards Antarctica and surrounding areas.
Dawn would like to take this opportunity to thank NASA and DLR for their exceptional work, their supportive nature and the ongoing inspiration they provide in our shared love for exceptional science and engineering.
Credit : NASA