Featured Image (Credits ISRO)

Monday, July 7, 2014

SOFIA airborne observatory declared operational by NASA

The door to the SOFIA observatory's 2.5-meter telescope is wide open during a developmental test flight in 2010. (Credits NASA)
SOFIA has been declared operational by NASA on 2nd July 2014.  To achieve operational status, SOFIA demonstrated science operations in April and May by flying 14 flights, encompassing more than 100 successful science mission hours, in 30 days. 


Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy or SOFIA is a new observatory developed by NASA in collaboration with German Aerospace Center (DLR). SOFIA is the largest airborne observatory in the world consisting of a Boeing 747 SP with a 17-ton telescope packed inside. SOFIA can reach heights of 45,000 feet touching Stratosphere that enables it to capture infrared astronomy images like never before.

SOPHIA telescope design.

Why Airborne?
On Earth, observing space is a challenge due to the presence of atmosphere that either blocks or distorts most part of the electromagnetic spectrum (including infrared and visible light). So there is a practical upper limit to the quality of observation. To counter this, scientists created space borne telescopes that are not affected by all the atmospheric distortions. But they also come with their own limitations due to size restrictions driven by launch rockets and their availability on short notice.  
With SOFIA, NASA has aimed to achiceve the best of both worlds by using aircraft with a much bigger telescope to reach edge of the atmosphere for distortion less observations. Also, it will also be able to monitor transient events from anywhere in the world on a short notice. 

Where does SOFIA fit in?
More Images (Credits NASA)

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