Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)

Courtesy of NASA

SOFIA is unusual because it is not a satellite launched into space. SOFIA is inside a jet airliner, which will take off and land, as needed, and make its observations from Earth’s stratosphere. The infrared telescope is mounted near the fuselage with a door that opens only when the telescope is making observations. The plane is a retrofitted Boeing 747 that was originally purchased and flown by Pan Am airways beginning in 1977, christened by the aviator Charles Lindbergh’s widow on the 50th anniversary of his historic transatlantic flight from New York to Paris. Later, the plane flew the San Francisco to Washington, DC route for United airlines from 1986 to 1995. The retired plane was eventually purchased by the joint German–NASA team with plans to make it a flying observatory. The aircraft and telescope began flying routinely in December 2010.

April 26, 2007 (first test flight)

May 26, 2010 (first use of telescope)

End of Mission
No ending date has been planned.

Observe the universe in infrared energies. Study many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, including: star birth and death, formation of new solar systems, complex molecules in space, planets, comets and asteroids in our solar system, nebulae and dust in galaxies, black holes at the center of galaxies.

There are no released findings yet. Science teachers are encouraged to apply for opportunities to fly along with SOFIA.