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Inside NASA’s SOFIA Airborne Astronomical Observatory



As the world’s largest flying observatory, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, is a unique space-science asset. SOFIA incorporates a 19-ton German-built telescope with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters in a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft that flies astronomical science missions at altitudes between 39,000 and 45,000 feet, above 99 percent of the infrared-blocking water vapor in the atmosphere. Capable of conducting observations in visible through far-infrared spectra from any part of the globe, SOFIA provides access to a spectral region not currently accessible by ground or space telescopes.

A joint program of NASA and the German Aerospace Center DLR, the SOFIA observatory is based at NASA’s Science and Aircraft Integration Facility in Palmdale, Calif., a satellite facility of the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center. NASA’s Ames Research Center manages the science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association and the Deutsches SOFIA Institut.

SOFIA’s Airborne Astronomy Ambassadors program provides educators hands-on experience as they work with scientists during missions on the flying observatory.

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