NASA's Uses the Largest Airborne Telescope Observatory in the World

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NASA's latest project, a joint collaboration with the German Aerospace Center, breaks new ground for scientific discoveries. The new Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (or SOFIA, as it's known) makes use of a modified Boeing aircraft and a reflecting telescope to enable spatial observations far more detailed than anything a land-based telescope could see. Get a sneak peak inside SOFIA and learn how an O2 monitor plays a pivotal role in keeping SOFIA safe. 

SOFIA's Mission 

The airplane that powers SOFIA is a short-body 747, which is capable of burning through 3,600 gallons of jet fuel per hour. The plane has been extensively modified to support its new mission, which is to observe the universe using the infrared spectrum of light. This is light that is invisible to the human eye. Interestingly, many objects within space emit only infrared light, meaning that astronomers cannot perceive them with the naked eye. 

SOFIA uses a lot of specialized equipment to make these infrared emissions visible. The telescope on board has a 100-inch diameter. The instrument panel contains cameras, spectrometers, and photometers which operate along near, mid, and far infrared wavelengths to study different scientific phenomena.  

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