The world’s largest airborne observatory has arrived in New Zealand for the seventh and final time to conduct observations of the southern sky. The SOFIA consists of a converted Boeing 747, in the fuselage of which a 17-ton special telescope is housed, which is specialized in observations in the far infrared.
The Boeing 747 of the stratospheric observatory for infrared astronomy SOFIA was not there for two years because of the corona pandemic.
Farewell round for the flying eye
In order to explore areas of the night sky that are not visible north of the equator, it is regularly deployed in the southern hemisphere – this year already for two weeks to Chile. In the spring, the US space agency NASA and the German Aerospace Center decided to discontinue the mission of the unique instrument. The costs are not proportionate to the scientific benefit.
As the USRA (Universities Space Research Association), which is responsible for the scientific work of SOFIA, is now explaining, SOFIA is to map the magnetic fields of our home galaxy, among other things, during its last flights from New Zealand. They also want to build on one of the telescope’s greatest successes and research certain hydride molecules. The chemistry in the universe started with them, SOFIA was the first to prove it.
Further measurements are now to be used to research cosmic radiation, among other things. An instrument called HAWC+ (High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera Plus) is used for this on SOFIA. Once the measurement is complete, the instrument is removed and replaced by the German GREAT (German REceiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies). In total, the team in New Zealand is planning 32 flights.
When the mission ends in September this year, the device will have completed around 800 flights in eight years. NASA bears the majority of the costs, Germany contributes about 20 percent of the operating costs of around 85 million US dollars per year. The aircraft is based in Palmdale, California. However, the trip to New Zealand is the last for which the plane leaves the United States.
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