The world’s largest airborne observatory got off the ground from the New Zealand city of Christchurch on 17 July 2013 on a mission to explore the southern hemisphere skies.
The flight is the first in the series of southern explorations for SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).
About Airborne Observatory
• The airborne observatory consists of a 2.5 metre diameter telescope mounted inside a modified Boeing 747SP, which flies at altitudes of up to 13700 metres.
• The telescope will have its sights trained on the Milky Way galaxy, with scientists taking a closer look at young stars, star-forming regions and supernova miscellany in the southern Milky Way.
Scientists are hopeful that the flights will help them to understand more about the development of galaxies and the formation and evolution of stars and planetary systems from interstellar clouds of gas and dust.
SOFIA will be based in Christchurch until 2 August 2013 with scientists hoping to make nine 10-hour flights during that time. It is likely to be the first of many trips to New Zealand for the science mission, with SOFIA expected to continue to visit the country over the next 20 years.
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