This is the only airborne telescope. For many years it made numerous flights making important observations. However, its operations are about to end. We are talking about the end of the SOFIA observatory.
NASA and its German counterpart, DLR, decided. They will suspend flight operations of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). When? In a few months: in September of this year.
Years of missions
what has the observatory brought us in recent times? The scientific data acquired by SOFIA are available in the NASA archives for astronomers all over the world. It was carried by a Boeing 747 SP. Thus it became an infrared astronomy observatory.
Originally, its main mission was to last a total of five years. This was completed in 2019. It was then extended for another three years until 2022, DLR reports in a statement.
Germany supplied the world’s only 2.7-meter airborne telescope. This was incorporated into the SOFIA airframe, and has contributed 20 percent of the operating costs. What did they get in return? Several groups of scientists from Germany were assigned about 30 scientific flights per year. NASA bought the second-hand Boeing 747 and converted it for the telescope facility. NASA also operates the observatory from Palmdale in California, SOFIA’s home base.
SOFIA has performed approximately 100 science flights per year since 2014. During these flights, astronomical objects were observed, mainly in the Milky Way. The infrared observatory specializes in far-infrared observations. It makes contributions to address astrochemistry and astrophysics questions in particular. The first molecule to form in the Universe nearly 14 billion years ago, helium hydride, was detected for the first time using this telescope in 2019.
The end of the SOFIA observatory will leave us with some nostalgia. However, already other impressive telescopes take its place. And this time they do it in space, as in the case of the James Webb Space Telescope.