NASA’s Flying Lady with Long Distance Eyes, SOFIA

NASA has many telescopes in play, optical or otherwise, in a variety of different forms.  We have the Hubble Space Telescope that peers into the celestial bodies in several ways, we have ground-based telescopes that track the stars, radio telescopes that listen for whispers among the stars, and several other forms of watching and tracking the sky and beyond.  NASA has been working on a new one for a while (at least a few years), this time it’s a far-infrared vision system mounted on a modified 747SP.

Meet SOFIA – NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy:

See that big gaping hole in the side of that aircraft?  That’s the telescope.  SOFIA flies around and tracks planets, stars, and other space stuff – at least when it’s operational.  That’s the plan.  Right now, the feat is that SOFIA’s big open cavity there is the largest to ever have been flown.  The telescope is fully exposed, and NASA is making sure that all is copasetic with the design and equipment before doing any of the really cool stuff.

SOFIA’s main gear is a German-made, 2.5 meter far-infrared range telescope capable of seeing between 0.3 and 1600 microns, weighing in at 34,000 pounds.  She’s going to be looking for planet formations in nearby star systems, planetary composition, Milky-Way dynamic activity, and ultra-luminous infrared galaxies among her other work.  SOFIA’s got a big task, and it is super cool to me that NASA is taking this to the skies.

Besides looking at the universe from a new angle, what I like best about SOFIA is that she’s not at all trying to blow up missiles, enemy troops, tanks, planes, or any of that other nonsense crap.  SOFIA is trying to scope out things that could help us find answers.  LOVE IT!

Here’s a few videos of SOFIA – the first is a NASA “Mission Update” video:

The second video is an air-to-air video of SOFIA in flight:

Last video – an animation of the SOFIA aircraft and some of its inner workings:

Be sure to check out the SOFIA mission page at NASA, and the Dryden Flight Research Center site.