NASA’s flying observatory Sofia is preparing for its 2018 campaign, which will include, among others, observations of celestial magnetic fields, star-forming regions, comets and Saturn’s giant moon Titan. This will be the fourth year of full operations for Sofia, short for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, with observations planned between February 2018 and January 2019.
The significance of the observations:
Scientists believe that the observatory’s investigations will help them understand how magnetic fields affect the rate at which interstellar clouds condense to form new stars. These observations could also help them learn whether the luminosity of these active black holes is driven by star formation or accretion of material onto the central black hole. Sofia will also conduct observations to better understand how methane levels change with seasons on Mars.
Sofia is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 100-inch diameter telescope. It is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Centre, DLR. SOFIA is designed to observe the infrared universe.
SOFIA studies many different kinds of astronomical objects and phenomena, but some of the most interesting are:
• Star birth and death.
• Formation of new solar systems.
• Identification of complex molecules in space.
• Planets, comets and asteroids in our solar system.
• Nebulae and dust in galaxies (or, Ecosystems of galaxies).
• Black holes at the centre of galaxies.
Why does NASA need a flying telescope?
Water vapour blocks infrared light energy and 99% of the world’s water vapour exists below 39,000 feet. So, the higher altitude you fly, the drier it gets and the more optimal it is for infrared observation.