NASA’s newest telescope is housed in a special jumbo jet that flies at 45,000 feet

July 11, 2014 1:46 PM

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NASA’s newest telescope is housed in a special jumbo jet that flies at 45,000 feet

The thick, soupy atmosphere of Earth is great for breathing, but not so much for seeing what’s going on in the cosmos. That’s why the most spectacular and scientifically important images of the universe have been taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. It has served the world well for more than 20 years, but Hubble is nearing the end of its useful life, and the James Webb telescope is still years away from completion. In the meantime, NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have just completed the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) — a giant telescope that rides on the back of a high-altitude jumbo jet. It’s really the next best thing to being in space.

NASA has been working on the SOFIA project for a number of years, but only recently has the flying observatory been declared fully operational. Sadly, it’s not as simple as strapping a telescope to a standard jet and heading for the skies. The plane itself, a Boeing 747SP, is highly specialized. Thi...

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