Flying observatory achieves 1st science flight

December 1, 2010 23:28

PALMDALE, California — A US-German infrared observatory mounted in a jumbo jet on Wednesday flew its inaugural science flight, a mission to better understand how stars form.

The highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner completed the flight, returning to its base at Palmdale in the Mojave Desert after 10 hours of cruising at high altitude.The telescope, which is 100 inches (2.5 meters) in diameter, targeted the star-making factory Orion nebula and a young forming star cluster 3,000 light-years from Earth.

It's the first of three science flights planned before Christmas and marks the start of a 20-year observing campaign.

The joint NASA and German Aerospace Center project is called the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA for short.

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