NASA's Flying Observatory SOFIA Set for First Research Flight over Europe

SOFIA will have better observing conditions by flying out from Stuttgart.
Chris Young
SOFIA flying over the Sierra Nevada mountainsJim Ross/NASA

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has landed at Stuttgart Airport and is preparing for its first research flight over Europe.

Sofia, which helped to discover the first molecule in the universe, is scheduled to take off from Stuttgart at 19.40 CEST on September 18.

The aircraft's flight trajectory will see it fly over 12 countries and will take it further north than it is able to go when taking off from its home base in Palmdale, California. 


Improved observing conditions

SOFIA is a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt or DLR).

The reason for the aircraft observatory flying from Stuttgart to fly as far north as possible is that there is less water vapor present in the atmosphere above the dry poles. This will offer the infrared observatory improved observing conditions.

“This is a very special occasion – SOFIA will be taking off from Stuttgart for its first European scientific research flight,” Pascale Ehrenfreund, Chair of the DLR Executive Board said in a press release.

“The researchers on board will be exploring the areas around black holes and looking into the question of whether Dark Energy really is causing the Universe to expand at an ever-increasing rate.”

SOFIA's longest observation

“This will be SOFIA’s longest single observation on its first observation flight in Europe. The journey will begin south of the Swedish coast, over the Baltic Sea, and cross Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, the Adriatic Sea, and Italy – almost as far as Sicily,” Clemens Plank, Project Engineer for SOFIA at the DLR Space Administration, said in the release.

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The flying observatory will make several observations during its 10-hour flight.

Perhaps the most anticipated of these is the observation of galaxy Markarian 231, where two black holes are surrounded by a dust torus.

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