Final visit to “home away from home” for NASA airborne telescope

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A NASA airborne telescope is making its final visit to Christchurch.

SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy) is a 747 aeroplane that has been modified to fit a 2.7-metre telescope. It helps scientists collect data that would be missed by a telescope on the ground.

Over the past 10 years, the plane has made seven trips to Christchurch, however, it is now being decommissioned to make way for new technology.

NASA scientist Naseem Rangwala said that Christchurch had become a “home away from home” for the California-based aircraft.

“Christchurch has played a big role in SOFIA’s scientific success, and that will remain forever. Our team has formed very deep friendships and relationships with the people of Christchurch,” she said.

The plane flies above 39,000 feet, which allows the telescope to avoid 99 per cent of the Earth’s infrared-blocking atmosphere. The final mission was focused on mapping magnetic fields in the Milky Way – something that is made possible by the climate conditions in New Zealand.

SOFIA will head back to California next month, where it will continue to operate until 1 October.

Photo credit: NASA/Jim Ross – http://www.nasa.gov/images/content/471422main_ED10-0182-01_full%20_full.jpg

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