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Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

Phase: Development

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Program(s):Cosmic Origins

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SOFIA is the largest airborne observatory in the world, and makes observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest of ground-based telescopes. NASA and the German space agency, DLR, are working together to create and operate SOFIA - a Boeing 747-SP aircraft modified to accommodate a 2.5 meter gyro-stabilized telescope.

SOFIA is based at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility (DAOF) in southern California. SOFIA's science operations center is at NASA's Ames Research Center in northern California.

SOFIA will be used to study 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 center of galaxies

Presently in development are the seven first generation instruments, five U.S. made and two German made. The instruments — cameras, spectrometers, and a photometer — operate across a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum, from the optical to the far infrared. Some of the instruments are special purpose instruments designed to study a particular phenomenon, while others are general purpose instruments capable of acquiring data from a broad range of astronomical objects.

Because of the ease with which SOFIA instruments can be changed as well as the hands-on nature of observing with SOFIA, the observatory provides a unique platform for the demonstration of new observational techniques, the development of new instruments, and the education of young scientists and teachers in the discipline of infrared astronomy.

Last updated: April 11, 2012

Focus Areas for SOFIABig Questions for SOFIA Related Links
  • SOFIA Science Vision -
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  • DLR SOFIA site -
  • SOFIA DLR Blog -
  • SOFIA on Facebook -
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  • Stars and Space Between video -
  • Destination Innovation: SOFIA video -