The flying SOFIA platform with open backdoor to watch the night sky. Image (c) Nasa Molecules vibrate in the infrared (ir) range of the electromagnetic 'light' spectrum. Sadly enough, earth's atmosphere is filtering most of the ir light from distant stars and galaxies by its own vibrating gas molecules, mostly water. Hence, you have to lift an ir telescope above the atmosphere to get a clear ir view - by a balloon, a satellite, or an airplane. Image (c) Nasa.

Nasa and the German aerospace center, DLR, planned and built over more than a decade the SOFIA platform - a refurbished Jumbo 747SP. The plane is more then 30 years old. In the back, a 2.7 ton telescope is built-in. During night flights scientists may open some kind of back door to watch the ir sky. Operating altitude is about 13 to 14 kilometers at a speed around 800 km/h.

On Monday the 747SP touched down at Stuttgart airport. I checked in for a visit, talking to some of the scientists.

Jürgen Stutzki of Cologne University (Universität zu Köln) just came on a SOFIA over-night flight to Germany. During the measurement he and his team aligned the telescope to star forming discs picking up signals from small molecules like H-C.

The most impressive quote did Hans-Peter Röser, the German mastermind behind the SOFIA project and scientist at Stuttgart University: "The task of SOFIA is like speeding up a Porsche to 200 km/h and touching a coin with a laser pointer in a distance of 60 km."

Links:
The German SOFIA institute at Stuttgart University www.dsi.uni-stuttgart.de
A colleague's report from the flight from California to Germany www.spiegel.de

The following picture goes inside the 747SP showing the desk of the principal scientific investigator (PI), laptops and far right and blueish the sealed circular telescope box. Image (c) martin
<img alt="Inside the 747SP: Laptops and the telescope box. Image (c) martin
" style="" title="Inside the 747SP: Laptops and the telescope box. Image (c) martin_" src="antville.org" />

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