Flying NASA telescope in Christchurch skies

A NASA telescope will be scanning the skies above Christchurch for the next few weeks — flying 12km up in the air, mounted in the back of a modified Boeing 747.

 SOFIANASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is the world’s largest airborne astronomical observatory, complementing NASA’s space telescopes as well as major Earth-based telescopes.

The observatory is in Christchurch for the next three weeks to capture data from the southern skies. Information gathered by the observatory can offer insight into the composition and structure of comets, planetary atmospheres and rings and star formation.

SOFIA features a German-built far-infrared telescope with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters. The telescope weighs 19 tons and is mounted in the rear fuselage of a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft.

The presence of the airborne telescope in Christchurch has caught the attention of New Zealand media. Coverage includes:

Radio NZ: Space telescope venture to use Christchurch as base Nasa Plane Ready to Explore Christchurch Skies
TVNZ News: World’s largest flying observatory touches down in NZ
3 News: NASA plane visits Christchurch