U.S.-German Observatory Sees 'first Light'

WASHINGTON, June 1 (UPI) — NASA says its Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy made its first in-flight night observations.

The German-built observatory, a joint project with the German Aerospace Center, saw “first light” Wednesday, beginning its 20-year mission, NASA said.

The infrared observatory is based in a Boeing 747 aircraft that was modified to carry the 100-inch reflecting telescope that’s designed for infrared observations at an approximate altitude of 41,000 feet — above most of the Earth’s water vapor that blocks some infrared wavelengths.

“Wind tunnel tests and supercomputer calculations made at the start of the SOFIA program predicted we would have sharp enough images for front-line astronomical research,” said SOFIA project scientist Pam Marcum of NASA’s Ames Research Center. “A preliminary look at the first light data indicates we indeed accomplished that.”

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