By sending an infrared telescope to altitudes of 12,000 meters (40,000 feet) and higher, NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) conduct astronomical research that would be impossible using telescopes based on Earth. The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy—SOFIA—is the only airborne telescope in the world. Infrared imaging of stars and planets is difficult from ground-based observatories, because water vapor in Earth’s lower atmosphere blocks most infrared radiation. SOFIA operates from a modified Boeing 747, soaring high above occluding vapor to capture infrared emissions from distant galaxies. Using instruments that include a high-speed imager and a sensitive far-infrared spectrometer, SOFIA will provide insights into distant star formation, the chemical composition of deep space, and the atmospheres of planets within our own solar system.

Science Bulletins is a production of the National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology (NCSLET), part of the Department of Education at the American Museum of Natural History. Find out more about Science Bulletins at

Related Links

SOFIA Science Center

NASA Mission Pages: SOFIA

Ames Research Center

Deutsches SOFIA Institut

German Aerospace Center (DLR)

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