NASA says goodbye to SOFIA, the plane-telescope that confirmed the existence of water on the Moon

NASA  and DLR will suspend SOFIA operations  in September 2022.


NASA and its German counterpart, DLR , have decided to suspend the flight operations of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy ( SOFIA ) in September this year.

The scientific data acquired by SOFIA is available in the NASA archives to astronomers around the world. The Boeing 747 SP, which has been converted into an infrared astronomy observatory, completed its five-year primary mission in 2019 and has been extended for another three years until 2022, the DLR said in a statement.

Germany supplied the world’s only 2.7-meter airborne telescope, which was built into the fuselage of SOFIA , and has contributed 20% of the operating costs. In exchange, groups of scientists from Germany were assigned about 30 science flights a year. NASA purchased the second-hand Boeing 747 and converted it for the telescope facility . NASA also operates the observatory from Palmdale in California, the home base for SOFIA .

A long scientific history

SOFIA has made approximately 100 science flights a year since 2014. During these flights, astronomical objects were observed, mainly in the Milky Way . The infrared observatory specializes in observations in the far infrared. It makes contributions to address questions of astrochemistry and astrophysics in particular. The first molecule to form in the Universe almost 14 billion years ago, helium hydride, was first detected using SOFIA in 2019.

This detection was achieved using the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT) instrument, which was developed by the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, the University of Cologne, and the DLR Institute for Optical Sensor Systems in Berlin.

SOFIA has also explored how galaxies evolve and how stars and planetary systems form from interstellar dust clouds and molecules. This was made possible by the special telescope developed and manufactured in Germany, which has a diameter of 2.7 meters and weighs 17 tons. SOFIA can use six different scientific instruments, three of which were developed in Germany: two far-infrared instruments and one optical instrument.

The airborne observatory is stationed in Palmdale, California, from where it conducts most of its observation flights. However, it has also been used for astronomical observations around the world, most recently from Chile in March 2022 and from Cologne in March 2021. For observations of astronomical objects in the southern sky, SOFIA has also been operated from Christchurch in New Zealand.

In 2020, NASA confirmed the presence of water on the Moon , thanks to its plane-telescope With information from Europa Press )