In this documentary learn about SOFIA, a device that is much more than a telescope tucked into a commercial airliner. Eric Young, Director of the SOFIA Science Center explains that it’s a complete flying astronomical observation platform which carries a dozen or more astronomers, observers, and crew far above the clouds to observe objects and phenomena too cold to be seen in visible light.
SOFIA stands for Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, and on the outside she looks a lot like a regular passenger airplane. a telescope was placed in the plane because there are parts of the spectrum which are completely blocked in the Earth’s atmosphere. This is primarily in the infrared part of the spectrum and that’s basically the heat radiation that’s coming from objects.
There’s a lot of material in the universe like dust, planets like Earth, clouds in the sky that are too cold to normally emit invisible light. By looking at the infrared, scientists are able to sense them and measure their properties.
Scientists aboard SOFIA travel in the stratosphere, where the stars don’t twinkle. By the way, the reasons we see stars twinkling on Earth is due to turbulence in the troposphere.
Although there’s no coffeemaker on board SOFIA, astronomers have no trouble staying awake all night.