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Nasa gets ready for take off from Christchurch

Thewinter-chasing researchers from the world’s biggest area organisation are getting ready for take off in their flying observatory.

Nasa’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia), an extremely customized jetliner bring a big internal telescope, gotten here in Christchurch from Honolulu the other day and on Monday will skyrocket high into the stratosphere to observe the otherwise unobservable universe.

Forthe next 2 months, a team of some 125 researchers, specialists, mechanics and astronomers will be based at the United States National Science Foundation’s Antarctic
Programmecenter at Christchurch InternationalAirport It is the 4th journey to Christchurch for Sofia.

Theairplane, a Boeing 747 SP integrated in the late 70 s as a Pan Am guest aircraft, has actually had numerous seats eliminated and rather has actually been fitted with a huge gyro-stabilised, highly-sensitive 2.7m-diameter telescope.


Thismakes observations that are difficult for even the biggest and greatest of ground-based telescopes as the aircraft flies at an elevation of 12-14km, which puts it above 99 percent of the Earth’s infrared-blocking water vapour layer.

Projectresearcher Kimberly Ennico Smith, an astrophysicist, will be amongst the 20- strong team to in fact be on board for a few of the 25 objectives.

“In your winter the water vapour in the atmosphere drops down pretty low so it’s extremely clear here,”she stated, in spite of the truth that much of the nation has actually been filled in rain today.

“It’s fascinating, it is really cool because you’re actually looking at things that no-one else can see and we’re looking at these wavelengths that our eyes can’t see so we are really peering into the universe with new eyes.”

Sofia’s objectives are deeply intricate and extremely diverse.

“As an observatory that allows us to study the universe in the infra-red we can see the fundamental makeup of our universe. In a sense we’re viewing our molecular universe, our cosmic origin,”Ennico Smith stated.

“We’re studying the life process of stars – from their birth to their death and whenever between and possibly even their pre-birth, which is a huge secret. We still have no idea how stars are formed.

“Particularly at this time of year and from these southern latitudes we can see the centre of the Milky Way. We can also study the Magellanic Clouds which you cannot see from up north.”

Lastyear, Heraldpress reporter Kurt Bayer got the unusual possibility to sign up with Sofiaon of its objectives.


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