SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory to stop working

NASA and the German Center for Aviation and Astronautics (DLR) have published a joint statement on the decision to close SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory project (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy). Its operation will be completed by September 30, 2022.

History of SOFIA Observatory

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and DLR (it owns 20% of the telescope’s working time). The observatory is a Boeing 747 SP aircraft, on board of which there is a 2.5-meter reflector telescope designed for observations in the infrared part of the spectrum. The working altitude of its flight is 13 – 14 km. This is higher than the bulk of water vapor in the earth’s atmosphere, absorbing infrared radiation. Due to this, about 85% of this spectral range is available to the observatory.

SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory. Source: NASA

The observatory first took to the air in 2010. During its work, it has completed many studies. SOFIA studied regions of active star formation, supernova remnants and the center of the Milky Way, searched for black holes, and was also used to observe some objects of the Solar System. In particular, SOFIA investigated the atmosphere of Mars, conducted chemical analysis of comet tails and found traces of water on the sunlit areas of the lunar surface. The main scientific program of the observatory was completed in 2019, after which it was extended for another three years.

Project End

NASA has been considering stopping SOFIA for the past few years. This was due to its high operating costs. NASA spent about USD 85 million a year to maintain the observatory. This is more than the cost of any other astrophysical mission of the aerospace administration, except for the Hubble telescope.

SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory. Source: NASA/Tom Tschida

The decade review in the field of astrophysics published at the end of last year was a decisive factor. The authors of the document also recommended that the observatory be discontinued due to too high costs and its limited scientific productivity. In addition, they noted that the James Webb telescope can take over all the functions of SOFIA.

As a result, NASA and DLR decided to complete the operation of SOFIA. The scientific data collected by the observatory will be freely available in the NASA archive, and astronomers from all over the world will be able to use them.

According to

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