The world’s largest flying observatory is back in New Zealand to study star formations in the Southern Hemisphere.
The California-based Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (Sofia) has arrived in Christchurch. It will be based there for about seven weeks.
Sofia’s crew of scientists, astronomers, mechanics and technicians will use the US National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Programme facility at Christchurch International Airport.
Sofia carries a 2.5m telescope inside a Boeing 747SP jetliner to observe the cosmos at infrared wavelengths.
The Boeing jetliner with a telescope on board has been in Christchurch before for several seasons of night-flying missions.
These observations are not possible from the ground, because water vapour in earth’s atmosphere absorbs almost all the infrared light before it reaches the ground’s surface.
Sofia flies above most of this water vapour and carries some of the world’s most powerful instruments not currently available on space-based observatories.