The Jumbo Jet NASA Turned Into a Telescope


Sofia isn't your ordinary Boeing 747. Sofia, or Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is co-owned by NASA and Germany's space agency DLR and has been transformed into a flying, infrared telescope.

A 16-by-23-foot hole was cut in the fuselage to place the telescope, which is fitted with gyroscopes and precision bearings to keep it locked on its target, even during turbulence.

"You might think that this is insanity or a crazy idea. We ran into so many problems," said Eric Becklin, chief science adviser for Sofia. "The door had to work just right and it took years for that door to be right. But once we got it working, we were getting results that can't be done any other way at this point."

Now, the plane flies all around the world and high into the stratosphere to give Sofia a look out into space. Its infrared light view gives NASA an up-close look at things like the clouds of gas that will one day form new stars.

Sofia has also shown NASA a close look at the atmosphere of Pluto and looked at a black hole in the middle of the Milky Way galaxy.

To learn more, check out the video below from Wired