The SOFIA flying observatory is over

Die NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have announced the end of the SOFIA flying observatory. The operation of Sthe tratosphere OObservatory for Infrarot Atronomy will be discontinued in September 2022.

In a converted Boeing 747SP was that 2.7-meter telescope about the Troposphere brought into 12 to 14 kilometers high. As a result, observations were in the distant future infrared range possible, which would otherwise be filtered out by the large proportion of water vapor from this part of the earth’s atmosphere.

water on the moon

The community project began 2010since 2014 it is fully functional. Since then, around 100 scientific flights carried out, total were there 800.

A significant discovery in 2020 was the Detection of water molecules on the terrestrial side of the moon (futurezone reported). SOFIA also studied how galaxies develop and how stars and planets form from interstellar dust clouds. In 2019, astronomers were able to do this for the first time with data from the telescope Helium hydride molecule prove in space. It is one of the building blocks of the early Universe.

Not relevant enough

Now turn off the money tap on the telescope. In 2020, a study was commissioned to evaluate whether the operation of SOFIA should be extended (click here for the Decadal Survey). The scientists came to the conclusion that the high operating costs are not justified.

Only 178 studies were written with the help of SOFIA until 2020. They have also not been cited often enough to have any real impact on scientific progress, she concludes National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The comparable ESA telescope Herschel brought in the first 6 years 900 studies out.

As expensive as Hubble

The operation of the telescope is complex and only a fraction of the time spent on flights and maintenance can actually be used for scientific work. NASA is with $86 million a year involved, which corresponds to 80 percent of the costs. Germany was involved with 20 percent.

Total have been made for the flying observatory so far $1.5 billion issued. So the costs are comparable to Hubble and Chandra. However, the scientific results from SOFIA would not justify this output and there would be no scenario in which the productivity of the telescope could be improved. So will SOFIA starting 30. September 2022 permanently discontinued.

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