US-German Flying Observatory Sees 'First Light'

PALMDALE, Calif. -- A new U.S.-German infrared observatory mounted in a jumbo jet has made its first in-flight night observations.

NASA said Friday that the highly modified Boeing 747SP jetliner carrying the 100-inch-diameter telescope achieved the milestone on May 26 during a six-hour flight from its base in Palmdale, Calif.

The joint NASA and German Aerospace Center project is called the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA for short.

It will allow observations at altitudes above most of the atmospheric water vapor that plagues ground-based telescopes.

NASA says the stability and precision pointing of the German-built telescope met or exceeded expectations.

Images from the flight showed Jupiter with heat pouring out from its interior through holes in its clouds.

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