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NASA’s flying telescope is coming to the end of its mission but leaves a strong science legacy

Most telescopes here on Earth are stationary, bound to a single location, often in a desert or on a mountain peak. But NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) isn’t most telescopes.

SOFIA, for which NASA partnered with the German space agency (DLR), is a flying observatory. More specifically, it’s a Boeing 747SP aircraft with a massive hole in its size, through which a 106-inch (2.7-meter) telescope takes in infrared views of the universe. SOFIA’s 10-hour flights at 38,000 to 45,000 feet (about 11,500 to 13,700 meters) meant its instruments had to observe through much less of Earth’s atmosphere, which blocks infrared light.

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