As NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft embarked on its final flight on Thursday, the US space agency shared a small breathtaking collection of some of the cosmic imagery assembled using SOFIA data. Taking to Instagram, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration informed that the SOFIA Telescope, the world's largest airborne telescope which is housed and flown in a modified Boeing 747 aircraft, has flown 921 flights since 2010.
The flying telescope has taken off with groups of astronomers aboard on round trips, and it has racked up numerous air miles in the name of science. "Cruising at nearly 41,000 ft (12,500 m) in the dark of night and twilight of morning, SOFIA has taken breathtaking observations of a plethora of celestial objects," NASA wrote in the caption.
Take a look below:
In the post, the US space agency explained that the first image is of Centaurus A - a galaxy with orange and dark red dust lanes comprising a centre column and a faint shell of blue along its outskirts. The second post shows a 3D view of the Orion Nebula, which reveals the detailed structure of the nebula, including a "bubble" that has been blown clear of gas and dust by a powerful stellar wind.
The third image is of the Cigar Galaxy. "Red streamlines follow outflows caused by an intense nuclear starburst. Around the centre, a ring of starlight appears grey with hints of hydrogen appearing in red and dust in yellow," NASA wrote. Further, the space agency informed that while the fourth image shows the Omega Nebula, the fifth picture shows the SOFIA mission flying into the sunset.
SOFIA, for which NASA partnered with the German space agency (DLR), is a flying observatory. The SOFIA mission began development in 1996. It had its first flight in 2010, however, achieved full operational capability in 2014. In 2020, the flying observatory even assisted in the discovery of water on the sunlit surface of the Moon.
SOFIA had a very interesting 2022 as well. In August, the SOFIA telescope discovered more water on the Moon's surface. The team found water in the Moretus Crater region, which is close to the Moon's Clavius Crater, where the original findings were made.