What’s inside the world’s biggest airborne observatory?

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s SOFIA!
By | Published: December 9, 2016 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy 747SP aircraft
NASA/Jim Ross

Created from a Boeing 747SP aircraft, NASA’S Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is the largest flying observatory in the world.


It has a 100-inch (2.5 meter) diameter reflecting telescope that helps astronomers study all kinds of celestial objects and phenomena, such as star births, formations of new star systems, black holes, and more using infrared wavelengths. SOFIA’s cameras, spectrometers, and photometers all operate in infrared wavelengths, which allows scientists on board study the solar system.

SOFIA will soon take on a mission to study Neptune’s moon, Triton, after Hubble’s water plume sighting on Europa. Data from the 1989 Neptune flyby showed some evidence of geyser activity on Triton.

There are plans for a 2017 observing campaign for SOFIA. Half of that time will be used to study comets and asteroids orbiting other stars and supermassive black holes, while the other half will study star formation and interstellar medium.

Learn more about the observatory below.