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First public open day for NASA’s flying telescope SOFIA

The Christchurch public have their first chance to step aboard the incredible SOFIA flying telescope on Saturday 20 July, as she settles into two months of overnight missions.

NASA and German Aerospace Center’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) aircraft
arrived on Sunday, 1 June, for ten weeks of exploring the solar system and beyond from their winter base in the city of exploration.

SOFIA’s 130-strong crew is currently stationed in Christchurch to conduct more than 30 overnight missions flying to altitudes as high as 45,000 feet. It is the sixth time the observatory has made Christchurch its home away
from home.

The only Christchurch public open day will welcome a limited number of interested guests on 20 July, from 11am to 3pm. The event is a partnership between The Antarctic Office, ChristchurchNZ, Christchurch Airport, NASA, the German Aerospace Center, National Science Foundation, U.S. Antarctic Program, RNZAF and the United States Embassy of New Zealand.

“For years the people of Christchurch have been such great hosts to the US Antarctic Program. Now SOFIA, another great example of international scientific cooperation, has come to town. This open day is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see inside a NASA aircraft—an aircraft which also happens to be the largest airborne observatory in the world,” said U.S. Ambassador Scott Brown.

“SOFIA is a true representation of Christchurch’s spirit of exploration, and we are thrilled to welcome her to our city again,” said David Kennedy, head of The Antarctic Office. “We are delighted SOFIA will open her doors to the Christchurch public for the first time here.

“Early Antarctic explorers used Christchurch as a base for their expeditions, which included major scientific projects. No doubt they would approve of SOFIA using Christchurch as their base for this most-modern version of extreme exploration.”

Kennedy said SOFIA and her team flying “one of the world’s most unique aircraft and scientific instruments” contributes significantly to the visitor economy of the city during their two months’ stay down under.

The open day is free but ticketed. All those interested must register via Eventbrite. Tickets are strictly limited and will be released in three batches, to ensure as many people as possible have a chance to visit:
• Friday, 14th June, 10am
• Saturday, 22nd June, 10am
• Monday, 1st July, 8pm

SOFIA is a working observatory and an advanced piece of scientific equipment. For those reasons, NASA/DLR requirements dictate visitors must be 10 years old and over, hold a valid ticket procured through Eventbrite, and present photo ID. Those between 10 and 18 years old must be accompanied by a responsible adult who has photo ID. Due to the nature of the aircraft, visitors must be able to climb 25 stairs unaided.


SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a Boeing 747SP aircraft modified to carry a 2.7-meter (106-inch) reflecting telescope (with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters or 100 inches). Flying into the stratosphere at 38,000-45,000 feet puts SOFIA above 99 percent of Earth’s infrared-blocking atmosphere, allowing astronomers to study the solar system and beyond in ways that are not possible with ground-based telescopes. SOFIA is made possible through a partnership between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

During 10-hour overnight flights, SOFIA observes the solar system and beyond at mid- and far-infrared wavelengths gathering data to study:
• Starbirthand death
• Formation ofnew solar systems
• Identification ofcomplex molecules in space
Planets,cometsandasteroidsin our solar system
• Celestialmagnetic fields
Black holesat the centre of galaxies

Sign up here for tickets.

© Scoop Media

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