© Nicolas BAKER/IRAP/NASA/CNRS Photothèque
Scientists on a mission aboard a Boeing 747 SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy). SOFIA is equipped with a telescope whose mirror measures 2.5 m in diameter. This NASA flying observatory, based in Palmdale California, flies by night at high altitude (up to approximately 14 km) to observe the stars in infrared from the stratosphere. During this mission in February 2017, SOFIA enabled observation of the Orion Nebula, the region nearest to the solar system in which massive stars form. On board, a dozen people ensure the smooth conduct of observations: telescope operators, scientists who check data quality in real time and operators of the GREAT instrument that converts the light collected by the telescope into scientific data. A map of Orion will thus be produced to characterise the dynamics of gases, in particular carbon, involved in star formation.