© Nicolas BAKER/IRAP/NASA/CNRS Photothèque
Aircraft take-off observation area at the end of the runway at Palmdale, California. The Boeing 747 SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), equipped with a telescope whose mirror measures 2.5 m in diameter, is based at Palmdale. This NASA aircraft was converted into a flying observatory. It 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. A map of Orion will thus be produced to characterise the dynamics of gases from observations of carbon ion emissions, very abundant in regions of star formation. Twenty flights, each lasting some ten hours, will be needed to produce this map. SOFIA is equipped with the GREAT instrument, which converts the light collected by the telescope into scientific data.