astroengine writes "The flying telescope SOFIA took its maiden flight on Wednesday, and its 'first light' images have already been released. The cool thing about SOFIA is that it flies high enough (integrated inside a converted 747, taking it to an altitude of 41,000 ft) to carry it above 99% of the atmosphere's infrared-absorbing water vapor. This means it can collect 80% of the IR radiation that hits orbital telescopes (like NASA's Spitzer) but without the huge cost of being launched into space. Also, SOFIA is expected to last 20 years, many times the operational lifespan of space missions. Already, SOFIA has returned stunning results, including the observation of heat leaking through Jupiter's clouds, heat that was generated billions of years ago when the gas giant was forming."
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