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Intersection: Space, Stars, And Telescopes

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NASA's SOFIA observatory at Daytona International Airport. Photo: Brendan Byrne

When it comes to taking a clear picture of the sky it helps to be isolated. That’s why astronomers have telescopes in remote locations away from light pollution and at a high altitude.

But sometimes ground based telescopes aren’t enough. There’s a handful of space-based telescopes, but resources on those machines are limited. Somewhere in the middle is SOFIA, which is a modified 747-SP jumbo jet that hauls an 8-foot telescope into the stratosphere.

So what’s it like to fly on an aerial observatory? And what can astronomers learn from these images?

Brendan Byrne, 90.7’s space reporter, Dan Batcheldor, the head of Physics at Florida Tech who is at Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope in the Canary Islands joined Intersection to talk about telescopes and SOFIA.

Byrne flew on SOFIA on its first mission from Florida. After taking off from the Daytona Beach International Airport, a door opens up and allows the telescope to make observations. Byrne said the telescope is held down with bearings to keep it pointed at the stars.

“You can see the telescope and it’s kind of moving around and jostling about and then you realize the telescope isn’t moving at all its actually us inside the plane,” he said.

“This telescope is on pin point bearings that keep it perfectly pointed at the stars, it is really fascinating to see.”

Batcheldor said the best place to view the stars through observatories are places that are high, dry and dark.

“When you’re high you are looking through much less of the earth’s atmosphere it produces the twinkle in the stars, a lot of times you’re above the weather and when you’re out in the middle of the ocean there’s very few people living here,” he said.

“These islands are very steep so the light pollution is very very low and so the sky is incredible dark and when we have moonless nights it’s absolutely breathtaking.”

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