SOFIA is an 80/20 partnership of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), consisting of an extensively modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a 2.7-meter (106 inch) reflecting telescope (with an effective diameter of 2.5 meters or 100 inches). The aircraft is based at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, Calif. The SOFIA Program Office is at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., which manages SOFIA's science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA; Columbia, Md.) and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI; University of Stuttgart).

SOFIA Makes First Detection of Heavy Oxygen in Earth’s Upper Atmosphere

Illustration showing the layers of Earth's atmosphere with the positions of the SOFIA aircraft and the two Oxygen 18 and Oxygen 16 molecules

by Anashe Bandari

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) made the first-ever measurement of heavy atomic oxygen in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Heavy oxygen is so called because it has 10 neutrons, rather than the normal eight of “main” oxygen, the form we breathe.

Renditions of Moon region observed with SOFIA and water and continuum emissions

(a) Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Wide Angle Camera image of the southern limb of the Moon, oriented with the celestial pole at the top as appropriate for 2022 February 17, with lunar coordinate grid overlaid and an outline of the region observed with SOFIA (blue lines). (b) Color rendition of SOFIA water and continuum emission. The color image combines the 6 micron continuum surface brightness (green) and the 6 micron water feature strength (blue). The diagonal empty regions on the water image mask a partially transparent defect on the surface of the detector that leads to significantly higher noise. (c) The 6 µm continuum surface brightness in Jy/pixel. (d) The 6 micron integrated water band strength, W. Credit: Reach et al., 2023

More information.