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The 6 coolest discoveries made by NASA’s Boeing 747 “SOFIA”

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Last month marked the end of an era when NASA’s Boeing 747SP, registration N747NA, made its final flight. The mission of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has come to an end. The program began development in 1996 and made its first flight in 2010 before starting regular missions in 2014. Over the years it has made groundbreaking discoveries.


With an aviation history dating back to Pan American in 1977 and recent activities such as the discovery of more water in the Moon’s southern hemisphere, the 747 has had a successful journey over the decades. Here’s a look at six discoveries made during NASA’s program.

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6/6 Colliding exoplanets

SOFIA observed that the infrared luminosity of debris from the collision between rocky exoplanets to form the BD+20307 double star system increased by more than 10%. This means that the collision happened relatively recently and a similar event nearby could have produced Earth’s Moon.

A concept of rocky exoplanets colliding. Photo: NASA

5/6 supernova impact

SOFIA has seen that a supernova explosion can give way to a massive amount of material that can cause planets to form. Dust can survive obliteration in a supernova, and that dust can last long enough to form thousands of planets.

A graphic of a supernova explosion. Photo: NASA

4/6 Magnetic field information

SOFIA helped reveal crucial information about magnetic fields during his tenure. One point he helped discover was that magnetic fields could be active black holes. In addition, they can also keep the Milky Way black hole silent with other galaxies consuming material.

3/6 Birth of massive stars

Capturing a new view of the center of the Milky Way not only created breathtaking images, but also unveiled high-resolution detail in dense swirls of gas and dust. This, in turn, has opened up new insights into how massive stars form.

This composite infrared image spans more than 600 light-years. Photo: NASA

2/6 Familiar neighbor

The star Epsilon Eridani, also known as eps Eri, 18 Eri and HD 22049, is positioned 10.5 light years away in the constellation Eridanus. We can also see it in the night sky from Earth. SOFIA analyzed the infrared glow from its hot dust and concluded that the planetary system has a structure similar to our own solar system.

1/6 The first type of molecule

In April 2019, NASA announced that the universe’s first kind of molecule had finally been found. The SOFIA team shared that the molecule formed just 100,000 years after the Big Bang “as the first step in cosmic evolution.” SOFIA discovered it in a planetary nebula called NGC 7027.

This finding is the perfect way to sum up the impact that SOFIA has had. It managed to find information about our beginnings billions of years ago during its relatively short period of action.

What do you think of NASA’s SOFIA operations? What do you think of these discoveries and the end of the program? Let us know what you think of the Boeing 747 story in the comments section.