9 Jul 2017

Nasa's Sofia to take to the skies again

8:22 pm on 9 July 2017

NASA's airborne observatory will be departing Christchurch tomorrow for an important mission, helping the New Horizons space probe.

SOFIA will complete 28 flight observation missions during its deployment in Christchurch.

SOFIA will complete 28 flight observation missions during its deployment in Christchurch. Photo: RNZ / Maja Burry

MU69, a planetary remnant beyond Pluto, will become the farthest object ever encountered by any spacecraft in 2019, when the New Horizons probe races past it.

The airborne observatory called Sofia, which is a converted jumbo-jet with a huge 2.5m telescope inside, will be taking off from its base in Christchurch tomorrow night to observe MU69.

Sofia's project leader, Kimberly Ennico Smith, said it would be taking measurements of the rocky formation to help scientists plan the fly-by.

Dr Ennico Smith said America's space agency is investigating whether there are any hazards, such as rings of dust or satellite objects, orbiting MU69.

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