Early Science With SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy
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The Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is an airborne observatory consisting of a specially modified Boeing 747SP with a 2.7 m telescope, flying at altitudes as high as 13.7 km (45,000 ft). Designed to observe at wavelengths from 0.3 mu m to 1.6 mm, SOFIA operates above 99.8% of the water vapor that obscures much of the infrared and submillimeter. SOFIA has seven science instruments under development, including an occultation photometer, near-, mid-, and far-infrared cameras, infrared spectrometers, and heterodyne receivers. SOFIA, a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft und-Raumfahrt, began initial science flights in 2010 December, and has conducted 30 science flights in the subsequent year. During this early science period three instruments have flown: the mid- infrared camera FORCAST, the heterodyne spectrometer GREAT, and the occultation photometer HIPO. This Letter provides an overview of the observatory and its early performance.