SOFIA comes to MoffettLocal residents wondered what an enormous jumbo jet was doing flying so low over Mountain View on Monday, trailed by an FA-18 fighter jet.
It was the new pride of NASA: a Boeing 747 fitted with a 20-ton, 100-inch infrared telescope in the fuselage that can see from high altitudes — as high as 45,000 feet — what telescopes cannot see from the ground.
Scientists hope the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, will help answer "many fundamental questions about the creation and evolution of the universe, including how stars and planets are formed, how organic materials necessary for life form and evolve, and the nature of the black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy," according to NASA's Web site.
NASA plans to have the plane in regular service by 2010.
— Daniel DeBolt