Science and Exploration

SOFIA Captures Pluto Occultation

By Marc Boucher
Status Report
July 28, 2015
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SOFIA Captures Pluto Occultation
SOFIA Captures Pluto Occultation

It is no easy task to capture the shadow of Pluto as it travels across the surface of Earth at more than 53,000 mph–but that is exactly what NASA scientists and flight crew did on the night of June 29, 2015.
In a true team effort, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy or SOFIA’s infrared telescope successfully observed the dwarf planet as it passed in front of a distant star. This event, known as an “occultation,” allowed scientific analysis of Pluto and its atmosphere by flying SOFIA at the right moment to an exact location where Pluto’s shadow fell on Earth. This video shows the careful planning and real time adaption of the observatory’s flight path leading up to observation, and highlights the data’s contributions to the New Horizons mission.

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California is home to the SOFIA Science Center that is managed by NASA in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart.

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