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SOFIA Observes our Hot and Cloudy Twin Venus’s Atmosphere


Published on: January 26, 2022,

SOFIA recently completed a new set of observations of Venus to study its chemical compositions. It was particularly challenging as Venus was in tricky part of the sky to observe. Moreover the sun was about to set. SOFIA could only open the door to telescope while the sun is above the horizon. Sun could cause damage to the telescope.


The planning and preparations for observing Venus began more than two months before the flights. The crew was trained by the telescope engineers on the exact directions that would be safe to fly with the door before the Sun went down. Also the exact time sun sets is different depending on the altitude.


Weather and barometric pressure can change the density of the atmosphere. The flight planners of SOFIA designed and timed the delicate dance of the Venus observing the Sun. Everyone on the flight carefully monitored the sky to the green flash a phenomenon that indicates the Sun has set over the horizon. Once the Sun was down the pilots turned the aircraft so SOFIA could observe Venus.


SOFIA started off the night before sunset by opening the upper rigid door which recently went through a special maintenance period so SOFIA could observe Jupiter 90 degrees away from the setting Sun in the sky. One of the goals of the observations was to address recent reports of phosphine on Venus. Due to higher sensitivities SOFIA and the Great instrument will be able to set a strict upper limit to Venus’s phosphine abundance. Now the Venus was observed the team of scientists will begin the creative processes of reducing and analyzing the data. We look forward to learning the results of their work.



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