Scientists in Flying Telescope Race to Intercept Pluto’s Shadow
As a spacecraft nears Pluto, NASA's airborne observatory flew over New Zealand to catch a rare passage of the dwarf planet in front of a distant star.
Christchurch, New ZealandThe Boeing 747’s engines roared to life a few minutes after 10 p.m. Monday, blades slicing through the frigid winter air. It was time to rise above the clouds to see Pluto slide across the face of a distant star—a rare celestial alignment that scientists around the world had been anticipating for years.
As the plane hurtled down the runway, the plucky bass and rumbling baritone of Johnny Cash singing “I Walk the Line” filled the communications headsets.
“Have a good flight, and good luck,” came the message from air traffic control.
The lights of Christchurch, New Zealand fell away, and scientists on board the flying telescope—the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)—quickly got to work. For the next eight hours,