Flying Telescope for Studing “Occultation” of Pluto

The telescope, called the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), is a 100-inch (2.5-meter) reflecting instrument mounted on a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft. Astronomers used the flying observatoary’s mobility to position itself in the right place and time to catch a so-called “occultation” of Pluto, when the dwarf planet passed in front of a distant star, and its shadow hit a specific location on Earth This observation allowed scientists to learn new details about Pluto and its moons. According to Ted Dunham of the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Ariz, occultations give the ability to measure pressure, density, and temperature profiles of Pluto’s atmosphere without leaving  the Earth.  

Because   the   scientists were able to  maneuver SOFIA so close to the center of the occultation they observed an extended, small, but distinct brightening near the middle of the occultation. This change will allow to probe Pluto’s atmosphere at lower altitudes than is usually possible with stellar occultations.