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One of the world's most advanced telescopes in Christchurch on special mission

One of the world's most advanced telescopes has spent the last month in Christchurch as part of a special mission.

SOFIA, or the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is an observatory sitting at 40,000 feet as part of a German and US effort to better understand the depths of our universe.

David McAllister, SOFIA's deputy program manager, says the telescope must be "as high as possible, above the atmosphere so we can observe in infrared".

Housed inside a heavily-modified 747 aircraft, the 15-tonne telescope lets scientists from NASA and the German aerospace centre take a peek into neighbouring galaxies.

"We're looking beyond our galaxy and it's telling us a lot about our galaxy," Mr McAllister said. 

"Most of what we're looking at is how these stars form and how they die and what happens in between."

SOFIA could also help map the lifecycle of our own star.

"Our galaxy is a little older and we can look at galaxies far away where new things are happening, stars are forming and stars are dying."

At 40,000 feet, SOFIA more than doubles the height of any other observatory, meaning there is far less interference when looking to the stars.

"The conditions at the altitude are just perfect down here in the southern hemisphere. It allows us to really capture targets that we can't see in the northern hemisphere."

The Sofia telescope is part of a German and American effort to better understand the depths of our universe. Source: 1 NEWS