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Topic: NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy

NASA’s SOFIA finds Water on the Moon

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has confirmed, for the first time, water on the sunlit surface of the Moon. This discovery indicates that water may be distributed across the lunar surface, and not limited to cold, shadowed places.

SOFIA has detected water molecules (H2O) in Clavius Crater, one of the largest craters visible from Earth, located in the Moon’s southern hemisphere. Previous observations of the Moon’s surface detected some form of hydrogen, but were unable to distinguish between water and its close chemical relative, hydroxyl (OH).

This illustration highlights the Moon’s Clavius Crater with an illustration depicting water trapped in the lunar soil there, along with an image of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) that found sunlit lunar water. (NASA/Daniel Rutter)

This illustration highlights the Moon’s Clavius Crater with an illustration depicting water trapped in the lunar soil there, along with an image of NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) that found sunlit lunar water. (NASA/Daniel Rutter)

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NASA says Massive Stars Are Factories for Ingredients to Life

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA’s telescope on an airplane, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, has provided a new glimpse of the chemistry in the inner region surrounding massive young stars where future planets could begin to form.

It found massive quantities of water and organic molecules in these swirling, disk-shaped clouds, offering new insights into how some of the key ingredients of life get incorporated into planets during the earliest stages of formation.

Illustration of a dusty disc rotating around a massive newborn star that’s about 40 times the size of the Sun. SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, found the inner regions of two of these kinds of discs are filled with organic molecules that are important for life as we know it. These include water, ammonia, methane, and acetylene — which is a chemical building block to larger and more complex organic molecules — illustrated in the call out. (NASA / Ames Research Center / Daniel Rutter)

Illustration of a dusty disc rotating around a massive newborn star that’s about 40 times the size of the Sun. SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, found the inner regions of two of these kinds of discs are filled with organic molecules that are important for life as we know it. These include water, ammonia, methane, and acetylene — which is a chemical building block to larger and more complex organic molecules — illustrated in the call out. (NASA / Ames Research Center / Daniel Rutter)

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NASA’s SOFIA Telescope observes Magnetic Fields affecting Middle of Milky Way Galaxy

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – The area around the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy is dominated by gravity, but it’s not the only force at play. According to new research from NASA’s airborne telescope, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, magnetic fields may be strong enough to control material moving around the black hole. 

The research, presented this week at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society, could help answer longstanding mysteries about why our black hole is relatively quiet compared to others, and why the formation of new stars in our galaxy’s core is lower than expected. 

A composite image of the central region of our Milky Way galaxy, known as Sagittarius A. SOFIA found that magnetic fields, shown as streamlines, are strong enough to control the material moving around the black hole, even in the presence of enormous gravitational forces. (NASA/SOFIA/L. Proudfit; ESA/Herschel; Hubble Space Telescope)

A composite image of the central region of our Milky Way galaxy, known as Sagittarius A. SOFIA found that magnetic fields, shown as streamlines, are strong enough to control the material moving around the black hole, even in the presence of enormous gravitational forces. (NASA/SOFIA/L. Proudfit; ESA/Herschel; Hubble Space Telescope)

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NASA’s SOFIA Telescope examines the Haze around Pluto

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – When the New Horizons spacecraft passed by Pluto in 2015, one of the many fascinating features its images revealed was that this small, frigid world in the distant solar system has a hazy atmosphere. Now, new data helps explain how Pluto’s haze is formed from the faint light of the Sun 3.7 billion miles away as it moves through an unusual orbit.

Remote observations of Pluto by NASA’s telescope on an airplane, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, show that the thin haze enshrouding Pluto is made of very small particles that remain in the atmosphere for prolonged periods of time rather than immediately falling to the surface.

Still image from an animation illustrating Pluto passing in front of a star during an eclipse-like event known as an occultation. SOFIA observed the dwarf planet as it was momentarily backlit by a star on June 29, 2015 to analyze its atmosphere. (NASA)

Still image from an animation illustrating Pluto passing in front of a star during an eclipse-like event known as an occultation. SOFIA observed the dwarf planet as it was momentarily backlit by a star on June 29, 2015 to analyze its atmosphere. (NASA)

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NASA’s SOFIA Observatory sees Universe in Infrared Light

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, studies the universe with infrared light. That’s a range of wavelengths on the infrared spectrum, from those measuring about 700 nanometers, too small to see with the naked eye, to about 1 millimeter, which is about the size of the head of a pin.

Other observatories, such as the Spitzer Space Telescope and Herschel Space Observatory, also studied infrared light. But each telescope observes different wavelengths of infrared light, filling in puzzle pieces that are essential to learning what makes the universe tick.

Composite image of W51A, the largest star-forming region in our galaxy. Dozens of massive stars that are more than eight times the size of our Sun are forming there. (NASA/SOFIA/Wanggi Lim, James De Buizer; NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Composite image of W51A, the largest star-forming region in our galaxy. Dozens of massive stars that are more than eight times the size of our Sun are forming there. (NASA/SOFIA/Wanggi Lim, James De Buizer; NASA/JPL-Caltech)

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NASA’s SOFIA telescope discovers how Swan Nebula was born

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA says one of the brightest and most massive star-forming regions in our galaxy, the Omega or Swan Nebula, came to resemble the shape resembling a swan’s neck we see today only relatively recently.

New observations reveal that its regions formed separately over multiple eras of star birth. The new image from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, is helping scientists chronicle the history and evolution of this well-studied nebula.

“The present-day nebula holds the secrets that reveal its past; we just need to be able to uncover them,” said Wanggi Lim, a Universities Space Research Association scientist at the SOFIA Science Center at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley.

Composite image of the Swan Nebula. SOFIA detected the blue areas (20 microns) near the center, revealing gas as it’s heated by massive stars located at the center and the green areas (37 microns) that trace dust as it’s warmed both by massive stars and nearby newborn stars. (NASA/SOFIA/De Buizer/Radomski/Lim; NASA/JPL-Caltech; ESA/Herschel)

Composite image of the Swan Nebula. SOFIA detected the blue areas (20 microns) near the center, revealing gas as it’s heated by massive stars located at the center and the green areas (37 microns) that trace dust as it’s warmed both by massive stars and nearby newborn stars. (NASA/SOFIA/De Buizer/Radomski/Lim; NASA/JPL-Caltech; ESA/Herschel)

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NASA’s SOFIA telescope captures image of center of Milky Way Galaxy

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA has captured an extremely crisp infrared image of the center of our Milky Way galaxy. Spanning a distance of more than 600 light-years, this panorama reveals details within the dense swirls of gas and dust in high resolution, opening the door to future research into how massive stars are forming and what’s feeding the supermassive black hole at our galaxy’s core.

Among the features coming into focus are the jutting curves of the Arches Cluster containing the densest concentration of stars in our galaxy, as well as the Quintuplet Cluster with stars a million times brighter than our Sun. Our galaxy’s black hole takes shape with a glimpse of the fiery-looking ring of gas surrounding it. 

Composite infrared image of the center of our Milky Way galaxy. It spans 600+ light-years across and is helping scientists learn how many massive stars are forming in our galaxy’s center. (NASA/SOFIA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/Herschel)

Composite infrared image of the center of our Milky Way galaxy. It spans 600+ light-years across and is helping scientists learn how many massive stars are forming in our galaxy’s center. (NASA/SOFIA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/Herschel)

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NASA explores how a Spiral Galaxy is formed

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationPasadena, CA – NASA says our Milky Way galaxy has an elegant spiral shape with long arms filled with stars, but exactly how it took this form has long puzzled scientists. New observations of another galaxy are shedding light on how spiral-shaped galaxies like our own get their iconic shape.

Magnetic fields play a strong role in shaping these galaxies, according to research from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA. Scientists measured magnetic fields along the spiral arms of the galaxy called NGC 1068, or M77. The fields are shown as streamlines that closely follow the circling arms.

Magnetic fields in NGC 1086, or M77, are shown as streamlines over a visible light and X-ray composite image of the galaxy from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Array, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The magnetic fields align along the entire length of the massive spiral arms — 24,000 light years across (0.8 kiloparsecs) — implying that the gravitational forces that created the galaxy’s shape are also compressing the its magnetic field. (NASA/SOFIA; NASA/JPL-Caltech/Roma Tre Univ.)

Magnetic fields in NGC 1086, or M77, are shown as streamlines over a visible light and X-ray composite image of the galaxy from the Hubble Space Telescope, the Nuclear Spectroscopic Array, and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The magnetic fields align along the entire length of the massive spiral arms — 24,000 light years across (0.8 kiloparsecs) — implying that the gravitational forces that created the galaxy’s shape are also compressing the its magnetic field. (NASA/SOFIA; NASA/JPL-Caltech/Roma Tre Univ.)

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NASA looks at Mars’ Water loss today to discover how much water Mars once had

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – NASA says Mars may be a rocky planet, but it is not a hospitable world like Earth. It’s cold and dry with a thin atmosphere that has significantly less oxygen than Earth’s. But Mars likely once had liquid water, a key ingredient for life. Studying the history of water can help uncover how the Red Planet lost water and how much water it once had.

“We already knew that Mars was once a wet place,” said Curtis DeWitt, scientist at the Universities Space Research Association’s SOFIA Science Center. “But only by studying how present-day water is lost can we understand just how much existed in the deep past.”

Image of a sloping hillside from the Mars Curiosity rover and an illustration of deuterated water molecules, called HDO instead of H2O because one of its hydrogen atoms has an extra neutrally charged particle. Infrared observations can study these particles that retrace the history of liquid water because the heavier molecules are more likely to remain even after liquid water has evaporated. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SOFIA)

Image of a sloping hillside from the Mars Curiosity rover and an illustration of deuterated water molecules, called HDO instead of H2O because one of its hydrogen atoms has an extra neutrally charged particle. Infrared observations can study these particles that retrace the history of liquid water because the heavier molecules are more likely to remain even after liquid water has evaporated. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/SOFIA)

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NASA’s SOFIA Finds Galactic Puzzle, Black Hole or Newborn Stars?

 

NASA - National Aeronautics and Space AdministrationWashington, D.C. – Even celestial objects can seem like they’re playing tricks. In a new study, scientists are puzzled by a black hole that seems to be changing its galactic surroundings in a way that is usually associated with newborn stars.

Black holes are inherently strange, with gravitational forces so strong that nothing, not even light, can escape. As active black holes consume gas and dust, some of that material is instead launched outward as jets of high-energy particles and radiation. Usually these jets are perpendicular to the host galaxy, but NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, found one that is shooting directly into its galaxy.

Artist’s concept of a jet from an active black hole that is perpendicular to the host galaxy (left) compared to a jet that is launching directly into the galaxy (right) illustrated over an image of a spiral galaxy from the Hubble Space Telescope. SOFIA found a strange black hole with jets that are irradiating the host galaxy, called HE 1353-1917. (ESA/Hubble&NASA and NASA/SOFIA/L. Proudfit)

Artist’s concept of a jet from an active black hole that is perpendicular to the host galaxy (left) compared to a jet that is launching directly into the galaxy (right) illustrated over an image of a spiral galaxy from the Hubble Space Telescope. SOFIA found a strange black hole with jets that are irradiating the host galaxy, called HE 1353-1917. (ESA/Hubble&NASA and NASA/SOFIA/L. Proudfit)

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