Constraining Recent Star Formation in the Galactic Center
PI: Matthew Hankins, Caltech
Selected in Cycle 7​
Proposal ID: 07_0189
Instrument: FORCAST
Status: Completed

The Galactic Center presents the most extreme conditions for star formation, containing more than 80 percent of the Milky Way Galaxy’s dense molecular gas, high temperatures, significant turbulence, complex magnetic fields, and a strong gravitational potential well. Despite the large amount of dense gas, observations reveal that the rate of star formation is only 0.1 solar masses per year out of the 1.2 solar masses per year produced by the entire galaxy -- 10 times less than predictions by current theoretical models.  This program aims at providing high-quality mosaics of bright infrared regions within the Galactic Center using the Faint Object infraRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST), which excels at producing images and spectroscopic data from infrared-bright areas. The FORCAST 25- and 37-micron bands will be used to create a searchable mid-infrared map of the Galactic Center and a point source catalog with an unprecedented spatial resolution -- six times higher than past observations. These infrared maps will greatly aid in the creation of a census of massive young stellar objects, thereby updating constraints for the star formation rate in the Galactic Center and improve star formation models for this region.

This legacy program is now completed! The data are available publicly available in the archive for further research.

The data have unprecedented spatial resolution – six times higher than past observations — resulting in a vastly improved view of warm dust in the center of the galaxy and revealing signatures of star formation in exquisite detail. FORCAST created high-quality mosaics of the most active star forming portions of the inner ~200 pc of the galaxy with an angular resolution of 2.3" and 3.4" for the 25 and 37 μm observations, respectively. They cover more than 99% of the hard saturated area in the corresponding Spitzer/MIPS mosaic. An overview paper meant to accompany the first survey data release has recently been published in ApJ. 

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