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One-of-a-Kind Camera Added to SOFIA
The newest instrument, an infrared camera called the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus (HAWC+), was installed on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, this week. This is the only currently operating astronomical camera that makes images using far-infrared light, allowing studies of low-temperature early stages of star and planet formation. HAWC+ includes a polarimeter, a device that measures the alignment of incoming light waves. With the polarimeter, HAWC+ can map magnetic fields in star forming regions and in the environment around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy. These new maps can reveal how the strength and direction of magnetic fields affect the rate at which interstellar clouds condense to form new stars. A team led by C. Darren Dowell at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and including participants from more than a dozen institutions developed the instrument.