SOFIA Highlights: Star formation

Orion nebula bubble

By Kassandra Bell and Joan Schmelz (USRA)

Paper: Disruption of the Orion molecular core 1 by wind from the massive star θ1 Orionis C
Pabst et al. 2019, Nature, doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0844-1

Orion Dragon movie screenshot

New data from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, reveal a three-dimensional (3-D) view of the Orion Nebula – Earth’s closest star-formation nursery – and a powerful stellar wind. Researchers can rotate, zoom in, and even dive through this data cube to better understand how stars are forming.

Illustration of a star cluster forming from the collision of turbulent molecular clouds surrounded by green atomic envelopes

By Kassandra Bell and Joan Schmelz (USRA)

Paper: The Inception of Star Cluster Formation Revealed by [CII] Emission Around an Infrared Dark Cloud
Bisbas, Tan et al. 2018, MNRAS, 478, L54.

Images taken at multiple wavelengths showing the dust and the magnetic fields in 30 Doradus

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, released new data from its recent Southern Hemisphere observations revealing the structure of celestial magnetic fields in the region known as 30 Doradus, or 30 Dor, at a scale that has never been seen before.

The Horsehead Nebula is shown in red and green against the surrounding cold molecular cloud (blue)

Two research teams used a map from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, to uncover new findings about stars forming in Orion’s iconic Horsehead Nebula. The map reveals vital details for getting a complete understanding of the dust and gas involved in star formation.

The Tarantula Nebula as seen on SOFIA’s visible light guide camera.

To have a full picture of the lives of massive stars, researchers need to study them in all stages – from when they’re a mass of unformed gas and dust, to their often dynamic end-of-life explosions.

The massive forming star Cepheus A shown at three infrared wavelengths of 8, 19 and 37 microns.

Astronomers are observing star-forming regions in our galaxy with NASA’s flying telescope, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, to understand the processes and environments required to create the largest known stars, which tip the scales at ten times the mass of our own Sun or more.

A near- and mid-infrared image of galaxy IC 342 from the Spitzer Space Telescope

An international team of researchers used NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, to make maps of the ring of molecular clouds that encircles the nucleus of galaxy IC 342. The maps determined the proportion of hot gas surrounding young stars as well as cooler gas available for future star formation. The SOFIA maps indicate that most of the gas in the central zone of IC 342, like the gas in a similar region of our Milky Way Galaxy, is heated by already-formed stars, and relatively little is in dormant clouds of raw material.

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