Space

January 10, 2013

SOFIA spots recent starburst in the Milky Way galaxyís center

SOFIA/FORCAST mid-infrared image of the Milky Way galaxyís nucleus showing the Circumnuclear Ring of gas and dust clouds orbiting a central supermassive black hole. The bright Y-shaped feature is believed to be material falling from the ring toward the black hole that is located where the arms of the ìYî intersect.

Researchers using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy have captured new images of a ring of gas and dust seven light-years in diameter surrounding the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and of a neighboring cluster of extremely luminous young stars embedded in dust cocoons.
The images of our galaxy’s circumnuclear ring and its neighboring quintuplet cluster are the subjects of two posters presented this week during the American Astronomical Society’s meeting in Long Beach, Calif. Ryan Lau of Cornell University and his collaborators studied the CNR. Matt Hankins of the University of Central Arkansas in Conway is lead author of the other paper, regarding the QC.

SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches to altitudes as high as 45,000 feet.

The images were obtained during SOFIA flights in 2011 with the Faint Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope instrument built by a team with principal investigator Terry Herter of Cornell.

FORCAST offered astronomers the ability to see the CNR and QC regions and other exotic cosmic features whose light is obscured by water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere and interstellar dust clouds in the mid-plane of the Milky Way. Neither ground-based observatories on tall mountain peaks nor NASA’s orbiting Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes can see them.

The images may be seen by visiting www.nasa.gov/sofia or http://www.sofia.usra.edu.

Each image is a combination of multiple exposures at wavelengths of 20, 32, and 37 microns.

SOFIA/FORCAST mid-infrared image of a region including the Quintuple Cluster, a group of young stars near the left margin of the frame, located about 35 parsecs (100 light years) from the galaxyís nucleus.

Figure 1a shows the CNR and Figure 2a shows the QC. The CNR and other exotic features revealed by SOFIA’s FORCAST camera are invisible to Hubble’s near-infrared camera, as shown for comparison in figures 1b and 2b. Figure 3 shows the two fields studied in these papers as square insets on a large-scale image of the galactic center made by the Spitzer Space Telescope at a wavelength of 8 microns.

“The focus of our study has been to determine the structure of the circumnuclear ring with the unprecedented precision possible with SOFIA” said Lau. “Using these data we can learn about the processes that accelerate and heat the ring.”

The nucleus of the Milky Way is inhabited by a black hole with 4 million times the mass of the sun and is orbited by a large disk of gas and dust. The ring seen in Figure 1a is the inner edge of that disk. The galactic center also hosts several exceptionally large star clusters containing some of the most luminous young stars in the galaxy, one of which is the Quintuplet Cluster seen in Figure 2. The combination of SOFIA’s airborne telescope with the FORCAST camera produced the sharpest images of those regions ever obtained at mid-infrared wavelengths, allowing discernment of new clues about what is happening near the central black hole.

NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy ñ SOFIA ñ lifts off from Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, Calif.

“Something big happened in the Milky Way’s center within the past 4 million to 6 million years which resulted in several bursts of star formation, creating the Quintuplet Cluster, the Central Cluster, and one other massive star cluster.” said Hankins, lead author of the QC paper. “Many other galaxies also have so-called ‘starbursts’ in their central regions, some associated with central black holes, some not. The Milky Way’s center is much nearer than other galaxies, making it easier for us to explore possible connections between the starbursts and the black hole.”

SOFIA Chief Scientific Advisor Eric Becklin, who is working with the CNR group, determined the location of the galaxy’s nucleus as a graduate student in the 1960s by laboriously scanning a single-pixel infrared detector to map the central region.

“The resolution and spatial coverage of these images is astounding, showing what modern infrared detector arrays can do when flown on SOFIA,” Becklin said. “We hope to use these data to substantially advance our understanding of the environment near a supermassive black hole.”

SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center. SOFIA is based and managed at NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German SOFIA Institute at the University of Stuttgart.




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines April 18, 2014

Business: Lockheed to Lose 17 F-35s Under Automatic Pentagon Cuts - Pentagon will cut 17 of the 343 F-35 fighters it planned to buy from Lockheed Martin in fiscal 2016 through 2019 unless Congress repeals automatic budget cuts, according to a new Defense Department report. DOD looking for ways not to break MH-60R helo deal - The...
 
 

News Briefs April 18, 2013

U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan at 2,177 As of April 15, 2014, at least 2,177 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,802 military service members have died in Afghanistan as a result...
 
 
LM-F35-hours

F-35 fleet surpasses 15,000 flying hours

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fleet recently surpassed 15,000 flight hours, marking a major milestone for the program.  “Flying 15,000 hours itself demonstrates that the program is maturing, but what I think is e...
 

 
nasa-cassini

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of new Saturn moon

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet’s known moons. Images taken w...
 
 

NASA completes LADEE mission with planned impact on Moon’s surface

Ground controllers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., have confirmed that NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft impacted the surface of the moon, as planned, between 9:30 and 10:22 p.m., PDT, April 17. LADEE lacked fuel to maintain a long-term lunar orbit or continue science operations and was intentionally sent...
 
 
Photograph courtesy of NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Kepler telescope discovers first Earth-size planet in ‘habitable zone’

Photograph courtesy of NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-Caltech Kepler-186f resides in the Kepler-186 system about 500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Cygnus. The system is also home to four inner planets, seen lined up...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>