The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center, DLR, has been used extensively to look many objects in the universe, from black holes to galaxies and even the Moon.
A decade ago, German researcher Heinz Hübers led a team to improve one of SOFIA’s infrared instruments – the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, or GREAT – with a new laser technology. He realized that the upgrade would not only help to study the distant cosmos, it could also be used much closer to home.
Not all appears as it would seem in the Whirlpool galaxy. One of the best-studied spiral galaxies and a delight to amateur astronomers, Messier 51, as it’s officially named, is influenced by powerful, invisible forces.
Photodissociation Regions (PDRs) are zones of the interstellar medium in which Far-UV photons dominate the thermal balance, chemistry, structure, as well as the distribution of the gas and dust. The incident FUV field photodissociates molecules, photoionizes atoms and molecules, and heats the gas and dust.
Researchers using SOFIA have made the ﬁrst-ever detection of the water molecule (H2O) on the sunlit surface of the Moon. This discovery reﬁnes our understanding of the behavior of water and how volatile elements and compounds interact with airless bodies throughout the Solar System and beyond.