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.