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First Images Demonstrate the Capabilities of SOFIA’s New Instrument
This is the first polarization image from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy’s new infrared camera and polarimeter, known as the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-plus (HAWC+). Polarimeters measure the alignment of incoming light waves, enabling HAWC+ to map magnetic fields in star forming regions.
This image shows how dust grains are aligned in the W3 star-forming region, a giant molecular cloud in the constellation Cassiopeia approximately 6,200 light years from Earth. Researchers are now comparing data from these observations with models that predict how stars form.
HAWC+ is the only currently operating astronomical camera that makes images using far-infrared light (from 40 to 300 microns), allowing studies of the low-temperature, early states of star and planet formation. More observations with this instrument are currently underway.