SOFIA Highlights: Interstellar medium

Artist's illustration of the Epsilon Eridani system

NASA’s flying observatory, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, recently completed a detailed study of a nearby planetary system. The investigations confirmed that this nearby planetary system has an architecture remarkably similar to that of our solar system.

Combination of three color images of NGC 7023 from SOFIA (red & green) and Spitzer (blue) show different populations of PAH molecules.

Using data collected by NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) and other observatories, an international team of researchers has studied how a particular type of organic molecules, the raw materials for life – could develop in space. This information could help scientists better understand how life could have developed on Earth.

Infrared image of the Rho Ophiuchi star formation region

Scientific results from observations made in 2011 from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, show the first detection in the interstellar medium of two molecules, the mercapto radical SH and the deuterated hydroxyl radical OD. SH is important for the investigation of sulfur chemistry in the interstellar medium, and OD, a version of hydroxyl (OH) with the hydrogen atom replaced by a heavier deuterium atom, plays a corresponding role in understanding the chemical pathways for formation of water in the universe.

SOFIA/FORCAST mid-infrared images of M42

A new image from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) shows a complex distribution of interstellar dust and stars in the Orion nebula. Interstellar dust, composed mostly of silicon, carbon and other heavy elements astronomers refer to generically as “metals,” plus some ice and organic molecules, is part of the raw material from which new stars and planets are forming.

Sagittarius A East Supernova Remnant

Using NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), an international scientific team discovered that supernovae are capable of producing a substantial amount of the material from which planets like Earth can form.

These findings are published in the March 19 online issue of Science magazine.

"Our observations reveal a particular cloud produced by a supernova explosion 10,000 years ago contains enough dust to make 7,000 Earths," said Ryan Lau of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.