SOFIA Highlights: Stars and supernovae

SOFIA/FORCAST Observations of the Pistol and LBV3 Nebulae

Ryan Lau of Cornell University and his collaborators presented a poster paper analyzing SOFIA/FORCAST observations of mass loss from extremely luminous stars near the center of the Milky Way Galaxy during the 223rd meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC.

Graham M. Harper

“SOFIA Flight 86 must rank as the most exciting observing nights that I have ever done!” said Graham M. Harper, an astrophysicist from the School of Physics, Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, after his all-night expedition on Nov. 9/10. That's an impressive statement from a researcher who focuses on stellar activity in cool stars and routinely uses a variety of ground-based and space telescopes to capture energy ranging from the ultraviolet to centimeter radio wavelengths.

Water Around the Protostar AFGL 2591

An international team led by scientists at Johns Hopkins University and the University of California at Davis used the EXES high-resolution mid-infrared spectrometer onboard SOFIA to determine the amount and location of water molecules around protostar AFGL 2591.  AFGL 2591 is object number 2591 in a catalog of strong infrared sources discovered by a series of small infrared telescopes launched in rockets during the 1960s by the Air Force Geophysical Laboratory.

Three images of the central portions of galaxy M82 that include the position of Supernova 2014J

On Feb. 18, 20, 24, and 26, NASA's flying observatory focused on the explosion known as a supernova that obliterated the remains of a star about the mass of the Sun in the Messier 82 galaxy (M82). Located 11 million light years from Earth in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major, the exploding star is named Supernova (SN) 2014J.


Researchers using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) have captured infrared images of the last exhalations of a dying sun-like star.

The object observed by SOFIA, planetary nebula Minkowski 2-9, or M2-9 for short, is seen in this three-color composite image. The SOFIA observations were made at the mid-infrared wavelengths of 20, 24, and 37 microns. The 37-micron wavelength band detects the strongest emissions from the nebula and is impossible to observe from ground-based telescopes.

CO emission observed by SOFIA/GREAT and APEX from supernova remnant W28.

CO emission observed by SOFIA/GREAT (12CO 11-10) and APEX (other lines) from supernova remnant W28.

Observations of supernova remnant W28 were made with the GREAT far-IR spectrometer during SOFIA’s Early Science program in 2011.

W28 is located in the inner part of the Milky Way Galaxy, near a large star-forming complex with HII regions including the well-known Trifid Nebula (Messier 20). W28 is about six thousand light-year from Earth and the supernova remnant is estimated to be about 20,000 years old.

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.