NASA's airborne observatory views star forming region W40

Nov 22, 2011 By Nicholas A. Veronico and Beth Hagenauer
This mid-infrared image of the W40 star-forming region of the Milky Way galaxy was captured recently by the FORCAST instrument on the 100-inch telescope aboard the SOFIA flying observatory. (NASA / FORCAST image)

A new image from NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, provides the highest resolution mid-infrared image taken to date of the massive star formation region in our galaxy known as W40.

The W40 image was taken by the Faint Object for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) instrument mounted in the – a highly modified 747SP airliner carrying a reflecting telescope with an effective diameter of 100 inches (2.5 meters). The image of W40 is a composite of data captured by the FORCAST camera at infrared wavelengths of 5.4, 24.2, and 34.8 microns, all of which are partially or completely blocked by water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere and inaccessible to observatories even on high mountain tops.

W40 is difficult to view with optical telescopes because it lies on the far side of a very dense cloud of gas and dust. Infrared observations of the region peer through the dust to reveal a bright nebula and dozens of young stars with at least six massive stars, six to 20 times the mass of the sun, forming at the center.

At least 50 percent of the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy formed in massive clusters of thousands of stars similar to W40. Evidence suggests that the solar system developed in such a cluster almost 5 billion years ago. Because stars are relatively dim at the wavelengths measured by FORCAST, the observed emission in the images is due to dust surrounding the stars that is heated to a few hundred degrees.

SOFIA is a joint project of and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and is based and managed at NASA's Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif. NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA), headquartered in Columbia, Md., and the German Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

Explore further: Is the universe finite or infinite?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Space image: Through the looking glass

Jun 15, 2011

The NASA logo on Bldg. 703 at the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif., is reflected in the 2.5-meter primary mirror of the SOFIA observatory's telescope.

SOFIA opens new window on star formation in Orion

Jan 12, 2011

A mid-infrared mosaic image from the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, offers new information about processes of star formation in and around the nebula Messier 42 in the constellation ...

SOFIA observatory on first overseas deployment

Sep 22, 2011

On Sept. 16, at 10:10 a.m. local time, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, lifted off from its base at Palmdale, Calif., flying east en route to Cologne, Germany, for its first international ...

NASA's SOFIA Observatory Obtains 'First Light' Imagery

May 27, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, or SOFIA, successfully obtained its first in-flight, nighttime celestial observations during its “First Light” mission early Wednesday ...

GREAT spectrometer readied for flight on SOFIA

Mar 31, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Scientists recently completed a series of nighttime, ground-based testing of the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, or GREAT, spectrometer in preparation for a series ...

CU telescope debuts on NASA flying observatory

May 25, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, will take flight May 25 along with the Cornell-built FORCAST (the Faint Object InfraRed Camera for the SOFIA Telescope).

Recommended for you

Is the universe finite or infinite?

Mar 27, 2015

Two possiblities exist: either the Universe is finite and has a size, or it's infinite and goes on forever. Both possibilities have mind-bending implications.

'Teapot' nova begins to wane

Mar 27, 2015

A star, or nova, has appeared in the constellation of Sagittarius and, even though it is now waning, it is still bright enough to be visible in the sky over Perth through binoculars or a telescope.

Dark matter is darker than once thought

Mar 27, 2015

This panel of images represents a study of 72 colliding galaxy clusters conducted by a team of astronomers using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and Hubble Space Telescope. The research sets new limits on ...

Galaxy clusters collide—dark matter still a mystery

Mar 26, 2015

When galaxy clusters collide, their dark matters pass through each other, with very little interaction. Deepening the mystery, a study by scientists at EPFL and the University of Edinburgh challenges the ...

Using 19th century technology to time travel to the stars

Mar 26, 2015

In the late 19th century, astronomers developed the technique of capturing telescopic images of stars and galaxies on glass photographic plates. This allowed them to study the night sky in detail. Over 500,000 ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1 / 5 (3) Nov 23, 2011
Thanks for the story and for NASA's effort to provide new information on the formation of stars!

Research on the origin of the Solar System since 1960 revealed many unexpected observations that point to a supernova origin of the Solar System and its elements right here, about five billion years (5 Gyr) ago [1].

1. Neutron Repulsion", The APEIRON Journal, in press (2011) http://arxiv.org/...2.1499v1

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
http://myprofile....anuelo09

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.