Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Crackers in the deep space: Starbursts in the Milky Way


WASHINGTON -- Researchers using the Stratospheric Observatory for
Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) have captured new images of a ring of gas
and dust seven light-years in diameter surrounding the supermassive
black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and of a neighboring
cluster of extremely luminous young stars embedded in dust cocoons.

The images of our galaxy's circumlunar ring (CNR) and its neighboring
quintuplet cluster (QC) are the subjects of two posters presented
this week during the American Astronomical Society's meeting in Long
Beach, Calif. Ryan Lau of Cornell University and his collaborators
studied the CNR. Matt Hankins of the University of Central Arkansas
in Conway is lead author of the other paper, regarding the QC.
SOFIA is a highly modified Boeing 747SP aircraft carrying a telescope
with an effective diameter of 100 inches (2.54 meters) to altitudes
as high as 45,000 feet (13.7 kilometers).

The images were obtained during SOFIA flights in 2011 with the Faint
Object Infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope (FORCAST) instrument
built by a team with principal investigator Terry Herter of Cornell.

FORCAST offered astronomers the ability to see the CNR and QC regions
and other exotic cosmic features whose light is obscured by water
vapor in Earth's atmosphere and interstellar dust clouds in the
mid-plane of the Milky Way. Neither ground-based observatories on
tall mountain peaks nor NASA's orbiting Hubble and Spitzer space
telescopes can see them.

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