Scientific Highlights
Spotlight Image
The SOFIA Legacy Program FEEDBACK

by Nicola Schneider, Alexander Tielens, and Anashe Bandari

Paper: FEEDBACK: a SOFIA Legacy Program to Study Stellar Feedback in Regions of Massive Star Formation
Schneider, N., et al., 2020/10, Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, 132j4301S.

Composite image of the nebula RCW 120
The SOFIA/EXES Mid-IR High Spectral Resolution Library

By José Pablo Fonfría, Ed Montiel & Joan Schmelz

Deuterated Hydroxyl as a Star Formation Tracer

By Timea Csengeri and Joan Schmelz

Paper: SOFIA/GREAT observations of OD and OH rotational lines towards high-mass star forming regions
Csengeri, T., et al., 2022/02, A&A, 658A, A193.

OD absorption spectrum over a three-color image of W49A with a plus sign on spectrum position
Constraining Magnetic and Gravitational Energies in Star-Forming Clouds

By Dennis Lee and Joan Schmelz

Paper: HAWC+/SOFIA Polarimetry in L1688: Relative Orientation of Magnetic Field and Elongated Cloud Structure
Lee, Dennis, et al., 2021/09, ApJ, 918, 39.

Planck magnetic streamlines on a Herschel image of Rho Ophiuchi with insets from SOFIA/HAWC+
Temperature and Density Layers in the Ghost Nebula

By Archana Soam and Joan Schmelz

Paper: Spatial Variation in Temperature and Density in the IC 63 PDR from H 2 Spectroscopy
Soam, Archana, et al., 2021/12, ApJ, 923, 107.

Three-color image of the Ghost Nebula
Role of Magnetic Fields in Cloud Destruction in the Keyhole Nebula

By Youngmin Seo and Joan Schmelz

Paper: Probing Polarization and the Role of Magnetic Fields in Cloud Destruction in the Keyhole Nebula
Seo, Young Min, et al., 2021/08, ApJ, 917, 57.

Magnetic field streamlines detected by SOFIA are shown over an image of the Keyhole Nebula
Stellar Feedback and Triggered Star Formation in RCW 120

By Matteo Luisi

Paper: Stellar feedback and triggered star formation in the prototypical bubble RCW 120
Luisi, Matteo, et al., 2021/04, SciA, 7, 9511.

Composite image of the nebula RCW 120
Episodic Accretion in High-Mass Protostars

By James De Buizer and Joan Schmelz

Paper: The Extraordinary Outburst in the Massive Protostellar System NGC 6334 I-MM1: Strong Increase in Mid-Infrared Continuum Emission
Hunter, T. R., et al., 2021/05, ApJL, 912, L17.

Spitzer image of NGC 6334 with inset showing high-mass protostar pre- and post-outburst luminosity.
Episodic Accretion in Massive Star Formation

By Joan Schmelz and James Jackson

Paper: Infrared observations of the flaring maser source G358.93-0.03. SOFIA confirms an accretion burst from a massive young stellar object
Stecklum, B., et al., 2021/02, A&A, 646A, A161.

Artist’s impression of a stochastic accretion event
EXES Probes the Heart of Hot-Core Chemistry

By Sarah Nickerson, Naseem Rangwala, and Joan Schmelz

Paper: The First Mid-infrared Detection of HNC in the Interstellar Medium: Probing the Extreme Environment toward the Orion Hot Core
Nickerson, et al., 2021/01, ApJ, 907, 51.

Orion KL region with SOFIA EXES spectrum across the bottom
First Signs of Star Birth Triggered by Orion Wind

By Cornelia Pabst, Javier Goicoechea, and Joan Schmelz

Paper: Expanding bubbles in Orion A: [C II] observations of M 42, M 43, and NGC 1977
Pabst, C. H. M., et al., 2020/07, A&A, 639A, A2.

Composite image of the Orion Nebula from SOFIA and the IRAM 30-meter radio telescope
The Optical Depth of [CII]: the Implications for Galaxies both Near and Far

By Cristian Guevara and Joan Schmelz

Paper: [C II] 158 µm self-absorption and optical depth effects
Guevara, C., et al., 2020/04, A&A, 636A, A16.

Photodissociation Regions (PDRs) are zones of the interstellar medium in which Far-UV photons dominate the thermal balance, chemistry, structure, as well as the distribution of the gas and dust. The incident FUV field photodissociates molecules, photoionizes atoms and molecules, and heats the gas and dust.

Average spectra of the [CII] emission for M17 SW superposed on a composite image
Molecular Processing in the Disks of Massive Stars

By Andrew Barr, Alexander Tielens, and Joan Schmelz

Paper: High-resolution Infrared Spectroscopy of Hot Molecular Gas in AFGL 2591 and AFGL 2136: Accretion in the Inner Regions of Disks around Massive Young Stellar Objects
Barr, Andrew G., et al., 2020/09, ApJ, 900, 104.

A dusty disc rotating around a massive newborn star that is glowing
A Magnetic Hourglass Detection for a Low-Mass Protostar

By Elena Redaelli and Joan Schmelz

Paper: Magnetic Properties of the Protostellar Core IRAS 15398-3359
E. Redaelli, et al., 2019 A&A, 631, A154.

Lupus I cloud complex with inset showing HAWC+ total intensity image of IRAS 15398-3359
Magnetized Filamentary Gas Flows in Serpens South

By Thushara Pillai and Joan Schmelz

Paper: Magnetized filamentary gas flows feeding the young embedded cluster in Serpens South
Pillai, T.G., et al., 2020, Nat Astron (2020).

Magnetic fields observed by SOFIA shown as streamlines on a Spitzer image of Serpens South Cluster
Massive Star Formation in the Omega Nebula

By Wanggi Lim and Joan Schmelz
Paper: Surveying the Giant H ii Regions of the Milky Way with SOFIA. II. M17
Lim, et al., 2020, ApJ, 888, 98.

Composite image of the Swan Nebula in blue, green and red.
Planetary Collisions in a Binary Star System

By Maggie Thompson, Ralph Shuping, and Joan Schmelz

Paper: Studying the Evolution of Warm Dust Encircling BD +20 307 Using SOFIA
Thompson, Maggie A., et al., 2019, ApJ, 875, 45.

Recent observations from SOFIA of a binary star system designated BD +20 307 indicate that there may have been a catastrophic collision between two planets within the last 10 years.

Artist’s concept illustrating a catastrophic collision between two rocky exoplanets
The Cosmic Fireworks of Massive Star Formation

By W. Lim, J. De Buizer, R. Klein, and J. Schmelz (USRA)

Paper: Surveying the Giant HII Regions of the Milky Way with SOFIA. I. W51A
Lim and De Buizer 2019, ApJ, 873, 51.

A cosmic light show sparked by the formation of massive stars in the W51 stellar nursery
Lifting the Veil on Star Formation in the Orion Nebula

By Kassandra Bell and Joan Schmelz (USRA)

Paper: Disruption of the Orion molecular core 1 by wind from the massive star θ 1 Orionis C
Pabst et al. 2019, Nature, doi:10.1038/s41586-018-0844-1

Orion nebula bubble
NASA’s SOFIA Observatory Captures Orion’s Dragon in 3-D

New data from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, reveal a three-dimensional (3-D) view of the Orion Nebula – Earth’s closest star-formation nursery – and a powerful stellar wind. Researchers can rotate, zoom in, and even dive through this data cube to better understand how stars are forming.

Orion Dragon movie screenshot
Cosmic Collisions: Unraveling the Mysterious Formation of Star Clusters

By Kassandra Bell and Joan Schmelz (USRA)

Paper: The Inception of Star Cluster Formation Revealed by [CII] Emission Around an Infrared Dark Cloud
Bisbas, Tan et al. 2018, MNRAS, 478, L54.

Star cluster forming from collision of molecular clouds surrounded by green atomic envelopes
SOFIA Reveals Never-Before-Seen Magnetic Field Details

The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, released new data from its recent Southern Hemisphere observations revealing the structure of celestial magnetic fields in the region known as 30 Doradus , or 30 Dor, at a scale that has never been seen before.

Images taken at multiple wavelengths showing the dust and the magnetic fields in 30 Doradus
What’s Happening in Orion’s Horsehead Nebula?

Two research teams used a map from NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, to uncover new findings about stars forming in Orion’s iconic Horsehead Nebula. The map reveals vital details for getting a complete understanding of the dust and gas involved in star formation.

The Horsehead Nebula is shown in red and green against the surrounding cold molecular cloud (blue)
What Stars Will Hatch From The Tarantula Nebula? NASA’s Flying Observatory Seeks to Find Out.

To have a full picture of the lives of massive stars, researchers need to study them in all stages – from when they’re a mass of unformed gas and dust, to their often dynamic end-of-life explosions.

The Tarantula Nebula as seen on SOFIA’s visible light guide camera.
New SOFIA Observations Help Unravel Mysteries of the Birth of Colossal Suns

Astronomers are observing star-forming regions in our galaxy with NASA’s flying telescope, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, to understand the processes and environments required to create the largest known stars, which tip the scales at ten times the mass of our own Sun or more.

The massive forming star Cepheus A shown at three infrared wavelengths of 8, 19 and 37 microns.
Understanding Star Formation in the Nucleus of Galaxy IC 342

An international team of researchers used NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, to make maps of the ring of molecular clouds that encircles the nucleus of galaxy IC 342. The maps determined the proportion of hot gas surrounding young stars as well as cooler gas available for future star formation. The SOFIA maps indicate that most of the gas in the central zone of IC 342, like the gas in a similar region of our Milky Way Galaxy, is heated by already-formed stars, and relatively little is in dormant clouds of raw material.

A near- and mid-infrared image of galaxy IC 342 from the Spitzer Space Telescope