M82, also known as the Cigar Galaxy thanks to its distinctive shape, is a familiar target for amateur and professional astronomers alike, the closest starburst galaxy to Earth at a distance of some 12 million light years. Located in the constellation Ursa Major, M82’s core is 100 times brighter than the Milky Way’s, the result of rapid star formation likely triggered by gravitational interactions with the nearby galaxy M81. In this composite view, M82’s magnetic field, detected by the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus instrument aboard the SOFIA airborne observatory, is shown as streamlines that appear to follow bipolar outflows of gas, seen in red, generated by starburst activity. Visible starlight is shown in grey, with near- and mid-infrared starlight and dust shown in yellow as seen by the SOFIA and the Spitzer Space Telescope.
An international scientific team using NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has discovered a cloud produced by a supernova explosion 10,000 years ago that contains enough dust to make 7,000 Earths, showing that supernovae are capable of producing a substantial amount of the material from which planets can form.