NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a Boeing 747SP jetliner modified to carry a 100-inch diameter telescope to study the universe at infrared wavelengths that cannot be detected from ground-based observatories. SOFIA’s Science Cycle 5, which runs from February 2017 through January 2018, spans the entire field of astronomy from planetary science to extragalactic investigations.
Astronomers have found the strongest evidence yet that the formation of massive stars follows a path similar to their lower-mass brethren — but on steroids! The new findings show that the episodic explosive outbursts within what are called accretion discs, known to occur during the formation of average mass stars like our Sun, also happen in the formation of much more massive stars.
In 1936, infant star FU Orionis began gobbling material from its surrounding disc of gas and dust with a sudden voraciousness, eating the equivalent of 18 Jupiters in the last 80 years. During a three-month binge, as matter turned into energy, the star became 100 times brighter, heating the disc around it to temperatures of up to 6,650 °C.
The Atacama Pathfinder Experiment (APEX) is a 12-metre radio telescope for observations at submillimetre wavelengths, operating 5,100 metres above sea level in the Atacama Desert. On 25-26 January, the project’s 10th anniversary was celebrated at the APEX base station in Sequitor, San Pedro de Atacama. A number of special guests were present at the occasion.
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.