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  • richardmitnick 11:49 am on November 21, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA SOFIA   

    From Gemini: “Are All Stars Created Equal?” 

    NOAO

    Gemini Observatory
    Gemini Observatory

    November 14, 2016
    Science Contacts:

    Alessio Caratti o Garatti
    Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies
    Email: alessio”at”cp.dias.ie
    Office: +353 1 4406656 ext.342
    Cell: +353 87 1091628

    Bringfried Stecklum
    Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg
    Email: stecklum”at”tls-tautenburg.de
    Office: +49 36427 863
    Cell: +49 179 38088401

    Media Contact:

    Peter Michaud
    Gemini Observatory
    Hilo, Hawai‘i
    Email: pmichaud”at”gemini.edu
    Cell: (808) 936-6643

    1
    Artist’s impression of an accretion burst in a high-mass young stellar object like S255 NIRS 3. Image Credit: Deutsches SOFIA Institut (DSI)

    Astronomers using critical observations from the Gemini Observatory have found the strongest evidence yet that the formation of more massive stars follow a path similar to their lower-mass brethren – but on steroids!

    3
    Pre-outburst (left) and outburst (middle) near-infrared images (K, H, J bands) of the high-mass young stellar object S255IR NIRS 3, taken
    from 2009 UKIDSS archive data and the PANIC camera (Calar Alto Observatory, Man-Planck Society) in 2016, respectively, as well as
    outburst mid-infrared images (right) taken with FORCAST / SOFIA at 7.7, 19.7 and 31.5 microns (2016). Copyright: Caratti o Garatti.

    The new findings, that include data from Gemini, SOFIA, Calar Alto, and the European Southern Observatory, show that the episodic explosive outbursts within what are called accretion disks, known to occur during the formation of average mass stars like our Sun, also happen in the formation of very massive stars.

    “These outbursts, which are several orders of magnitude larger than their lower mass siblings, can release about as much energy as our Sun delivers in over 100,000 years,” said Dr. Alessio Caratti o Garatti of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (Ireland). “Surprisingly, fireworks are observed not just at the end of the lives of massive stars, as supernovae, but also at their birth!”

    The international team of astronomers (led by Caratti o Garatti) published their work in the November 14th issue of the journal Nature Physics, presenting the first clear case that massive stars can form from clumpy disks of material – in much the same way as less massive stars. Previously it was thought that the accretion disks seen around lower mass stars would not survive around stars of higher mass due to their strong radiation pressure. Therefore, some other process would be necessary to account for the existence of more massive stars – which can exceed 50-100 times the mass of our Sun.

    “How accretion disks can survive around these massive stars is still a mystery, but the Gemini spectroscopic observations show the same fingerprints we see in lower mass stars,” said Caratti o Garatti. “Probably the accretion bursts reduce the radiation pressure of the central source and allow the star to form, but we still have a lot of explaining to do in order to account for these observations.”

    According to team member Dr. Bringfried Stecklum of the Thüringer Landessternwarte Tautenburg (Germany), “Studying the formation of high-mass stars is challenging because they are relatively rare and deeply embedded in their natal cloud, thus not visible in optical, or visible, light. This is why we need infrared instruments like the Near-infrared Integral Field Spectrograph (NIFS) at Gemini North on Maunakea in Hawai‘i.” The outburst events are also very rapid, probably lasting only a few years or less – which, for a star, is the blink of an eye, adding to their rarity.

    “The birth of truly massive stars has been a mystery that astronomers have been studying for decades. Only now, with large, infrared-optimized telescopes like Gemini, are we able to probe the details of this short-lived and, now it seems, rather explosive process,” notes Chris Davis, Program Director at the National Science Foundation which supports the operation of the Gemini Observatory and the development of its instruments. “These NIFS observations represent yet another coup for the Gemini Observatory.”

    The developing star observed in this study, S255IR NIRS 3, is relatively distant, some 6,000 light years away, with a mass estimated at about 20 times the mass of our Sun. The Gemini observations reveal that the source of the explosive outburst is a huge clump of gas, probably about twice the mass of Jupiter, accelerated to supersonic speeds and ingested by the forming star. The team estimates that the outburst began about 16 months ago and according to Caratti o Garatti it appears that the outburst is still active, but much weaker.

    “While low-mass stars, and possible planetary systems, can form basically next door to our Sun, the formation of high-mass stars is a complex and relatively rapid process that tends to happen rather far away in our galaxy, thousands, or even tens of thousands of light years away,” said Caratti o Garatti. He adds that the formation of these massive stars happens on timescales of 100,000 years, whereas it takes hundreds of times longer for lower mass stars like our Sun to form. “When we study the formation of higher mass stars it’s like watching a timelapse move when compared to less massive stars, although the process for massive stars is fast and furious, it still takes tens of thousands of years!”

    “While this research presents the strongest case yet for similar formation processes for low and high mass stars, there is still lots to understand,” concludes Stecklum. “Especially whether planets can form in the same way around stars at both ends of the mass spectrum.”

    Original Publication:
    Disk-mediated accretion burst in a high-mass young stellar object, A. Caratti o Garatti, B. Stecklum, R. Garcia Lopez, J. Eislöffel, T. P. Ray, A. Sanna, R. Cesaroni, C. M.Walmsley, R. D. Oudmaijer,W. J. deWit, L. Moscadelli, J. Greiner, A. Krabbe, C. Fischer, R. Klein and J. M. Ibañez , Nature Physics Journal Nov. 14 th 2016, DOI: 10.1038/NHPYS3942.

    See the full article here .

    Deutsches SOFIA Institute Release

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    Gemini North
    Gemini North, Hawai’i

    Gemini South
    Gemini South, Chile
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    Gemini’s mission is to advance our knowledge of the Universe by providing the international Gemini Community with forefront access to the entire sky.

    The Gemini Observatory is an international collaboration with two identical 8-meter telescopes. The Frederick C. Gillett Gemini Telescope is located on Mauna Kea, Hawai’i (Gemini North) and the other telescope on Cerro Pachón in central Chile (Gemini South); together the twin telescopes provide full coverage over both hemispheres of the sky. The telescopes incorporate technologies that allow large, relatively thin mirrors, under active control, to collect and focus both visible and infrared radiation from space.

    The Gemini Observatory provides the astronomical communities in six partner countries with state-of-the-art astronomical facilities that allocate observing time in proportion to each country’s contribution. In addition to financial support, each country also contributes significant scientific and technical resources. The national research agencies that form the Gemini partnership include: the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the Canadian National Research Council (NRC), the Chilean Comisión Nacional de Investigación Cientifica y Tecnológica (CONICYT), the Australian Research Council (ARC), the Argentinean Ministerio de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación Productiva, and the Brazilian Ministério da Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação. The observatory is managed by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) under a cooperative agreement with the NSF. The NSF also serves as the executive agency for the international partnership.

     
  • richardmitnick 4:23 pm on October 5, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA, SOFIA Detects Collapsing Clouds Becoming Young Suns   

    From SOFIA: “SOFIA Detects Collapsing Clouds Becoming Young Suns” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    Oct. 5, 2016
    Point of Contact Nicholas A. Veronico
    NVeronico@sofia.usra.edu
    SOFIA Science Center NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

    1
    An infrared image of the W43 star-forming region located 20,000 light years away in the direction of the constellation Aquila, one of the places where Wyrowski et al. detected cloud clumps collapsing to become massive stars. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/2MASS

    Researchers on board NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, observed the collapse of portions of six interstellar clouds on their way to becoming new stars that will be much larger than our sun.

    When a gas cloud collapses on itself, the cloud’s own gravity causes it to contract and the contraction produces heat friction. Heat from the contraction eventually causes the core to ignite hydrogen fusion reactions creating a star.

    Astronomers are excited about this SOFIA research because there have been very few previous direct observations of collapse motion. These SOFIA observations have enabled scientists to confirm theoretical models about how interstellar clouds collapse to become stars and the pace at which they collapse. Actually observing this collapse, called “infall,” is extremely challenging because it happens relatively quickly in astronomical terms.

    “Detecting infall in protostars is very difficult to observe, but is critical to confirm our overall understanding of star formation,” said Universities Space Research Association’s Erick Young, SOFIA Science Mission Operations director.

    Using the observatory’s GREAT instrument, the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies, scientists searched for this developmental stage in nine embryonic stars, called protostars, by measuring the motions of the material within them. They found that six of the nine protostars were actively collapsing, adding substantially to the previous list of less than a dozen protostars directly determined to be in this infall stage.

    For several weeks each year, the SOFIA team operates from Christchurch, New Zealand, to study objects best observed from southern latitudes, including the complete center of the Milky Way where many star-forming regions are located. Heading south during the Southern Hemisphere’s winter months, when the nights are long and infrared-blocking water vapor is especially low, also creates prime observing conditions.

    “With the Southern Hemisphere deployments of SOFIA, the full inner Milky Way comes into reach for star formation studies. This is crucial for observations of the earliest phases of high-mass star formation, since this is a relatively rapid and rare event,” said Friedrich Wyrowski, astronomer at the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany.

    The results were from observations made in the Southern Hemisphere in 2015, and were published in Astronomy and Astrophysics earlier this year. SOFIA spent seven weeks during 2016 observing from Christchurch. The scientific teams involved in the Southern Hemisphere observations are analyzing the acquired data now.

    See the full article here .

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    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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  • richardmitnick 2:26 pm on September 28, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Fabry-Perot interferometers, HIRMES, NASA SOFIA   

    From Cornell: “Cornell team to create tool that detects molecules in cosmos” 

    Cornell Bloc

    Cornell University

    Sept. 22, 2016
    Blaine Friedlander

    1
    Gordon Stacey, left, Nicholas Cothard, Thomas Nikola and George Gull speak with Steve Parshley on the video screen during an instrument team teleconference. Blaine Friedlander/Cornell Chronicle

    To find the detailed building blocks of life in the cosmos, a new, third-generation instrument will be placed on NASA’s SOFIA – the airliner-based Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy.

    NASA/DLR SOFIA
    NASA/DLR SOFIA

    Professor Gordon Stacey will lead a Cornell team of researchers and students to develop the cryogenic scanning Fabry-Perot interferometers, a key tool for detecting distant molecules.

    The team will develop and build the interferometers to be part of the High Resolution Mid-InfrarEd Spectrometer, or HIRMES. This instrument will detect neutral atomic oxygen, water, hydrogen and deuterated (heavy) hydrogen molecules at infrared wavelengths between 28 and 112 microns – one-millionth of a meter.

    Detecting these wavelengths is key to learning how water vapor, ice and oxygen combine with dust to form planets, according to NASA. First light for HIRMES aboard SOFIA is slated for spring 2019.

    “These very high spectral-resolution Fabry-Perot interferometers are one of the two key technological challenges for the successful operation of HIRMES on SOFIA,” said Stacey, professor of astronomy.

    The interferometers are the devices that achieve the resolving power necessary for HIRMES to reveal the process of collecting the raw materials that are the building blocks of life from interstellar clouds and collapsing them into planetary systems, he said. The other technological challenge is developing the sensitive bolometers – the detectors that measure radiant energy – which is being done by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

    The other Cornell team members are research associate Thomas Nikola; research support specialists Steve Parshley and George Gull; visiting scientist German Cortes; and Nicholas Cothard, a graduate student in the field of applied and engineering physics. Engineering undergraduate Keith Works ‘19 has begun the first designs for spectral filters to be used in HIRMES.

    Stacey and his team will deliver three high-resolution and mid-resolution versions of the interferometers, and two versions that are designed to image nearby galaxies. A member of the science team for HIRMES, Stacey is also the lead scientist on the nearby galaxy investigations.

    The largest airborne observatory in the world, SOFIA – a short-body Boeing 747SP – flies above most the obscuring water vapor in the Earth’s atmosphere and can make observations that are impossible for even the largest and highest ground-based telescopes.

    In historical context, Pan American World Airways originally acquired the Boeing 747 jetliner in May 1977, according to NASA. Pan Am named the aircraft Clipper Lindbergh to honor famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, when his widow, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, christened the aircraft May 6, 1977 – the 50th anniversary of Lindbergh’s flight from New York to Paris.

    Currently, SOFIA’s instruments – cameras, spectrometers, and photometers — operate in the near-, mid- and far-infrared wavelengths to examine star birth and death, solar system formation, identifying complex molecules in space, galactic black holes, and planets, comets and asteroids in our own solar system.

    NASA’s Samuel Harvey Moseley will lead the HIRMES team. Other participating institutions and agencies are Space Dynamics Lab, Precision Cryogenic Systems Inc., University of Michigan, University of Maryland, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Johns Hopkins University, Space Telescope Science Institute and the University of Rochester.

    See the full article here .

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    Once called “the first American university” by educational historian Frederick Rudolph, Cornell University represents a distinctive mix of eminent scholarship and democratic ideals. Adding practical subjects to the classics and admitting qualified students regardless of nationality, race, social circumstance, gender, or religion was quite a departure when Cornell was founded in 1865.

    Today’s Cornell reflects this heritage of egalitarian excellence. It is home to the nation’s first colleges devoted to hotel administration, industrial and labor relations, and veterinary medicine. Both a private university and the land-grant institution of New York State, Cornell University is the most educationally diverse member of the Ivy League.

    On the Ithaca campus alone nearly 20,000 students representing every state and 120 countries choose from among 4,000 courses in 11 undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools. Many undergraduates participate in a wide range of interdisciplinary programs, play meaningful roles in original research, and study in Cornell programs in Washington, New York City, and the world over.

     
  • richardmitnick 7:16 am on September 8, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , HIRMES spectrometer, NASA SOFIA   

    From SOFIA: “NASA Selects Next Generation Spectrometer for SOFIA Flying Observatory” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    Sept. 7, 2016
    Nicholas A. Veronico
    SOFIA Science Center, Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

    1
    A team from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, has been selected to develop a new, third-generation facility science instrument for the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA.

    The principal investigator, Samuel Harvey Moseley will lead the team to develop the High Resolution Mid-InfrarEd Spectrometer (HIRMES). The team consists of co-investigators from Space Dynamics Lab, Precision Cryogenic Systems, Inc., University of Michigan, University of Maryland, Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Johns Hopkins University, Space Telescope Science Institute, Cornell University and University of Rochester.

    Moseley and his team will construct HIRMES over the next two and one-half years with flights on board SOFIA slated for spring 2019. At that time, this unique research asset will also be made available for use by the larger astronomical community.

    “HIRMES will help researchers determine the location of the raw materials that are the building blocks of life and how their position within the interstellar medium helps planetary systems, like our own solar system, evolve,” said Hashima Hasan, SOFIA program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “HIRMES builds upon Moseley’s long history of superior instrument design. Included among his many achievements is the development of the microshutter arrays for the James Webb Space Telescope’s near-infrared spectrometer.”

    The HIRMES spectrometer is optimized to detect neutral atomic oxygen, water, as well as normal and deuterated (or “heavy”) hydrogen molecules at infrared wavelengths between 28 and 112 microns (a micron is one-millionth of a meter). These wavelengths are key to determining how water vapor, ice, and oxygen combine at different times during planet formation, and will enable new observations of how these elements combine with dust to form the mass that may one day become a planet.

    HIRMES will provide scientists with a unique opportunity to study this aspect of planetary formation, as SOFIA is currently the only NASA observatory capable of accessing these mid-infrared wavelengths. Infrared wavelengths between 28 and 112 microns will not reach ground-based telescopes because water vapor and carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere block this energy. SOFIA is able to access this part of the electromagnetic spectrum by flying between 39,000 feet and 45,000 feet, above more than 99 percent of this water vapor.

    NASA anticipates soliciting proposals for the next (fourth generation) instrument on SOFIA in 2017.

    For more information about SOFIA, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sofiahttp://www.dlr.de/en/sofia

    For information about SOFIA’s science mission and scientific instruments, visit:

    https://www.sofia.usra.eduhttp://www.dsi.uni-stuttgart.de/index.en.html

    See the full article here .

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    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    NASA image

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  • richardmitnick 9:07 pm on August 16, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA, Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)   

    From Sofia: ” ‘Kitchen Smoke’ Molecules in Nebula Offer Clues to the Building Blocks of Life” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    Aug. 16, 2016
    Dr. Dana Backman
    SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

    Kassandra Bell
    SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

    1
    Combination of three color images of NGC 7023 from SOFIA (red & green) and Spitzer (blue) show different populations of PAH molecules.
    Credits: NASA/DLR/SOFIA/B. Croiset, Leiden Observatory, and O. Berné, CNRS; NASA/JPL-Caltech/Spitzer.

    Using data collected by NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) and other observatories, an international team of researchers has studied how a particular type of organic molecules, the raw materials for life – could develop in space. This information could help scientists better understand how life could have developed on Earth.

    Bavo Croiset of Leiden University in the Netherlands and his collaborators focused on a type of molecule called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are flat molecules consisting of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb pattern, surrounded by hydrogen. PAHs make up about 10 percent of the carbon in the universe, and are found on the Earth where they are released upon the burning of organic material such as meat, sugarcane, wood etc. Croiset’s team determined that when PAHs in the nebula NGC 7023, also known as the Iris Nebula, are hit by ultraviolet radiation from the nebula’s central star, they evolve into larger, more complex molecules. Scientists hypothesize that the growth of complex organic molecules like PAHs is one of the steps leading to the emergence of life.

    Some existing models predicted that the radiation from a newborn, nearby massive star would tend to break down large organic molecules into smaller ones, rather than build them up. To test these models, researchers wanted to estimate the size of the molecules at various locations relative to the central star.

    Croiset’s team used SOFIA to observe Nebula NGC 7023 with two instruments, the FLITECAM near-infrared camera and the FORCAST mid-infrared camera. SOFIA’s instruments are sensitive to two wavelengths that are produced by these particular molecules, which can be used to estimate their size. The team analyzed the SOFIA images in combination with data previously obtained by the Spitzer infrared space observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on the Big Island of Hawaii.

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble Telescope

    CFHT Telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
    CFHT Interior
    CFHT Telescope, Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA

    The analysis indicates that the size of the PAH molecules in this nebula vary by location in a clear pattern. The average size of the molecules in the nebula’s central cavity, surrounding the illuminating star, is larger than on the surface of the cloud at the outer edge of the cavity.

    In a paper published in Astronomy and Astrophysics, The team concluded that this molecular size variation is due both to some of the smallest molecules being destroyed by the harsh ultraviolet radiation field of the star, and to medium-sized molecules being irradiated so they combine into larger molecules. Researchers were surprised to find that the radiation resulted in net growth, rather than destruction.

    “The success of these observations depended on both SOFIA’s ability to observe wavelengths inaccessible from the ground, and the large size of its telescope, which provided a more detailed map than would have been possible with smaller telescopes,” said Olivier Berné at CNRS, the National Center for Scientific Research in Toulouse, France, one of the published paper’s co-authors.

    For more information on SOFIA, go to:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sofia

    For more information SOFIA Science, go to:

    https://www.sofia.usra.edu/

    See the full article here .

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    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    NASA image

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  • richardmitnick 3:44 pm on June 14, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , FU Orionis Gluttonous Star May Hold Clues to Planet Formation, , NASA SOFIA,   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Gluttonous Star May Hold Clues to Planet Formation” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    JPL-Caltech

    June 14, 2016
    Elizabeth Landau
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
    818-354-6425
    elizabeth.landau@jpl.nasa.gov

    1
    The brightness of outbursting star FU Orionis has been slowly fading since its initial flare-up in 1936. Researchers found that it has dimmed by about 13 percent in short infrared wavelengths from 2004 (left) to 2016 (right). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    In 1936, the young star FU Orionis began gobbling material from its surrounding disk of gas and dust with a sudden voraciousness. During a three-month binge, as matter turned into energy, the star became 100 times brighter, heating the disk around it to temperatures of up to 12,000 degrees Fahrenheit (7,000 Kelvin). FU Orionis is still devouring gas to this day, although not as quickly.

    This brightening is the most extreme event of its kind that has been confirmed around a star the size of the sun, and may have implications for how stars and planets form. The intense baking of the star’s surrounding disk likely changed its chemistry, permanently altering material that could one day turn into planets.

    “By studying FU Orionis, we’re seeing the absolute baby years of a solar system,” said Joel Green, a project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland. “Our own sun may have gone through a similar brightening, which would have been a crucial step in the formation of Earth and other planets in our solar system.”

    Visible light observations of FU Orionis, which is about 1,500 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Orion, have shown astronomers that the star’s extreme brightness began slowly fading after its initial 1936 burst. But Green and colleagues wanted to know more about the relationship between the star and surrounding disk. Is the star still gorging on it? Is its composition changing? When will the star’s brightness return to pre-outburst levels?

    To answer these questions, scientists needed to observe the star’s brightness at infrared wavelengths, which are longer than the human eye can see and provide temperature measurements.

    Green and his team compared infrared data obtained in 2016 using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, to observations made with NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope in 2004.

    NASA/DLR SOFIA
    NASA/DLR SOFIA

    NASA/Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer Telescope

    SOFIA, the world’s largest airborne observatory, is jointly operated by NASA and the German Aerospace Center and provides observations at wavelengths no longer attainable by Spitzer. The SOFIA data were taken using the FORCAST instrument (Faint Object infrared Camera for the SOFIA Telescope).

    NASA/SOFIA Forcast
    NASA/SOFIA Forcast

    “By combining data from the two telescopes collected over a 12-year interval, we were able to gain a unique perspective on the star’s behavior over time,” Green said. He presented the results at the American Astronomical Society meeting in San Diego, this week.

    Using these infrared observations and other historical data, researchers found that FU Orionis had continued its ravenous snacking after the initial brightening event: The star has eaten the equivalent of 18 Jupiters in the last 80 years.

    The recent measurements provided by SOFIA inform researchers that the total amount of visible and infrared light energy coming out of the FU Orionis system decreased by about 13 percent over the 12 years since the Spitzer observations. Researchers determined that this decrease is caused by dimming of the star at short infrared wavelengths, but not at longer wavelengths. That means up to 13 percent of the hottest material of the disk has disappeared, while colder material has stayed intact.

    “A decrease in the hottest gas means that the star is eating the innermost part of the disk, but the rest of the disk has essentially not changed in the last 12 years,” Green said. “This result is consistent with computer models, but for the first time we are able to confirm the theory with observations.”

    Astronomers predict, partly based on the new results, that FU Orionis will run out of hot material to nosh on within the next few hundred years. At that point, the star will return to the state it was in before the dramatic 1936 brightening event. Scientists are unsure what the star was like before or what set off the feeding frenzy.

    “The material falling into the star is like water from a hose that’s slowly being pinched off,” Green said. “Eventually the water will stop.”

    If our sun had a brightening event like FU Orionis did in 1936, this could explain why certain elements are more abundant on Mars than on Earth. A sudden 100-fold brightening would have altered the chemical composition of material close to the star, but not as much farther from it. Because Mars formed farther from the sun, its component material would not have been heated up as much as Earth’s was.

    At a few hundred thousand years old, FU Orionis is a toddler in the typical lifespan of a star. The 80 years of brightening and fading since 1936 represent only a tiny fraction of the star’s life so far, but these changes happened to occur at a time when astronomers could observe.

    “It’s amazing that an entire protoplanetary disk can change on such a short timescale, within a human lifetime,” said Luisa Rebull, study co-author and research scientist at the Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC), based at Caltech, Pasadena, California.

    Green plans to gain more insight into the FU Orionis feeding phenomenon with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which will launch in 2018.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated
    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    SOFIA has mid-infrared high-resolution spectrometers and far-infrared science instrumentation that complement Webb’s planned near- and mid-infrared capabilities. Spitzer is expected to continue exploring the universe in infrared light, and enabling groundbreaking scientific investigations, into early 2019.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, manages the Spitzer Space Telescope mission for NASA. Science operations are conducted at the Spitzer Science Center at Caltech. Spacecraft operations are based at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Littleton, Colorado. Data are archived at the Infrared Science Archive housed at IPAC at Caltech. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

    For more information about Spitzer, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/spitzer

    http://spitzer.caltech.edu

    For more information about SOFIA, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/sofia

    http://www.dlr.de/en/sofia

    See the full article here .

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    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

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  • richardmitnick 10:07 am on June 9, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA, SOFIA Pinpoints Water Vapor in Young Star AFGL 2591   

    From SOFIA: “SOFIA Pinpoints Water Vapor in Young Star” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    June 8, 2016
    Kassandra Bell
    SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

    Dr. Dana Backman
    SOFIA Science Center, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California

    1
    Infrared spectrum of the protostar AFGL 2591 made by the EXES instrument on SOFIA, superimposed on an infrared image of the protostar and the nebula that surrounds it, made by the Gemini Observatory. Credits: Spectrum Image: NASA/DLR/USRA/DSI/EXES Team/N. Indrolio (U. Michigan & JHU); Credit Background Image: C. Aspin et al. / NIRI / Gemini Observatory / NSF.

    A team of scientists using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has pinpointed the amount and location of water vapor around a newly forming star with groundbreaking precision.

    Using data collected aboard SOFIA, the team determined that most of this young star’s water vapor is located in material flowing away from the star, rather than within the disk of matter orbiting around it. This location is unexpected, indicating that if planets formed around this star, they might receive only a small fraction of the water in the system.

    These observations were made possible by using SOFIA’s airborne vantage point in the Stratosphere — at an altitude above 99% of Earth’s water vapor, which prevents this type of measurement from the ground– as well as the precision and sensitivity of the EXES (Echelon-Cross-Echelle Spectrograph) instrument aboard SOFIA. The instrument spreads infrared light into its component colors with very high detail, providing scientists with more information about this light than was previously possible.

    “This detection of water vapor would have been impossible for any ground-based observatory, and there are currently no space-borne telescopes providing this capability,” said SOFIA project scientist Pamela Marcum. “These mid-infrared observations allow us to directly measure the amount of water vapor in this young star, expanding our understanding of the distribution of water in the universe and its eventual incorporation into planets. The water detected today could be the oceans of tomorrow in planets that form around these new stars.”

    These findings were published in Astrophysical Journal Letters in 2015. The team was led by scientists at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Mich., and Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore Md, and the University of California at Davis.

    See the full article here .

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    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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  • richardmitnick 6:12 am on June 7, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , NASA SOFIA, SOFIA Heads to New Zealand to Study Southern Skies   

    From SOFIA: “SOFIA Heads to New Zealand to Study Southern Skies” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    June 6, 2016
    Monroe Conner

    The Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand, to study the Southern Hemisphere’s skies June 6.

    For the next eight weeks, the aircraft-based observatory will operate from the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Antarctic Program facility at Christchurch International Airport. The airborne platform puts the observatory above 99% of Earth’s infrared-blocking water vapor, and enables it to conduct observations from almost anywhere in the world. When flying from New Zealand, astronomers on board SOFIA can study celestial objects that are best observed from southern latitudes, such as star formation within the Magellanic Clouds.

    The Magellanic Clouds are two satellite galaxies of our Milky Way Galaxy.

    Small Magellanic Cloud. NASA/ESA Hubble and ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2
    Small Magellanic Cloud. NASA/ESA Hubble and ESO/Digitized Sky Survey 2

    Large Magellanic Cloud. Adrian Pingstone  December 2003
    Large Magellanic Cloud. Adrian Pingstone December 2003

    From the aircraft’s home base in California, scientists on SOFIA typically study star formation within the Milky Way, but flying in the Southern Hemisphere gives scientists a view of star formation within these neighboring galaxies. Comparing stellar evolution in the Magellanic Clouds and the Milky Way enables scientists to better understand how the earliest generations of stars in our universe formed.

    “It’s hard to beat the quality of the science data that we obtain while observing from New Zealand,” said Program Manager Eddie Zavala, “We are looking forward to another outstanding series of observations.”

    This year’s observations follow Southern observing flights last year, which included studying Pluto’s atmosphere just two weeks before NASA’s New Horizons mission made its nearest approach to Pluto. The next eight weeks include 24 observing flights, using three of the observatory’s seven instruments. Because it’s based on an aircraft, SOFIA can carry heavier, more powerful instruments than spaced-based observatories. These instruments can also be changed and upgraded to accommodate a variety of observations

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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  • richardmitnick 5:06 pm on May 6, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , NASA SOFIA   

    From SOFIA: “Flying Observatory Detects Atomic Oxygen in Martian Atmosphere” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    May 6, 2016
    Kassandra Bell

    An instrument onboard the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) detected atomic oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars for the first time since the last observation 40 years ago. These atoms were found in the upper layers of the Martian atmosphere known as the mesosphere.

    Atomic oxygen affects how other gases escape Mars and therefore has a significant impact on the planet’s atmosphere. Scientists detected only about half the amount of oxygen expected, which may be due to variations in the Martian atmosphere. Scientists will continue to use SOFIA to study these variations to help better understand the atmosphere of the Red Planet.

    “Atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere is notoriously difficult to measure,” said Pamela Marcum, SOFIA project scientist. “To observe the far-infrared wavelengths needed to detect atomic oxygen, researchers must be above the majority of Earth’s atmosphere and use highly sensitive instruments, in this case a spectrometer. SOFIA provides both capabilities.”

    The Viking and Mariner missions of the 1970s made the last measurements of atomic oxygen in the Martian atmosphere. These more recent observations were possible thanks to SOFIA’s airborne location, flying between 37,000-45,000 feet, above most of the infrared-blocking moisture in Earth’s atmosphere. The advanced detectors on one of the observatory’s instruments, the German Receiver for Astronomy at Terahertz Frequencies (GREAT), enabled astronomers to distinguish the oxygen in the Martian atmosphere from oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere.

    NASA SOFIA GREAT
    NASA SOFIA GREAT

    Researchers presented their findings in a paper* published in the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics in 2015.

    1
    SOFIA/GREAT spectrum of oxygen [O I] superimposed on an image of Mars from the MAVEN mission. The amount of atomic oxygen computed from this SOFIA data is about half the amount expected.
    Credits: SOFIA/GREAT spectrum: NASA/DLR/USRA/DSI/MPIfR/GREAT Consortium/ MPIfS/Rezac et al. 2015. Mars image: NASA/MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission)

    NASA/Mars MAVEN

    *Science paper:
    First detection of the 63 μm atomic oxygen line in the thermosphere of Mars with GREAT/SOFIA⋆

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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  • richardmitnick 2:33 pm on April 27, 2016 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , HAWC+ camera, NASA SOFIA   

    From SOFIA: “One-of-a-Kind Camera Added to SOFIA” 

    NASA SOFIA Banner

    NASA SOFIA

    SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy)

    April 26, 2016

    Media contact: Kassandra Bell
    SOFIA Science Center, NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

    NASA SOFIA High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus HAWC+ Camera
    NASA SOFIA High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus HAWC+ Camera

    The newest instrument, an infrared camera called the High-resolution Airborne Wideband Camera-Plus (HAWC+), was installed on the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA, this week. This is the only currently operating astronomical camera that makes images using far-infrared light, allowing studies of low-temperature early stages of star and planet formation. HAWC+ includes a polarimeter, a device that measures the alignment of incoming light waves. With the polarimeter, HAWC+ can map magnetic fields in star forming regions and in the environment around the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

    Sag A* NASA&'s Chandra X-Ray Observatory 23 July 2014, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way
    Sag A* NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory 23 July 2014, the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way

    These new maps can reveal how the strength and direction of magnetic fields affect the rate at which interstellar clouds condense to form new stars. A team led by C. Darren Dowell at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and including participants from more than a dozen institutions developed the instrument.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    SOFIA is a joint project of NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The aircraft is based at and the program is managed from NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center’s facility in Palmdale, California. NASA’s Ames Research Center, manages the SOFIA science and mission operations in cooperation with the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) headquartered in Columbia, Maryland, and the German SOFIA Institute (DSI) at the University of Stuttgart.

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