In December, AAS Nova Editor Susanna Kohler had the opportunity to fly aboard the NASA/DLR Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA). This week we’re taking a look at that flight, as well as some of the recent science the observatory produced and published in an ApJ Letters Focus Issue.
One of SOFIA’s great strengths is that the instruments mounted on this flying telescope can be easily swapped out, allowing for a broad range of infrared observations. Three of SOFIA’s instruments are featured in science recently published in the ApJ Letters Focus Issue: the Far Infrared Field-Imaging Line Spectrometer (FIFI-LS), the High-Resolution Airborne Wideband Camera Plus (HAWC+), and the Echelon-Cross-Echelle Spectrograph (EXES).
The FIFI-LS instrument mounted on the SOFIA telescope. [NASA/SOFIA/USRA/Greg Perryman]
FIFI-LS is a German-built instrument that can record spectra for each pixel of its field of view simultaneously, exploring objects in two far-infrared channels: 51–120 µm and 115–203 µm. Many astronomically interesting emission lines fall into these ranges — particularly those that trace the formation of massive stars and the properties of the interstellar medium.
By simultaneously capturing both images and spectra, FIFI-LS is able to deeply probe the composition and physical properties (like pressure and temperature) ...