NASA’s SOFIA mission is upgraded and back in action, and the Cigar Galaxy makes a perfect target.
In theory, cold, neutral gas is the key to stars and galaxies.
When gas clouds gravitationally collapse, new stars can form.
One the gas is completely gone, however, star formation ceases.
Paradoxically, the largest starbursts can ruin a galaxy’s future star-forming potential.
Starburst galaxies are rare, occurring when the entire galaxy becomes a star-forming region.
The closest one is the Cigar Galaxy (Messier 82), merely 12 million light-years away.
Its larger neighbor’s gravitational influence is triggering this starburst.
In 2019, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) studied the Cigar Galaxy’s gas with unprecedented sensitivities.
SOFIA observes at 41,000+ feet, avoiding 99% of atmospheric water vapor: infrared astronomy’s biggest nemesis.
Researchers discovered its enormous galactic wind is aligned along internal magnetic field lines.
Enormous quantities of gas and dust — upwards of 50,000,000 Suns — is being transported into intergalactic space, dragging the field with it.
This episode of copious star formation may deplete the Cigar Galaxy entirely.
Novel science continues, even during this pandemic, with international cooperation.
New SOFIA observations are being conducted over Germany, investigating ionized carbon: a key tracer of star formation.
Combined observations of star birth, winds, and matter transport will reveal key relationships underlying galaxy evolution.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.
Starts With A Bang is written by Ethan Siegel, Ph.D., author of Beyond The Galaxy, and Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive.