|January 09, 2013|
by Mitch Battros – Earth Changes Media
Researchers using the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA)have captured new images of a ring of gas and dust seven light-years in diameter surrounding the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way, and of a neighboring cluster of extremely luminous young stars embedded in dust cocoons.
The nucleus of the Milky Way is inhabited by a black holewith 4 million times the mass of the Sun and is orbited by a large disk of gas and dust. The galactic center also hosts several exceptionally large star clusters containing some of the most luminous young stars in the galaxy, one of which is the Quintuplet Cluster. The combination of SOFIA’s airborne telescope with the FORCAST camera produced the sharpest images of those regions ever obtained at mid-infrared wavelengths, allowing discernment of new clues about what is happening near the central black hole.
The images were obtained during SOFIA flights in 2011 with FORCAST (Faint Object InfrRed CAmera for the SOFIA Telescope) instrument built by a team with principal investigator Terry Herter of Cornell. FORCAST offers astronomers the ability to see the CNR and QC regions and other exotic cosmic features whose light is obscured by water vapor in Earth’s atmosphere and interstellar dust clouds in the mid-plane of the Milky Way. Neither ground-based observatories on tall mountain peaks nor NASA’s orbiting Hubble space Telescope can see them.
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