Located 600 light-years away, we can now see details of the dense gas and dust eddies in high resolution.
Among other details, we can see more clearly the material that may be feeding the ring around the central supermassive black hole of our galaxy. The ring is about 10 light-years across and plays a key role in bringing matter closer to the black hole, where it can eventually be eaten up.
SOFIA is an aerial telescope . Flying high in the atmosphere, this modified Boeing 747 aimed its infrared camera called FORCAST, the weak-object infrared camera for the SOFIA telescope, to observe warm galactic material emitting at wavelengths of light that other telescopes could not detect.
As James Radomski , a scientist at the Universities Space Research Association at the SOFIA Science Center, explains:
It is amazing to see our galactic center in detail that we have never seen before. Studying this area has been like trying to put together a puzzle with missing pieces. The SOFIA data fills in some of the holes, bringing us significantly closer to having a complete picture.
The data was taken in July 2019 during SOFIA’s annual deployment in Christchurch, New Zealand, where scientists study the skies over the southern hemisphere. Some of the very weak spots and dark regions revealed in SOFIA’s image can help plan targets for telescopes of the future , such as the James Webb Space Telescope.