A legacy program to map the far-IR fine structure line of C+ at 158 microns with the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) has been recently awarded to a small international team led by Prof. Tielens (Leiden Observatory, The Netherlands) and including 3 members of the NANOCOSMOS project, Dr. J. R. Goicoechea (ICMM-CSIC), Dr. O. Berné (IRAP, CNRS) and Prof. J. Cernicharo (ICMM-CSIC). The observing time to map the Orion molecular cloud will be more than 50 hours, which means several flights on board SOFIA!!
The ionized carbon emission dominates the gas cooling of the low density interstellar medium and it is the brightest emission line in the IR spectrum of galaxies. In the next 2 years, astronomers will use the instrument upGREAT flying on board SOFIA to map an area of more than 20 times the central region of Orion recently observed with the Herschel Space Telescope (Goicoechea et al. 2015, ApJ, 812, 75, see the publications section). This project will allow to uniquely determine the use of the C+ line as a star formation rate indicator, derive the amount of molecular cloud mass not measured by CO (so-called “CO-dark” gas), and semi-empirically determine the photo-electric heating efficiency on Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and interstellar dust grains.
The Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is a joint project between NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) consisting of a custom-modified Boeing 747SP aircraft with an effective aperture of 2.5 m mounted in an open cavity towards the tail of the aircraft.