Featured Image: SOFIA Traces a Galaxy’s Magnetic Field

Editor’s note: AAS Nova will be on vacation for the remainder of this week. Our regular posting schedule will resume on Jan 21.


The magnetic field lines from SOFIA/HAWC+’s observations are here shown overplotted on this Hubble image of NGC 1068. [Lopez-Rodriguez et al. 2019]

This cryptic image is the (false-color) view of a large spiral galaxy, NGC 1068, at the far-infrared wavelength of 89 μm (click for the full view). The tiny hairs threading the galaxy show the magnetic field lines — ordinarily invisible — that pervade interstellar space. This magnetic field has been imaged using the HAWC+ instrument on SOFIA, a telescope that points out of a Boeing 747 airplane, observing above 99% of the Earth’s infrared-blocking atmosphere. HAWC+ has captured not only the infrared flux of the thermally emitting dust in NGC 1068, but also the polarization of the dust, which tells us what direction the magnetic field points at each location. By piecing this information together, a team led by Enrique Lopez-Rodriguez (SOFIA Science Center) has determined the overall structure of NGC 1068’s magnetic field, finding that it closely traces all the way along the spiral arms of the galaxy (24,000 light-years across!). To learn more about the authors’ results, check out the original article below.


“SOFIA/HAWC+ Traces the Magnetic Fields in NGC 1068,” Enrique Lopez-Rodriguez et al 2020 ApJ 888 66. doi:10.3847/1538-4357/ab5849