The science projects planned by the team include multicolor imaging of the galactic center, Vega-like dust clouds, and star formation in normal spiral galaxies and active galaxies.
The Galactic Center: FORCAST will explore the nature of the implied 106 Msun black hole at the galactic center (Sgr A*) and the ring of gas and dust surrounding it. FORCAST will detect the far-infrared emission associated with Sgr A* and provide the highest resolution mapping of the dust circumnuclear ring. These observations will address questions of the nature of the accretion disk around the black hole and how material in the central regions of our galaxy is heated. FORCAST will also search for the energy sources associated with the unique arch structures 20 pc north of Sgr A*.
Circumstellar Disks: FORCAST will probe the nature of circumstellar material around main-sequence stars, stars which are thought to have analogs to the zodiacal cloud in our solar system. FORCAST can detect and resolve the disk structure in nearby stars such as Vega, beta Pic, alpha PSA, and epsilon Eri. This will yield direct information on the distribution and properties of the dust around the stars. This is not an easy problem for FORCAST to approach since this is diffuse emission and we will re-assess this topic as we obtain actual in-flight performance data with FORCAST on SOFIA.
Star Formation in Galaxies: We will use FORCAST to image the spiral arms of several nearby galaxies (such as M83 and M51) to study the process of star formation. FORCAST has the spatial resolution and sensitivity to resolve star formation within the arms. The far-infrared emission traces current star formation that can be compared with the spatial distribution of atomic and molecular gas to test star formation scenarios for galaxies.
Further Use: This instrument will be of great value to the SOFIA community for imaging protostellar environments, young star clusters, molecular clouds, and galaxies. Multicolor information allows determination of dust temperatures, dust optical depths (and dust masses), dust composition, location of ionizing sources, and the spatial morphology of star forming regions.
2011 AAS: First Light Results + Telescope Movie