From finding organic molecules in distant stars to discovering water on the sunlit surface of the Moon, NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is at the forefront of scientific research — especially when it comes to the potential for life either developing or being sustained on bodies other than Earth.
The latest studies from SOFIA, both announced this month, confirm the presence of organics and water in protoplanetary discs around young, planet-forming stars as well as the detection of water molecules on the Sun-lit surface of the Moon — indicating that water may be distributed across the lunar surface and not limited to cold, shadowed places.
Organics in distant stars
In a paper published 8 October in the Astrophysical Journal, scientists using data gathered by SOFIA discovered large quantities of water and organic molecules in swirly, dusty discs rotating around two massive newborn stars.
The discovery offers a new understanding of how some of the key ingredients of life are incorporated into planets during the earliest stages of planetary system formation — a process that likely happened during the formation of the Sun and the inner rocky planets of our home solar system.
“We’re seeing many more molecular ...