Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Magnetic fields set stage for birth of new stars

Date:
November 17, 2011
Source:
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy/Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie
Summary:
Astronomers have, for the first time, measured the alignment of magnetic fields in gigantic clouds of gas and dust in a distant galaxy. Their results suggest that such magnetic fields play a key role in channeling matter to form denser clouds, and thus in setting the stage for the birth of new stars.

This image is a blend of the Galaxy Evolution Explorer's M33 image and another taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope. M33, one of our closest galactic neighbors, is about 2.9 million light-years away in the constellation Triangulum, part of what's known as our Local Group of galaxies.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Astronomers at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy have, for the first time, measured the alignment of magnetic fields in gigantic clouds of gas and dust in a distant galaxy. Their results suggest that such magnetic fields play a key role in channeling matter to form denser clouds, and thus in setting the stage for the birth of new stars.

The work is being published in the journal Nature.

Stars and their planets are born when giant clouds of interstellar gas and dust collapse. You've probably seen the resulting stellar nurseries in beautiful astronomical images: Colorful nebulae, lit by the bright young stars they have brought forth.

Astronomers know quite a bit about these so-called molecular clouds: They consist mainly of hydrogen molecules -- unusual in a cosmos where conditions are rarely right for hydrogen atoms to bond together into molecules. And if one traces the distribution of clouds in a spiral galaxy like our own Milky Way galaxy, one finds that they are lined up along the spiral arms.

But how do those clouds come into being? What makes matter congregate in regions a hundred or even a thousand times more dense than the surrounding interstellar gas?

One candidate mechanism involves the galaxy's magnetic fields. Everyone who has seen a magnet act on iron filings in the classic classroom experiment knows that magnetic fields can be used to impose order. Some researchers have argued that something similar goes on in the case of molecular clouds: that galaxies' magnetic fields guide and direct the condensation of interstellar matter to form denser clouds and facilitate their further collapse.

Some astronomer see this as the key mechanism enabling star formation. Others contend that the cloud matter's gravitational attraction and turbulent motion of gas within the cloud are so strong as to cancel any influence of an outside magnetic field.

If we were to restrict attention to our own galaxy, it would be difficult to find out who is right. We would need to see our galaxy's disk from above to make the appropriate measurements; in reality, our Solar System sits within the galactic disk. That is why Hua-bai Li and Thomas Henning from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy chose a different target: the Triangulum galaxy, 3 million light-years from Earth and also known as M 33, which is oriented in just the right way (cf. image).

Using a telescope known as the Submillimeter Array (SMA), which is located at Mauna Kea Observatory on Mauna Kea Island, Hawai'i, Li and Henning measured specific properties of radiation received from different regions of the galaxy which are correlated with the orientation of these region's magnetic fields. They found that the magnetic fields associated with the galaxy's six most massive giant molecular clouds were orderly, and well aligned with the galaxy's spiral arms.

If turbulence played a more important role in these clouds than the ordering influence of the galaxy's magnetic field, the magnetic field associated with the cloud would be random and disordered.

Thus, Li and Henning's observations are a strong indication that magnetic fields indeed play an important role when it comes to the formation of dense molecular clouds -- and to setting the stage for the birth of stars and planetary systems like our own.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Max Planck Institute for Astronomy/Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Hua-bai Li, Thomas Henning. The alignment of molecular cloud magnetic fields with the spiral arms in M33. Nature, 2011; DOI: 10.1038/nature10551

Cite This Page:

Max Planck Institute for Astronomy/Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie. "Magnetic fields set stage for birth of new stars." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 November 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111116132119.htm>.
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy/Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie. (2011, November 17). Magnetic fields set stage for birth of new stars. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111116132119.htm
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy/Max-Planck-Institut für Astronomie. "Magnetic fields set stage for birth of new stars." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111116132119.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

Raw: ISS Cargo Ship Launches in Kazakhstan

AP (July 23, 2014) — The Progress 56 cargo ship launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Wednesday. NASA says it will deliver cargo and crew supplies to the International Space Station. (July 23) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks from Space Station

AP (July 22, 2014) — A Russian Soyuz cargo-carrying spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station on Monday. The craft is due to undergo about ten days of engineering tests before it burns up in the Earth's atmosphere. (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong

AP (July 21, 2014) — NASA honored one of its most famous astronauts Monday by renaming a historic building at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It now bears the name of Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Newsy (July 19, 2014) — Neil Armstrong gained international fame after becoming the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But what was his life like after the historic trip? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

    Health News

      Environment News

        Technology News



          Save/Print:
          Share:  

          Free Subscriptions


          Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

          Get Social & Mobile


          Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

          Have Feedback?


          Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
          Mobile iPhone Android Web
          Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
          Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
          Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins