Magnetic fields set the stage for the birth of new stars

Nov 16, 2011
Image of the Triangulum Galaxy M33, which presents astronomers with a bird’s eye view of its disk. The pink blobs are regions containing newly formed stars. Credit: Thomas V. Davis (tvdavisastropics.com)

(PhysOrg.com) -- 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 will be published in the November 24 edition of 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 they have brought forth.

know quite a bit about these so-called molecular clouds: They consist mainly of – 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 ?

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 .

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.

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 – and to setting the stage for the birth of stars and planetary systems like our own.

Explore further: Fermi satellite detects gamma-rays from exploding novae

More information: The work described here will be published in the November 24, 2011 edition of Nature as H. Li and T. Henning, "The alignment of molecular cloud magnetic fields with the spiral arms in M33". The article will be published online on November 16. Link to article: dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature10551

Related Stories

Magnetic fields in interstellar clouds

Mar 25, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Magnetic fields play an important role in the formation and evolution of stars, as they stretch around a hot medium like a rubber band and help to determine the flow of material onto or away ...

Massive stars' magnetically controlled diets

Feb 18, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A team of astronomers, led by Dr. Wouter Vlemmings at Bonn University, has used the MERLIN radio telescope network centred on the Jodrell Bank Observatory to show that magnetic fields play ...

A new, distant arm of the Milky Way galaxy

Jun 13, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Our Milky Way galaxy, like other spiral galaxies, has a disk with sweeping arms of stars, gas, and dust that curve around the galaxy like the arms of a huge pinwheel.

Recommended for you

Fermi satellite detects gamma-rays from exploding novae

15 hours ago

The Universe is home to a variety of exotic objects and beautiful phenomena, some of which can generate almost inconceivable amounts of energy. ASU Regents' Professor Sumner Starrfield is part of a team that ...

Image: Hubble serves a slice of stars

22 hours ago

The thin, glowing streak slicing across this image cuts a lonely figure, with only a few foreground stars and galaxies in the distant background for company.

Evidence of a local hot bubble carved by a supernova

Jul 30, 2014

I spent this past weekend backpacking in Rocky Mountain National Park, where although the snow-swept peaks and the dangerously close wildlife were staggering, the night sky stood in triumph. Without a fire, ...

User comments : 11

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1.5 / 5 (15) Nov 16, 2011
If stars re-form on pulsar remnants of previous stars, as suspected [1-3], then new stars will start with an enormous magnetic field.

1. "Strange xenon, extinct super-heavy elements, and the solar neutrino puzzle", Science 195, 208-209 (1977)

www.omatumr.com/a...enon.pdf

2. "Is the Universe Expanding?" Journal of Cosmology 13, 4187-4190 (2011)

http://journalofc...102.html

3. "Neutron Repulsion", The APEIRON Journal, in press (2011)

http://arxiv.org/...2.1499v1

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Former NASA Principal
Investigator for Apollo
http://myprofile....anuelo09
Nik_2213
5 / 5 (4) Nov 16, 2011
What relevance are those three references to galactic magnetic fields ??
brodix
1 / 5 (1) Nov 16, 2011
Does this affect the theoretical need for dark matter to explain how galaxies are held together?
omatumr
1.8 / 5 (10) Nov 16, 2011
What relevance are those three references to galactic magnetic fields ??


Fragmentation of massive neutron stars produce galaxies of smaller neutron stars that accumulate glowing photospheres of waste products (H and He) and then appear to be ordinary stars like the Sun.

See: "Is the Universe Expanding?" Journal of Cosmology 13, 4187-4190 (2011)

http://journalofc...102.html
jsdarkdestruction
3 / 5 (6) Nov 17, 2011
Oliver Manuel's recent efforts to plaster Physorg.com and other public news sites with his theories and personal URLs are a bit puzzling, as scientists have a variety of publications available to communicate directly to each other in. My best guess is that he is desperately trying to prop up his legacy in light of his arrest in his university office on 7 charges of rape and sodomy based on allegations by 4 of his own children. The charges have been reduced to one count of felony attempted sodomy, not necessarily because of his innocence, but because of the statute of limitations. One can only guess how the recent charges and decades of family strife have affected his ability to reason rationally and to remain objective while defending his unpopular theories.

http://www.homefa...uel.html

http://mominer.ms...hildren/
Anda
4 / 5 (4) Nov 17, 2011
When one neutron star loves another neutron star (with or without rape) you get a galaxy of smaller neutron stars.
Yeah! Keep amusing us :)
odbj
2 / 5 (4) Nov 17, 2011
Isn't it obvious that he's a wounded animal? It's sadistic to find his situation amusing. Do you poke and prod the sick at the hospital too? Do you think Oliver wasn't abused himself? Isn't it more likely, according to the science we all know and love, that his actions are a product of a long chain of abuse?

I hope that you and your family find peace, Oliver.
Anda
4 / 5 (4) Nov 17, 2011
It's not his situation that I find amusing but his theories.

And of course it's not his fault being an abuser, poor guy... Oh C'mon!
mosahlah
not rated yet Nov 17, 2011
hydrogen is magnetic?
MarkyMark
5 / 5 (1) Nov 22, 2011
It's not his situation that I find amusing but his theories.

And of course it's not his fault being an abuser, poor guy... Oh C'mon!

Its pretty clear that te reason his Eleven year old daughter found his taste in sodomy repulsive was clearly because Neutrons find him repulsive, therefore proving he is not at ault here.
jsdarkdestruction
not rated yet Nov 22, 2011
Isn't it obvious that he's a wounded animal? It's sadistic to find his situation amusing. Do you poke and prod the sick at the hospital too? Do you think Oliver wasn't abused himself? Isn't it more likely, according to the science we all know and love, that his actions are a product of a long chain of abuse?

I hope that you and your family find peace, Oliver.

i dont find it amusing. i find it disgusting and believe oliver got off way too lightly. if he is going to spam this site with his garbage we've all read that we've pointed out the errors of which he ignores and then repeats the same link for the 100th time that either doesnt answer the question or is totally unrelated to it im going to show just how trustworthy and credible dr manuel really is.