Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Sculpting solar systems: Magnetic fields seen for first time

31.10.2014

Astronomers have caught their first glimpse of the invisible magnetic fields that sculpt solar systems.

Looking at a bright, nearby baby star and the dust swirling in its cradle, astronomers from the University of Illinois and six collaborating institutions were able to make out the shape of the magnetic field surrounding the star. The findings, which present a new way of looking at star and planet formation, were published in the journal Nature.


Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Illinois astronomy professor Leslie Looney (left) and former graduate student Ian Stephens, now at Boston University, studied a newborn star to see, for the first time, the magnetic field that will shape the planets of that star’s solar system.

According to University of Illinois astronomy professor Leslie Looney, who led the effort with his then-student Ian Stephens, now at Boston University, magnetic fields play important roles in astronomy.

“Magnetic fields course through these open areas of space with these big clouds of gas and dust; those are the cradles of baby stars,” Looney said. “The disk of dust and debris around the baby star is where planets are going to form, where the seeds of a solar system are sown. There are some theories about how that works, and a lot of them involve magnetic fields. But no one has ever detected a magnetic field in a disk before, so that was an essential missing piece of information.”

The astronomers focused on a very bright, newborn star named HL Tau, located a mere 450 light-years away – a short distance on astronomical scales. They used a telescope in California that the U. of I. operates in part, called the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wave Astronomy (CARMA). CARMA allowed the researchers to look at the dust around HL Tau at two different angles, like looking through polarized sunglasses. Dust in space is an oblong shape and aligns itself with the magnetic field, so the astronomers were able to tell the shape of the field by the tiny differences in how the dust filtered the light from the star.

They found that the magnetic field plays a role in shaping baby star systems. Furthermore, the shape they saw was somewhat surprising – a toroid, or twisted-donut shape, rather than shooting out vertically from the poles of the star as had been widely theorized.

“Now we can actually say there is a morphology, and it’s consistent with twisted toroidal fields. That means on these size scales where planet formation is happening, the field is important,” Stephens said. “It’s a different way of looking at star cradles, and a way we’ve not been able to do in the past. You’re able to get extra information you’ve never had before, reveal morphology and maybe look for differences that tell you more about the structure than you would with just looking at dust emission.”

The next step for Looney and his collaborators is to measure the magnetic field in other nearby stars, using a larger telescope with greater sensitivity. They also intend to work more closely with theorists to understand what shapes the magnetic fields and to integrate magnetic field parameters into existing star and planet formation models.

“Our models have used gas information and kinematics, but the magnetic fields were missing all that time, and that puts huge constraints on all the models,” Looney said. “We need to connect the motion of the system with how that changes the magnetic fields, and see if we can better constrain those models. Then from that, we can begin to understand the properties of the forming solar system. Magnetic fields are really an untapped way to probe a star disk.”

The National Science Foundation supported this work.

Editor's note: To reach Leslie Looney, call 217-244-3615; email lwl@illinois.edu.
The paper, “Spatially Resolved Magnetic Field Structure in the Disk of a T Tauri Star,” is available online.

Liz Ahlberg | University of Illinois

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Computer model predicts how fracturing metallic glass releases energy at the atomic level
20.07.2018 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht What happens when we heat the atomic lattice of a magnet all of a sudden?
18.07.2018 | Forschungsverbund Berlin

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Future electronic components to be printed like newspapers

A new manufacturing technique uses a process similar to newspaper printing to form smoother and more flexible metals for making ultrafast electronic devices.

The low-cost process, developed by Purdue University researchers, combines tools already used in industry for manufacturing metals on a large scale, but uses...

Im Focus: First evidence on the source of extragalactic particles

For the first time ever, scientists have determined the cosmic origin of highest-energy neutrinos. A research group led by IceCube scientist Elisa Resconi, spokesperson of the Collaborative Research Center SFB1258 at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), provides an important piece of evidence that the particles detected by the IceCube neutrino telescope at the South Pole originate from a galaxy four billion light-years away from Earth.

To rule out other origins with certainty, the team led by neutrino physicist Elisa Resconi from the Technical University of Munich and multi-wavelength...

Im Focus: Magnetic vortices: Two independent magnetic skyrmion phases discovered in a single material

For the first time a team of researchers have discovered two different phases of magnetic skyrmions in a single material. Physicists of the Technical Universities of Munich and Dresden and the University of Cologne can now better study and understand the properties of these magnetic structures, which are important for both basic research and applications.

Whirlpools are an everyday experience in a bath tub: When the water is drained a circular vortex is formed. Typically, such whirls are rather stable. Similar...

Im Focus: Breaking the bond: To take part or not?

Physicists working with Roland Wester at the University of Innsbruck have investigated if and how chemical reactions can be influenced by targeted vibrational excitation of the reactants. They were able to demonstrate that excitation with a laser beam does not affect the efficiency of a chemical exchange reaction and that the excited molecular group acts only as a spectator in the reaction.

A frequently used reaction in organic chemistry is nucleophilic substitution. It plays, for example, an important role in in the synthesis of new chemical...

Im Focus: New 2D Spectroscopy Methods

Optical spectroscopy allows investigating the energy structure and dynamic properties of complex quantum systems. Researchers from the University of Würzburg present two new approaches of coherent two-dimensional spectroscopy.

"Put an excitation into the system and observe how it evolves." According to physicist Professor Tobias Brixner, this is the credo of optical spectroscopy....

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

Leading experts in Diabetes, Metabolism and Biomedical Engineering discuss Precision Medicine

13.07.2018 | Event News

Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP: Fine Tuning for Surfaces

12.07.2018 | Event News

11th European Wood-based Panel Symposium 2018: Meeting point for the wood-based materials industry

03.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

A smart safe rechargeable zinc ion battery based on sol-gel transition electrolytes

20.07.2018 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Reversing cause and effect is no trouble for quantum computers

20.07.2018 | Information Technology

Princeton-UPenn research team finds physics treasure hidden in a wallpaper pattern

20.07.2018 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>