Mega-magnetic forces influence star formation

How massive stars are formed is a hotly debated topic

Cepheus A
Astronomers say they have discovered new evidence that magnetic fields may play a more important role in star formation than previously thought.  

Using the Multi-Linked Radio Interferometer Network (MERLIN) radio telescope network in the UK, astronomers for the first time said they observed the 3-dimensional magnetic field structure around interstellar space particles known as the dust disk of the massive newly forming star -or protostar Cepheus A HW2

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MERLIN, operated by Jodrell Bank Observatory, is an array of radio telescopes distributed around Great Britain and operating at frequencies ranging from 151 MHz to 24 GHz. At 5GHz.  According to the observatory's Web site, the resolution of MERLIN is better than 50 milliarcseconds, somewhat greater than that of the Hubble Space Telescope. 

Cepheus A is 2,300 light-years from the Sun but is one of the closest areas where massive stars form, and earlier observations of this region revealed the presence of a dust disk.  In their new observations, the astronomers, led by Dr. Wouter Vlemmings at Bonn University, said they have found that the magnetic field is surprisingly regular and strong, implying that it is controlling how the matter is transferred through the disk to feed the embryonic star. 

According to the astronomers, the question of how massive stars are formed has proved extremely difficult to answer with the role magnetic fields play in that formation a topic of great debate. Many scientists thought that radiation and turbulence would be the more dominant factors, for example. 

In a paper to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vlemmings wrote:  Massive stars are short lived, yet they dominate galaxy evolution due to their strong radiation while enriching the interstellar medium with heavy elements when they explode in a supernova. Massive stars typically form in distant, dense clusters. In such regions, gravitational, radiation and turbulent energies are different from those in the regions that form lower mass stars such as the Sun. This new study reveals that the way in which high-mass and low-mass stars form may be more similar than previously suspected. 

How magnetic forces impact space is a hot topic.  For example, the National Science Foundation (NSF) late last year approved the funding for what it calls the largest solar telescope in the world which will offer unprecedented views and details of the Sun. 

According to the NSF, a primary goal of the ATST is to help scientists understand the solar magnetic activities and variability that drive space weather and the hazards it creates for astronauts and air travelers, and for communications to and from satellites. 

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