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Front. Astron. Space Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fspas.2019.00003

Interferometric observations of magnetic fields in forming stars

  • 1National Astronomical Observatory (Chile), Chile
  • 2Atacama Large Millimeter Submillimeter Array, Chile
  • 3Center for Astrophysics, Harvard University, United States

The magnetic field is a key ingredient in the recipe of star formation. However, the importance of the magnetic field in the early stages of the formation of low- and high-mass stars is still far from certain. Over the past two decades, the millimeter and submillimeter interferometers BIMA, OVRO, CARMA, SMA, and most recently ALMA have made major strides in unveiling the role of the magnetic field in star formation at progressively smaller spatial scales; ALMA observations have recently achieved spatial resolutions of up to ~100 au and ~1,000 au in nearby low- and high-mass star-forming regions, respectively. From the kiloparsec scale of molecular clouds down to the inner few hundred au immediately surrounding forming stars, the polarization at millimeter and submillimeter wavelengths is dominated by polarized thermal dust emission, where the dust grains are aligned relative to the magnetic field. Interferometric studies have focused on this dust polarization and occasionally on the polarization of spectral-line emission. We review the current state of the field of magnetized star formation, from the first BIMA results through the latest ALMA observations, in the context of several questions that continue to motivate the studies of high- and low-mass star formation. By aggregating and analyzing the results from individual studies, we come to several conclusions: (1) Magnetic fields and outflows from low-mass protostellar cores are randomly aligned, suggesting that the magnetic field at ~1000 au scales is not the dominant factor in setting the angular momentum of embedded disks and outflows. (2) Recent measurements of the thermal and dynamic properties in high-mass star-forming regions reveal small virial parameters, challenging the assumption of equilibrium star formation. However, we estimate that a magnetic field strength of a fraction of a mG to several mG in these objects could bring the dense gas close to a state of equilibrium. Finally, (3) We find that the small number of sources with hourglass-shaped magnetic field morphologies at 0.01--0.1 pc scales cannot be explained purely by projection effects, suggesting that while it does occur occasionally, magnetically dominated core collapse is not the predominant mode of low- or high-mass star formation.

Keywords: Astronomy, Low-mass star formation, High-mass star formation, Polarization - Methods, Magnetic Fields, Dust, Interferometry - techniques, Millimeter-wave observations

Received: 29 Aug 2018; Accepted: 23 Jan 2019.

Edited by:

Ray S. Furuya, Tokushima University, Japan

Reviewed by:

Aveek Sarkar, Physical Research Laboratory, India
Keping Qiu, Nanjing University, China  

Copyright: © 2019 Hull and Zhang. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Charles L. Hull, National Astronomical Observatory (Chile), Las Condes, Santiago Metropolitan Region (RM), Chile, chat.hull@nao.ac.jp