For the first time, astronomers have been able to measure the tangled mess of magnetism surrounding a very young, 10,000 year-old star, providing an insight to how magnetism may affect a baby star's protoplanetary disk growth - and therefore its potential planetary system - by deflecting material away from, or funneling it into the hungry star.
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The observations, made by the National Science Foundation's Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array (VLA) radio telescope, have also shown that millimeter- to centimeter-sized particles are rapidly forming in the dusty envelope surrounding the star, providing an insight to the particle-formation processes in early stellar processes. It is believed that these particles go on to eventually form asteroids and planets.
The researchers zoomed in on one of a pair of protostars located around 750 light-years away in the constellation Perseus and recorded the polarization of the radio waves generated by the environment surrounding the star, called NGC1333 IRAS 4A. The polarization of the emissions provides information about the magnetic configuration of the stellar material. The radio waves are being generated by mainly dust falling onto the hot protoplanetary disk.
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Some material in the disk falls into the star, dragging the magnetic field with it, possibly interfering with stellar accretion.
"The alignment of magnetic fields in this region near young stars is very important to the development of the disks that orbit them," said Leslie Looney, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Depending on its alignment, the magnetic field can either hinder the growth of the disk or help funnel material onto the disk, allowing it to grow."
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"Our VLA observations are showing us this region, where the change in shape of the magnetic field is taking place," added Erin Cox, also of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
Understanding the magnetic configuration close to a young star is critical to our understanding of stellar evolution and may even help us understand how rapidly planets may be spawned by a star's protoplanetary disk. This knowledge could then be used to forma better picture as to how our solar system took shape shortly after the sun sparked to life.