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Magnetised, masering methanol molecules

Submitter: Huib van Langevelde
Description: Today Nature Astronomy features an article on the magnetic properties of methanol molecules. As methanol in space can display maser emission, these new results can be used to quantitatively measure the strength of magnetic fields, notably in the vicinity of newly forming high mass stars. Through the so-called Zeeman effect the left and right circular polarisation split up a little bit in frequency and the new calculation provides the proportionality factor of this shift for methanol molecules. Although the interpretation of such measurements is complex and requires very delicate calibration, the results give astronomers a great tool to gauge the magnetic fields in the conditions in which stars form. It has been proposed that magnetic fields may be the key to understanding how high mass stars can form at all, as their accretion process could be halted by radiation pressure once the star is formed. Re-interpretation of previous observations with the new factors does indeed indicate that magnetic field is important in high mass star forming regions.

The factors were derived through theoretical molecular physics calculations, which leading author Boy Lankhaar started with Gerrit Groenenboom and Ad van der Avoird at Radboud University, Nijmegen. In the mean time Lankhaar has transferred to the group of Wouter Vlemmings at Onsala Space Observatory and Chalmers University, Gothenborg, Sweden. The other two authors on the paper are Huib van Langevelde from JIVE/Leiden and Gabriele Surcis, once at JIVE and now at INAF Cagliari, Sardinia.
Copyright: Image credit: Wolfgang Steffen/Boy Lankhaar et al. (molecules: Wikimedia Commons/Ben Mills)
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