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Studying star formation from the stratosphere

An important mystery in astrophysics is why the conversion of interstellar gas into stars is such an inefficient process.  We typically observe of order 1% the star formation rate expected from a free-fall gravitational collapse of molecular gas clouds. This low efficiency is likely due to regulation from a combination of turbulent gas motions, magnetic fields, and feedback from young stars.  Of these processes the role played by magnetic fields is particularly poorly understood, largely because of the difficulty of observing distant magnetic fields. In this talk I will discuss what we have learned about magnetic fields in star-forming regions using the Balloon-borne Large Aperture Sub-mm Telescope for Polarimetry (BLASTPol). BLASTPol launched from Antarctica in 2010 and 2012, operating while suspended from 10^6 cubic meter stratospheric balloon 38km above sea level (above 99.5% of the Earth’s atmosphere). By statistically comparing BLASTPol-inferred maps of magnetic field morphology and polarization level for the nearby giant molecular cloud Vela C with simulations of magnetized star formation, we find that magnetic fields play an important role in the formation of both low- and high-density molecular gas sub-structures. We have also applied our analysis techniques to Planck polarization maps of nearby low-mass molecular clouds and find similar trends, indicating that magnetic fields of these clouds likely influence sub-structure formation.  I will also discuss our recent adventures launching a next-generation balloon-borne polarimeter, BLAST-TNG, from Antarctica in January 2020.  I will finish my talk by looking at the future of balloon, space, and ground based studies of magnetized star and planet formation.


Laura Fissel, Queen's University

April 14, 2021
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm