Discovery sheds new light on stars

Prof Derek Ward Thompson, head of the School of Physical Sciences and Computing at UCLan,
Prof Derek Ward Thompson, head of the School of Physical Sciences and Computing at UCLan,

Astronomers from Preston have helped in the discovery of new magnetic fields in space which could shed new light on how stars are formed - and uncover the mysteries behind one of the most famous celestial images.

In what is being described as a ground-breaking discovery, extremely subtle magnetic fields have been discovered and mapped in the Pillars of Creation.

The structure was made famous thanks to an iconic image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope – have been discovered and mapped.

The Pillars consists of cosmic dust and cold, dense gas that have nurseries of stars forming at their tips.

This innovative research was carried out by a team of researchers from all over the world, known as BISTRO and led by astronomers from the University of Central Lancashire, who made the measurements at the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii.

The research has shown that the magnetic fields that run along the lengths of the Pillars are at a different angle to the regions surrounding the Pillars, revealing the reason behind their unusual structure.

Using an instrument on the telescope known as a polarimeter, the researchers showed that the light emitted from the Pillars is polarised, indicating the direction of the magnetic field.

Professor Derek Ward-Thompson, head of the School of Physical Sciences and Computing at UCLan, said: “This discovery will revolutionise our understanding of how stars are formed. The technology employed to view the minutiae of the magnetic fields is truly remarkable, and the fact that we have been able to observe the incredibly weak magnetic field with this sensitive instrument will help us to solve the mystery of the formation of stars.”

The James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, located on Mauna Key in Hawaii, is operated by the East Asian Observatory.

The BISTRO Survey is a large team of scientists who are working to understand the role of magnetic fields in the formation of stars, with members from across the partner regions of the JCMT: China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam and from participating universities in the United Kingdom and Canada.