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Magnetic Fields in Far Away Galaxies Observed to be 10 Times Stronger than those in Milky Way

Conventional theories of star and galaxy formation challenged

Photo of the  Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in Green Bank, Pocahontas County, W. Va.

This discovery was enabled by the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, funded by NSF.
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November 12, 2008

Using the National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the largest steerable radio telescope in the world, researchers peered into the early universe and obtained the first direct measurement of a nascent galaxy's magnetic field as it appeared 6.5 billion years ago.

The astronomers report that the magnetic field they measured in this distant "protogalaxy" is at least 10 times greater than the average value in the Milky Way.

It is thought that slowly rotating galaxies generate magnetic fields, in a "dynamo effect," that grow very gradually as they evolve over 5 billion to 10 billion years.

Astronomers believe the magnetic fields within our own Milky Way and other nearby galaxies control the rate of star formation and the dynamics of interstellar gas. That the magnetic field observed in this young galaxy is much stronger than expected, poses challenges to conventional theories on the formation of stars and galaxies.

The researchers' results were published in the October 2 issue of the journal Nature.

The researchers who reported the findings were Art Wolfe of the University of California at San Diego; Regina Jorgenson, a University of California at San Diego graduate student in physics; Carl Heiles, a professor of astronomy at the University of California at Berkeley; and Timothy Robishaw, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley.

To learn more about this discovery, read the University of California at San Diego news release.

--  Brian M Patten, (703) 292-4910 bpatten@nsf.gov
--  Lisa-Joy Zgorski, (703) 292-8311 lisajoy@nsf.gov

Arthur Wolfe
Regina Jorgenson
Carl Heiles
Timothy Robishaw

Related Institutions/Organizations
National Radio Astronomy Observatory
University of California-San Diego
University of California-Berkeley

West Virginia

Related Programs

Related Awards
#0708543 Collaborative Research: Exploring Star Formation in the Early Universe through Investigations of High-Redshift ISM

Years Research Conducted
2007 - 2008

Total Grants

Related Websites
Space Flight Now - UCSD press release: http://www.spaceflightnow.com/news/n0810/02magneticfield/
Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope: http://www.gb.nrao.edu/gbt/
Science Friday Talks With Art Wolfe, Oct. 3, 2008: http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/200810035

UCSD's Art Wolfe discusses magnetic fields in distant galaxies with NSF's Lisa-Joy Zgorski.
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UCSD's Art Wolfe discusses magnetic fields in distant galaxies with NSF's Lisa-Joy Zgorski.
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