Results of SPARO 2003: Mapping magnetic fields in giant molecular clouds

H. Li*, G. S. Griffin, M. Kreiny, G. Novak, R. F. Loewenstein, M. G. Newcomb, P. G. Calisse, D. T. Chuss

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

55 Scopus citations


We present results from the Austral Winter 2003 observing campaign of SPARO, a 450 μm polarimeter used with a 2 m telescope at the South Pole. We mapped large-scale magnetic fields in four GMCs in the Galactic disk: NGC 6334, the Carina Nebula, G333.6-0.2, and G331.5-0.1. We find a statistically significant correlation of the inferred field directions with the orientation of the Galactic plane. Specifically, three of the four GMCs (NGC 6334 is the exception) have mean field directions that are within 15° of the plane. The simplest interpretation is that the field direction tends to be preserved during the process of GMC formation. We have also carried out an analysis of published optical polarimetry data. For the closest of the SPARO GMCs, NGC 6334, we can compare the field direction in the cloud as measured by SPARO with the field direction in a larger region surrounding the cloud, as determined from optical polarimetry. For purposes of comparison, we also use optical polarimetry to determine field directions for 9-10 other regions of similar size. We find that the region surrounding NGC 6334 is an outlier in the distribution of field directions determined from optical polarimetry, just as the NGC 6334 cloud is an outlier in the distribution of cloud field directions determined by SPARO. In both cases the field direction corresponding to NGC 6334 is rotated away from the direction of the plane by a large angle. This finding is consistent with our suggestion that field direction tends to be preserved during GMC formation. Finally, by comparing the disorder in our magnetic field maps with the disorder seen in magnetic field maps derived from MHD turbulence simulations, we conclude that the magnetic energy density in our clouds is comparable to the turbulent energy density.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)340-354
Number of pages15
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Sep 1 2006


  • Galaxies: magnetic fields
  • ISM: clouds
  • ISM: magnetic fields
  • Polarization
  • Turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

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