Magnetic fields or turbulence: Which dominates in regulating star formation?

Project ID: 



Maria Cunningham

The formation and evolution of stars drives the evolution of galaxies in the universe at all epochs (times), from the earliest observable galaxies to our own Milky Way.

However, we still do not have a good understanding of how stars form, and which physical mechanisms involved in this complex process are most important.

One of the major problems is that the star formation rates observed in galaxies are several orders of magnitude too low if we just assume that gas in galaxies is collapsing under the influence of gravity to form stars. So, something must be acting to slow down the collapse of gas in molecular clouds, the sites where stars form. Both turbulence and magnetic fields have been invoked in theoretical explanations for the low star formation rate, but it is not clear which, if either, has the dominant role.

This project involves comparing theory and observations to determine the effect of both magnetic fields and turbulence on star formation in the Vela C molecular cloud. We have a unique observational dataset available for this molecular cloud, containing the observations required to characterise both magnetic fields and turbulence.

Specifically, this project will involve using computational analysis to compare the observed data for both magnetic fields and turbulence to a variety of theoretic models, to constrain which models can plausibly explain the observations.

The Vela C molecular cloud shown as a false-colour Herschel Space telescope composite image: The bluer regions are hotter (Hill et al., 2011. A&A, 533, A94).