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Dynamos in asymptotic-giant-branch stars as the origin of magnetic fields shaping planetary nebulae

Nature volume 409, pages 485487 (25 January 2001) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Planetary nebulae are thought to be formed when a slow wind from the progenitor giant star is overtaken by a subsequent fast wind generated as the star enters its white dwarf stage1. A shock forms near the boundary between the winds, creating the relatively dense shell characteristic of a planetary nebula. A spherically symmetric wind will produce a spherically symmetric shell, yet over half of known planetary nebulae are not spherical; rather, they are elliptical or bipolar in shape2. A magnetic field could launch and collimate a bipolar outflow, but the origin of such a field has hitherto been unclear, and some previous work has even suggested that a field could not be generated3. Here we show that an asymptotic-giant-branch (AGB) star can indeed generate a strong magnetic field, having as its origin a dynamo at the interface between the rapidly rotating core and the more slowly rotating envelope of the star. The fields are strong enough to shape the bipolar outflows that produce the observed bipolar planetary nebulae. Magnetic braking of the stellar core during this process may also explain the puzzlingly4 slow rotation of most white dwarf stars.

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Acknowledgements

We are grateful to S. Kawaler and to F. D'Antona and P. Ventura for making available to us detailed tables of their evolutionary models for AGB stars. This work was supported by the NSF, NASA and the DOE.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. *Department of Physics and Astronomy and C. E. K. Mees Observatory, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627-0171, USA

    • Eric G. Blackman
    • , Adam Frank
    • , John H. Thomas
    •  & Hugh M. Van Horn
  2. †Department of Astronomy, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195-1580, USA

    • J. Andrew Markiel
  3. ‡Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Rochester, Rochester, New York 14627-0171, USA

    • John H. Thomas

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Correspondence to John H. Thomas.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/35054008

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