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Circular polarimetry reveals helical magnetic fields in the young stellar object HH 135–136


Magnetic fields are believed to have a vital role in regulating and shaping the flow of material onto and away from protostars during their initial mass accretion phase. It is becoming increasingly accepted1 that bipolar outflows are generated and collimated as material is driven along magnetic field lines and centrifugally accelerated off a rotating accretion disk. However, the precise role of the magnetic field is poorly understood and evidence for its shape and structure has not been forthcoming. Here we report imaging circular polarimetry in the near-infrared and Monte Carlo modelling showing that the magnetic field along the bipolar outflow of the HH 135–136 young stellar object is helical. The field retains this shape for large distances along the outflow, so the field structure can also provide the necessary magnetic pressure for collimation of the outflow. This result lends further weight to the hypothesis—central to any theory of star formation—that the outflow is an important instrument for the removal of high-angular-momentum material from the accretion disk, thereby allowing the central protostar to increase its mass.

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Figure 1: Imaging circular polarimetry of the HH 135–136 outflow system.
Figure 2: Results of three-dimensional Monte Carlo light-scattering model21.
Figure 3: Helical magnetic field structures.


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We thank M. Tamura for discussions on HH 135 and for providing us with his linear polarimetry data to aid our analyses. This work was supported by a grant from the UK Science and Technologies Facilities Council (to P.W.L.).

Author Contributions All authors contributed equally to this work. A.C. and J.H.H. conducted the observations at the telescope. A.C. reduced the data, and P.W.L. performed the Monte Carlo modelling. A.C. wrote the main paper, and P.W.L. wrote the Supplementary Information. All authors discussed the results and implications and commented on the manuscript at all stages.

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Correspondence to Antonio Chrysostomou or Philip W. Lucas.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods and Notes

The file contains Supplementary Methods and Notes. This document describes the model and technique. Details on the equations describing the density distribution and the magnetic field geometry in the model are given. (PDF 139 kb)

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Chrysostomou, A., Lucas, P. & Hough, J. Circular polarimetry reveals helical magnetic fields in the young stellar object HH 135–136. Nature 450, 71–73 (2007).

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