SIMPLIFI: Study of Interstellar Magnetic Polarization: a Legacy Investigation of FIlaments

The dense molecular filaments in the interstellar medium are highly magnetized. But this observation also poses problems. In order for stars to form stars in filaments, they have to lose these magnetic fields. When and where does this happen?

SIMPLIFI is a NASA/SOFIA pilot legacy project led by Haystack Research Scientist Thushara G.S. Pillai to pursue these questions. How? A small fraction of a molecular cloud’s mass is made up by small dust grains that are mixed into the interstellar gas. Fortunately for us, these interstellar dust grains tend to align perpendicular to the direction of the magnetic field. As a result, the light emitted by these dust grains is polarized — and this polarization can be used to chart the magnetic field directions in molecular clouds. A recent paper was published in Nature Astronomy and there is also a “behind the paper” blog on this. More information on this project to come soon.