Study: Most stars host strong magnetic fields

"Now it is time for the theoreticians to investigate why these magnetic fields are so common," said astrophysicist Dennis Stello.
By Brooks Hays  |  Jan. 4, 2016 at 1:27 PM
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SYDNEY, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Contrary to previous theories, strong magnetic fields are common among stars. A new survey led by researchers at the University of Sydney found healthy magnetic fields in the majority of stars.

"This is tremendously exciting, and totally unexpected," lead researcher Dennis Stello, an associate professor of astrophysics at Sydney, said in a press release. "Because only 5 percent of stars were previously thought to host strong magnetic fields."

Until now, astrophysicists have most ignored magnetic fields as a factor in stellar evolution. The new survey -- made possible by NASA's Kepler mission -- will force scientists recalibrate their models.

The results were published this week in the journal Nature.

Scientists used Kepler data to analyze more than 700 red giants, stars similar in size and composition to our sun. Researchers were able to measure magnetic field strength by studying each star's specific oscillation.

"Their interior is essentially ringing like a bell." explained Stello. "And like a bell, or a musical instrument, the sound they produce can reveal their physical properties."

The analysis showed the vibrations from roughly 60 percent of the surveyed stars were quelled by significant magnetic fields inside the stellar cores. Most of the measured magnetic fields are more than 10 million times the strength of Earth's.

"Now it is time for the theoreticians to investigate why these magnetic fields are so common," Stello concluded.

Doing so may allow researchers to better understand the evolution of magnetic fields inside stars, and thus better illuminate the process of stellar evolution among red giants.

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