Year of Publication

2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Physics and Astronomy

First Advisor

Dr. Thomas H. Troland

Abstract

The interstellar medium (ISM) of our Galaxy, and of others, is pervaded by ultra low-density gas and dust, as well as magnetic fields. Embedded magnetic fields have been known to play an important role in the structure and dynamics of the ISM. However, the ability to accurately quantify these fields has plagued astronomers for many decades. Unfortunately, the experimental techniques for measuring the strength and direction of magnetic fields are few, and they are observationally challenging. The only direct method of measuring the magnetic field is through the Zeeman effect.

The goal of this dissertation is to expand upon the current observational studies and understanding of the effects of interstellar magnetic fields across various regions of the Galaxy. Zeeman effect observations of magnetic fields in two dynamically diverse environments in the Milky Way are presented: (1) An OH and HI absorption line study of envelopes of molecular clouds distributed throughout the Galaxy, and (2) A study of OH absorption lines toward the Galactic center region in the vicinity of the supermassive black hole Sgr A*.

We have executed the first systematic observational survey designed to determine the role of magnetic fields in the inter-core regions of molecular clouds. Observations of extragalactic continuum sources that lie along the line-of-sight passing through Galactic molecular clouds were studied using the Arecibo telescope. OH Zeeman effect observations were combined with estimates of column density to allow for computation of the mass-to-flux ratio, a measurement of the gravitational to magnetic energies within a cloud. We find that molecular clouds are slightly subcritical overall. However, individual measurements yield the first evidence for magnetically subcritical molecular gas.

Jansky VLA observations of 18 cm OH absorption lines were used to determine the strength of the line-of-sight magnetic field in the Galactic center region. This study yields no clear detections of the magnetic field and results that differ from a similar study by Killeen, Lo, & Crutcher (1992). Our results suggest magnetic fields no more than a few microgauss in strength.

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