Gravity, Magnetic Fields and Star Formation

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As much as any science field, astronomy is about origins. Therefore, the origins of stars is a central question in the field. For more than a century, it has been known that stars form via gravitational contraction of clouds of interstellar gas and dust. And for more than a half century, it has been known that weak magnetic fields of uncertain origin can play a crucial role in the star formation process. Unfortunately, magnetic field strengths in interstellar space are notoriously difficult to measure. I will explain why magnetic fields are important to star formation, how we measure them, and what we now know about the interactions between gravity and magnetic fields during the star formation process. Curiously, magnetic fields in space can impede star formation, yet they are also essential to star formation. Without magnetic fields, there would be no Sun, no Earth, and no one to listen to this talk.

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A presentation at the University of Kentucky Physics & Astronomy Colloquium in Lexington, KY.