Preston astronomer among team working with NASA on new telescope

Posted on - 12th January, 2018 - 12:00pm | Author - | Posted in - News, UCLan, University
Pictures from the NASA telescope
Pictures from the NASA telescope

A Preston lecturer has been working with NASA on highlighting the importance of magnetic fields for star formation.


Professor Derek Ward-Thompson, who teaches at the University of Central Lancashire, has been part of the team who have converted a jumbo jet to be a new telescope.

NASA have been studying Rho Ophiuchi A, one of the closest stellar nurseries to Earth at 424 light-years away.

They have modified a Boeing 747 to fit it with a 2.5metre infrared telescope.

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Director of the university’s Jeremiah Horrocks Institute Professor Ward-Thompson said: “It’s been a fascinating project to be involved with and I’m delighted this is the fruition of those five years’ research. This is only the start of our new discoveries using this technology and furthering our knowledge of stars and their formation.

“The interstellar grains need magnetic fields to align efficiently. It is expected that the grains in the outskirts of the cloud receive more radiation so they should be better aligned (with magnetic fields). As you go to the darker (and denser) parts of the cloud, the grains receive less radiation – so they are not very well aligned anymore.

“The cloud has mass, and therefore it has gravity. So you would think that it should just contract and create stars in there. But there are more things involved – one of these other things is the influence of magnetic fields.

“You can think of the magnetic field as this net of lines that is mixed together with the material in the cloud. Whenever the cloud contracts, it brings the field lines together. So, it acts as a kind of tension that holds the material apart.

“There is an idea that if you have very strong magnetic fields in some parts of the galaxy, you could run into a situation where gravity will not be able to overcome this magnetic tension. So you won’t be able to form any stars – the magnetic field lines don’t let the material collapse.”

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