This Is What The Milky Way’s Magnetic Field Looks Like

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ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France

The Milky Way, to human eyes, appears as simply a mix of stars and light-blocking dust.

ESA/GAIA

However, a glimpse in additional wavelengths reveals enormously rich, detailed structures.

ESA/NASA/JPL-Caltech

Observations show galactic foreground signals combined with cosmic signals originating way back from the Big Bang.

ESA and the Planck Collaboration

Leveraging observations across many different wavelengths, Planck scientists identified the cause and source of many galactic foregrounds.

ESA/ LFI & HFI Consortia

The Milky Way’s gas, dust, stars and more create fascinating, measurable structures.

ESA and the Planck collaboration

Subtracting out all the foregrounds yields the cosmic background signal, which possesses tiny temperature imperfections.

ESA and the Planck Collaboration

But the galactic foreground isn’t useless; it’s a map unto itself.

ESA and the Planck collaboration

All background light gets polarized by these foregrounds, enabling the reconstruction of our galaxy’s magnetic field.

Clark et al., Physical Review Letters, Volume 115, Issue 24, id.241302 (2015)

Quite surprisingly, neutral hydrogen appears to be aligned with the CMB’s polarization.

ESA/PLANCK COLLABORATION / STSCI/DSS (L); M. MURGIA / INAF, BASED ON F. GOVONI ET AL., 2019, SCIENCE (R)

However, Planck data of distant galaxies matches well with reconstructed magnetic fields.

ESA and the Planck Collaboration

Scientists continue to evaluate the successes of our best foreground modeling.

ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France

What’s certain is that dust grains correlate with these giant magnetic structures.

ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France

The link is through star-formation, which occurs inside these obscured regions.

ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France

Extragalactic light is unavoidably affected by our galactic magnetic fields, enabling the construction of these beautiful maps.

ESA/Planck Collaboration. Acknowledgment: M.-A. Miville-Deschênes, CNRS – Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Université Paris-XI, Orsay, France


Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.

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