2002-2003 Science Planning Summary

Aeronomy & Astrophysics

Dr. Vladimir Papitashvili
Program Manager


NSF/OPP 01-30389
Station: South Pole Station
RPSC POC: Paul Sullivan
Research Site(s): MAPO Building

Mapping galactic magnetic fields with SPARO (Submillimeter Polarimeter for Antarctic Remote Observations)
Dr. Giles Novak
Northwestern University
Department of Physics and Astronomy

Deploying Team Members: Bai Li-Hua . Giles A Novak
Research Objectives: The submillimeter polarimeter for antarctic observations (SPARO) maps interstellar magnetic fields by measuring the linear polarization of submillimeter thermal emission from magnetically aligned interstellar dust grains. Interstellar magnetic fields are generally difficult to observe, especially in the dense regions to which SPARO is most sensitive. It is important to study these fields because their energy density is comparable to that of the other physical ingredients that are found in interstellar regions, so they can play important roles in the physical processes that occur there. This program is designed to contribute to our understanding of two general problems in which interstellar gas (and thus probably also magnetic fields) plays important roles: The study of the Galactic Center region and star formation.

The study of the super-massive black holes that are found at the centers of many galaxies is motivated in part by the desire to understand the behavior of nature in such extreme environments and in part by the likely influence of these active galactic nuclei on the evolution of galaxies and perhaps of the Universe. Magnetic fields in star-forming regions may also help support star-forming clouds against gravity, or they may help clouds collapse via angular momentum transfer.

The SPARO instrument is operated on the Viper 2-meter telescope at the South Pole. Observations are carried out by personnel who remain there for the 8-month winter when South Pole Station is inaccessible. These observations are complementary to submillimeter polarimetry that is being carried out by larger telescopes at Mauna Kea, but SPARO is much more sensitive to submillimeter emissions because of the exceptionally good atmosphere transmission and the stability of the winter skies over the Antarctic Plateau.

Therefore, these observations are specifically aimed at (a) confirming SPARO’s recent discovery of a large-scale toroidal magnetic field at the Galactic Center, (b) testing a magnetic outflow model for the Galactic Center Lobe, a radio structure possibly tracing gas that has been ejected from the galactic nucleus, and (c) mapping large-scale magnetic fields in a sample of star-forming clouds to study the relationship between the elongated shapes of these clouds and their magnetic fields.

Field Season Overview:
Project team members will re-install the SPARO instrument on the Viper telescope, located on a tower adjacent to the Martin A. Pomerantz Observatory (MAPO building). During summer months, the group will gather data and calibrate the instrument. Most of the data is collected during the austral winter.

This instrument and William Holzapfel's Arcminute Cosmology Bolometer Array (ACBAR, AO-378-O) share the Viper telescope. Thus, the SPARO instrument will be installed and removed twice during the austral summer.

During the austral winter, the station science technician monitors the equipment and performs routine maintenance.