A polarized view on stars, planets and life
Research Project , 2021 – 2024

Magnetic fields affect almost all astrophysical processes, yet observing them is often difficult. In protoplanetary disks, where planets are formed and their chemistry is set, magnetic fields can only be traced by molecular line polarization observations.
Life is distinctly homochiral. Homochirality is an important biomarker when looking for extraterestial life. However, homochirality is difficult to indicate. Only through polarization may an excess of one handed form over the other be shown. Recently, the first chiral molecule has been detected in the interstellar medium, but its chiral excess remains unexplored. This project covers 36 months. It will make the necessary improvements in the theory of molecular line polarization observations to later propose, observe and succesfully interpret the line polarization signals from protoplanetary disks. These observations will constitute the first observations of the magnetic field in a protoplanetary disk. We will develop the theory of the polarization of microwave spectral lines of chiral molecules. With it, we are able to devise an observational strategy that will lead to the first constraints on homochirality in the interstellar medium.The host institution, the Leiden Observatory, host world-leading experts in the chemistry and radiative transfer in protoplanetary disks. Combined with my expertise on the polarization of molecular lines, we will find answers to these important questions in astronomy, chemistry and biology.


Boy Lankhaar (contact)

Researcher at Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Astronomy and Plasmaphysics, Galactic Astrophysics


Swedish Research Council (VR)

Project ID: 2021-00339
Funding Chalmers participation during 2021–2024

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