Tracing the large-scale magnetic field morphology in protoplanetary disks using molecular line polarization
Journal article, 2022

Context. Magnetic fields are fundamental to the accretion dynamics of protoplanetary disks and they likely affect planet formation. Typical methods to study the magnetic field morphology observe the polarization of dust or spectral lines. However, it has recently become clear that dust-polarization in ALMA's (Atacama Large (sub)Millimeter Array) spectral regime does not always faithfully trace the magnetic field structure of protoplanetary disks, which leaves spectral line polarization as a promising method for mapping the magnetic field morphologies of such sources. Aims. We aim to model the emergent polarization of different molecular lines in the ALMA wavelength regime that are excited in protoplanetary disks. We explore a variety of disk models and molecules to identify those properties that are conducive to the emergence of polarization in spectral lines and may therefore be viably used for magnetic field measurements in protoplanetary disks. Methods. We used POlarized Radiative Transfer Adapted to Lines in conjunction with the Line Emission Modeling Engine. Together, they allowed us to treat the polarized line radiative transfer of complex three-dimensional physical and magnetic field structures. Results. We present simulations of the emergence of spectral line polarization of different molecules and molecular transitions in the ALMA wavelength regime. We find that molecules that thermalize at high densities, such as HCN, are also the most susceptible to polarization. We find that such molecules are expected to be significantly polarized in protoplanetary disks, while molecules that thermalize at low densities, such as CO, are only significantly polarized in the outer disk regions. We present the simulated polarization maps at a range of inclinations and magnetic field morphologies, and we comment on the observational feasibility of ALMA linear polarization observations of protoplanetary disks. Conclusions. We conclude that those molecules with strong dipole moments and relatively low collision rates are most useful for magnetic field observations through line polarization measurements in high density regions such as protoplanetary disks.

Radiative transfer


Accretion, accretion disks

Magnetic fields

Stars: pre-main sequence


Boy Lankhaar

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Astronomy and Plasmaphysics

Wouter Vlemmings

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Astronomy and Plasmaphysics

Per Bjerkeli

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Astronomy and Plasmaphysics

Astronomy and Astrophysics

0004-6361 (ISSN) 1432-0746 (eISSN)

Vol. 657 A106

Subject Categories

Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology

Atom and Molecular Physics and Optics

Other Physics Topics



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