Magnetic fields in molecular clouds

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This review examines observations of magnetic fields in molecular clouds and what those observations tell us about the theory of molecular cloud evolution and star formation. First, the review briefly summarizes classes of theoretical models of molecular clouds and specific predictions of the models that can be tested by observation. Then, the review describes the techniques for observing and mapping magnetic fields in molecular clouds, followed by discussion of important examples of observational studies using each technique. A synthesis of results from all observational techniques summarizes the current state, which is that though magnetic fields generally dominate turbulence, there is no definitive evidence for magnetic fields dominating gravity in molecular clouds or for ambipolar-diffusion-driven star formation. Finally, the review discusses prospects for advances in our observational capabilities with telescopes and instruments now beginning operation or under construction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-63
Number of pages35
JournalAnnual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics
StatePublished - Sep 2012


  • Zeeman effect
  • ambipolar diffusion
  • dust polarization
  • magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) turbulence
  • spectral-line polarization
  • star formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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