The Strongest Magnetic Fields in the Universe

Volume 54 of the series Space Sciences Series of ISSI pp 31-80


Observations of Strong Magnetic Fields in Nondegenerate Stars

  • Jeffrey L. LinskyAffiliated withJILA/University of Colorado and NIST Email author 
  • , Markus SchöllerAffiliated withEuropean Southern Observatory

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We review magnetic-field measurements of nondegenerate stars across the Hertzprung–Russell diagram for main sequence, premain sequence, and postmain sequence stars. For stars with complex magnetic-field morphologies, which includes all G–M main sequence stars, the analysis of spectra obtained in polarized vs unpolarized light provides very different magnetic measurements because of the presence or absence of cancellation by oppositely directed magnetic fields within the instrument’s spatial resolution. This cancellation can be severe, as indicated by the spatially averaged magnetic field of the Sun viewed as a star. These averaged fields are smaller by a factor of 1000 or more compared to spatially resolved magnetic-field strengths. We explain magnetic-field terms that characterize the fields obtained with different measurement techniques. Magnetic fields typically control the structure of stellar atmospheres in and above the photosphere, the heating rates of stellar chromospheres and coronae, mass and angular momentum loss through stellar winds, chemical peculiarity, and the emission of high energy photons, which is critically important for the evolution of protoplanetary disks and the habitability of exoplanets. Since these effects are governed by the star’s magnetic energy, which is proportional to the magnetic-field strength squared and its fractional surface coverage, it is important to measure or reliably infer the true magnetic-field strength and filling factor across a stellar disk. We summarize magnetic-field measurements obtained with the different observing techniques for different types of stars and estimate the highest magnetic-field strengths. We also comment on the different field morphologies observed for stars across the H–R diagram, typically inferred from Zeeman-Doppler imaging and rotational modulation observations.


Magnetic fields Pre-main sequence stars Main sequence stars Post-main sequence stars