Observational Constraints on Interstellar Grain Alignment

Andersson, B-G
Potter, S. B.
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We present new multicolor photo-polarimetry of stars behind the Southern Coalsack. Analyzed together with multiband polarization data from the literature, probing the Chamaeleon I, Musca, rho Opiuchus, R CrA and Taurus clouds, we show that the wavelength of maximum polarization (lambda_max) is linearly correlated with the radiation environment of the grains. Using Far-Infrared emission data, we show that the large scatter seen in previous studies of lambda_max as a function of A_V is primarily due to line of sight effects causing some A_V measurements to not be a good tracer of the extinction (radiation field strength) seen by the grains being probed. The derived slopes in lambda_max vs. A_V, for the individual clouds, are consistent with a common value, while the zero intercepts scale with the average values of the ratios of total-to-selective extinction (R_V) for the individual clouds. Within each cloud we do not find direct correlations between lambda_max and R_V. The positive slope in consistent with recent developments in theory and indicating alignment driven by the radiation field. The present data cannot conclusively differentiate between direct radiative torques and alignment driven by H_2 formation. However, the small values of lambda_max(A_V=0), seen in several clouds, suggest a role for the latter, at least at the cloud surfaces. The scatter in the lambda_max vs. A_V relation is found to be associated with the characteristics of the embedded Young Stellar Objects (YSO) in the clouds. We propose that this is partially due to locally increased plasma damping of the grain rotation caused by X-rays from the YSOs.
Comment: Accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal