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Keywords:

  • polarization;
  • stars: magnetic fields

ABSTRACT

The origin of magnetic fields in intermediate- and high-mass stars is fundamentally a mystery. Clues towards solving this basic astrophysical problem can likely be found at the pre-main-sequence (PMS) evolutionary stage. With this work, we perform the largest and most sensitive search for magnetic fields in PMS Herbig Ae/Be (HAeBe) stars. We seek to determine whether strong, ordered magnetic fields, similar to those of main-sequence Ap/Bp stars, can be detected in these objects, and if so, to determine the intensities, geometrical characteristics, and statistical incidence of such fields. 68 observations of 50 HAeBe stars have been obtained in circularly polarized light using the FORS1 spectropolarimeter at the ESO VLT. An analysis of both Balmer and metallic lines reveals the possible presence of weak longitudinal magnetic fields in photospheric lines of two HAeBe stars, HD 101412 and BF Ori. Results for two additional stars, CPD-53 295 and HD 36112, are suggestive of the presence of magnetic fields, but no firm conclusions can be drawn based on the available data. The intensity of the longitudinal fields detected in HD 101412 and BF Ori suggest that they correspond to globally ordered magnetic fields with surface intensities of order 1 kG. On the other hand, no magnetic field is detected in 4 other HAeBe stars in our sample in which magnetic fields had previously been confirmed. Monte Carlo simulations of the longitudinal field measurements of the undetected stars allow us to place an upper limit of about 300 G on the general presence of aligned magnetic dipole magnetic fields, and of about 500 G on perpendicular dipole fields. Taking into account the results of our survey and other published results, we find that the observed bulk incidence of magnetic HAeBe stars in our sample is 8–12 per cent, in good agreement with that of magnetic main-sequence stars of similar masses. We also find that the rms longitudinal field intensity of magnetically detected HAeBe stars is about 200 G, similar to that of Ap stars and consistent with magnetic flux conservation during stellar evolution. These results are all in agreement with the hypothesis that the magnetic fields of main-sequence Ap/Bp stars are fossils, which already exist within the stars at the PMS stage. Finally, we explore the ability of our new magnetic data to constrain magnetospheric accretion in Herbig Ae/Be stars, showing that our magnetic data are not consistent with the general occurrence in HAeBe stars of magnetospheric accretion as described by the theories of Königl and Shu et al..