Astrophys. J., 515, 286-303 (1999/April-2)
Clouds as turbulent density fluctuations: implications for pressure confinement and spectral line data interpretation.
BALLESTEROS-PAREDES J., VAZQUEZ-SEMADENI E. and SCALO J.
Abstract (from CDS):
We examine the idea that diffuse H I and giant molecular clouds and their substructure form as density fluctuations induced by large-scale interstellar turbulence. We do this by closely investigating the topology of the velocity, density, and magnetic fields within and at the boundaries of the clouds emerging in high-resolution two-dimensional simulations of the interstellar medium (ISM) including self-gravity, magnetic fields, parameterized heating and cooling, and a simple model for star formation. We find that the velocity field is continuous across cloud boundaries for a hierarchy of clouds of progressively smaller sizes. Cloud boundaries defined by a density-threshold criterion are found to be quite arbitrary, with no correspondence to any actual physical boundary, such as a density discontinuity. Abrupt velocity jumps are coincident with the density maxima, which indicates that the clouds are formed by colliding gas streams. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that the volume and surface kinetic terms in the Eulerian virial theorem for a cloud ensemble are comparable in general and by the topology of the magnetic field, which exhibits bends and reversals where the gas streams collide. However, no unique trend of alignment between density and magnetic features is observed. Both sub- and super-Alfvénic motions are observed within the clouds. In light of these results, we argue that thermal pressure equilibrium is irrelevant for cloud confinement in a turbulent medium, since inertial motions can still distort or disrupt a cloud, unless it is strongly gravitationally bound. Turbulent pressure confinement appears self-defeating because turbulence contains large-scale motions that necessarily distort Lagrangian cloud boundaries or equivalently cause flux through Eulerian boundaries. We then discuss the compatibility of the present scenario with observational data. We find that density-weighted velocity histograms are consistent with observational line profiles of comparable spatial and velocity resolution, exhibiting similar FWHMs and similar multicomponent structure. An analysis of the regions contributing to each velocity interval indicates that the histogram ``features'' do not come from isolated ``clumps'' but rather from extended regions throughout a cloud, which often have very different total velocity vectors. Finally, we argue that the scenario presented here may also be applicable to small scales with larger densities (molecular clouds and their substructure, up to at least n∼103-105 cm–3) and conjecture that quasi-hydrostatic configurations cannot be produced from turbulent fluctuations unless the thermodynamic behavior of the flow becomes nearly adiabatic. We demonstrate, using appropriate cooling rates, that this will not occur except for very small compressions (≲10–2 pc) or until protostellar densities are reached for collapse.
ISM: Clouds - ISM: General - ISM: Kinematics and Dynamics - Turbulence
Status at CDS:
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