Density, velocity, and magnetic field structure in turbulent molecular cloud models

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We use three-dimensional (3D) numerical magnetohydrodynamic simulations to follow the evolution of cold, turbulent, gaseous systems with parameters chosen to represent conditions in giant molecular clouds (GMCs). We present results of three model cloud simulations in which the mean magnetic field strength is varied (B0 = 1.4-14 μG for GMC parameters), but an identical initial turbulent velocity field is introduced. We describe the energy evolution, showing that (1) turbulence decays rapidly, with the turbulent energy reduced by a factor 2 after 0.4-0.8 flow crossing times (∼2-4 Myr for GMC parameters), and (2) the magnetically supercritical cloud models gravitationally collapse after time ≈6 Myr, while the magnetically subcritical cloud does not collapse. We compare density, velocity, and magnetic field structure in three sets of model "snapshots" with matched values of the Mach number ℳ ≈ 9,7,5. We show that the distributions of volume density and column density are both approximately log-normal, with mean mass-weighted volume density a factor 3-6 times the unperturbed value, but mean mass-weighted column density only a factor 1.1-1.4 times the unperturbed value. We introduce a spatial binning algorithm to investigate the dependence of kinetic quantities on spatial scale for regions of column density contrast (ROCs) on the plane of the sky. We show that the average velocity dispersion for the distribution of ROCs is only weakly correlated with scale, similar to mean size-line width distributions for clumps within GMCs. We find that ROCs are often superpositions of spatially unconnected regions that cannot easily be separated using velocity information; we argue that the same difficulty may affect observed GMC clumps. We suggest that it may be possible to deduce the mean 3D size-line width relation using the lower envelope of the 2D size-line width distribution. We analyze magnetic field structure and show that in the high-density regime nH2 ≳ 103 cm-3, total magnetic field strengths increase with density with logarithmic slope ∼1/3-2/3. We find that mean line-of-sight magnetic field strengths may vary widely across a projected cloud and are not positively correlated with column density. We compute simulated interstellar polarization maps at varying observer orientations and determine that the Chandrasekhar-Fermi formula multiplied by a factor ∼0.5 yields a good estimate of the plane-of sky magnetic field strength, provided the dispersion in polarization angles is ≲;25°.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)980-1005
Number of pages26
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 PART 1
StatePublished - Jan 10 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • ISM: clouds
  • ISM: molecules
  • MHD
  • Methods: numerical
  • Stars: formation


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