Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Paper - Magnetic Fields in Star Formation

Magnetic Fields in Star Formation
A star’s evolution begins and ends in the interstellar medium, the dust and gas that exists between the stars. At the beginning of this cyclic process of star formation where dust and gas collapse and compress together due to gravity. However, if gravity always draws things together, why isn’t everything a star? Why isn’t the universe mostly stars and planets rather than dust and empty space? This is because on average the distance between two particles in the interstellar medium is too far, and so on average the dust is too diffuse for star formation to occur. Only through turbulence and random chance can the dust group up enough to begin coagulating into a star.

The first requirement for star formation is if there is enough mass in a given area to form a star. This minimum mass over an area is called Jean’s criterion, which models the interstellar medium as a uniform, stationary cloud of gas that acts under only gravity and ideal gas pressure. Given these assumptions we can use the Virial theorem to model the collapse of the gas. The virial theorem tells us that for a closed system in equilibrium, the following is true.

So we can see that on average the total potential energy of every single particle in the system is equal to twice the kinetic energy in the system. So from this stability assumption we can assume that if the potential energy of the system exceeds twice the kinetic energy, it will begin to collapse in on itself as gravity links more and more mass together. With a bit of substitution we get the equations

M is the minimum mass to trigger collapse, and R is the minimum radius for that this mass must be contained in. Now we can envision a new process that has to occur just from thinking about this equation. As the density increases the jean’s mass decreases, which means as the object collapses less mass is needed to collapse, and greater density increases the potential energy of gravity. This gives rise to the process of fragmentation where, the collapse of a dust cloud is a runaway process in which denser areas of gas will collapse faster. This means that not all the material in an area gets used, the more dense and massive a cloud, the smaller fragments and thus smaller stars are formed from the gas cloud.

Another property we can deduce from the above equations is the average velocities of the particles in the cloud. <T> represents average kinetic energy which is equal to ½ m <v>2. This gives us

Which is the root mean squared speed of the particle, which gives us an average speed of a collapsible gas cloud of about 500 m/s. So just by making the simplest of assumptions we already have a lot of information and approximations for star formation. We have a rough idea of the density and size necessary to form a star, and we have some idea of the structure of it by knowing the velocity of the particles within it. However, it obviously lacks many other important aspects which contribute significantly and change the criteria of this basic model including: the initial velocity of the the cloud, radiation transport through the cloud, ionization, rotation, and magnetic effects. In particular the magnetic field plays a very important effect in preventing or triggering collapses.

Troland and Heiles in 1986, found that the magnetic field strength in the beginning stages of collapse is on the same order as the gravitational and kinetic energy of the molecular cloud. Although we might be able to guess that it has a strong effect because em fields are stronger than gravitational ones, we have to realize that electromagnetic field strength goes down as r2 which should be extremely significant due to the large distances we deal with in molecular clouds. So its not inherently obvious that em fields can play such a huge role. However, it does, and we know this because of the Zeeman effect, which allows us to detect the strength of magnetic fields from a distance.

The Zeeman effect is the splitting of electron energy levels in an atom due to the presence of a magnetic field. This separates a solid emission line into 3 distinct lines, and the distance between these lines is proportional to the strength of the field. In particular the 21 cm line produced by hydrogen, and the 18 cm line produced by OH are often measured because their wavelengths are large enough to penetrate out through the clouds of interstellar dust. Troland and Heiles measured these lines using a method called stellar spectropolarimetry, which takes advantage of the polarization of e-m fields in order to measure the strength of the electric field. These measurements led to the discovery of the magnetic field strength in molecular clouds.

Now that we know the strength of the field, we can now try to characterize what they do. It serves two main functions, the first aids in supporting or collapsing the cloud, the second is changing the distribution of mass in a cloud. Lets start by analyzing the first function. We can think of the magnetic field lines as distributed among the particles in the gas. Since the fields are linked to the particles, when the gas tries to collapse in on itself, the field lines come together. We know from lenz’s law that in e-m fields resist changes, so this increases the magnetic pressure in the system which resists compression due to gravity. If we include this to the Jean’s mass criterion it rises to

Where cB is 380 N1/2m-1T-1. We call clouds that are above this new Jean’s mass magnetically supercritical, and clouds that are below this mass magnetically subcritical.

However, this idea has some issues. If we use this to predict star formation, the initial mass function would be much higher than it is observed to be. The initial mass function is the distribution of masses of newly formed stars since, and since the magnetic field here is treated in a way where it only resists collapse, the mass function rises.This means we most likely have a problem with our assumption that the magnetic field lines are linked to the position of the particles in the clouds. This is supported by the fact that newly formed stars would contain a very high magnetic field as the contributions add up. However, recent theories indicate that there is a way to account for this magnetic field loss, so the assumption may not be entirely untrue.

One of these theories is ambipolar diffusion. The logic behind this is that although the interstellar medium is mostly neutral, there are still ions. These ions must travel along the path of the magnetic field lines in the ISM. So the ions can be thought of as a stationary grid which slows down the neutral particles that collide into it, letting the magnetic field absorb the energy transferred to the ionic particles instead of acting as an elastic collision. This means that more mass will coagulate around magnetic field lines.

In addition since the position of the ions are fixed in space, even though the neutral mass is collapsing down, the ions star relatively close to where they are and are linked to the magnetic field. This means that the magnetic field doesn’t get drawn in nearly as much as we thought in the original model where the field can gets dragged in uniformly with the collapse of the dust cloud. And accounts for the weaker magnetic fields of new stars, since the density can increase without drastically increasing magnetic flux. This effect also helps explain the high field strength in the interstellar medium because its a function of all the ions left over after star formation, so star formation doesn’t reduce the magnetic field strength in the surrounding area.

So now we have a good explanation right? Unfortunately it still has some issues, one of the major problems is that the effectiveness of this process would be dependent on the metallicity of the medium, since the process is dependent on the number of ions that can link up to the magnetic field. This does not match observations, which seem to be independent of metallicity. It was also shown by Troland and Heiles in 1986 that ambipolar diffusion is too slow of a process to remove the magnetic field from a gas if the gas is diffuse, and Shu et. al 2006 showed that ambipolar diffusion was too slow for dense gases, so it doesn’t account for either extreme, only mid range cases.

However, since the results match for many general cases, ambipolar diffusion is still a reasonable theory to follow. It could mean that it is a main process for mid range molecular clouds, and that we only need to change the model for fringe cases, or the data could be matching out of chance and we require a different explanation.

Another explanation that has become more popular recently is magnetic reconnection. In this model, we take into account that the gas is turbulent. So the magnetic field lines are not stationary but are warping and twisting. The field lines are simply an indication of flux, but it is a good idea to think about them as actual lines in this case because magnetic reconnection occurs when field lines “touch”. This means that huge amounts of magnetic flux are passing through the same area which results in a huge release of energy. This is the same process that happens in a more familiar event, the solar flare. In either case, magnetic reconnection that happens in a short time frame is capable of quickly releasing a lot of energy from the magnetic field associated with those field lines, which can account for the field loss rate depending on the rate of reconnections or touches that occur due to turbulence.

Lazarian and Vishniac were the ones who calculated the timescale for this process by solving the incompressible magnetohydrodynamic equations using fourier methods. They got the solution for the magnetic field by solving for the field in a box sized to the fundamental wavelength of the B-field, then repeat that over all space, while meeting boundary conditions. The equations are listed as follows.

∂v/∂t= (∇ × v) × v − (∇ × B) × B + ν∇2v + f + ∇P′ (1)
∂B/∂t= ∇ × (v × B) + η∇2B (2)
∇ · v = ∇ · B = 0 (3)

where f is the driving force, P′ ≡ P/ρ + v · v/2, v is the velocity over r.m.s. velocity, and B is the Alfven speed over the r.m.s. velocity. The real space components of time t is in units of the large eddy turnover time (∼ L/v) and the length in units of L, the inverse wavenumber of the fundamental box mode.

The magnetic reconnection model better accounts for the loss of magnetic field in a molecular cloud mainly because its much faster in those fringe cases of high and low density, and is not dependent on metallicity, rather on turbulence, and there is enough random motion in the ISM to account for the number of reconnections necessary. This gives us a more accurate inital mass function. However, this model has a major problem in that it predicts tangled field lines in the cores of molecular clouds, which contradicts observations that show that the B field in molecular clouds are regular, thats how we were able to polarize and observer the additive effect.

There now exists research into models that try to combine the two effects together, in which both ambipolar diffusion and magnetic reconnection are accounted for. However, these models are difficult to create because magnetic reconnection by itself already accounts for the reduction rate of the magnetic field in this stage of stellar evolution. Also by definition these two processes counteract one another since the stronger the ambipolar diffusion effect, the less turbulence can occur since the ionic grid slows down the particles, which makes it difficult to model due to feedback loops.

In conclusion, more research into this field is necessary in order to create a model that matches observations. Ambipolar diffusion explains many cases, and matches observations of regular field lines. Magnetic reconnection models match initial mass functions more accurately and over a wider range of star formation scenarios. Some new formulation, either involving both processes or a new process altogether must be found in order to accurately match all the data gathered.

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