Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg


Nicht wie die Welt ist, ist das Mystische, sondern dass sie ist.
(Wittgenstein, Tractatus, §6.44)

The Relation between Interstellar Turbulence and Star Formation

Understanding the formation of stars in galaxies is central to much of modern astrophysics. For several decades it has been thought that the star formation process is primarily controlled by the interplay between gravity and magnetostatic support, modulated by neutral-ion drift. Recently, however, both observational and numerical work has begun to suggest that supersonic interstellar turbulence rather than magnetic fields controls star formation.

This review begins with a historical overview of the successes and problems of both the classical dynamical theory of star formation, and the standard theory of magnetostatic support from both observational and theoretical perspectives. We then present the outline of a new paradigm of star formation based on the interplay between supersonic turbulence and self-gravity. Supersonic turbulence can provide support against gravitational collapse on global scales, while at the same time it produces localized density enhancements that allow for collapse on small scales. The efficiency and timescale of stellar birth in Galactic gas clouds strongly depend on the properties of the interstellar turbulent velocity field, with slow, inefficient, isolated star formation being a hallmark of turbulent support, and fast, efficient, clustered star formation occurring in its absence.

After discussing in detail various theoretical aspects of supersonic turbulence in compressible self-gravitating gaseous media relevant for star forming interstellar clouds, we explore the consequences of the new theory for both local star formation and galactic scale star formation. The theory predicts that individual star-forming cores are likely not quasi-static objects, but dynamically evolving. Accretion onto these objects will vary with time and depend on the properties of the surrounding turbulent flow. This has important consequences for the resulting stellar mass function. Star formation on scales of galaxies as a whole is expected to be controlled by the balance between gravity and turbulence, just like star formation on scales of individual interstellar gas clouds, but may be modulated by additional effects like cooling and differential rotation. The dominant mechanism for driving interstellar turbulence in star-forming regions of galactic disks appears to be supernovae explosions. In the outer disk of our Milky Way or in low-surface brightness galaxies the coupling of rotation to the gas through magnetic fields or gravity may become important.

This thesis was submitted to Potsdam University in March 2003 and accepted in June 2003.

Verantwortlich: , letzte Änderung am 03.02.2008 21:24 CET
zum Seitenanfang