On the universality of interstellar filaments: theory meets simulations and observations

Federrath, C., 2016

Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 457, 375  [ ADS link ]  [ PDF ]


Filaments are ubiquitous in the universe. Recent observations have revealed that stars and star clusters form preferentially along dense filaments. Understanding the formation and properties of filaments is therefore a crucial step in understanding star formation. Here we perform three-dimensional high-resolution magnetohydrodynamical simulations that follow the evolution of molecular clouds and the formation of filaments and stars. We apply a filament detection algorithm and compare simulations with different combinations of physical ingredients: gravity, turbulence, magnetic fields and jet/outflow feedback. We find that gravity-only simulations produce significantly narrower filament profiles than observed, while simulations that include turbulence produce realistic filament properties. For these turbulence simulations, we find a remarkably universal filament width of 0.10 +/- 0.02 pc, which is independent of the star formation history of the clouds. We derive a theoretical model that provides a physical explanation for this characteristic filament width, based on the sonic scale (lambda_sonic) of molecular cloud turbulence. Our derivation provides lambda_sonic as a function of the cloud diameter L, the velocity dispersion sigma_v, the gas sound speed c_s, and the ratio of thermal to magnetic pressure, plasma beta. For typical cloud conditions in the Milky Way spiral arms, we find lambda_sonic = 0.04-0.16 pc, in excellent agreement with the filament width of 0.05-0.15 pc from observations. Consistent with the theoretical model assumptions, we find that the velocity dispersion inside the filaments is subsonic and supersonic outside. We further explain the observed p = 2 scaling of the filament density profile, rho ~ r^(-p) with the collision of two planar shocks forming a filament at their intersection.

Simulation movies

This shows an animation of the detected filaments in the sysnthetic column density images of each of our main simulation models with increasing physical complexity and different combinations of physical ingredients: gravity, turbulence, magnetic fields, and jet/outflow feedback from young stars.


Federrath_filaments.mp4, 10MB high-res mp4 ]

See also the related article on the vastly different star formation rates of these models


I thank D. Arzoumanian for sending the filament profile of IC 5146 shown in Figure A3 for comparison with our simulations and R. Smith for providing the Mach numbers of their decaying turbulence simulations. I further thank P. Andre, D. Arzoumanian, R. Crocker, M. Cunningham, C. Green, E. Hansen, E. Kaminsky, N. Schneider, R. Smith and E. Vazquez-Semadeni for interesting discussions on filaments and comments on the manuscript, as well as the anonymous referee for their critical comments, which improved this work. C.F. acknowledges funding provided by the Australian Research Council's Discovery Projects (grants DP130102078 and DP150104329). I gratefully acknowledge the Jülich Supercomputing Centre (grant hhd20), the Leibniz Rechenzentrum and the Gauss Centre for Supercomputing (grants pr32lo, pr48pi and GCS Large-scale project 10391), the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE grant pr89mu), the Australian National Computational Infrastructure (grant ek9), and the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre with funding from the Australian Government and the Government of Western Australia. The software used in this work was in part developed by the DOE-supported Flash Center for Computational Science at the University of Chicago.

© C. Federrath 2024