Ambipolar diffusion, interstellar dust, and the formation of cloud cores and protostars. III. Typical axisymmetric solutions

Glenn E. Ciolek, Telemachos Ch Mouschovias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In a previous paper we formulated the problem of the formation of protostellar cores by ambipolar diffusion in axisymmetric, isothermal, self-gravitating, thermally supercritical but magnetically subcritical model molecular clouds, accounting for a cosmic abundance of interstellar grains (both charged and neutral). Using an implicit code with an adaptive mesh, we follow the evolution to a central density enhancement of 106 (e.g., from 2.6 × 103 cm-3 to 2.6 × 109 cm-3). First, ambipolar diffusion slowly increases the mass-to-flux ratio of a cloud's central flux tubes, leading to the formation and contraction of thermally supercritical but magnetically subcritical cores. The timescale for this process is essentially the initial central flux-loss timescale, which exceeds the dynamical timescale (≃free-fall timescale) typically by a factor 10-20. Eventually, the mass-to-flux ratio exceeds the critical value for collapse. The subsequent contraction of the thermally and magnetically supercritical cores becomes progressively more dynamic, while the envelopes remain relatively well supported by magnetic forces, in agreement with early theoretical predictions by Mouschovias. A typical supercritical core consists of a uniform-density central region and a "tail" of infalling matter with a power-law density profile nn ∝ rs, -1.5 ≳ s ≳ -1.85. The mass infall (or accretion) rate from the subcritical envelopes is controlled by ambipolar diffusion, and differs both qualitatively and quantitatively from estimates based on non-magnetic models and their extrapolations to magnetic clouds. Model clouds that include the macroscopic (collisional) effects of grains have their evolution retarded (typically by 50%) with respect to models accounting only for neutral-ion drag. Neutral-grain drag typically dominates the neutral-ion drag at core densities nn,c ≳ 108 cm-3. Electrostatic attraction by electron-shielded ions ("quasiparticles") keeps charged grains partially attached to the magnetic field for densities nn,c ≳ 3 × 105 cm-3, at which detachment would otherwise occur because of collisions with neutrals. Neutral grains also couple to the magnetic field by inelastic charge-capture processes. The grains lengthen the timescale for the formation of a core, accentuate the core-envelope separation, and, by any given central density enhancement, increase a core's size, mass, and magnetic flux.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)142-160
Number of pages19
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 10 1994


  • Diffusion
  • Dust: extinction
  • ISM: magnetic fields
  • MHD
  • Plasmas
  • Stars: formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Ambipolar diffusion, interstellar dust, and the formation of cloud cores and protostars. III. Typical axisymmetric solutions'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this