Hydromagnetic waves in weakly-ionized media - I. Basic theory, and application to interstellar molecular clouds

Telemachos Ch Mouschovias, Glenn E. Ciolek, Scott A. Morton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We present a comprehensive study of magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) waves and instabilities in a weakly-ionized system, such as an interstellar molecular cloud. We determine all the critical wavelengths of perturbations across which the sustainable wave modes can change radically (and so can their decay rates), and various instabilities are present or absent. Hence, these critical wavelengths are essential for understanding the effects of MHD waves (or turbulence) on the structure and evolution of molecular clouds. Depending on the angle of propagation relative to the zeroth-order magnetic field and the physical parameters of a model cloud, there are wavelength ranges in which no wave can be sustained as such. Yet, for other directions of propagation or different properties of a model cloud, there may always exist some wave mode(s) at all wavelengths (smaller than the size of the model cloud). For a typical model cloud,magnetically-driven ambipolar diffusionleads to removal of any support against gravity that most short-wavelength waves (or turbulence) may have had, andgravitationally-driven ambipolar diffusionsets in and leads to cloud fragmentation into stellar-size masses, as first suggested by Mouschovias more than three decades ago - a single-stage fragmentation theory of star formation, distinct from the then prevailing hierarchical fragmentation picture. The phase velocities, decay times and eigenvectors (e.g. the densities and velocities of neutral particles and the plasma, and the three components of the magnetic field) are determined as functions of the wavelength of the disturbances in a mathematically transparent way and are explained physically. Comparison of the results with those of nonlinear analytical or numerical calculations is also presented where appropriate, excellent agreement is found, and confidence in the analytical, linear approach is gained to explore phenomena difficult to study through numerical simulations. Mode splitting (or bifurcation) and mode merging, which are impossible in single-fluid systems for linear perturbations (hence, the term 'normal mode' and the principle of superposition), occur naturally in multifluid systems (as do transitions between wave modes without bifurcation) and have profound consequences in the evolution of such systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1751-1782
Number of pages32
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2011


  • Diffusion
  • ISM: magnetic fields
  • MHD
  • Plasmas
  • Stars: formation
  • Waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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