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Theoretical Description of the Interstellar Medium

  • George B. Field (a1)

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As excellent reviews have appeared recently (Spitzer, 1968a; Pikel'ner, 1968a) we shall consider here only some special topics where progress is being made – thermal properties of Hi and Hii clouds, and shock waves. The components of the medium which are dynamically important are neutral atoms, charged ions and electrons, grains, cosmic rays, magnetic field, and light. In Table I we indicate the degree of momentum coupling among these components. The main mass of the medium, in ions and atoms, is well coupled through collisions, with a mean free path λ ≈ 10−3 pc, and may usually be treated hydrodynamically. Parker (1965) has shown that for many purposes the cosmic-rays can be considered as a separate gas, strongly coupled to the magnetic field. The coupling of the atom-ion gas to the magnetic field is through the magnetic forces on the ions, which transmit the forces to the neutral atoms by collisions unless the differential stresses on the two components are unusually large. Grains are not coupled strongly to any other component, as their stopping distances are of the order of parsecs and their gyro-periods of the order of 104 yr. The coupling of grains to radiation pressure can lead to interesting differential effects. Light is important in carrying away thermal energy but does not critically affect the momentum balance of the gas. A possible exception is the Ly-α radiation field discovered by Kurt and Sunyaev (1967) which has a pressure of 10−13 dyne cm−2. If this phenomenon is common in interstellar space, it could have effects.

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References

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Theoretical Description of the Interstellar Medium

  • George B. Field (a1)

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