The Early Stage of Molecular Cloud Formation by Compression of Two-phase Atomic Gases

Kazunari Iwasaki, Kengo Tomida, Tsuyoshi Inoue, Shu Ichiro Inutsuka

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9 Citations (Scopus)


We investigate the formation of molecular clouds from atomic gas by using three-dimensional magnetohydrodynamic simulations, including non-equilibrium chemical reactions and heating/cooling processes. We consider super-Alfvénic head-on colliding flows of atomic gas possessing the two-phase structure that consists of H i clouds and surrounding warm diffuse gas. We examine how the formation of molecular clouds depends on the angle θ between the upstream flow and the mean magnetic field. We find that there is a critical angle θ cr above which the shock-amplified magnetic field controls the post-shock gas dynamics. If the atomic gas is compressed almost along the mean magnetic field (θ ≪ θ cr ), super-Alfvénic anisotropic turbulence is maintained by the accretion of the highly inhomogeneous upstream atomic gas. As a result, a greatly extended turbulence-dominated post-shock layer is generated. Around θ ∼ θ cr , the shock-amplified magnetic field weakens the post-shock turbulence, leading to a dense post-shock layer. For θ ≫ θ cr , the strong magnetic pressure suppresses the formation of cold dense clouds. Efficient molecular cloud formation is expected if θ is less than a few times θ cr . Developing an analytic model and performing a parameter survey, we obtain an analytic formula for the critical angle as a function of the mean density, collision speed, and field strength of the upstream atomic gas. The critical angle is found to be less than ∼15° as long as the field strength is larger than 1 μG, indicating that the probability of occurrence of compression with θ < θ cr is limited if shock waves come from various directions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • ISM: clouds
  • ISM: general
  • ISM: magnetic fields
  • ISM: molecules
  • stars: formation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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