The Inability of Ambipolar Diffusion to Set a Characteristic Mass Scale in Molecular Clouds


We investigate the question of whether ambipolar diffusion (ion-neutral drift) determines the smallest length and mass scales on which structure forms in a turbulent molecular cloud. We simulate magnetized turbulence in a mostly neutral, uniformly driven, turbulent medium, using a three-dimensional, two-fluid, magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) code modified from Zeus-MP. We find that substantial structure persists below the ambipolar diffusion scale because of the propagation of compressive slow MHD waves at smaller scales. Contrary to simple scaling arguments, ambipolar diffusion thus does not suppress structure below its characteristic dissipation scale, as would be expected for a classical diffusive process. We have found this to be true for the magnetic energy, velocity, and density. Correspondingly, ambipolar diffusion leaves the clump mass spectrum unchanged. Ambipolar diffusion appears unable to set a characteristic scale for gravitational collapse and star formation in turbulent molecular clouds.

The Astrophysical Journal