Modeling Star Formation as a Markov Process in a Supersonic Gravoturbulent Medium

Evan Scannapieco, Mohammadtaher Safarzadeh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Molecular clouds exhibit log-normal probability density functions (PDF) of mass densities, which are thought to arise as a consequence of isothermal, supersonic turbulence. Star formation is then widely assumed to occur in perturbations in which gravitational collapse is faster than the rate of change due to turbulent motions. Here we use direct numerical simulations to measure this rate as a function of density for a range of turbulent Mach numbers, and show that it is faster at high densities than at low densities. Furthermore, we show that both the density PDF and rate of change arise naturally in a simple model of turbulence as a continuous Markov process. The one-dimensional Langevin equation that describes this evolution depends on only two parameters, yet it captures the full evolution seen in direct three-dimensional simulations. If it is modified to include gravity, the Langevin equation also reproduces the rate of material collapsing to high densities seen in turbulent simulations including self-gravity. When generalized to include both temperature and density, similar analyses are likely applicable throughout astrophysics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL14
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 1 2018


  • methods: statistical
  • stars: formation
  • turbulence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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