On the exchange of kinetic and magnetic energy between clouds and the interstellar medium

Francesco Miniati, T. W. Jones, Dongsu Ryu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


We investigate, through two-dimensional MHD numerical simulations, the interaction of a uniform magnetic field oblique to a moving interstellar cloud. In particular we explore the transformation of cloud kinetic energy into magnetic energy as a result of field line stretching. Some previous simulations have emphasized the possible dynamical importance of a "magnetic shield" formed around clouds when the magnetic field is perpendicular to the cloud motion. It was not clear, however, how dependent those findings were on the assumed field configuration and cloud properties. To expand our understanding of this effect, we examine several new cases by varying the magnetic field orientation angle with respect to the cloud motion (θ), the cloud-background density contrast, and the cloud Mach number. We show that in two dimensions and with θ large enough, the magnetic field tension can become dominant in the dynamics of the motion of high density contrast, low Mach number clouds. In such a case, a significant fraction of the cloud's kinetic energy can be transformed into magnetic energy with the magnetic pressure at the cloud's nose exceeding the ram pressure of the impinging flow. We derive a characteristic timescale, τma, for this process of energy "conversion." We find also that unless the cloud motion is highly aligned with the magnetic field, reconnection through tearing-mode instabilities in the cloud wake limits the formation of a strong flux-rope feature following the cloud. Finally we attempt to interpret some observed properties of the magnetic field in view of our results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-255
Number of pages14
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART 1
StatePublished - May 20 1999


  • ISM: clouds
  • ISM: kinematics and dynamics
  • Magnetic fields

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