The Jeans mass and the origin of the knee in the IMF

Ian Alexander Bonnell, C.J. Clarke, M.R. Bate

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82 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

We use numerical simulations of the fragmentation of a 1000 M-circle dot molecular cloud and the formation of a stellar cluster to study how the initial conditions for star formation affect the resulting initial mass function (IMF). In particular, we are interested in the relation between the thermal Jeans mass in a cloud and the knee of the IMF, i.e. the mass separating the region with a flat IMF slope from that typified by a steeper, Salpeter-like, slope. In three isothermal simulations with M-Jeans= 1, 2 and 5 M-circle dot, the number of stars formed, at comparable dynamical times, scales roughly with the number of initial Jeans masses in the cloud. The mean stellar mass also increases (though less than linearly) with the initial Jeans mass in the cloud. It is found that the IMF in each case displays a prominent knee, located roughly at the mass scale of the initial Jeans mass. Thus clouds with higher initial Jeans masses produce IMFs which are shallow to higher masses. This implies that a universal IMF requires a physical mechanism that sets the Jeans mass to be near 1 M-circle dot=. Simulations including a barotropic equation of state as suggested by Larson, with cooling at low densities followed by gentle heating at higher densities, are able to produce realistic IMFs with the knee located at approximate to 1 M-circle dot, even with an initial M-Jeans= 5 M-circle dot. We therefore suggest that the observed universality of the IMF in the local Universe does not require any fine tuning of the initial conditions in star forming clouds but is instead imprinted by details of the cooling physics of the collapsing gas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1296
Number of pages1296
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Volume368
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2006

Keywords

  • stars : formation
  • stars : luminosity function, mass function
  • open clusters and associations : general
  • SMOOTHED PARTICLE HYDRODYNAMICS
  • GAUSSIAN CLOUD CONDITIONS
  • STELLAR CLUSTERS
  • STAR-FORMATION
  • MOLECULAR CLOUDS
  • FRAGMENTATION
  • ACCRETION
  • SYSTEMS
  • LUMINOSITY
  • SPECTRUM

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