Astronomy and Astrophysics – Astrophysics
19 pages, 2 figures, submitted to ApJ
Radio-wave scintillation observations reveal a nearly Kolmogorov spectrum of density fluctuations in the ionized interstellar medium. Although this density spectrum is suggestive of turbulence, no theory relevant to its interpretation exists. We calculate the density spectrum in turbulent magnetized plasmas by extending the theory of incompressible MHD turbulence given by Goldreich & Sridhar to include the effects of compressibility and particle transport. Our most important results are as follows. (1) Density fluctuations are due to the slow mode and the entropy mode. Both modes are passively mixed by the cascade of shear Alfven waves. Since the shear Alfven waves have a Kolmogorov spectrum, so do the density fluctuations. (2) Observed density fluctuation amplitudes imply either that the magnetic and gas pressures are comparable, or that the outer scale of the turbulence is very small. (3) A high degree of ionization is required for the cascade to survive damping by neutrals and thereby to extend to small lengthscales. Regions that are insufficiently ionized produce density fluctuations only on lengthscales larger than the neutral damping scale. These regions may account for the excess of power that is found on large scales. (4) Both the entropy mode and the slow mode are damped on lengthscales below that at which protons can diffuse across an eddy during the eddy's turnover time. Consequently, eddies whose extents along the magnetic field are smaller than the proton collisional mean free path do not contribute to the density spectrum. However, in MHD turbulence eddies are highly elongated along the magnetic field. From an observational perspective, the relevant lengthscale is that transverse to the magnetic field. Thus the cut-off lengthscale for density fluctuations is significantly smaller than the proton mean free path.
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