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Published September 10, 1994 | Published
Journal Article Open

Toward a theory of interstellar turbulence. I: Weak Alfvénic turbulence


We study weak Alfvénic turbulence of an incompressible, magnetized fluid in some detail, with a view to developing a firm theoretical basis for the dynamics of small-scale turbulence in the interstellar medium. We prove that resonant 3-wave interactions are absent. We also show that the Iroshnikov-Kraichnan theory of incompressible, magnetohydrodynamic turbulence-which is widely accepted-describes weak 3-wave turbulence; consequently, it is incorrect. Physical arguments, as well as detailed calculations of the coupling coefficients are used to demonstrate that these interactions are empty. We then examine resonant 4-wave interactions, and show that the resonance relations forbid energy transport to small spatial scales along the direction of the mean magnetic field, for both the shear Alfvén wave and the pseudo Alfvén wave. The threedimensional inertial-range energy spectrum of 4-wave shear Alfvén turbulence guessed from physical arguments reads E(k_z,k_⊥) ~ V_Av_LL^(-1/3) k^(-10/3) _⊥, where V_A is the Alfvén speed, and v_L is the velocity difference across the outer scale L. Given this spectrum, the velocity difference across λ_⊥ ~ k^(-1) _⊥ is V_(λ⊥) ~ v_L(λ_⊥/L)^(2/3). We derive a kinetic equation, and prove that this energy spectrum is a stationary solution and that it implies a positive flux of energy in k-space, along directions perpendicular to the mean magnetic field. Using this energy spectrum, we deduce that 4-wave interactions strengthen as the energy cascades to small, perpendicular spatial scales; beyond an upper bound in perpendicular wavenumber, k_⊥L ~ (V_A/v_L)^(3/2), weak turbulence theory ceases to be valid. Energy excitation amplitudes must be very small for the 4-wave inertial-range to be substantial. When the excitation is strong, the width of the 4-wave inertial-range shrinks to zero. This seems likely to be the case in the interstellar medium. The physics of strong turbulence is explored in Paper II.

Additional Information

© 1994 American Astronomical Society. Received 1993 September 29; accepted 1994 March 18. We would like to express our gratitude to some of our colleagues. Discussions with Roger Blandford, Alice Quillen, and Yanqin Wu were useful in clarifying several points in this paper. Sharadini Rath helped with the numerical evaluation of the energy flux. Jeremy Goodman demonstrated to us how a new choice of variables (eq. [16]) facilitates the implementation of the "Jacobian constraint" (eq. [13]). An anonymous referee's comments on the manuscript were very useful, and a free exchange of ideas with Robert Kraichnan was especially influential in shaping our work. This research was supported in part by NSF grant 89-13664 and NASA grant NAGW 2372.

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