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Isentropic instability is a type of thermal instability that leads to the growth of acoustic waves. As a result of wave growth in such media, autowave structures are formed, the parameters of which depend only on the properties of the medium and can be predicted both analytically and numerically. This study aims to answer the question of how quickly these structures can form in an isentropically unstable medium with parameters similar to Orion Bar. It is shown that the growth time depends on the characteristic size of the initial perturbation. The fastest growing structures take 3-6 thousand years to reach half their maximum amplitude. Further growth to the maximum value takes 15-20 thousand years.

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Isentropic instability is a type of thermal instability that leads to the amplification of acoustic waves. It
may occur in a medium with heating ????(; T) and cooling L(; T) processes, which powers depend on the
density and temperature. In a state of equilibrium 0; T0 they compensate each other, so ????(0; T0) = L(0; T0).
Acoustic perturbations violate this equilibrium, and heat release may further amplify (instability) or suppress
Conditions for isentropic instability may exist in photodissociation regions [1–3]. The instability results in
a periodic wave structure, which in the later stages of evolution is a sequence of shock waves with autowave
properties [4–6]. Similar structures are found, for example, near RCW120 [7; 8] or Orion nebulae [9; 10].
The fundamentals of the theory of thermal instabilities were thoroughly developed by Field [11]. His and
many later studies have focused on the dispersion properties of gasdynamic perturbations in heat-releasing
media. This allows us to judge the initial stage of perturbation evolution. Here, it is worth noting the work
[12] in which a linear equation is obtained and analytically solved, which allows us to study the behavior
of acoustic waves at this stage depending on the parameters of the initial perturbation.
However, linear approach works only for small amplitude waves. A study of the subsequent evolution
of the acoustic waves at the nonlinear stage using the nonlinear equation [1; 5] for small amplitude waves
and numerical simulations revealed the formation of autowave structures which parameters do not depend
on the parameters of the initial perturbation. The parameters of the autowave structures were afterwards
analytically evaluated in [6] without any restrictions on the amplitude.
The aforementioned studies allow us to answer the question of what structures can be observed under
the known parameters of the medium and the heating and cooling functions, but do not answer the question
of how quickly these structures can emerge. The importance of this issue stems from the fact that acoustic
waves propagate during amplification, and the size of the medium in which their amplification can occur
may be limited. Thus, the acoustic waves may not have time to reach the predicted amplitudes.
In this work, we numerically estimate the growth time of autowave structures that can emerge in
photodissociation region Orion Bar using the model of heating and cooling functions from [3].
1. Time of the formation of autowave pulse
Isentropic instability, as mentioned above, leads to the formation of a periodic structure. Ahead of this
structure the so-called autowave pulse propagates, which is the final stage of evolution of any small acoustic
perturbation in an isentropically unstable medium. The parameters of this pulse depend only on form of
heating and cooling functions of the medium from temperature and density. In this section, we estimate the
time of formation of the autowave pulse in Orion Bar.
The dynamics of acoustic perturbations in such a medium can be described by the following system of
equations: 
 
@t + div (v) = 0;
dt = −∇P;
− kBT
dt = −W(; T);
P = kB
m T;
where ; T; P are density, temperature, and pressure, v is speed vector, CV is heat capacity under constant
volume, kB is Boltzmann constant; d=dt is substantial derivative, W(; T) = L(; T) − ????(; T) is generalized
heat-loss function.
In the current work, we use the model of heat-loss function W(; T) proposed by [3] for photodissociation
regions of the interstellar medium. The following parameters of heat-loss function were used: FUV field G0 =
= 4×104, cooling line opacity C = 0:5, the ratio of visual extinction to reddening RV = 5:5, C abundance
per H nucleus in very small grains bC = 3×10????5 [3], the abundances of carbon C = 1:2×10????4 and oxygen
O = 2:56 × 10????4 [13].
Studies show that the maximum growth rate of acoustic waves is expected at temperatures about 1000 K
[3] which also lies in the limit of observable temperatures in Orion Bar. So, we use this temperature T0 =
= 1000K as an equilibrium one. Then, using the equilibrium condition W (0; T0) ≡ W (n0; T0) = 0, one can
find the corresponding equilibrium number density in Orion Bar as n0 = 2:26 × 105cm????3.
Вестник Самарского университета. Естественнонаучная серия. 2022. Том 28, № 1–2. С. 113–119
Vestnik of Samara University. Natural Science Series. 2022, vol. 28, no. 1–2, pp. 113–119 115
Since there is no analytical solution capable of describing the evolution of an arbitrary perturbation in a
medium with strong dispersion and nonlinearity, we will investigate the growth time numerically using the
Athena MHD code [14] for astrophysical simulations.
The initial condition for numerical simulations is Gaussian perturbation in form
= 0
1 + aexp
− x2
; p = p0
1 + aexp
− x2
; (1.2)
where a is the dimensionless amplitude of density perturbation, is the characteristic size of perturbation,
is the adiabatic index which equals 5/3 in Orion Bar. In our simulations, we used initial amplitude a = 0:01.
Simulations show the splitting of initial perturbation into two waves propagating in the opposite directions.
Then, from any single wave, the periodic wave structure with period determined by heat-loss function appear.
Each wave in this structure grows forming several autowave pulses in front of the wave sequence and a series
of smaller waves at an earlier stage of evolution behind them (Figure 1.1).
Fig. 1.1. Numerical simulation of autowave pulse formation in isentropically unstable medium
Рис. 1.1. Численное моделирование формирования автоволнового импульса в изоэнтропически
неустойчивой среде
Using numerical simulation, we determine the amplitude of the autowave pulse as a function of time.
Since the amplitude of the autowave pulses in front of wave sequence is greater than the amplitude of waves
behind them, we take as the pulse amplitude the maximum value of the amplitude of the waves in the
When conducting numerical simulation, the important issue is to investigate the influence of grid step
on the time of the formation of autowave pulses (Figure 1.2). The need for this is due to the fact that
the numerical scheme introduces diffusion, much larger than that observed in real media. Decreasing the
grid step reduces this effect, but it is impossible to reduce the numerical diffusion to an order of magnitude
observed in real media due to limited computational capabilities.
One can see from Figure 1.2 that the finer the grid, the faster the waves grow. Let us note that three
plots with a coarser grid have a long interval with almost unchanged amplitude. We suppose this is due to
the dispersion properties of the medium and the spectrum of the initial perturbation.
Heating and cooling processes acts at characteristic time Q and its corresponding characteristic length
LQ [5]:
Q = 2

1 − (0W0) = (T0WT0)
; LQ =

kBT0=mQ; (1.3)
where WT0 = (@W=@T)T=T0;=0 , W0 = (@W=@)T=T0;=0 . Estimations of these parameters for the Orion
Bar give Q = 875 years and LQ = 2:6 × 10????3 pc.
In a heat-releasing medium, the high-frequency harmonics of the initial perturbation (Q ≫ 1, where is
the frequency of the wave) have the largest increment, while the low-frequency harmonics (Q ≪ 1) have a
relatively small one. Scheme diffusion significantly slows down growth of high-frequency harmonics. And if an
amplitude of high-frequency harmonics in the initial perturbation is small, then for their growth it is required sufficiently long time, and their contribution to amplitude of structure as a whole will be imperceptible for this time. This effect is clearly seen in Figure 1.3 where the amplitude of perturbations with a large initial.
Fig. 1.2. Influence of the grid step on the time of the autowave pulse formation. Characteristic size of initial perturbation = 1:0LQ
Рис. 1.2. Влияние шага по координате в численном моделировании на время формирования автоволнового импульса. Характерный размер начального возмущения = 1:0LQ
characteristic size begins to increase later than that of perturbations with a smaller characteristic size, with the same numerical grid parameters for all perturbations.
Fig. 1.3. Influence of the characteristic size of initial perturbation on the time of the autowave formation. Grid step Δx = 0:015LQ
Рис. 1.3. Влияние характерного размера начального возмущения на время формирования автоволнового импульса. Шаг сетки по координате Δx = 0:015LQ
Thus, we believe that as the grid size is further reduced, the growth rate of acoustic waves until the
amplitude reaches half of the maximum value will tend to that predicted by Field’s theory for inviscid
heat-releasing medium [11]. Characteristic time of isentropic instability tinst (the time at which the amplitude
of the waves increases by a factor of e) of the high-frequency acoustic waves is determined by expression
tinst =
2T0 CV
T0WT0 − 0W0 − T0
: (1.4)
The estimations of instability time for the chosen parameters of the mediums give tinst = 1065 years. Thus, the growth from the half of the amplitude of initial perturbation (since the waves propagate in two opposite directions) to a half of maximum amplitude may take about 4000 years, which agrees well with the results of numerical simulations on the finest grid.
However, the subsequent growth of the waves from half to maximum amplitude takes about 15-20 thousand years with little dependence on grid size and the characteristic size of initial perturbation.
Growth time of acoustic perturbations for parameters of isentropically unstable photodissociation region Orion Bar is estimated. The growth of acoustic waves can be divided into 3 stages. At the first stage, the high-frequency components of the initial perturbation grow without a significant change in the amplitude of the wave packet as a whole. The duration of this stage depends substantially on the characteristic size of the initial perturbation and can occupy fractions of the characteristic instability time tinst for high-frequency perturbations, and take tens of tinst for low-frequency ones, which corresponds to several tens of thousands of years for Orion Bar. In the second stage, there is an explosive growth of the wave amplitude up to half of the maximum value. This process takes several tinst or about 4000 years for Orion Bar for initial perturbation with an amplitude of 0.01 of the equilibrium concentration. In the third stage, there is a smooth increase in the amplitude of the wave up to the maximum value, which takes about 15-20 thousand years.


About the authors

D. S. Riashchikov

Lebedev Physical Institute;
Samara National Research University

Author for correspondence.
ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7143-2968

Candidate of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, research associate of the
Theoretical Department of Lebedev Physical Institute; senior lecturer of the Department of Physics

Russian Federation, 221, Novo-Sadovaya Street, Samara, 443011, Russian Federation; 34, Moskovskoye shosse, Samara, 443086, Russian Federation

I. A. Pomelnikov

Samara National Research University

ORCID iD: 0000-0001-7839-5784

student of the Institute of IT and Cybernatics

Russian Federation, 34, Moskovskoye shosse, Samara, 443086, Russian Federation

N. E. Molevich

Lebedev Physical Institute;
Samara National Research University

ORCID iD: 0000-0001-5950-5394

Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, chief researcher of the Theoretical
Department; professor of the Department of Physics

Russian Federation, 221, Novo-Sadovaya Street, Samara, 443011, Russian Federation; 34, Moskovskoye shosse, Samara, 443086, Russian Federation


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Copyright (c) 2022 Riashchikov D.S., Pomelnikov I.A., Molevich N.E.

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