Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

The Astrophysical Journal


American Astronomical Society





First page number:


Last page number:



Multiphase media have very complex structure and evolution. Accurate numerical simulations are necessary to make advances in our understanding of this rich physics. Because simulations can capture both the linear and nonlinear evolution of perturbations with a relatively wide range of sizes, it is important to thoroughly understand the stability of condensation and acoustic modes between the two extreme wavelength limits of isobaric and isochoric instability as identified by Field. Partially motivated by a recent suggestion that large non-isobaric clouds can "shatter" into tiny cloudlets, we revisit the linear theory to survey all possible regimes of thermal instability. We uncover seven regimes in total, one of which allows three unstable condensation modes. Using the code Athena++, we determine the numerical requirements to properly evolve small amplitude perturbations of the entropy mode into the nonlinear regime. Our 1D numerical simulations demonstrate that for a typical AGN cooling function, the nonlinear evolution of a single eigenmode in an isobarically unstable plasma involves increasingly larger amplitude oscillations in cloud size, temperature, and density as the wavelength increases. Such oscillations are the hallmark behavior of non-isobaric multiphase gas dynamics and may be observable as correlations between changes in brightness and the associated periodic redshifts and blueshifts in systems that can be spatially resolved. Intriguingly, we discuss regimes and derive characteristic cloud sizes for which the saturation process giving rise to these oscillations can be so energetic that the cloud may indeed break apart. However, we dub this process "splattering" instead of "shattering," as it is a different fragmentation mechanism that is triggered when the cloud suddenly "lands" on the stable cold branch of the equilibrium curve.


Galaxies: halos; Galaxies: nuclei; Instabilities; ISM: clouds; Plasmas


Astrophysics and Astronomy

File Format


File Size

2.797 KB



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

UNLV article access

Search your library