The role of magnetic fields in the structure and interaction of supershells

Evangelia Ntormousi, Joanne R. Dawson, Patrick Hennebelle, Katharina Fierlinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Context: Large-scale shocks formed by clustered feedback of young OB stars are considered an important source of mechanical energy for the interstellar medium (ISM) and a trigger of molecular cloud formation. Their interaction sites are locations where kinetic energy and magnetic fields are redistributed between ISM phases. Aims: In this work we address two questions, both involving the role of galactic magnetic fields in the dynamics of supershells and their interactions. On the one hand, we study the effect of the magnetic field on the expansion and fragmentation of supershells and, on the other hand, we look for the signatures of supershell collisions on dense structures and on the kinetic and magnetic energy distribution of the ISM. Methods: We performed a series of high-resolution, three-dimensional simulations of colliding supershells. The shocks are created by time-dependent feedback and evolve in a diffuse turbulent environment that is either unmagnetized or has different initial magnetic field configurations. Results. In the hydrodynamical situation, the expansion law of the superbubbles is consistent with the radius-time relation R ∝ t³/⁵ that is theoretically predicted for wind-blown bubbles. The supershells fragment over their entire surface into small dense clumps that carry more than half of the total kinetic energy in the volume. However, this is not the case when a magnetic field is introduced, either in the direction of the collision or perpendicular to the collision. In both situations, the shell surfaces are more stable to dynamical instabilities. When the magnetic field opposes the collision, the expansion law of the supershells also becomes significantly flatter than in the hydrodynamical case. Although a two-phase medium arises in all cases, in the magnetohydrodynamical (MHD) simulations the cold phase is limited to lower densities and the cold clumps are located further away from the shocks with respect to the hydrodynamical simulations. Conclusions: For the parameters we explored, self-gravity has no effect on either the superbubble expansion or the shock fragmentation. In contrast, a magnetic field, whether mostly parallel or mostly perpendicular to the collision axis, causes a deceleration of the shocks, deforms them significantly, and largely suppresses the formation of the dense gas on their surface. The result is a multi-phase medium in which the cold clumps are not spatially correlated with the supershells.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA94
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalAstronomy and Astrophysics
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2017


  • ISM: bubbles
  • ISM: kinematics and dynamics
  • ISM: structure
  • galaxies: structure
  • galaxies: ISM
  • galaxies: magnetic fields


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