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      Fragmentation of Magnetically Subcritical Clouds into Multiple Supercritical Cores and the Formation of Small Stellar Groups


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          Isolated low-mass stars are formed in dense cores of molecular clouds. In the standard picture, the cores are envisioned to condense out of strongly magnetized clouds through ambipolar diffusion. Most previous calculations based on this scenario are limited to axisymmetric cloud evolution leading to a single core, which collapses to form an isolated star or stellar system at the center. These calculations are here extended to the nonaxisymmetric case under thin-disk approximation, which allows for a detailed investigation into the process of fragmentation, fundamental to binary, multiple system, and cluster formation. We have shown previously that initially axisymmetric, magnetically subcritical clouds with an \(m=2\) density perturbation of modest fractional amplitude (\(\sim 5%\)) can develop highly elongated bars, which facilitate binary and multiple system formation. In this paper, we show that in the presence of higher order (\(m\ge 3\)) perturbations of similar amplitude such clouds are capable of breaking up into a set of discrete dense cores. These multiple cores are magnetically supercritical. They are expected to collapse into single stars or stellar systems individually and, collectively, to form a small stellar group. Our calculations demonstrate that the standard scenario for single star formation involving magnetically subcritical clouds and ambipolar diffusion can readily produce more than one star, provided that the cloud mass is well above the Jeans limit and relatively uniformly distributed. The fragments develop in the central part of the cloud, after the region has become magnetically supercritical but before rapid collapse sets in. It is enhanced by the flattening of mass distribution along the field lines and by the magnetic tension force.

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          20 June 2002
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          Astrophys.J. 578 (2002) 256-268; Erratum-ibid. 583 (2003) 1063
          16 pages, 5 figures, accepted by ApJ


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