Astrophysics (index)about

Virial Parameter

(calculated quantity showing whether a cloud is gravitationally bound)

The Virial Parameter is a quantity calculable from the mass, radius and velocity dispersion of a system such as a Molecular Cloud or Dense Core, that demonstrates whether it is gravitationally bound. It is essentially the ratio of the cloud's Kinetic Energy to Gravitational Potential Energy.

 α = ——

If α >> 1, the system is not gravitationally bound, and must be held together by external pressure. If gravitationally bound, α ~ 1.

This relation is commonly used to deduce the mass of molecular clouds.