Fr.: échelle de temps de Kelvin-Helmholtz
The characteristic time that would be required for a contracting spherical cloud of gas to transform all its → gravitational energy into → thermal energy. It is given by the relation: tKH ≅ GM2/RL, where G is the → gravitational constant, M is the mass of the cloud, R the initial radius, and L the → luminosity. The Kelvin-Helmholtz time scale determines how quickly a pre-main sequence star contracts before → nuclear fusion starts. For the Sun it is 3 x 107 years, which also represents the time scale on which the Sun would contract if its nuclear source were turned off. Moreover, this time scale indicates that the gravitational energy cannot account for the solar luminosity. For a → massive star of M = 30 Msun, the Kelvin-Helmholtz time is only about 3 x 104 years.