Fr.: paramètre du viriel
A dimensionless parameter that measures the ratio of thermal plus kinetic energies to gravitational energy of a physical system, such as a molecular cloud. The virial parameter is expressed as: αvir = 5σ2R / GM, where R and M are the radius and mass of the cloud respectively, σ is the one-dimensional → velocity dispersion inside the cloud, and G the → gravitational constant. It indicates whether a cloud could be bound or not. For molecular clouds that are confined by their surface pressure and for which self-gravity is unimportant, αvir is much larger than unity, whereas αvir is ~ 1 when the gravitational energy of a clump becomes comparable to its kinetic energy. See, e.g., Bertoldi & McKee, 1992 (ApJ 395, 140). See also → virial theorem.