A&A 432, 117-138 (2005)
On the lifetime of metastable states in self-gravitating systemsP. H. Chavanis
Laboratoire de Physique Théorique, Université Paul Sabatier, 118 route de Narbonne, 31062 Toulouse, France
(Received 17 April 2004 / Accepted 3 November 2004)
We discuss the physical basis of the statistical mechanics of self-gravitating systems. We show the correspondance between statistical mechanics methods based on the evaluation of the density of states and partition function and thermodynamical methods based on the optimization of a thermodynamical potential (entropy or free energy). We address the question of the thermodynamic limit of self-gravitating systems, the justification of the mean-field approximation, the validity of the saddle point approximation near the transition point, the lifetime of metastable states and the fluctuations in isothermal spheres. In particular, we emphasize the tremendously long lifetime of metastable states of self-gravitating systems which increases exponentially with the number of particles N except in the vicinity of the critical point. More specifically, using an adaptation of the Kramers formula justified by a kinetic theory, we show that the lifetime of a metastable state scales as in microcanonical ensemble and in canonical ensemble, where and are the barriers of entropy and free energy per particle respectively. The physical caloric curve must take these metastable states (local entropy maxima) into account. As a result, it becomes multi-valued and leads to microcanonical phase transitions and "dinosaur's necks" (Chavanis 2002b, [arXiv:astroph/0205426]; Chavanis & Rieutord 2003, A&A, 412, 1). The consideration of metastable states answers the critics raised by D.H.E. Gross [cond-mat/0307535/0403582].
Key words: gravitation -- stellar dynamics -- globular clusters: general -- methods: miscellaneous
© ESO 2005