Journal Article

Interface modes and their instabilities in accretion disc boundary layers

David Tsang and Dong Lai

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 396, issue 1, pages 589-597
Published in print June 2009 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online June 2009 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Interface modes and their instabilities in accretion disc boundary layers

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We study global non-axisymmetric oscillation modes trapped near the inner boundary of an accretion disc. Observations indicate that some of the quasi-periodic oscillations (QPOs) observed in the luminosities of accreting compact objects (neutron stars, black holes and white dwarfs) are produced in the innermost regions of accretion discs or boundary layers. Two simple models are considered in this paper. The magnetosphere–disc model consists of a thin Keplerian disc in contact with a uniformly rotating magnetosphere with and low plasma density, while the star–disc model involves a Keplerian disc terminated at the stellar atmosphere with high density and small density scaleheight. We find that the interface modes at the magnetosphere–disc boundary are generally unstable due to Rayleigh–Taylor and/or Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities. However, differential rotation of the disc tends to suppress Rayleigh–Taylor instability, and a sufficiently high disc sound speed (or temperature) is needed to overcome this suppression and to attain net mode growth. On the other hand, Kelvin–Helmholtz instability may be active at low disc sound speeds. We also find that the interface modes trapped at the boundary between a thin disc and an unmagnetized star do not suffer Rayleigh–Taylor or Kelvin–Helmholtz instability, but can become unstable due to wave leakage to large disc radii and, for sufficiently steep disc density distributions, due to wave absorption at the corotation resonance in the disc. The non-axisymmetric interface modes studied in this paper may be relevant to the high-frequency QPOs observed in some X-ray binaries and in cataclysmic variables.

Keywords: accretion, accretion discs; hydrodynamics; instabilities; MHD; waves

Journal Article.  4860 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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