Journal Article

Kelvin-Helmholtz instability of the magnetopause of disc-accreting stars

R. V. E. Lovelace, M. M. Romanova and W. I. Newman

in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Published on behalf of The Royal Astronomical Society

Volume 402, issue 4, pages 2575-2582
Published in print March 2010 | ISSN: 0035-8711
Published online March 2010 | e-ISSN: 1365-2966 | DOI:
Kelvin-Helmholtz instability of the magnetopause of disc-accreting stars

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This work investigates the short-wavelength stability of the magnetopause between a rapidly rotating, supersonic, dense accretion disc and a slowly rotating low-density magnetosphere of a magnetized star. The magnetopause is a strong shear layer with rapid changes in the azimuthal velocity, the density and the magnetic field over a short radial distance and thus the Kelvin–Helmholtz (KH) instability may be important. The plasma dynamics are treated using non-relativistic, compressible (isentropic) magnetohydrodynamics. It is necessary to include the displacement current in order that plasma wave velocities remain less than the speed of light. We focus mainly on the case of a star with an aligned dipole magnetic field so that the magnetic field is axial in the disc midplane and perpendicular to the disc flow velocity. However, we also give results for cases where the magnetic field is at an arbitrary angle to the flow velocity. For the aligned dipole case, the magnetopause is most unstable for KH waves propagating in the azimuthal direction perpendicular to the magnetic field which tends to stabilize waves propagating parallel to it. The wave phase velocity is that of the disc matter. A quasi-linear theory of the saturation of the instability leads to a wavenumber (k) power spectrum ∝k−1 of the density and temperature fluctuations of the magnetopause, and it gives the mass accretion and angular momentum inflow rates across the magnetopause. For self-consistent conditions, this mass accretion rate will be equal to the disc-accretion rate at large distances from the magnetopause.

Keywords: accretion, accretion discs; instabilities; MHD; waves; stars: neutron; X-rays: binaries

Journal Article.  5081 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Astronomy and Astrophysics

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