A local instability of tidally distorted accretion disks

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Hydrodynamic accretion disks in binary star systems have local, three-dimensional, approximately incompressible instabilities whose growth rate is linearly proportional to the tidal field of the secondary star. The instability occurs throughout the disk but is most rapid in the outer parts. The free energy for the instability derives from the tidal distortion of the disk rather than its differential rotation. The instability will excite |m| = 1 internal waves of the type recently discussed by Vishniac and collaborators, and it should facilitate return of angular momentum from the disk to the secondary star. It is closely related to a recently discovered instability that has been suggested as a mechanism for transition to turbulence in terrestrial and laboratory flows, but whether it will lead to strong turbulence in disks is as yet unclear.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)596-613
Number of pages18
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 1993

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Accretion, accretion disks
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Instabilities


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