A radiation transfer solver for Athena using short characteristics

Shane W. Davis, James McLellan Stone, Yan Fei Jiang

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93 Scopus citations


We describe the implementation of a module for the Athena magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) code that solves the time-independent, multi-frequency radiative transfer (RT) equation on multidimensional Cartesian simulation domains, including scattering and non-local thermodynamic equilibrium (LTE) effects. The module is based on well known and well tested algorithms developed for modeling stellar atmospheres, including the method of short characteristics to solve the RT equation, accelerated Lambda iteration to handle scattering and non-LTE effects, and parallelization via domain decomposition. The module serves several purposes: it can be used to generate spectra and images, to compute a variable Eddington tensor (VET) for full radiation MHD simulations, and to calculate the heating and cooling source terms in the MHD equations in flows where radiation pressure is small compared with gas pressure. For the latter case, the module is combined with the standard MHD integrators using operator splitting: we describe this approach in detail, including a new constraint on the time step for stability due to radiation diffusion modes. Implementation of the VET method for radiation pressure dominated flows is described in a companion paper. We present results from a suite of test problems for both the RT solver itself and for dynamical problems that include radiative heating and cooling. These tests demonstrate that the radiative transfer solution is accurate and confirm that the operator split method is stable, convergent, and efficient for problems of interest. We demonstrate there is no need to adopt ad hoc assumptions of questionable accuracy to solve RT problems in concert with MHD: the computational cost for our general-purpose module for simple (e.g., LTE gray) problems can be comparable to or less than a single time step of Athena's MHD integrators, and only few times more expensive than that for more general (non-LTE) problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9
JournalAstrophysical Journal, Supplement Series
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • methods: numerical
  • radiative transfer


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