Are particles in advection-dominated accretion flows thermal?

Rohan Mahadevan, Eliot Quataert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


We investigate the form of the momentum distribution function for protons and electrons in an advection-dominated accretion flow (ADAF). We show that for all accretion rates, Coulomb collisions are too inefficient to thermalize the protons. The proton distribution function is therefore determined by the viscous heating mechanism, which is unknown. The electrons, however, can exchange energy quite efficiently through Coulomb collisions and the emission and absorption of synchrotron photons. We find that for accretion rates greater than ∼10-3 of the Eddington accretion rate, the electrons have a thermal distribution throughout the accretion flow. For lower accretion rates, the electron distribution function is determined by the electron's source of heating, which is primarily adiabatic compression. Using the principle of adiabatic invariance, we show that an adiabatically compressed, collisionless gas maintains a thermal distribution until the particle energies become relativistic. We derive a new, nonthermal distribution function for relativistic energies and provide analytic formulae for the synchrotron radiation from this distribution. Finally, we discuss its implications for the emission spectra from ADAFs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)605-618
Number of pages14
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 PART I
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Accretion, accretion disks
  • Black hole physics
  • Galaxies: elliptical and lenticular, cD
  • Radiation mechanisms: thermal
  • Radio continuum: galaxies


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