Local study of accretion disks with a strong vertical magnetic field: Magnetorotational instability and disk outflow

Xue Ning Bai, James McLellan Stone

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We perform three-dimensional, vertically-stratified, local shearing-box ideal MHD simulations of the magnetorotational instability (MRI) that include a net vertical magnetic flux, which is characterized by midplane plasma β0 (ratio of gas to magnetic pressure). We have considered β0 = 102, 103, and 104, and in the first two cases the most unstable linear MRI modes are well resolved in the simulations. We find that the behavior of the MRI turbulence strongly depends on β0: the radial transport of angular momentum increases with net vertical flux, achieving α ∼ 0.08 for β = 104 and α ≳ 1.0 for β0 = 100, where α is the height-integrated and mass-weighted Shakura-Sunyaev parameter. A critical value lies at β0 ∼ 103: for β0 ≳ 103, the disk consists of a gas pressure dominated midplane and a magnetically dominated corona. The turbulent strength increases with net flux, and angular momentum transport is dominated by turbulent fluctuations. The magnetic dynamo that leads to cyclic flips of large-scale fields still exists, but becomes more sporadic as net flux increases. For β0 ≲ 103, the entire disk becomes magnetically dominated. The turbulent strength saturates, and the magnetic dynamo is fully quenched. Stronger large-scale fields are generated with increasing net flux, which dominates angular momentum transport. A strong outflow is launched from the disk by the magnetocentrifugal mechanism, and the mass flux increases linearly with net vertical flux and shows sign of saturation at β0 ≲ 10 2. However, the outflow is unlikely to be directly connected to a global wind: for β0 ≳ 103, the large-scale field has no permanent bending direction due to dynamo activities, while for β0 ≲ 103, the outflows from the top and bottom sides of the disk bend towards opposite directions, inconsistent with a physical disk wind geometry. Global simulations are needed to address the fate of the outflow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number30
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 10 2013

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • accretion, accretion disks
  • instabilities
  • magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • methods: numerical
  • turbulence


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