Magnetothermal and magnetorotational instabilities in hot accretion flows

De Fu Bu, Feng Yuan, James M. Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


In a hot, dilute, magnetized accretion flow, the electron mean-free path can be much greater than the Larmor radius, and thus thermal conduction is anisotropic and along the magnetic field lines. In this case, if the temperature decreases outward, the flow may be subject to a buoyancy instability - the magnetothermal instability (MTI). The MTI amplifies the magnetic field, and aligns the field lines with the radial direction. If the accretion flow is differentially rotating, a magnetorotational instability (MRI) may also be present. Using two-dimensional, time-dependent magnetohydrodynamic simulations, we investigate the interaction between these two instabilities. We use global simulations that span over two orders of magnitude in radius, centred on the region around the Bondi radius where the infall time of gas is longer than the growth time of both the MTI and MRI. A significant amplification of the magnetic field is produced by both instabilities, although we find that the MTI and MRI primarily amplify the radial and toroidal components of the field, respectively. Most importantly, we find that if the MTI and MRI can amplify the magnetic energy by factors of Ft and Fr, respectively, then when the MTI and MRI are both present, the magnetic energy can be amplified by a factor of Ft·Fr. Therefore, we conclude that the amplification of the magnetic energy by the MTI and MRI operates independently. We also find that the MTI contributes to the transport of angular momentum, because radial motions induced by the MTI increase the Maxwell (by amplifying the magnetic field) and Reynolds stresses. Finally, we find that thermal conduction decreases the slope of the radial temperature profile. The increased temperature near the Bondi radius decreases the mass accretion rate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2808-2814
Number of pages7
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jun 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Accretion, accretion discs
  • Black hole physics
  • Conduction
  • ISM: jets and outflows
  • MHD


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