Nonlinear tides in close binary systems

Nevin N. Weinberg, Phil Arras, Eliot Quataert, Josh Burkart

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91 Scopus citations


We study the excitation and damping of tides in close binary systems, accounting for the leading-order nonlinear corrections to linear tidal theory. These nonlinear corrections include two distinct physical effects: three-mode nonlinear interactions, i.e., the redistribution of energy among stellar modes of oscillation, and nonlinear excitation of stellar normal modes by the time-varying gravitational potential of the companion. This paper, the first in a series, presents the formalism for studying nonlinear tides and studies the nonlinear stability of the linear tidal flow. Although the formalism we present is applicable to binaries containing stars, planets, and/or compact objects, we focus on non-rotating solar-type stars with stellar or planetary companions. Our primary results include the following: (1) The linear tidal solution almost universally used in studies of binary evolution is unstable over much of the parameter space in which it is employed. More specifically, resonantly excited internal gravity waves in solar-type stars are nonlinearly unstable to parametric resonance for companion masses M′ ≳ 10-100 M at orbital periods P 1-10 days. The nearly static "equilibrium" tidal distortion is, however, stable to parametric resonance except for solar binaries with P ≲ 2-5 days. (2) For companion masses larger than a few Jupiter masses, the dynamical tide causes short length scale waves to grow so rapidly that they must be treated as traveling waves, rather than standing waves. (3) We show that the global three-wave treatment of parametric instability typically used in the astrophysics literature does not yield the fastest-growing daughter modes or instability threshold in many cases. We find a form of parametric instability in which a single parent wave excites a very large number of daughter waves (N 103[P/10 days] for a solar-type star) and drives them as a single coherent unit with growth rates that are a factor of N faster than the standard three-wave parametric instability. These are local instabilities viewed through the lens of global analysis; the coherent global growth rate follows local rates in the regions where the shear is strongest. In solar-type stars, the dynamical tide is unstable to this collective version of the parametric instability for even sub-Jupiter companion masses with P ≲ a month. (4) Independent of the parametric instability, the dynamical and equilibrium tides excite a wide range of stellar p-modes and g-modes by nonlinear inhomogeneous forcing; this coupling appears particularly efficient at draining energy out of the dynamical tide and may be more important than either wave breaking or parametric resonance at determining the nonlinear dissipation of the dynamical tide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number136
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • binaries: close
  • hydrodynamics
  • planetary systems
  • stars: interiors
  • stars: oscillations
  • waves


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