Photon bubbles in the circumstellar envelopes of young massive stars

N. J. Turner, E. Quataert, H. W. Yorke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


We show that the optically thick dusty envelopes surrounding young high-mass stars are subject to the photon bubble instability. The infrared radiation passing through the envelope amplifies magnetosonic disturbances, with growth rates in our local numerical radiation MHD calculations that are consistent with a linear analysis. Modes with wave-lengths comparable to the gas pressure scale height grow by more than 2 orders of magnitude in 1000 yr, reaching non-linear amplitudes within the envelope lifetime. If the magnetic pressure in the envelope exceeds the gas pressure, the instability develops into trains of propagating shocks. Radiation escapes readily through the low-density material between the shocks, enabling accretion to continue despite the Eddington limit imposed by the dust opacity. The supersonic motions arising from the photon bubble instability can help explain the large velocity dispersions of hot molecular cores, while conditions in the shocked gas are suitable for maser emission. We conclude that the photon bubble instability may play a key role in the formation of massive stars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1052-1058
Number of pages7
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2 I
StatePublished - Jun 20 2007
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Circumstellar matter
  • Instabilities
  • MHD
  • Radiative transfer
  • Stars: early-type
  • Stars: formation


Dive into the research topics of 'Photon bubbles in the circumstellar envelopes of young massive stars'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this