Taylor-Couette flow for astrophysical purposes

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A concise review is given of astrophysically motivated experimental and theoretical research on Taylor-Couette flow. The flows of interest rotate differentially with the inner cylinder faster than the outer, but are linearly stable against Rayleigh's inviscid centrifugal instability. At shear Reynolds numbers as large as 106, hydrodynamic flows of this type (quasi-Keplerian) appear to be nonlinearly stable: no turbulence is seen that cannot be attributed to interaction with the axial boundaries, rather than the radial shear itself. Direct numerical simulations agree, although they cannot yet reach such high Reynolds numbers. This result indicates that accretion-disc turbulence is not purely hydrodynamic in origin, at least insofar as it is driven by radial shear. Theory, however, predicts linear magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) instabilities in astrophysical discs: in particular, the standard magnetorotational instability (SMRI). MHD Taylor-Couette experiments aimed at SMRI are challenged by the low magnetic Prandtl numbers of liquid metals. High fluid Reynolds numbers and careful control of the axial boundaries are required. The quest for laboratory SMRI has been rewarded with the discovery of some interesting inductionless cousins of SMRI, and with the recently reported success in demonstrating SMRI itself using conducting axial boundaries. Some outstanding questions and near-future prospects are discussed, especially in connection with astrophysics. This article is part of the theme issue 'Taylor-Couette and related flows on the centennial of Taylor's seminal Philosophical Transactions paper (Part 2)'.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20220119
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Issue number2246
StatePublished - May 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering
  • General Physics and Astronomy
  • General Mathematics


  • MHD flow
  • Taylor-Couette flow
  • magnetorotational instability


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