The cooling flow to accretion flow transition

Eliot Quataert, Ramesh Narayan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Cooling flows in galaxy clusters and isolated elliptical galaxies are a source of mass for fueling accretion onto a central supermassive black hole. We calculate the dynamics of accreting matter in the combined gravitational potential of a host galaxy and a central black hole assuming a steady state, spherically symmetric flow (i.e., no angular momentum). The global dynamics depends primarily on the accretion rate. For large accretion rates no simple, smooth transition between a cooling flow and an accretion flow is possible; the gas cools toward zero temperature just inside its sonic radius, which lies well outside the region where the gravitational influence of the central black hole is important. For accretion rates below a critical value, however, the accreting gas evolves smoothly from a radiatively driven cooling flow at large radii to a nearly adiabatic (Bondi) flow at small radii. We argue that this is the relevant parameter regime for most observed cooling flows. The transition from the cooling flow to the accretion flow should be observable in M87 with the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-242
Number of pages7
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART 1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2000
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Accretion, accretion disks
  • Cooling flows
  • Galaxies: individual (M87)
  • Hydrodynamics


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