The magnetic Rayleigh-taylor instability in three dimensions

James McLellan Stone, Thomas Gardiner

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121 Scopus citations


We study the magnetic Rayleigh-Taylor instability in three dimensions, with focus on the nonlinear structure and evolution that results from different initial field configurations. We study strong fields in the sense that the critical wavelength λc, at which perturbations along the field are stable, is a large fraction of the size of the computational domain. We consider magnetic fields that are initially parallel to the interface, but have a variety of configurations, including uniform everywhere, uniform in the light fluid only, and fields that change direction at the interface. Strong magnetic fields do not suppress instability; in fact, by inhibiting secondary shear instabilities they reduce mixing between the heavy and light fluid and cause the rate of growth of bubbles and fingers to increase in comparison to hydrodynamics. Fields parallel to, but whose direction changes at, the interface produce long, isolated fingers separated by the critical wavelength λc, which may be relevant to the morphology of the optical filaments in the Crab nebula.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1726-1735
Number of pages10
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 20 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Instabilities
  • Ism: magnetic fields
  • MHD


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