The magnetohydrodynamics of convection-dominated accretion flows

Ramesh Narayan, Eliot Quataert, Igor V. Igumenshchev, Marek A. Abramowicz

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Radiatively inefficient accretion flows onto black holes are unstable due to both an outwardly decreasing entropy ("convection") and an outwardly decreasing rotation rate (the "magnetorotational instability" [MRI]). Using a linear MHD stability analysis, we show that long-wavelength modes with λ/H ≫β-1/2 are primarily destabilized by the entropy gradient and that such " convective " modes transport angular momentum inward (λ is the wavelength of the mode, H is the scale height of the disk, and β is the ratio of the gas pressure to the magnetic pressure). Moreover, the stability criteria for the convective modes are the standard Høiland criteria of hydrodynamics. By contrast, shorter wavelength modes with λ/H ∼ β-1/2 are primarily destabilized by magnetic tension and differential rotation. These " MRI " modes transport angular momentum outward. The convection-dominated accretion flow (CDAF) model, which has been proposed for radiatively inefficient accretion onto a black hole, posits that inward angular momentum transport and outward energy transport by long-wavelength convective fluctuations are crucial for determining the structure of the accretion flow. Our analysis suggests that the CDAF model is applicable to an MHD accretion flow provided that the magnetic field saturates at a value sufficiently below equipartition (β ≫ 1), so that long-wavelength convective fluctuations with λ/H ≫ β-1/2 can fit inside the accretion disk. Numerical MHD simulations are required to determine whether such a subequipartition field is in fact obtained.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)295-301
Number of pages7
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 I
StatePublished - Sep 20 2002
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Accretion, accretion disks
  • Black hole physics
  • Convection
  • Instabilities
  • MHD
  • Turbulence


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