The magnetorotational instability in a collisionless plasma

Eliot Quataert, William Dorland, Gregory W. Hammett

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


We consider the linear axisymmetric stability of a differentially rotating collisionless plasma in the presence of a weak magnetic field; we restrict our analysis to wavelengths much larger than the proton Larmor radius. This is the kinetic version of the magnetorotational instability explored extensively as a mechanism for magnetic field amplification and angular momentum transport in accretion disks. The kinetic calculation is appropriate for hot accretion flows onto compact objects and for the growth of very weak magnetic fields, where the collisional mean free path is larger than the wavelength of the unstable modes. We show that the kinetic instability criterion is the same as in MHD, namely that the angular velocity decrease outward. However, nearly every mode has a linear kinetic growth rate that differs from its MHD counterpart. The kinetic growth rates also depend explicitly on β, i.e., on the ratio of the gas pressure to the pressure of the seed magnetic field. For β ∼ 1 the kinetic growth rates are similar to the MHD growth rates, while for β ≫ 1 they differ significantly. For β ≫ 1, the fastest growing mode has a growth rate ≈ √3Ω for a Keplerian disk, larger than its MHD counterpart; there are also many modes whose growth rates are negligible, ≲β-1/2Ω ≪ Ω. We provide a detailed physical interpretation of these results and show that gas pressure forces, rather than just magnetic forces, are central to the behavior of the magnetorotational instability in a collisionless plasma. We also discuss the astrophysical implications of our analysis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)524-533
Number of pages10
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
  • Instabilities
  • Plasmas


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