The paradox of the scale-free discs

Jeremy Goodman, N. Wyn Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Scale-free discs have no preferred length or time-scale. The question has been raised whether such discs have a continuum of unstable linear modes or perhaps no unstable modes at all. We resolve this paradox by analysing the particular case of a gaseous, isentropic disc with a completely flat rotation curve (the Mestel disc) exactly. The heart of the matter is this: what are the correct boundary conditions to impose at the origin or central cusp? We argue that the linear stability problem is ill-posed and that similar ambiguities may afflict general disc models with power-law central cusps. From any finite radius, waves reach the origin after finite time but with logarithmically divergent phase. Instabilities exist, but their pattern speeds depend upon an undetermined phase with which waves are reflected from the origin. For any definite choice of this phase, there is an infinite but discrete set of growing modes. The ratio of growth rate to pattern speed is independent of the central phase. This ratio is derived in closed form for non-self-gravitating normal modes and is shown to agree with approximate results obtained from the shearing sheet in the short-wavelength limit. This provides the first exact, analytically solved stability analysis for a differentially rotating disc. For self-gravitating normal modes, the ratio of growth rate to pattern is found numerically by solving recurrence relations in Mellin-transform space.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)599-609
Number of pages11
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Nov 1 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Galaxies: kinematics and dynamics
  • Galaxies: spiral
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Instabilities


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