The stability of radiatively cooling jets. II. Nonlinear evolution

James McLellan Stone, Jianjun Xu, Philip E. Hardee

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64 Scopus citations


We use two-dimensional time-dependent hydrodynamical simulations to follow the growth of the Kelvin-Helmholtz (K-H) instability in cooling jets into the nonlinear regime. We focus primarily on asymmetric modes that give rise to transverse displacements of the jet beam. A variety of Mach numbers and two different cooling curves are studied. The growth rates of waves in the linear regime measured from the numerical simulations are in excellent agreement with the predictions of the linear stability analysis presented in the first paper in this series. In the nonlinear regime, the simulations show that asymmetric modes of the K-H instability can affect the structure and evolution of cooling jets in a number of ways. We find that jets in which the growth rate of the sinusoidal surface wave has a maximum at a so-called resonant frequency can be dominated by large-amplitude sinusoidal oscillations near this frequency. Eventually, growth of this wave can disrupt the jet. On the other hand, nonlinear body waves tend to produce low-amplitude wiggles in the shape of the jet but can result in strong shocks in the jet beam. In cooling jets, these shocks can produce dense knots and filaments of cooling gas within the jet. Ripples in the surface of the jet beam caused by both surface and body waves generate oblique shock "spurs" driven into the ambient gas. Our simulations show these shock "spurs" can accelerate ambient gas at large distances from the jet beam to low velocities, which represents a new mechanism by which low-velocity bipolar outflows may be driven by high-velocity jets. Rapid entrainment and acceleration of ambient gas may also occur if the jet is disrupted. For parameters typical of protostellar jets, the frequency at which K-H growth is a maximum (or highest frequency to which the entire jet can respond dynamically) will be associated with perturbations with a period of ∼200 yr. Higher frequency (shorter period) perturbations excite waves associated with body modes that produce internal shocks and only small-amplitude wiggles within the jet. The fact that most observed systems show no evidence for large-amplitude sinusoidal oscillation leading to disruption is indicative that the perturbation frequencies are generally large, consistent with the suggestion that protostellar jets arise from the inner regions (r < 1 AU) of accretion disks.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-147
Number of pages12
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1 PART I
StatePublished - 1997

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Galaxies: jets
  • Hydrodynamics
  • ISM: jets and outflows
  • Instabilities
  • MHD


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