The Balbus-Hawley instability in weakly ionized discs

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MHD in protostellar discs is modified by the Hall current when the ambipolar diffusion approximation breaks down. Here I examine the Balbus-Hawley (magnetorotational) instability of a weak, vertical magnetic field within a weakly ionized disc. Vertical stratification is neglected, and a linear analysis is undertaken for the case in which the wavevector of the perturbation is parallel to the magnetic field. The growth rate depends on whether the initial magnetic field is parallel or antiparallel to the angular momentum of the disc. The parallel case is less (more) unstable than the antiparallel case if the Hall current is dominated by negative (positive) species. The less-unstable orientation is stable for χ ≲ 0.5, where χ is the ratio of a generalized neutral-ion collision frequency to the Keplerian frequency. The other orientation has a formal growth rate of the order of the Keplerian angular frequency even in the limit χ → 0! In this limit the wavelength of the fastest-growing mode tends to infinity, so the minimum level of ionization for instability is determined by the requirement that a wavelength fit within a disc scaleheight. In the ambipolar diffusion case, this requires χ > vA/cs; in the Hall case this imposes a potentially much weaker limit, χ > v2 A/c2 s.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)849-856
Number of pages8
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 21 Aug 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Accretion, accretion discs
  • Instabilities
  • Magnetic fields
  • MHD
  • Stars: formation


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