Magnetically Controlled Accretion Flows onto Young Stellar Objects

Fred C. Adams, Scott G. Gregory

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Accretion from disks onto young stars is thought to follow magnetic field lines from the inner disk edge to the stellar surface. The accretion flow thus depends on the geometry of the magnetic field. This paper extends previous work by constructing a collection of orthogonal coordinate systems, including the corresponding differential operators, where one coordinate traces the magnetic field lines. This formalism allows for an (essentially) analytic description of the geometry and the conditions required for the flow to pass through sonic points. Using this approach, we revisit the problem of magnetically controlled accretion flow in a dipole geometry, and then generalize the treatment to consider magnetic fields with multiple components, including dipole, octupole, and split monopole contributions. This approach can be generalized further to consider more complex magnetic field configurations. Observations indicate that accreting young stars have substantial dipole and octupole components, and that accretion flow is transonic. If the effective equation of state for the fluid is too stiff, however, the flow cannot pass smoothly through the sonic points in steady state. For a multipole field of order l, we derive a general constraint on the polytropic index, n 〉 l + 3/2, required for steady transonic flow to reach free-fall velocities. For octupole fields, inferred on surfaces of T Tauri stars, the index n 〉 9/2, so that the flow must be close to isothermal. The inclusion of octupole field components produces higher densities at the stellar surface and smaller areas for the hot spots, which occur at higher latitudes; the magnetic truncation radius is smaller (larger) for octupole components that are aligned (anti-aligned) with the stellar dipole. This contribution thus increases our understanding of magnetically controlled accretion for young stellar objects and can be applied to a variety of additional astrophysical problems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number55
Number of pages18
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


  • magnetohydrodynamics (MHD) –
  • protoplanetary disks
  • stars: formation
  • stars: magnetic field
  • stars: pre-main sequence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics


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