Cooling requirements for the vertical shear instability in protoplanetary disks

Min Kai Lin, Andrew N. Youdin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


The vertical shear instability (VSI) offers a potential hydrodynamic mechanism for angular momentum transport in protoplanetary disks (PPDs). The VSI is driven by a weak vertical gradient in the disk's orbital motion, but must overcome vertical buoyancy, a strongly stabilizing influence in cold disks, where heating is dominated by external irradiation. Rapid radiative cooling reduces the effective buoyancy and allows the VSI to operate. We quantify the cooling timescale tc needed for efficient VSI growth, through a linear analysis of the VSI with cooling in vertically global, radially local disk models. We find the VSI is most vigorous for rapid cooling with in terms of the Keplerian orbital frequency, , the disk's aspect-ratio, , the radial power-law temperature gradient, q, and the adiabatic index, γ. For longer tc, the VSI is much less effective because growth slows and shifts to smaller length scales, which are more prone to viscous or turbulent decay. We apply our results to PPD models where tc is determined by the opacity of dust grains. We find that the VSI is most effective at intermediate radii, from ∼5 to ∼50 AU with a characteristic growth time of ∼30 local orbital periods. Growth is suppressed by long cooling times both in the opaque inner disk and the optically thin outer disk. Reducing the dust opacity by a factor of 10 increases cooling times enough to quench the VSI at all disk radii. Thus the formation of solid protoplanets, a sink for dust grains, can impede the VSI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 20 2015


  • accretion, accretion disks
  • hydrodynamics
  • methods: analytical
  • methods: numerical
  • protoplanetary disks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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