Nonsteady accretion in protostars

Zhaohuan Zhu, Lee Hartmann, Charles Gammie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Observations indicate that mass accretion rates onto low-mass protostars are generally lower than the rates of infall to their disks; this suggests that much of the protostellar mass must be accreted during rare, short outbursts of rapid accretion. We explore when protostellar disk accretion is likely to be highly variable. While constant α disks can in principle adjust their accretion rates to match infall rates, protostellar disks are unlikely to have constant α. In particular, we show that neither models with angular momentum transport due solely to the magnetorotational instability (MRI) nor gravitational instability (GI) are likely to transport disk mass at protostellar infall rates over the large range of radii needed to move infalling envelope material down to the central protostar. We show that the MRI and GI are likely to combine to produce outbursts of rapid accretion starting at a few AU. Our analysis is consistent with the time-dependent models of Armitage et al. and agrees with our observational study of the outbursting object FU Ori.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1045-1055
Number of pages11
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009


  • Accretion, accretion disks
  • Stars: formation
  • Stars: pre-main sequence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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