Spreading layers in accreting objects: role of acoustic waves for angular momentum transport, mixing and thermodynamics
Philippov et al
Disk accretion at high rate onto a white dwarf or a neutron star has been suggested to result in the formation of a spreading layer (SL) - a belt-like structure on the object's surface, in which the accreted matter steadily spreads in the poleward (meridional) direction while spinning down. To assess its basic characteristics we perform two-dimensional hydrodynamic simulations of supersonic SLs in the relevant morphology with a simple prescription for cooling. We demonstrate that supersonic shear naturally present at the base of the SL inevitably drives sonic instability that gives rise to large scale acoustic modes governing the evolution of the SL. These modes dominate the transport of momentum and energy, which is intrinsically global and cannot be characterized via some form of local effective viscosity (e.g. α-viscosity). The global nature of the wave-driven transport should have important implications for triggering Type I X-ray bursts in low mass X-ray binaries. The nonlinear evolution of waves into a system of shocks drives effective re-arrangement (sensitively depending on thermodynamical properties of the flow) and deceleration of the SL, which ultimately becomes transonic and susceptible to regular Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. We interpret this evolution in terms of the global structure of the SL and suggest that mixing of the SL material with the underlying stellar fluid should become effective only at intermediate latitudes on the accreting object's surface, where the flow has decelerated appreciably. In the near-equatorial regions the transport is dominated by acoustic waves and mixing is less efficient. We speculate that this latitudinal non-uniformity of mixing in accreting white dwarfs may be linked to the observed bipolar morphology of classical novae ejecta.