Fr.: instabilité de Parker
A type of instability found in some astrophysical phenomena involving → magnetic fields; it arises if a gas layer is supported by the horizontal magnetic fields against → gravity. Also called → magnetic buoyancy. Briefly, this instability works as follows. Consider a uniform disk of gas which is coupled to a magnetici field that is parallel to the disk. Suppose that the disk is gravitationally stratified in the vertical direction, and is in dynamical equilibrium under the balance of gravity and pressure (thermal and magnetic). Now consider a small perturbation which causes the field lines to rise in certain parts of the disk and sink in others. Because of gravity, the gas loaded onto the field lines tends to slide off the peaks and and sink into the valleys. The increase of mass loads in the valleys makes them sink further, while the magnetic pressure causes the peaks to rise as their mass load decreases. Consequently, the initial perturbation is amplified, causing the production of density fluctuations in an initially uniform disk. The characteristic scale for the Parker instability is ~4πH, where H is the scale height of the diffuse component of the disk. For the Milky Way, where H ~ 150 pc, this scale is about 1-2 kpc. Numerical simulations show that the density contrast generated by the Parker instability is generally of order unity before the instability saturates. This implies that the Parker instability on its own may not be able to drive collapse on large scales. Nevertheless, it may trigger gravitational instability in a marginally unstable disk and/or induce strong motions in the medium, thereby acting as a source of turbulence on large scales (see, e.g., Houjun Mo, Frank van den Bosch, Simon White, 2010, Galaxy Formation and Evolution, The University Press, Cambridge, UK).
First studied by E. N. Parker, 1966, ApJ 145, 811; → instability.