Fr.: disque d'accrétion
A rotating disk of gas and dust formed around a center of strong gravity that pulls material off a surrounding or near-by gaseous object. Accretion disks are associated with several astrophysical objects such as → binary stars, → protostars, → white dwarfs, → neutron stars, and → black holes. Accretion disk forms because the infalling gas does not directly crash the accreting object due to its too high → angular momentum. The individual particles go into a circular orbit around the accretor because the circular orbit has the lowest energy for a given angular momentum. A spread in angular momentum values will give a population of particles moving on different orbits, so that a rotating disk of matter forms around the object. The matter in the disk becomes very hot due to internal friction and → viscosity as well as the tug of the accreting object. Since this hot gas is being accelerated it radiates energy and loses angular momentum and falls onto the accretor. Theoretical and observational pieces of evidence point to the importance of → magnetic fields in the accretion process. According to current models, the stellar magnetosphere → truncates the disk at a few stellar radii. Gas from the disk accretes onto the star along the magnetic field lines and hits the stellar surface at approximately the → free fall velocity, causing a strong accretion shock. See also → flared disk, → self-shadowed disk, → protoplanetary disk, → alpha disk model.