Non-linear evolution of the tidal elliptical instability in gaseous planets and stars

Adrian J. Barker*, Yoram Lithwick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Tidally distorted rotating stars and gaseous planets are subject to a well-known linear fluid instability - the elliptical instability. It has been proposed that this instability might drive enough energy dissipation to solve the long-standing problem of the origin of tidal dissipation in stars and planets. But the non-linear outcome of the elliptical instability has yet to be investigated in the parameter regime of interest, and the resulting turbulent energy dissipation has not yet been quantified. We do so by performing three-dimensional hydrodynamical simulations of a small patch of a tidally deformed fluid planet or star subject to the elliptical instability. We show that when the tidal deformation is weak, the non-linear outcome of the instability leads to the formation of long-lived columnar vortices aligned with the axis of rotation. These vortices shut offthe elliptical instability, and the net result is insufficient energy dissipation to account for tidal dissipation. However, further work is required to account for effects neglected here, including magnetic fields, turbulent convection and realistic boundary conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3614-3626
Number of pages13
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2013


  • Binaries: Close
  • Hydrodynamics
  • Instabilities
  • Planetary systems
  • Stars: Rotation
  • Waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Non-linear evolution of the tidal elliptical instability in gaseous planets and stars'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this