The stability of Prendergast magnetic fields

Emma Kaufman*, Daniel Lecoanet, Evan H. Anders, Benjamin P. Brown, Geoffrey M. Vasil, Jeffrey S. Oishi, Keaton J. Burns

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Convection in massive main-sequence stars generates large-scale magnetic fields in their cores that persists as they evolve up the red giant branch. The remnants of these fields may take the form of the Prendergast magnetic field, a combination of poloidal and toroidal field components that are expected to stabilize each other. Previous analytic and numerical calculations did not find any evidence for instability of the Prendergast field over short time-scales. In this paper, we present numerical simulations which show a long time-scale, linear instability of this magnetic field. We find the instability to be robust to changes in boundary conditions and it is not stabilized by strong stable stratification. The instability is a resistive instability, and the growth rate has a power-law dependence on the resistivity, in which the growth rate decreases as the resistivity decreases. We estimate the growth rate of the instability in stars by extrapolating this power law to stellar values of the resistivity. The instability is sufficiently rapid to destabilize the magnetic field on time-scales shorter than the stellar evolution time-scale, indicating that the Prendergast field is not a good model to use in studies of magnetic fields in stars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3332-3340
Number of pages9
JournalMonthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2022


  • MHD
  • instabilities
  • stars: magnetic field

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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