Buoyancy instabilities in a weakly collisional intracluster medium

Matthew Walter Kunz, Tamara Bogdanović, Christopher S. Reynolds, James McLellan Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


The intracluster medium (ICM) of galaxy clusters is a weakly collisional plasma in which the transport of heat and momentum occurs primarily along magnetic-field lines. Anisotropic heat conduction allows convective instabilities to be driven by temperature gradients of either sign: the magnetothermal instability (MTI) in the outskirts of clusters and the heat-flux buoyancy-driven instability (HBI) in their cooling cores. We employ the Athena magnetohydrodynamic code to investigate the nonlinear evolution of these instabilities, self-consistently including the effects of anisotropic viscosity (i.e., Braginskii pressure anisotropy), anisotropic conduction, and radiative cooling. We find that, in all but the innermost regions of cool-core clusters, anisotropic viscosity significantly impairs the ability of the HBI to reorient magnetic-field lines orthogonal to the temperature gradient. Thus, while radio-mode feedback appears necessary in the central few× 10 kpc, heat conduction may be capable of offsetting radiative losses throughout most of a cool core over a significant fraction of the Hubble time. Magnetically aligned cold filaments are then able to form by local thermal instability. Viscous dissipation during cold filament formation produces accompanying hot filaments, which can be searched for in deep Chandra observations of cool-core clusters. In the case of MTI, anisotropic viscosity leads to a nonlinear state with a folded magnetic field structure in which field-line curvature and field strength are anti-correlated. These results demonstrate that, if the HBI and MTI are relevant for shaping the properties of the ICM, one must self-consistently include anisotropic viscosity in order to obtain even qualitatively correct results.

Original languageAmerican English
Article number122
JournalAstrophysical Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • conduction
  • galaxies: clusters: intracluster medium
  • instabilities
  • magnetic fields
  • magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)
  • plasmas


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