Relativistic rayleigh-taylor instability of a decelerating shell and its implications for gamma-ray bursts

Amir Levinson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Global linear stability analysis of a self-similar solution describing the interaction of a relativistic shell with an ambient medium is performed. The solution is shown to be unstable to convective Rayleigh-Taylor modes having angular scales smaller than the causality scale. Longer wavelength modes are stable and decay with time. For modes of sufficiently large spherical harmonic degree l the dimensionless growth rate scales as √l/G{cyrillic}, where G{cyrillic} is the Lorentz factor of the shell. The instability commences at the contact interface separating the shocked ejecta and shocked ambient gas and propagates to the shocks. The reverse shock front responds promptly to the instability and exhibits rapidly growing distortions at early times. Propagation to the forward shock is slower, and it is anticipated that the region near the contact will become fully turbulent before the instability is communicated to the forward shock. The non-universality of the Blandford-McKee blast wave solution suggests that turbulence generated by the instability in the shocked ambient medium may decay slowly with time and may be the origin of magnetic fields over a long portion of the blast wave evolution. It is also speculated that the instability may affect the emission from the shocked ejecta in the early postprompt phase of gamma-ray bursts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-111
Number of pages27
JournalGeophysical and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2010


FundersFunder number
Israeli Center for High Energy Astrophysics
Israel Science Foundation


    • Gamma-ray bursts
    • Instabilities
    • Relativistic hydrodynamics
    • Shock waves


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