Quasi-periodic oscillations and the global modes of relativistic, MHD accretion discs

08 May 2018

The high-frequency quasi-periodic oscillations (HFQPOs) that punctuate the light curves of X-ray binary systems present a window onto the intrinsic properties of stellar-mass black holes and hence a testbed for general relativity. One explanation for these features is that relativistic distortion of the accretion disc’s differential rotation creates a trapping region in which inertial waves (r-modes) might grow to observable amplitudes. Local analyses, however, predict that large-scale magnetic fields push this trapping region to the inner disc edge, where conditions may be unfavorable for r-mode growth. We revisit this problem from a pseudo-Newtonian but fully global perspective, deriving linearized equations describing a relativistic, magnetized accretion flow, and calculating normal modes with and without vertical density stratification. In an unstratified model, the choice of vertical wavenumber determines the extent to which vertical magnetic fields drive the r-modes toward the inner edge. In a global model fully incorporating density stratification, we confirm that this susceptibility to magnetic fields depends on disc thickness. Our calculations suggest that in thin discs, r-modes may remain independent of the inner disc edge for vertical magnetic fields with plasma betas as low as β ≈ 100 − 300. We posit that the appearance of r-modes in observations may be more determined by a competition between excitation and damping mechanisms near the ISCO than the modification of the trapping region by magnetic fields.