UC Berkeley scientists have proposed a new model that elucidates a key step in star formation. They point to "zombie vortices" as a destabilizing force needed to help protostars accumulate the mass needed to grow into stars.
A previously unknown instability creates space-filling lattices of 3D vortices in linearly stable, rotating, stratified shear flows. The instability starts from an easily excited critical layer. The layer intensifies by drawing energy from the background shear and rolls up into vortices that excite new critical layers and vortices. The vortices self-similarly replicate to create lattices of turbulent vortices. The vortices persist for all time. This self-replication occurs in stratified Couette flows and in the dead zones of protoplanetary disks where it can destabilize Keplerian flows.