Studies on Magneto-Hydrodynamic Waves and other Anisotropic Wave Motions

M. J. Lighthill


There are two separate but closely interwoven strands of argument in this paper; one mainly mathematical, and one mainly physical. The mathematical strand begins with a method of asymptotically evaluating Fourier integrals in many dimensions, for large values of their arguments. This is used to investigate partial differential equations in four variables, x, y, z and t, which are linear with constant coefficients, but which may be of any order and represent wave motions that are anisotropic or dispersive or both. It gives the asymptotic behaviour (at large distances) of solutions of these equations, representing waves generated by a source of finite or infinitesimal spatial extent. The paper concentrates particularly on sources of fixed frequency, and solutions satisfying the radiation condition; but an Appendix is devoted to waves generated by a source of finite duration in an initially quiescent medium, and to unstable systems. The mathematical results are given a partial physical interpretation by arguments determining the velocity of energy propagation in a plane wave traversing an anisotropic medium. These show, among other facts not generally realized, that even for non-dispersive (e.g. elastic) waves, the energy propagation velocity is not in general normal to the wave fronts, although its component normal to them is the phase velocity. The second, mainly physical, strand of argument starts from the important and striking property of magneto-hydrodynamic waves in an incompressible, inviscid and perfectly conducting medium, of propagation in one direction only-a given disturbance propagates only along the magnetic lines of force which pass through it, and therefore suffers no attenuation with distance. There are cases of astrophysical importance where densities are so low that attenuation due to collisional effects-for example, electrical resistivity-should be negligible over relevant length scales. We therefore ask how far the effects of a non-collisional nature which are neglected in the simple theory, particularly compressibility and Hall current, would alter the unidirectional, attenuation-less propagation of the waves. These effects have been included previously in magneto-hydrodynamic wave theory, but the directional distribution of waves from a local source was not obtained. This problem explains the need for the mathematical theory just described, and gives a comprehensive illustration of its application.