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Numerical convergence in self-gravitating shearing sheet simulations and the stochastic nature of disc fragmentation




We study numerical convergence in local two-dimensional hydrodynamical simulations of self-gravitating accretion discs with a simple cooling law. It is well known that there exists a steady gravitoturbulent state, in which cooling is balanced by dissipation of weak shocks, with a net outward transport of angular momentum. Previous results indicated that if cooling is too fast (typical time-scale 3 Ω−1, where Ω is the local angular velocity), this steady state cannot be maintained and the disc will fragment into gravitationally bound clumps. We show that, in the two-dimensional local approximation, this result is in fact not converged with respect to numerical resolution and longer time integration. Irrespective of the cooling time-scale, gravitoturbulence consists of density waves as well as transient clumps. These clumps will contract because of the imposed cooling, and collapse into bound objects if they can survive for long enough. Since heating by shocks is very local, the destruction of clumps is a stochastic process. High numerical resolution and long integration times are needed to capture this behaviour. We have observed fragmentation for cooling times up to 20 Ω−1, almost a factor of 7 higher than in previous simulations. Fully three-dimensional simulations with a more realistic cooling prescription are necessary to determine the effects of the use of the two-dimensional approximation and a simple cooling law.