Gravity Unit


The Gravity unit supplied with Flash-X computes gravitational source terms for the code. These source terms can take the form of the gravitational potential \(\phi({\bf x})\) or the gravitational acceleration \({\bf g}({\bf x})\),

\[{\bf g}({\bf x}) = -\nabla \phi({\bf x})\ .\]

The gravitational field can be externally imposed or self-consistently computed from the gas density via the Poisson equation,

\[\label{Eqn:Poisson} \nabla^2\phi({\bf x}) = 4\pi G \rho({\bf x})\ ,\]

where \(G\) is Newton’s gravitational constant. In the latter case, either periodic or isolated boundary conditions can be applied.

Externally Applied Fields

The Flash-X distribution includes three externally applied gravitational fields, along with a placeholder module for you to create your own. Each provides the acceleration vector \({\bf g}({\bf x})\) directly, without using the gravitational potential \(\phi({\bf x})\) (with the exception of UserDefined, see below).

When building an application that uses an external, time-independent Gravity implementation, no additional storage in unk for holding gravitational potential or accelerations is needed or defined.

Constant Gravitational Field

This implementation creates a spatially and temporally constant field parallel to one of the coordinate axes. The magnitude and direction of the field can be set at runtime. This unit is called Gravity/GravityMain/Constant.

Plane-parallel Gravitational field

This PlanePar version implements a time-constant gravitational field that is parallel to one of the coordinate axes and falls off with the square of the distance from a fixed location. The field is assumed to be generated by a point mass or by a spherically symmetric mass distribution. A finite softening length may optionally be applied.

This type of gravitational field is useful when the computational domain is large enough in the direction radial to the field source that the field is not approximately constant, but the domain’s dimension perpendicular to the radial direction is small compared to the distance to the source. In this case the angular variation of the field direction may be ignored. The PlanePar field is cheaper to compute than the PointMass field described below, since no fractional powers of the distance are required. The acceleration vector is parallel to one of the coordinate axes, and its magnitude drops off with distance along that axis as the inverse distance squared. Its magnitude and direction are independent of the other two coordinates.

Gravitational Field of a Point Mass

This PointMass implementation describes the gravitational field due to a point mass at a fixed location. A finite softening length may optionally be applied. The acceleration falls off with the square of the distance from a given point. The acceleration vector is everywhere directed toward this point.

User-Defined Gravitational Field

The UserDefined implementation is a placeholder module for the user to create their own external gravitational field. All of the subroutines in this module are stubs, and the user may copy these stubs to their setup directory to write their own implementation, either by specifying the gravitational acceleration directly or by specifying the gravitational potential and taking its gradient. If your user-defined gravitational field is time-varying, you may also want to set PPDEFINE |flashx|_GRAVITY_TIMEDEP in your setup’s Config file.


The self-consistent gravity algorithm supplied with Flash-X computes the Newtonian gravitational field produced by the matter. The produced potential function satisfies Poisson’s equation [Eqn:Poisson]. This unit’s implementation can also return the acceleration field \({\bf g}({\bf x})\) computed by finite-differencing the potential using the expressions

\[\begin{split}\begin{aligned} \nonumber g_{x;ijk} &= {1\over2\Delta x}\left(\phi_{i-1,j,k} - \phi_{i+1,j,k}\right) + {\cal O}(\Delta x^2) \\ g_{y;ijk} &= {1\over2\Delta y}\left(\phi_{i,j-1,k} - \phi_{i,j+1,k}\right) + {\cal O}(\Delta y^2) \\ \nonumber g_{z;ijk} &= {1\over2\Delta z}\left(\phi_{i,j,k-1} - \phi_{i,j,k+1}\right) + {\cal O}(\Delta z^2) \ .\end{aligned}\end{split}\]

In order to preserve the second-order accuracy of these expressions at jumps in grid refinement, it is important to use quadratic interpolants when filling guard cells at such locations. Otherwise, the truncation error of the interpolants will produce unphysical forces at these block boundaries.

Two algorithms are available for solving the Poisson equations: Gravity/GravityMain/Multipole and Gravity/GravityMain/Multigrid. The initialization routines for these algorithms are contained in the Gravity unit, but the actual implementations are contained below the Grid unit due to code architecture constraints.

The multipole-based solver described in for self gravity is appropriate for spherical or nearly-spherical mass distributions with isolated boundary conditions. For non-spherical mass distributions higher order moments of the solver must be used. Note that storage and CPU costs scale roughly as the square of number of moments used, so it is best to use this solver only for nearly spherical matter distributions.

The multigrid solver described in is appropriate for general mass distributions and can solve problems with more general boundary conditions.

The tree solver described in [Sec:GridSolversBHTree] is appropriate for general mass distributions and can solve problems with both isolated and periodic boundary conditions set independently in individual directions.

Coupling Gravity with Hydrodynamics

The gravitational field couples to the Euler equations only through the momentum and energy equations. If we define the total energy density as

\[\rho E \equiv {1\over 2}\rho v^2 + \rho\epsilon\ ,\]

where \(\epsilon\) is the specific internal energy, then the gravitational source terms for the momentum and energy equations are \(\rho{\bf g}\) and \(\rho{\bf v}\cdot{\bf g}\), respectively. Because of the variety of ways in which different hydrodynamics schemes treat these source terms, the gravity module only supplies the potential \(\phi\) and acceleration \({\bf g}\), leaving the implementation of the fluid coupling to the hydrodynamics module. Finite-difference and finite-volume hydrodynamic schemes apply the source terms in their advection steps, sometimes at multiple intermediate timesteps and sometimes using staggered meshes for vector quantities like \({\bf v}\) and \({\bf g}\).

For example, the PPM algorithm supplied with Flash-X uses the following update steps to obtain the momentum and energy in cell \(i\) at timestep \(n+1\)

\[\begin{split}\begin{aligned} \nonumber (\rho v)_i^{n+1} & = (\rho v)_i^n + {\Delta t\over 2} g_i^{n+1} \left(\rho_i^n + \rho_i^{n+1}\right)\\ (\rho E)_i^{n+1} & = (\rho E)_i^n + {\Delta t\over 4} g_i^{n+1} \left(\rho_i^n + \rho_i^{n+1}\right)\left(v_i^n + v_i^{n+1}\right)\ .\end{aligned}\end{split}\]

Here \(g_i^{n+1}\) is obtained by extrapolation from \(\phi_i^{n-1}\) and \(\phi_i^n\). The \({\tt Poisson}\) gravity implementation supplies a mesh variable to contain the potential from the previous timestep; future releases of Flash-X may permit the storage of several time levels of this quantity for hydrodynamics algorithms that require more steps. Currently, \({\bf g}\) is computed at cell centers.

Note that finite-volume schemes do not retain explicit conservation of momentum and energy when gravity source terms are added. Godunov schemes such as PPM, require an additional step in order to preserve second-order time accuracy. The gravitational acceleration component \(g_i\) is fitted by interpolants along with the other state variables, and these interpolants are used to construct characteristic-averaged values of \({\bf g}\) in each cell. The velocity states \(v_{L,i+1/2}\) and \(v_{R,i+1/2}\), which are used as inputs to the Riemann problem solver, are then corrected to account for the acceleration using the following expressions

\[\begin{split}\begin{aligned} \nonumber v_{L,i+1/2} &\rightarrow& v_{L,i+1/2} + {\Delta t\over 4}\left(g^+_{L,i+1/2} + g^-_{L,i+1/2}\right)\\ v_{R,i+1/2} &\rightarrow& v_{R,i+1/2} + {\Delta t\over 4}\left(g^+_{R,i+1/2} + g^-_{R,i+1/2}\right)~.\end{aligned}\end{split}\]

Here \(g^\pm_{X,i+1/2}\) is the acceleration averaged using the interpolant on the \(X\) side of the interface (\(X=L,R\)) for \(v\pm c\) characteristics, which bring material to the interface between cells \(i\) and \(i+1\) during the timestep.

Tree Gravity

The Tree implementation of the gravity unit in physics/Gravity/GravityMain/Poisson/BHTree is meant to be used together with the tree solver implementation Grid/GridSolvers/BHTree/Wunsch. It either calculates the gravitational potential field which is subsequently differentiated in subroutine physics/Gravity/Gravity_accelOneRow to obtain the gravitational acceleration, or it calculates the gravitational acceleration directly. The latter approach is more accurate, because the error due to numerical differentiation is avoided, however, it consumes more memory for storing three components of the gravitational acceleration. The direct acceleration calculation can be switched on by specifying bhtreeAcc=1 as a command line argument of the setup script.

The gravity unit provides subroutines for building and walking the tree called by the tree solver. In this version, only monopole moments (node masses) are used for the potential/acceleration calculation. It also defines new multipole acceptance criteria (MACs) that estimate the error in gravitational acceleration of a contribution of a single node to the potential (hereafter partial error) much better than purely geometrical MAC defined in the tree solver. They are: (1) the approximate partial error (APE), and (2) the maximum partial error (MPE). The first one is based on an assumption that the partial error is proportional to the multipole moment of the node. The node is accepted for calculation of the potential if

\[D^{m+2} > \frac{GMS_\mathrm{node}^m}{\Delta a_\mathrm{p,APE}}\]

where \(D\) is distance between the point-of-calculation and the node, \(M\) is the node mass, \(S_\mathrm{node}\) is the node size, \(m\) is a degree of the multipole approximation and \(\Delta a_\mathrm{p,APE}\) is the requested maximum error in acceleration (controlled by runtime parameter Gravity/grv_bhAccErr). Since only monopole moments are used for the potential calculation, the most reasonable choice of \(m\) seems to be \(m=2\). This MAC is similar to the one used in Gadget2 (see Springel, 2005, MNRAS, 364, 1105).

The second MAC (maximum partial error, MPE) calculates the error in acceleration of a single node contribution \(\Delta a_\mathrm{p,MPE}\) according to formula 9 from Salmon&Warren (1994; see this paper for details):

\[\Delta a_\mathrm{p,MPE} \le \frac{1}{D^2}\frac{1}{(1-S_\mathrm{node}/D)^2}\left( \frac{3\lceil B_2\rceil}{D^2} - \frac{2\lfloor B_3 \rfloor}{D^3}\right)\]

where \(B_n = \Sigma_i m_i |\mathbf{r}_i-\mathbf{r}_0|^n\) where \(m_i\) and \(\mathbf{r}_i\) are masses and positions of individual grid cells within the node and \(\mathbf{r}_0\) is the node mass center position. Moment \(B_2\) can be easily determined during the tree build, moment \(B_3\) can be estimated as \(B_3^2 \ge B_2^3/M\). The maximum allowed partial error in gravitational acceleration is controlled by runtime parameters Gravity/grv_bhAccErr and Gravity/grv_bhUseRelAccErr (see 1.4.1).

During the tree walk, subroutine physics/Gravity/Gravity_bhNodeContrib adds contributions of tree nodes to the gravitational potential or acceleration fields. In case of the potential, the contribution is

\[\Phi = -\frac{GM}{|\vec{r}|}\]

if isolated boundary conditions are used, or

\[\Phi = -GMf_\mathrm{EF,\Phi}(\vec{r})\]

if periodic periodic or mixed boundary conditions are used. In case of the acceleration, the contributions are

\[\vec{a}_g = \frac{GM\vec{r}}{|\vec{r}|^3}\]

for isolated boundary conditions, or

\[\vec{a}_g = GMf_\mathrm{EF,a}(\vec{r})\]

for periodic or mixed boundary conditions. In In the above formulae, \(G\) is the constant of gravity, \(M\) is the node mass, \(\vec{r}\) is the position vector between point-of-calculation and the node mass center and \(f_\mathrm{EF,\Phi}\) and \(f_\mathrm{EF,a}\) are the Ewald fields for the potential and the acceleration (see below).

Boundary conditions can be isolated or periodic, set independently for each direction. If they are periodic at least in one direction, the Ewald method is used for the potential calculation (Ewald, P. P., 1921, Ann. Phys. 64, 253). The original Ewald method is an efficient method for computing gravitational field for problems with periodic boundary conditions in three directions. Ewald speeded up evaluation of the gravitational potential by splitting it into two parts, \(Gm/r=Gm \, \mathrm{erf}(\alpha r)/r + Gm \, \mathrm{erfc}(\alpha r)/r\) (\(\alpha\) is an arbitrary constant) and then by applying Poisson summation formula on erfc terms, gravitational field at position \(\vec{r}\) can be written in the form

\[\phi (\vec{r}) = -G \sum_{a=1}^N m_a \left( \sum_{i_1,i_2,i_3} A_S(\vec{r},\vec{r}_a,\vec{l}_{i_1,i_2,i_3}) + A_L(\vec{r},\vec{r}_a,\vec{l}_{i_1,i_2,i_3}) \right) = -G \sum_{a=1}^N m_a f_\mathrm{EF,\Phi}(\vec{r}_a - \vec{r}) \ , \label{ewald_sum}\]

the first sum runs over whole computational domain, where at position \(\vec{r}_a\) is mass \(m_a\). Second sum runs over all neigbouring computational domains, which are at positions \(\vec{l}_{i_1,i_2,i_3}\) and \(A_S(\vec{r},\vec{r}_a,\vec{l}_{i_1,i_2,i_3})\) and \(A_L(\vec{r},\vec{r}_a,\vec{l}_{i_1,i_2,i_3})\) are short and long–range contributions, respectively. It is sufficient to take into account only few terms in eq. [ewald_sum]. The Ewald field for the acceleration, \(f_\mathrm{EF,a}\), is obtained using a similar decomposition. We modified Ewald method for problems with periodic boundary conditions in two directions and isolated boundary conditions in the third direction and for problems with periodic boundary conditions in one direction and isolated in two directions.

The gravity unit allows also to use a static external gravitational field read from file. In this version, the field can be either spherically symmetric or planar being only a function of the z-coordinate. The external field file is a text file containing three columns of numbers representing the coordinate, the potential and the acceleration. The coordinate is the radial distance or z-distance from the center of the external field given by runtime parameters. The external field if mapped to a grid using a linear interpolation each time the gravitational acceleration is calculated (in subroutine physics/Gravity/Gravity_accelOneRow).


To include the effects of gravity in your Flash-X executable, include the option


on your command line when you configure the code with setup. The default implementation is Constant, which can be overridden by including the entire path to the specific implementation in the command line or Config file. The other available implementations are Gravity/GravityMain/Planepar, Gravity/GravityMain/Pointmass and Gravity/GravityMain/Poisson. The Gravity unit provides accessor functions to get gravitational acceleration and potential. However, none of the external field implementations of Section  explicitly compute the potential, hence they inherit the null implementation from the API for accessing potential. The gravitation acceleration can be obtained either on the whole domain, a single block or a single row at a time.

When building an application that solves the Possion equation for the gravitational potential, additional storage is needed in unk for holding the last, as well as (usually) the previous, gravitational potential field; and, depending on the Poisson solver used, additional variables may be needed. The variables GPOT_VAR and GPOT_VAR, and others as needed, will be automatically defined in Simulation.h in those cases. See physics/Gravity/Gravity_potentialListOfBlocks for more information.

Tree Gravity Unit Usage

Calculation of gravitational potential can be enabled by compiling in this unit and setting the runtime parameter Gravity/useGravity true. The constant of gravity can be set independently by runtime parameter Gravity/grv_bhNewton; if it is not positive, the constant Newton from the Flash-X PhysicalConstants database is used. If parameters Grid/gr_bhPhysMACTW or Grid/gr_bhPhysMACComm are set, the gravity unit MAC is used and it can be chosen by setting Gravity/grv_bhMAC to either ApproxPartialErr or MaxPartialErr. If the first one is used, the order of the multipole approximation is given by Gravity/grv_bhMPDegree.

The maximum allowed partial error in gravitational acceleration is set with the runtime parameter Gravity/grv_bhAccErr. It has either the meaning of an error in absolute acceleration or in relative acceleration normalized by the acceleration from the previous time-step. The latter is used if Gravity/grv_bhUseRelAccErr is set to True, and in this case the first call of the tree solver calculates the potential using purely geometrical MAC (because the acceleration from the previous time-step does not exist).

Boundary conditions are set by the runtime parameter Gravity/grav_boundary_type and they can be isolated, periodic or mixed. In the case of mixed boundary conditions, runtime parameters Gravity/grav_boundary_type_x, Gravity/grav_boundary_type_y and Gravity/grav_boundary_type_z specify along which coordinate boundary conditions are periodic and isolated (possible values are periodic or isolated). Arbitrary combination of these values is permitted, thus suitable for problems with planar resp. linear symmetry. It should work for computational domain with arbitrary dimensions. The highest accuracy is reached with blocks of cubic physical dimensions.

If runtime parameter Gravity/grav_boundary_type is periodic or mixed, then the Ewald field for appropriate symmetry is calculated at the beginning of the simulation. Parameter Gravity/grv_bhEwaldSeriesN controls the range of indices \(i_1,i_2,i_3\) in (eq. [ewald_sum]). There are two implementations of the Ewald method: the new one (default) requires less memory and it should be faster and of comparable accuracy as the old one. The default implementation computes Ewald field minus the singular \(1/r\) term and its partial derivatives on a single cubic grid, and the Ewald field is then approximated by the first order Taylor formula. Parameter Gravity/grv_bhEwaldNPer controls number of grid points in the \(x\) direction in the case of periodic or in periodic direction(s) in the case of mixed boundary conditions. Since an elongated computational domain is often desired when Gravity/grav_boundary_type is mixed, the cubic grid would lead to a huge field of data. In this case, the amount of necessary grid points is reduced by using an analytical estimate to the Ewald field sufficiently far away of the symmetry plane or axis.

The old implementation (from Flash4.2) is still present and is enabled by adding bhtreeEwaldV42=1 on the setup command line. The Ewald field is then stored in a nested set of grids, the first of them corresponds in size to full computational domain, and each following grid is half the size (in each direction) of the previous grid. Number of nested grids is controlled by runtime parameter Gravity/grv_bhEwaldNRefV42. If Gravity/grv_bhEwaldNRefV42 is too low to cover origin (where is the Ewald field discontinuous), then the run is terminated. Each grid is composed of Gravity/grv_bhEwaldFieldNxV42 \(\times\) Gravity/grv_bhEwaldFieldNyV42 \(\times\) Gravity/grv_bhEwaldFieldNzV42 points. When evaluation of the Ewald Field at particular point is needed at any time during a run, the field value is found by interpolation in a suitable level of the grid. Linear or semi-quadratic interpolation can be chosen by runtime parameter Gravity/grv_bhLinearInterpolOnlyV42 (option true corresponds to linear interpolation). Semi-quadratic interpolation is recommended only in the case when there are periodic boundary conditions in two directions.

The external gravitational field can be switched on by setting Gravity/grv_useExternalPotential true. The parameter Gravity/grv_bhExtrnPotFile gives the name of the file with the external potential and Gravity/grv_bhExtrnPotType specifies the field symmetry: spherical for the spherical symmetry and planez for the planar symmetry with field being a function of the z-coordinate. Parameters Gravity/grv_bhExtrnPotCenterY, Gravity/grv_bhExtrnPotCenterX and Gravity/grv_bhExtrnPotCenterZ specify the position (in the simulation coordinate system) of the external field origin (the point where the radial or z-coordinate is zero).






Gravit y/grv_bhNewton



constant of gravity; if \(<\) 0, it is obtained

from internal physical constants database

Gra vity/grv_bhMAC


“A pproxPartialErr”

MAC, other option: “MaxPartialErr”

Gravity/ grv_bhMPDegree



degree of multipole in error estimate in APE MAC

Gravity/grv_ bhUseRelAccErr



if .true., grv_bhAccErr has meaning of

relative error, otherwise absolute

Gravit y/grv_bhAccErr



maximum allowed error in gravitational







Gravity/grav _boundary_type



or “periodic” or “mixed”

Gravity/grav_b oundary_type_x



or “periodic”

Gravity/grav_b oundary_type_y



or “periodic”

Gravity/grav_b oundary_type_z



or “periodic”

Gra vity/grv_bhEwald AlwaysGenerate



whether Ewald field should be regenerated

Gravity/grv_ bhEwaldSeriesN



number of terms in the Ewald series

Gravity/g rv_bhEwaldNPer



number of points+1 of the Taylor expansion

Gravity/gr v_bhEwaldFName



file with coefficients of the Ewald field Taylor expansion

` Gravity/grv_bhE waldFieldNxV42`



size of the Ewald field grid in x-direction

` Gravity/grv_bhE waldFieldNyV42`



size of the Ewald field grid in y-direction

` Gravity/grv_bhE waldFieldNzV42`



size of the Ewald field grid in z-direction

Gravity/grv_ bhEwaldNRefV42



number of refinement levels (nested grids) for the Ewald

field; if \(<\) 0, determined automatically

Gravi ty/grv_bhLinearI nterpolOnlyV42



if .false., semi-quadratic interpolation is used for

interpolation in the Ewald field

`` Gravity/grv_bhEw aldFNameAccV42``


” ewald_field_acc”

file with the Ewald field for acceleration

`` Gravity/grv_bhEw aldFNamePotV42``


” ewald_field_pot”

file with coefficients of the Ewald field for potential

Tree gravity unit parameters controlling the external gravitational field.





Grav ity/grv_bhUseExt ernalPotential



whether to use external field

Gra vity/grv_bhUsePo issonPotential



whether to use gravitational field calculated by the

tree solver

Gravity/grv_ bhExtrnPotFile


“externa l_potential.dat”

file containing the external gravitational field

Gravity/grv_ bhExtrnPotType



type of the external field: planar or spherical symmetry

` Gravity/grv_bhE xtrnPotCenterX`



x-coordinate of the center of the external field

` Gravity/grv_bhE xtrnPotCenterY`



y-coordinate of the center of the external field

` Gravity/grv_bhE xtrnPotCenterZ`



z-coordinate of the center of the external field

Unit Tests

There are two unit tests for the gravity unit. Poisson3 is essentially the Maclaurin spheroid problem described in . Because an analytical solution exists, the accuracy of the gravitational solver can be quantified. The second test, Poisson3_active is a modification of Poisson3 to test the mapping of particles in Grid/Grid_mapParticlesToMesh. Some of the mesh density is redistributed onto particles, and the particles are then mapped back to the mesh, using the analytical solution to verify completeness. This test is similar to the simulation PoisParticles discussed in . PoisParticles is based on the Huang-Greengard Poisson gravity test described in .