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Laser hints at how universe got its magnetism

Date:
March 24, 2012
Source:
University of Oxford
Summary:
Scientists have used a laser to create magnetic fields similar to those thought to be involved in the formation of the first galaxies; findings that could help to solve the riddle of how the universe got its magnetism.

Composite image: the left side is a laser-produced shock wave whilst the right is a simulation of a collapsing shock wave arising during the pre-galactic phase.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Oxford

Scientists have used a laser to create magnetic fields similar to those thought to be involved in the formation of the first galaxies; findings that could help to solve the riddle of how the Universe got its magnetism.

Magnetic fields exist throughout galactic and intergalactic space, what is puzzling is how they were originally created and how they became so strong.

A team, led by Oxford University physicists, used a high-power laser to explode a rod of carbon, similar to pencil lead, in helium gas. The explosion was designed to mimic the cauldron of plasma -- an ionized gas containing free electrons and positive ions -- out of which the first galaxies formed.

The team found that within a microsecond of the explosion strong electron currents and magnetic fields formed around a shock wave. Astrophysicists took these results and scaled them through 22 orders-of-magnitude to find that their measurements matched the 'magnetic seeds' predicted by theoretical studies of galaxy formation.

A report of the research is published in a recent issue of the journal Nature.

'Our experiment recreates what was happening in the early Universe and shows how galactic magnetic fields might have first appeared,' said Dr Gianluca Gregori of Oxford University's Department of Physics, who led the work at Oxford. 'It opens up the exciting prospect that we will be able to explore the physics of the cosmos, stretching back billions of years, in a laser laboratory here on Earth.'

The results closely match theories which predict that tiny magnetic fields -- 'magnetic seeds' -- precede the formation of galaxies. These fields can be amplified by turbulent motions and can strongly affect the evolution of the galactic medium from its early stages.

Dr Gregori said: 'In the future, we plan to use the largest lasers in the world, such as the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California (USA), to study the evolution of cosmic plasma.'

The experiments were conducted at the Laboratoire pour l'Utilisation de Lasers Intenses laser facility in France.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Oxford. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. G. Gregori, A. Ravasio, C. D. Murphy, K. Schaar, A. Baird, A. R. Bell, A. Benuzzi-Mounaix, R. Bingham, C. Constantin, R. P. Drake, M. Edwards, E. T. Everson, C. D. Gregory, Y. Kuramitsu, W. Lau, J. Mithen, C. Niemann, H.-S. Park, B. A. Remington, B. Reville, A. P. L. Robinson, D. D. Ryutov, Y. Sakawa, S. Yang, N. C. Woolsey, M. Koenig, F. Miniati. Generation of scaled protogalactic seed magnetic fields in laser-produced shock waves. Nature, 2012; 481 (7382): 480 DOI: 10.1038/nature10747

Cite This Page:

University of Oxford. "Laser hints at how universe got its magnetism." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 March 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120324144958.htm>.
University of Oxford. (2012, March 24). Laser hints at how universe got its magnetism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120324144958.htm
University of Oxford. "Laser hints at how universe got its magnetism." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/03/120324144958.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

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