The universe is highly magnetic, with everything from stars to planets to galaxies producing their own magnetic fields. Astrophysicists have long puzzled over these surprisingly strong and long-lived fields, with theories and simulations seeking a mechanism that explains their generation.
Using one of the world’s most powerful laser facilities, a team led by University of Chicago scientists experimentally confirmed one of the most popular theories for cosmic magnetic field generation: the turbulent dynamo. By creating a hot turbulent plasma the size of a penny, which lasts a few billionths of a second, the researchers recorded how the turbulent motions can amplify a weak magnetic field to the strengths of those observed in our sun, distant stars and galaxies.
The paper, published this week in Nature Communications, is the first laboratory demonstration of a theory explaining the magnetic field of numerous cosmic bodies, which has been debated by physicists for nearly a century. Using the FLASH physics simulation code, developed by the Flash Center for Computational Science at UChicago, the researchers designed an experiment conducted at the OMEGA Laser Facility in Rochester, N.Y. to recreate turbulent dynamo conditions.
Confirming decades of numerical simulations, the experiment revealed that turbulent plasma could dramatically boost a weak magnetic field up to the magnitude observed by astronomers in stars and galaxies.
“We now know for sure that turbulent dynamo exists, and that it's one of the mechanisms that can actually explain magnetization of the universe,” said Petros Tzeferacos, research assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago and associate director of the Flash Center. “This is something that we hoped we knew, but now we do.”