Jan 17, 2023

The mechanism of cosmic magnetic fields explored in the laboratory

Posted by in category: particle physics

Plasma is matter that is so hot that the electrons are separated from atoms. The electrons float freely and the atoms become ions. This creates an ionized gas—plasma—that makes up nearly all of the visible universe. Recent research shows that magnetic fields can spontaneously emerge in a plasma. This can happen if the plasma has a temperature anisotropy—temperature that is different along different spatial directions.

This mechanism is known as the Weibel . It was predicted by theorist Eric Weibel more than six decades ago but only now has been unambiguously observed in the laboratory. New research, now published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that this process can convert a significant fraction of the energy stored in the temperature anisotropy into energy. It also finds that the Weibel instability could be a source of magnetic fields that permeate throughout the cosmos.

The matter in our is plasma state and it is magnetized. Magnetic fields at the micro-gauss level (about a millionth of the Earth’s magnetic fields) permeate the galaxies. These magnetic fields are thought to be amplified from weak seed fields by the spiral motion of the galaxies, known as the galactic dynamo. How the seed magnetic fields are created is a longstanding question in astrophysics.

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