Researchers apparently utilised twelve high-powered laser beams to duplicate tiny solar flares in order to examine the underlying physics of magnetic reconnection, an important astronomical occurrence. Magnetic fields that are anti-parallel, such as those seen in solar flares, collide, split apart, and then realign to generate magnetic reconnection. The operation causes a strong explosion, which sends particles into space.
Contrary to popular belief, the universe is not void. Although the cosmos is referred to as “the vast expanse of space,” it is really made up of a multitude of components such as charged particles, gases, and cosmic rays. Despite the seeming paucity of celestial objects, the cosmos remains alive and well.
Magnetic reconnection is one such force that drives particles and energy through space. Magnetic reconnection happens when two anti-parallel magnetic fields, that is, magnetic fields travelling in opposite directions, collide, split apart, then realign. Even if it appears straightforward, the operation is far from serene.
This phenomenon can be found all around the universe. They can be seen locally in solar flares or the Earth’s magnetosphere. According to Taichi Morita, the study’s primary author and assistant professor at Kyushu University’s Faculty of Engineering Sciences, a magnetic reconnection happens when a solar flare strengthens and attempts to “pinch” out another flare. In reality, auroras are caused by charged particles produced by magnetic reconnection in the Earth’s magnetic field.
Despite its frequency, many of the processes behind the event remain unknown. There are studies being conducted, such as NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, which uses satellites flown into the Earth’s magnetosphere to observe magnetic reconnections in real-time. The pace of reconnection, as well as how the magnetic field’s energy is changed and distributed among plasma particles, remain unclear.
Magnetic reconnections using laser-induced plasma arcs can be used to propel satellites into orbit. However, without a proper laser power, the produced plasma is too small and unstable to thoroughly analyse the event.
The Institute for Laser Engineering at Osaka University, as well as its Gekko XII laser, have the requisite power. According to Morita, this massive 12-beam, high-powered laser can generate plasma that is stable enough for us to analyse. The term “laser astrophysics experiments” refers to the field’s recent progress in studying astrophysical phenomena with high-energy lasers.
In their research, which were published in Physical Review E, they used high-power lasers to generate two plasma fields with anti-parallel magnetic fields. The scientists then fired a low-energy laser into the heart of the plasma, where the magnetic fields were anticipated to meet and magnetic reconnection would occur.
Essentially, we are recreating the dynamics and surroundings of a solar flare. Nonetheless, by observing how the light from that low-energy laser scatters, we can analyse a wide variety of parameters, including plasma temperature, velocity, ion valence, current, and plasma flow velocity, explains Morita.
The finding of electrical currents emerging and vanishing as magnetic fields met was one of their most important discoveries, implying magnetic reconnection. They were also able to obtain data on the acceleration and heating of the plasma.
The group plans to continue its investigation in the hopes that these “laser astrophysics experiments” may be used more regularly as an additional or alternative means of studying astrophysical occurrences.
A range of issues, including astrophysical shockwaves, cosmic-ray acceleration, and magnetic turbulence, may be explored using this technique. According to Morita, many of these occurrences can injure and interfere with electrical equipment as well as the human body. As a result, if we ever wish to be a spacefaring race, we must make an effort to grasp these common cosmic occurrences.