Learning about astrophysical jets in the lab

by APS at the 44th Annual Meeting of the Division of Plasma Physics

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Many astronomical objects, from galactic nuclei to black holes surrounded by accretion disks, emit very long plumes of plasma, called astrophysical jets.

In a new laboratory plasma experiment, Caltech researchers show how magnetic forces can create these jets. Magnetic forces squeeze the plasma into a narrow plume and eject this plume along the axis, forming a jet-like structure. These results should help to shed light on the long-standing problem of how jets are formed.

In the experiment, up to 150 kilo-Amperes of electrical current (tens of thousands of times the current from a wall socket) are run through a hydrogen plasma inside a cylindrical metal chamber the size of a large closet. Some of the jet-like plumes show a spiral structure (see photos) similar to what is occasionally observed in space. By studying the process of jet formation in the lab, researchers will be able to improve understanding of real astrophysical jets.


Paul Bellan, Caltech, 626-395-4827, pbellan@caltech.edu
Scott Hsu, Caltech, 626-395-3985, scotthsu@caltech.edu