Found: A surprising new mechanism behind a process that takes place throughout the universe
As a collaborative research institution, PPPL works closely with leading research centers throughout the country and around the world. Now a collaboration between scientists at the University of Michigan and PPPL has shown how the process that underlies solar flares and the northern lights can take place in fusion experiments through a surprising new mechanism.
The process, called magnetic reconnection, occurs when the magnetic field lines in hot, charged plasma gas come together and violently snap apart. Such reconnection takes place in plasmas throughout the universe.
In a recent paper in Physical Review Letters, the researchers used computer modeling to uncover how reconnection also can occur in the very hot and very dense plasmas created by laser compression of pellets of hydrogen fuel. Such plasmas are used for inertial confinement fusion (ICF), which represents an alternative form of experimentation to the magnetic-confinement fusion studied at PPPL.
A unique feature of ICF is that the magnetic field lines that produce reconnection can be carried by flows of heat, rather than flows of mass. “Essentially, what we found is a completely new magnetic reconnection mechanism,” said Alexander Thomas, assistant professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at the University of Michigan and lead author of the paper. Joining Thomas in the work was Archis Joglekar, a Michigan doctoral student in nuclear engineering and radiological sciences.
PPPL contributions to the study came from Amitava Bhattacharjee, head of the Theory Department at PPPL and a Princeton University professor of astrophysical sciences, and PPPL physicist Will Fox.