Astrophysical jets in the lab

November 07, 2002

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 at website) 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.
Additional Contacts--
Paul Bellan, Caltech, 626-395-4827,
Scott Hsu, Caltech, 626-395-3985,

Further information--
Extended summary of work and images:

[GP1.053] A Laboratory Plasma Experiment for Studying Magnetic Dynamics of Accretion Disks and Jets

American Physical Society

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