Researchers recreate mini sun for studying solar winds and plasma burps

Mini Sun
The Big Red Plasma Ball is pictured in Sterling Hall. It’s one of several pieces of scientific equipment being used to study the fundamental properties of plasma in order to better understand the universe, where the hot gas is abundant. (Credit: Jeff Miller)

The stars in our universe have a magnetic field that interacts with the winds which they produce including our sun. As a result of the collaboration between the Sun’s magnetic field and the solar wind leads to the formation of a heliospheric magnetic field like a spiralling structure known as the Parker spiral. This spiral is important for administering the plasma processes that source the solar wind.

According to a new study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the physicists have reported the creation of a mini sun like a laboratory model of the Parker spiral system based on the idea of rotating plasma magnetosphere and measurement of the global structure and dynamic behaviour. The study has been published in Nature Physics.

Physicists have access to this Big Red Ball, which is a three-meter wide hollow sphere which contains different probes and a strong magnet at the centre. The helium gas is siphoned and ionized to create plasma and then an applied electric field alongside the magnetic field which copies the ideal case of spinning plasma and the electromagnetic fields of the sun. Estimations can be taken at numerous points inside the bass which enables physicists to study the solar phenomena in three dimensions.

They have an option to replicate the Parker Spiral, a magnetic field which covers the entire solar system, the magnetic field transmits straight out of the sun. From there onwards, the solar wind dynamics take over and haul the magnetic field into a spiral.

A graduate student in the Physics department at UW-Madison, Ethan Peterson said that the satellite measurements are pretty consistent with the Parker Spiral model, only at one point at a time and so can never make simultaneous and map it on a large scale map. The plasma from the sun’s plasma burps fuel up the slow solar winds.

The speed of light and magnetic field are probed and the data has mapped a region where plasma is moving fast enough and where the plasma could break off and eject radially. The ejections have been spotted by satellites and no one knows the reason as to what drives them. They found similar burps in the experiment and found out how they developed.

The work has shown that understanding fundamental physics of these processes is possible through laboratory experiments and the Big Red Ball being funded as a National User Facility allows scientists to study the physics of solar winds. The Earthbound experiments can not replace satellite missions like the Parker Solar Probe which was launched in August 2018 can reach the Alfven surface and can even dip below it. It is expected to provide direct measurements of the solar wind.

Journal Reference: Nature Physics


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