Generation of scaled protogalactic seed magnetic fields in laser-produced shock waves

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The standard model for the origin of galactic magnetic fields is through the amplification of seed fields via dynamo or turbulent processes to the level consistent with present observations1,2,3. Although other mechanisms may also operate4,5, currents from misaligned pressure and temperature gradients (the Biermann battery process) inevitably accompany the formation of galaxies in the absence of a primordial field. Driven by geometrical asymmetries in shocks6 associated with the collapse of protogalactic structures, the Biermann battery is believed to generate tiny seed fields to a level of about 10−21 gauss (refs 7, 8). With the advent of high-power laser systems in the past two decades, a new area of research has opened in which, using simple scaling relations9,10, astrophysical environments can effectively be reproduced in the laboratory11,12. Here we report the results of an experiment that produced seed magnetic fields by the Biermann battery effect. We show that these results can be scaled to the intergalactic medium, where turbulence, acting on timescales of around 700 million years, can amplify the seed fields13,14 sufficiently to affect galaxy evolution.

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Figure 1: Experimental set-up showing the laser beams and diagnostics configuration.
Figure 2: Comparison between numerical simulations and optical diagnostics.
Figure 3: Magnetic-field measurements from induction coils.
Figure 4: Resistive magnetohydrodynamics simulations of the magnetic-field generation.


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We thank the LULI technical team for their support during the experiments. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme. This work was also supported by the EU programme Laserlab-Europe. Partial support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (the Central Laser Facility and the Centre for Fundamental Physics) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council of the United Kingdom is also acknowledged.

Author information

G.G. and F.M. conceived the project. G.G., A.R., C.D.M., A.B.-M., M.E., C.D.G., Y.K., J.M., H.-S.P., N.C.W. and M.K. carried out the LULI experiment. The paper was written by G.G., A.R., A.R.B., R.P.D., B.R. and F.M. The data was analysed by G.G., A.R., C.D.M., K.S. and C.D.G. Preparatory diagnostics work was conducted by A.B., C.C., E.T.E., C.N., W.L. and S.Y. Numerical simulations were performed by G.G. and A.P.L.R. Additional experimental and theoretical support was provided by A.R.B., R.B., R.P.D., B.A.R., B.R., D.D.R., Y.S. and F.M.

Correspondence to G. Gregori or F. Miniati.

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Gregori, G., Ravasio, A., Murphy, C. et al. Generation of scaled protogalactic seed magnetic fields in laser-produced shock waves. Nature 481, 480–483 (2012) doi:10.1038/nature10747

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