Self-organized electromagnetic field structures in laser-produced counter-streaming plasmas


Self-organization1,2 occurs in plasmas when energy progressively transfers from smaller to larger scales in an inverse cascade3. Global structures that emerge from turbulent plasmas can be found in the laboratory4 and in astrophysical settings; for example, the cosmic magnetic field5,6, collisionless shocks in supernova remnants7 and the internal structures of newly formed stars known as Herbig–Haro objects8. Here we show that large, stable electromagnetic field structures can also arise within counter-streaming supersonic plasmas in the laboratory. These surprising structures, formed by a yet unexplained mechanism, are predominantly oriented transverse to the primary flow direction, extend for much larger distances than the intrinsic plasma spatial scales and persist for much longer than the plasma kinetic timescales. Our results challenge existing models of counter-streaming plasmas and can be used to better understand large-scale and long-time plasma self-organization.

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Figure 1: Experimental set-up at the OMEGA EP laser showing the targets, laser beams and diagnostic configuration.
Figure 2: Side-view time sequence of proton images showing the evolution of self-organized electromagnetic field structures.
Figure 3: Caustic detail.


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We thank the staff of the OMEGA EP laser facility for their experimental support. This work was performed under the auspices of the US Department of Energy by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, under Contract No. DE-AC52-07NA27344. Further support was provided by LLNL LDRD grant No. 11-ERD-054 and the International Collaboration for High Energy Density Science (ICHEDS), supported by the Core-to-Core Program of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. The research leading to these results received funding from the European Research Council under the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013), ERC grant agreement nos 256973 and 247039.

Author information

N.L.K. and H-S.P. designed and prepared the experiment. The OMEGA EP experiments were carried out by N.L.K., H-S.P., G.G., M.K., Y.K., J.M., T.M., A.P., C.P., J.S.R. and Y.S. The paper was written by N.L.K., D.D.R. and G.G. The data were analysed by N.L.K. and D.D.R. Further experimental and theoretical support was provided by P-Y.C., R.P.D., G.F., D.H.F., S.H.G., M.G., C.K., M.C.L., E.L., F.M., R.P., A.R., B.A.R., B.R., A.S. and H.T.

Correspondence to N. L. Kugland.

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Kugland, N., Ryutov, D., Chang, P. et al. Self-organized electromagnetic field structures in laser-produced counter-streaming plasmas. Nature Phys 8, 809–812 (2012).

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