Many rotating stars have magnetic fields that interact with the winds they produce. The Sun is no exception. The interaction between the Sun’s magnetic field and the solar wind gives rise to the heliospheric magnetic field—a spiralling magnetic structure, known as the Parker spiral, which pervades the Solar System. This magnetic field is critical for governing plasma processes that source the solar wind. Here, we report the creation of a laboratory model of the Parker spiral system based on a rapidly rotating plasma magnetosphere and the measurement of its global structure and dynamic behaviour. This laboratory system exhibits regions where the plasma flows evolve in a similar manner to many magnetized stellar winds. We observe the advection of the magnetic field into an Archimedean spiral and the ejection of quasi-periodic plasma blobs into the stellar outflow, which mimics the observed plasmoids that fuel the slow solar wind. This process involves magnetic reconnection and can be modelled numerically by the inclusion of two-fluid effects in the simulation. The Parker spiral system mimicked in the laboratory can be used for studying solar wind dynamics in a complementary fashion to conventional space missions such as NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission.
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Raw data were generated at the Big Red Ball facility at the Wisconsin Plasma Physics Laboratory. Derived data supporting the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
Information about the NIMROD code, including publications and licensing policies, is available at https://nimrodteam.org. Code produced for analysing data at the Big Red Ball Facility is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.
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The present work was supported by the NASA Earth and Space Sciences–Heliophysics Division Fellowship. The facility was constructed with support from the National Science Foundation and is now operated as a Department of Energy National User Facility.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information: Nature Physics thanks R. Paul Drake, Nicola Fox and Kristopher Klein for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Supplementary Information on the Supplementary Videos.
Visible light emission captures both broadband and coherent fluctuations.
Experimental measurements reveal reconnection and plasmoid ejection.
Hall-MHD simulation reveals plasmoids with similar frequency to the experiment.