Collisionless shocks are ubiquitous in space and astrophysical systems, and the class of supercritical shocks is of particular importance due to their role in accelerating particles to high energies. While these shocks have been traditionally studied by spacecraft and remote sensing observations, laboratory experiments can provide reproducible and multi-dimensional datasets that provide a complementary understanding of the underlying microphysics. We present experiments undertaken on the OMEGA and OMEGA EP laser facilities that show the formation and evolution of high-Mach number collisionless shocks created through the interaction of a laser-driven magnetic piston and a magnetized ambient plasma. Through time-resolved, 2-D imaging, we observe large density and magnetic compressions that propagate at super-Alfvénic speeds and that occur over ion kinetic length scales. The electron density and temperature of the initial ambient plasma are characterized using optical Thomson scattering. Measurements of the piston laser-plasma are modeled with 2-D radiation-hydrodynamic simulations, which are used to initialize 2-D particle-in-cell simulations of the interaction between the piston and ambient plasmas. The numerical results show the formation of collisionless shocks, including the separate dynamics of the carbon and hydrogen ions that constitute the ambient plasma and their effect on the shock structure. The simulations also show the shock separating from the piston, which we observe in the data at late experimental times.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Condensed Matter Physics