Many astrophysical systems are effectively “collisionless,” that is, the mean free path for collisions between particles is much longer than the size of the system. The absence of particle collisions does not preclude shock formation, however, as shocks can be the result of plasma instabilities that generate and amplify electromagnetic fields. The magnetic fields required for shock formation may either be initially present, for example, in supernova remnants or young galaxies, or they may be self-generated in systems such as gamma-ray bursts (GRBs). In the case of GRB outflows, the Weibel instability is a candidate mechanism for the generation of sufficiently strong magnetic fields to produce shocks. In experiments on the OMEGA Laser, we have demonstrated a quasi-collisionless system that is optimized for the study of the non-linear phase of Weibel instability growth. Using a proton probe to directly image electromagnetic fields, we measure Weibel-generated magnetic fields that grow in opposing, initially unmagnetized plasma flows. The collisionality of the system is determined from coherent Thomson scattering measurements, and the data are compared to similar measurements of a fully collisionless system. The strong, persistent Weibel growth observed here serves as a diagnostic for exploring large-scale magnetic field amplification and the microphysics present in the collisional-collisionless transition.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Condensed Matter Physics