Relativistic-electron-driven magnetic reconnection in the laboratory

A. E. Raymond, C. F. Dong, A. McKelvey, C. Zulick, N. Alexander, A. Bhattacharjee, P. T. Campbell, H. Chen, V. Chvykov, E. Del Rio, P. Fitzsimmons, W. Fox, B. Hou, A. Maksimchuk, C. Mileham, J. Nees, P. M. Nilson, C. Stoeckl, A. G.R. Thomas, M. S. WeiV. Yanovsky, K. Krushelnick, L. Willingale

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31 Scopus citations


Magnetic reconnection is a fundamental process occurring in many plasma systems. Magnetic field lines break and reconfigure into a lower energy state, converting released magnetic field energy into plasma kinetic energy. Around some of the universe's most energetic objects, such as γ-ray burst or active galactic nuclei, where the magnetic field energy exceeds the plasma rest mass energy, the most extreme magnetic reconnection in the relativistic regime is theorized. The presented experiments and three-dimensional particle-in-cell modeling recreate in the laboratory the scaled plasma conditions necessary to access the relativistic electron regime and therefore approach conditions around these distant, inaccessible objects. High-power, ultrashort laser pulses focused to high intensity (I>2.5×1018Wcm-2) on solid targets produces relativistic temperature electrons within the focal volume. The hot electrons are largely confined to the target surface and form a radial surface current that generates a huge, expanding azimuthal magnetic field. Focusing two laser pulses in close proximity on the target surface leads to oppositely directed magnetic fields being driven together. The fast electron motion due to the magnetic reconnection is inferred using an experimental x-ray imaging technique. The x-ray images enable the measurement of the reconnection layer dimensions and temporal duration. The reconnection rates implied from the aspect ratio of the reconnection layer, δ/L≈0.3, was found to be consistent over a range of experimental pulse durations (40fs-20ps) and agreed with the modeling. Further experimental evidence for magnetic reconnection is the formation of a nonthermal electron population shown by the modeling to be accelerated in the reconnection layer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number043207
JournalPhysical Review E
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 24 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Statistical and Nonlinear Physics
  • Statistics and Probability
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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