Studying astrophysical collisionless shocks with counterstreaming plasmas from high power lasers

Hye Sook Park, D. D. Ryutov, J. S. Ross, N. L. Kugland, S. H. Glenzer, C. Plechaty, S. M. Pollaine, B. A. Remington, A. Spitkovsky, L. Gargate, G. Gregori, A. Bell, C. Murphy, Y. Sakawa, Y. Kuramitsu, T. Morita, H. Takabe, D. H. Froula, G. Fiksel, F. MiniatiM. Koenig, A. Ravasio, A. Pelka, E. Liang, N. Woolsey, C. C. Kuranz, R. P. Drake, M. J. Grosskopf

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Collisions of high Mach number flows occur frequently in astrophysics, and the resulting shock waves are responsible for the properties of many astrophysical phenomena, such as supernova remnants, Gamma Ray Bursts and jets from Active Galactic Nuclei. Because of the low density of astrophysical plasmas, the mean free path due to Coulomb collisions is typically very large. Therefore, most shock waves in astrophysics are "collisionless", since they form due to plasma instabilities and self-generated magnetic fields. Laboratory experiments at the laser facilities can achieve the conditions necessary for the formation of collisionless shocks, and will provide a unique avenue for studying the nonlinear physics of collisionless shock waves. We are performing a series of experiments at the Omega and Omega-EP lasers, in Rochester, NY, with the goal of generating collisionless shock conditions by the collision of two high-speed plasma flows resulting from laser ablation of solid targets using ∼10 16 W/cm 2 laser irradiation. The experiments will aim to answer several questions of relevance to collisionless shock physics: the importance of the electromagnetic filamentation (Weibel) instabilities in shock formation, the self-generation of magnetic fields in shocks, the influence of external magnetic fields on shock formation, and the signatures of particle acceleration in shocks. Our first experiments using Thomson scattering diagnostics studied the plasma state from a single foil and from double foils whose flows collide "head-on" Our data showed that the flow velocity and electron density were 10 8 cm/s and 10 19 cm -3, respectively, where the Coulomb mean free path is much larger than the size of the interaction region. Simulations of our experimental conditions show that weak Weibel mediated current filamentation and magnetic field generation were likely starting to occur. This paper presents the results from these first Omega experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)38-45
Number of pages8
JournalHigh Energy Density Physics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiation
  • Nuclear and High Energy Physics


  • Astrophysical Collisionless shocks
  • Electromagnetic instabilities
  • Interpenetrating plasmas
  • Thomson scattering
  • Weibel instability


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