Aug 17, 2019 | Updated: 07:24 AM EDT

Physicists Copy Some Properties of the Sun in a Ball

Aug 01, 2019 10:30 AM EDT

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In 1958, solar physicist Eugene Parker predicted the existence of the solar wind, which is a constant stream of charged particles ejected by the sun from its corona.  Parker explained that as the sun rotates about its axis, its magnetic fields cause the solar wind to move and form a helix, which was then later called the Parker spiral, and sometimes called the "ballerina skirt" after its shape and appearance.

Sometime in the middle of last year, researchers from NASA launched what they called a Parker Solar Probe with the goal of identifying and studying the source of solar wind. 

Just recently at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, physicists have recreated fundamental physics happening near the sun, like mini gusts of spiraling solar wind in the lab in order to further study the different phenomena about the massive star.  Plasma physicist from the University, Ethan Peterson, reported in a publication in Nature Physics that they were not recreating the sun, describing that as "impossible to do"; they are rather recreating some of the fundamental physics that happen near it.

Peterson and his fellow researchers used an aluminum vacuum chamber that was three meters in diameter, and called it the Big Red Ball.  It was placed at the Wisconsin Plasma Physics Laboratory, where they were able to confine a ball of plasma heated to 100 000 degrees Celsius.  The scientists set the experiment up so that at the center of the ball was a magnet, which copied the magnetic field of the sun.  They applied electric currents carefully in order to make the plasma spin and form a stream of wind.

Considering that the researchers of course dealt with differences between the sun and the Big Red Ball, such as the temperature and the size, therefore the gravitational pull, the wind produced clearly copied the Parker spiral as they expected it to do so.  In addition to this, the Big Red Ball seemingly copied how the sun releases plasmoids, small blobs of plasma.  And although this latter activity of the sun cannot be explained yet, the research team is hopeful that the Big Red Ball might give some answers.

 

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