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Generation of scaled protogalactic seed magnetic fields in laser-produced shock waves

Gregori, G. and Ravasio, A. and Murphy, C. D. and Schaar, K. and Baird, A. and Bell, A.R. and Benuzzi-Mounaix, A. and Bingham, R. and Constantin, C. and Drake, R. P. and Edwards, M. and Everson, E.T. and Gregory, C.D. and Kuramitsu, Y. and Lau, W. and Mithen, J. and Niemann, C. and Park, H.-S and Remington, B.A. and Reville, B. and Robinson, A.P.L. and Ryutov, D.D. and Sakawa, Y. and Yang, S. and Woolsey, N.C. and Koenig, M. and Miniati, F. (2012) Generation of scaled protogalactic seed magnetic fields in laser-produced shock waves. Nature, 481. pp. 480-483. ISSN 0028-0836

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Abstract

The standard model for the origin of galactic magnetic fields is through the amplification of seed fields via dynamo or turbulent processes to the level consistent with present observations1–3. Although other mechanisms may also operate4,5, currents from misaligned pressure and temperature gradients (the Biermann battery process) inevitably accompany the formation of galaxies in the absence of a primordial field. Driven by geometrical asymmetries in shocks6 associated with the collapse of protogalactic structures, the Biermann battery is believed to generate tiny seed fields to a level of about 10221 gauss (refs 7, 8). With the advent of high-power laser systems in the past two decades, a new area of research has opened in which, using simple scaling relations9,10, astrophysical environments can effectively be reproduced in the laboratory11,12. Here we report the results of an experiment that produced seed magnetic fields by the Biermann battery effect. We show that these results can be scaled to the intergalactic medium, where turbulence, acting on timescales of around 700 million years, can amplify the seed fields13,14 sufficiently to affect galaxy evolution.