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Title: Scaled laboratory experiments explain the kink behaviour of the Crab Nebula jet

X-ray images from the Chandra X-ray Observatory show that the South-East jet in the Crab nebula changes direction every few years. This remarkable phenomenon is also observed in jets associated with pulsar wind nebulae and other astrophysical objects, and therefore is a fundamental feature of astrophysical jet evolution that needs to be understood. Theoretical modeling and numerical simulations have suggested that this phenomenon may be a consequence of magnetic fields (B) and current-driven magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) instabilities taking place in the jet, but until now there has been no verification of this process in a controlled laboratory environment. Here we report the first such experiments, using scaled laboratory plasma jets generated by high-power lasers to model the Crab jet and monoenergetic-proton radiography to provide direct visualization and measurement of magnetic fields and their behavior. The toroidal magnetic field embedded in the supersonic jet triggered plasma instabilities and resulted in considerable deflections throughout the jet propagation, mimicking the kinks in the Crab jet. We also demonstrated that these kinks are stabilized by high jet velocity, consistent with the observation that instabilities alter the jet orientation but do not disrupt the overall jet structure. We successfully modeled these laboratory experiments with a validatedmore » three-dimensional (3D) numerical simulation, which in conjunction with the experiments provide compelling evidence that we have an accurate model of the most important physics of magnetic fields and MHD instabilities in the observed, kinked jet in the Crab nebula. The experiments initiate a novel approach in the laboratory for visualizing fields and instabilities associated with jets observed in various astrophysical objects, ranging from stellar to extragalactic systems. We expect that future work along this line will have important impact on the study and understanding of such fundamental astrophysical phenomena.« less
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  1. Massachusetts Inst. of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA (United States). Plasma Science and Fusion Center
  2. Univ. of Chicago, IL (United States). Dept. of Astronomy and Astrophysics
  3. Univ. of Oxford (United Kingdom). Dept. of Physics
  4. Univ. of Rochester, NY (United States). Lab. for Laser Energetics; Univ. of Rochester, NY (United States). Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
  5. Univ. Paris-Saclay, Gif-sur-Yvette (France). Ecole Polytechnique; Osaka Univ., Suita (Japan). Inst. of Laser Engineering
  6. Lawrence Livermore National Lab. (LLNL), Livermore, CA (United States)
  7. Univ. of Rochester, NY (United States). Lab. for Laser Energetics
  8. Rice Univ., Houston, TX (United States). Dept. of Physics and Astronomy
  9. Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI (United States). Dept. of Atmospheric, Ocean and Space Science
  10. Imperial College, London (United Kingdom). Blackett Lab.
  11. Univ. of York (United Kingdom). Dept. of Physics
Publication Date:
Grant/Contract Number:
NA0002949; NA0002726; FG03-09NA29553; SC0007168; NA0000877; AC02-06CH11357
Accepted Manuscript
Journal Name:
Nature Communications
Additional Journal Information:
Journal Volume: 7; Journal ID: ISSN 2041-1723
Nature Publishing Group
Research Org:
Massachusetts Inst. of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA (United States). Plasma Science and Fusion Center, High Energy Density Physics Div.
Sponsoring Org:
USDOE National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)
Country of Publication:
United States
70 PLASMA PHYSICS AND FUSION TECHNOLOGY; Laser-produced plasmas; Astrophysical plasmas
OSTI Identifier: