Bottling the Sun: Laboratory Experiment Mimics Solar Eruptions [Slide Show]

Re-creating conditions on the sun’s surface inside a laboratory plasma chamber, scientists find surprising insights into solar outbursts

By Clara Moskowitz

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Sun in a Bottle:

​The Magnetic Reconnection Experiment (MRX) at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab can re-create the plasma eruptions on the sun in miniature.....[ More ]

Millisecond-Scale Action:

Dozens of sensors measure the magnetic field at various spots within the chamber while high-speed video cameras capture the action as magnetic energy builds up in the plasma until it erupts.....[ More ]

A Mechanical Sunspot:

These wire coils carry current that mimics the electrical charge flowing beneath sunspots on the solar surface. The entire apparatus is placed inside the MRX chamber during the solar eruption experiment.....[ More ]

Creating Plasma:

Graduate student Clayton Myers points out the holes in two copper electrodes that allow gas to flow into the experiment. By applying a voltage to the electrodes, researchers can heat up the gas and transform it into a high-energy plasma that stands in for the suns’ surface.....[ More ]

Magnetic Sensors:

Dozens of sensors like these slide into the MRX chamber to measure the strength and direction of the magnetic field within. Each long rod contains coiled wires that take measurements at many points along its length.....[ More ]

An Abundance of Wires:

Each magnetic field sensor coil connects to a wire here, which transmits the signal to a computer. These signals allow researchers to map the magnetic field within the experiment in precise detail and watch as it changes.....[ More ]

Peeking Inside:

Myers looks into the MRX chamber interior through a glass window in its side. The large black doughnut shapes on the side are steel electromagnets activated by the current running through them.....[ More ]

Plasma in Action:

A camera recording an experiment run inside the MRX chamber shows plasma flowing between two copper electrodes (bright rings in right panel and at bottom of left panel). This plasma is stable and hasn’t reached the tipping point of magnetic energy buildup for an eruption.....[ More ]

Control Center:

Inside the MRX control room Myers watches data flowing in from an experiment run, or “shot” in the chamber. Each shot lasts a millisecond, and around 300 shots can occur in a day.....[ More ]

Necessary Tunes:

Amid the high-tech equipment and precision measurement tools, an outdated tape player stands out in the MRX lab.....[ More ]

Plasma Projects:

The MRX experiment is one of many plasma physics projects at PPPL, where the majority of work is focused on developing nuclear fusion energy sources.....[ More ]

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