Scientists smash atom against atom and unleash a magnetic monster

The universe is a place of extreme magnetic extremes. For example, magnetars can generate magnetic fields in excess of 100 trillion gauss – by comparison, refrigerator magnets produce a magnetic field in excess of 100 gauss or so. This intense magnetism can distort the shape of a star to such an extent that it emits gravitational waves into the universe.

Sounds intense, doesn't it? Well, this space-time-altering magnetic field is not even close to the strength of the fields generated in the quantum world.

Using the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider in Upton, New York, a new study conducted by Brookhaven National Laboratory as part of the RHIC Experiment's Solenoid Tracer (STAR) experiment has recorded an “ultra-strong” magnetic field within a quark-gluon plasma formed after off-center refraction. Collision of heavy atomic nuclei. According to results published last week in the journal Physical reviewThis magnetic field was about 10,000 times stronger than a magnetar.

“These fast-moving positive charges should generate a very strong magnetic field, which is expected to be 1018 Gauss,” he said in a statement. press release Gang Wang, a co-author of the study and a STAR physicist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “It may be the strongest magnetic field in our universe.”

Using a house-sized RHIC, scientists followed the collision paths of heavy ions (such as gold) after they suffered an off-center collision. Theories predicted that such a collision should create a strong magnetic field: some positively charged protons and neutral neutrons not involved in the collision would spin in the resulting quark-gluon plasma as they passed by at close to the speed of light.

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By ruling out other causes, the researchers discovered a “charge-dependent drift” that could only be the result of a phenomenon known as Faraday induction (after the famous 19th-century pioneer of electromagnetism). This specific induction can only occur by rapid decay of the intense magnetic field. This interaction affected the path of the charged particles, which scientists were then able to measure.

Duo Shen/Fundan University

A bird's-eye view of an off-center collision. Figure (b) is the super-strong magnetic field as it decays, which generates an electric current through Faraday induction. This affects the path of the charged particles captured by the RHIC. The amount of deviation is related to the conductivity of the quark-gluon plasma.

This is a good thing, because unlike magnetars, which generate strong magnetic fields throughout their lives, these ultra-strong magnetic fields generated by off-center collisions only occur for ten millionths of a billionth of a billionth of a second. This makes it impossible to capture them alone, but their effect can be seen in the resulting scattering of subatomic particles.

“We can infer the conductivity value from our measurement of collective motion,” Diyu Shen, a co-author of the study and a STAR physicist at Fudan University in China, said in a press release. “The degree to which particles are deflected is directly related to the strength of the electromagnetic field and the conductivity of the QGP, and no one has measured the conductivity of the QGP before.”

Understanding the properties of quark-gluon plasma helps physicists explore what the universe looked like moments after the Big Bang, before free quarks and gluons coalesced into hadrons, the protons and neutrons that make up atoms. These collisions should also help experts explore the complexity of the eccentric magnetic effect (CME).

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So, although the universe produces its fair share of intense magnetic fields, the quantum world is… Invites you to drink your beer.

Shot by Darren Orff

Darren lives in Portland, has a cat, and writes/edits about science fiction and how our world works. You can find his previous stuff at Gizmodo and Paste if you look hard enough.

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