As the ejecta from supernovae or other energetic astrophysical events stream through the interstellar media, this plasma is shaped by instabilities that generate electric and magnetic fields. Among these instabilities, the Weibel filamentation instability plays a particularly important role, as it can generate significant magnetic fields in an initially un-magnetized medium. It is theorized that these Weibel fields are responsible for the observed gamma-ray burst light curve, particle acceleration in shock waves, and for providing seed fields for larger-scale cosmological magnetic structures. While the presence of these instability-generated fields has been inferred from astrophysical observation and predicted in simulation, observation in experiments is challenging. Here we report direct observation of well-organized, large-amplitude, filamentary magnetic fields associated with the Weibel instability in a scaled laboratory experiment. The experimental images, captured with proton radiography, are shown to be fully consistent with 3-dimensional particle-in-cell simulations and theoretical instability analysis. This finding demonstrates the effectiveness of the Weibel instability in converting the kinetic energy of the flows into magnetic energy, a result of critical importance to a wide range of astrophysical systems. Additionally, the demonstration of Weibel filamentation introduces an experimental platform suitable for the investigation of a wide range of related phenomena, including collisionless shock formation,large-scale magnetic field amplification, and jitter radiation from gamma-ray bursts.
Date added: Tue, 15 Oct 13