Extreme conditions of temperature and pressure found in stars have been recreated on Earth using the world's brightest X-ray source.
An international team, led by Oxford University scientists, studied how solid matter responded to X-ray laser pulses produced by the Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) based in Stanford, California. The team focused the X-rays onto a spot 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair, heating a metal foil to two million degrees Celsius within a fraction of a trillionth of a second.
They found that the metal was heated to high temperatures so quickly that the atoms hardly had time to move and the thin foil did not get the chance to expand and ‘blow up’: producing in a laboratory the kind of extreme conditions that, within our solar system, can only be found inside the Sun.
The researchers report their results this week in Nature.
‘Making hot, dense, matter is important scientifically if we are to understand the sort of conditions that exist inside stars and at the centre of giant planets, within our own solar system and beyond,’ said Sam Vinko of Oxford University's Department of Physics, lead author of the paper. ‘The LCLS X-ray laser is a truly remarkable machine and the sort of hot plasma (an ionized gas containing free electrons and positive ions) we created and observed has implications for many other fields of science LCLS is being used to study; for instance materials science and biological research.’