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

C. K. Li*, P. Tzeferacos, D. Lamb, G. Gregori, P. A. Norreys, M. J. Rosenberg, R. K. Follett, D. H. Froula, M. Koenig, F. H. Seguin, J. A. Frenje, H. G. Rinderknecht, H. Sio, A. B. Zylstra, R. D. Petrasso, P. A. Amendt, H. S. Park, B. A. Remington, D. D. Ryutov, S. C. WilksR. Betti, A. Frank, S. X. Hu, T. C. Sangster, P. Hartigan, R. P. Drake, C. C. Kuranz, S. V. Lebedev, N. C. Woolsey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The remarkable discovery by the Chandra X-ray observatory that the Crab nebula's jet periodically changes direction provides a challenge to our understanding of astrophysical jet dynamics. It has been suggested that this phenomenon may be the consequence of magnetic fields and magnetohydrodynamic instabilities, but experimental demonstration in a controlled laboratory environment has remained elusive. Here we report experiments that use high-power lasers to create a plasma jet that can be directly compared with the Crab jet through well-defined physical scaling laws. The jet generates its own embedded toroidal magnetic fields; as it moves, plasma instabilities result in multiple deflections of the propagation direction, mimicking the kink behaviour of the Crab jet. The experiment is modelled with three-dimensional numerical simulations that show exactly how the instability develops and results in changes of direction of the jet.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13081
Number of pages8
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - 7 Oct 2016

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© The Author(s) 2016

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