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Star-like jet streams 'caught in a bottle'

Italian experiment first to simulate cosmic gas flows

18 April, 13:59
Star-like jet streams 'caught in a bottle'

(ANSA) - Rome - Italian researchers have succeeded in capturing lightning-fast gas jets like those that flash from star to star in the universe.

The experiment, the results of which were published in the New Journal of Physics, is the first to reach the long-sought goal of simulating in the laboratory the gigantic phenomena produced by stars and black holes that rip through the cosmos for billions of miles at the speed of light, said lead researcher Daniela Tordella of Turin's Politecnico university.

Tordella's team, which collaborated with the university of Milan and the Max Planck Institute in Goettingen, Germany, beat research groups in the UK, France, Japan and the United States.

The 'bottle' in which the particle jets have been caught is in fact a two-metre-long tube-shaped electron cannon into which gases like helium, argon and xenon are pumped.

The gases are then bombarded with electrons to whip their electrons into a frenzy.

"Like the real ones, the gas jets we have reproduced are tight-knit, so they don't disperse or diverge, like the rays of lights between stars," Tordella said.

The jets travel at an amazing 3,000 metres per second, or up to Mach 15, 15 times the speed of a jet plane.

Other research outside Italy had so far only succeeded in generating short jets.

"But in ours we have seen around 100 times the distance with respect to the area in which (the jets) are formed," Tordella said.

Conceived 20 years ago and costing 1.5 million euros, the experiment paves the way for faithful simulations of very expensive observations hitherto only possible with space telescopes.

photo: electron cannon used for experiment