Ultrashort x-ray technology to probe the heart of planets


The technology is rapid, requiring a single x-ray flash in order to capture key data relating to highly dense and very hot matter, like the conditions found inside gas giant planets or on the outer crusts of dead stars. This type of matter that an equivalent density to a solid; however, it can have temperatures up to 10,000 degrees Celsius.

The technology can also be applied to furthering understanding of nuclear fusion experiments, where researchers are attempting to recreate the energy of the Sun as an alternative form of energy.

READ MORE: Are we getting closer to achieving nuclear fusion?

To develop the process, researchers from Imperial College London, used the Gemini Laser, which operates as two beams: one laser creates the conditions for warm dense matte; the second laser creates ultrashort and bright x-rays, which are used to probe conditions inside the matter.

Gemini is a high power, ultra-short pulse laser system delivering dual beams laser pulses, at a rate of one shot every 20 seconds.

Earlier attempts at achieving this new x-ray technology required up to 100 x-ray flashes, whereas the new method needs only one flash. The flash is extremely brief, just one femtosecond (a quadrillionth of a second). This enables a series of flashes to provide a rich stream of data about what is occurring within warm dense matter in very short timescales.

In a trial, the scientists super-heated a strip of titanium, and used the technology to examine the distribution of electrons and ions inside the metal. This showed how the electrons and ions were interacting with each other.

As explained by lead researcher Dr Brendan Kettle: “We will now be able to probe warm dense matter much more efficiently and in unprecedented resolution, which could accelerate discoveries in fusion experiments and astrophysics, such as the internal structure and evolution of planets including the Earth itself.”

The new technology has been published in the journal Physical Review Letters, where the research paper is titled “Single-Shot Multi-keV X-Ray Absorption Spectroscopy Using an Ultrashort Laser-Wakefield Accelerator Source.”


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