White dwarfs may fade faster than we thought. Credit: Mark Garlick, University of Warwick

Graphite experiment shines new light on giant planets, white dwarfs, laser-driven fusion

November 28, 2012

(Phys.org)—An international team led by researchers from the University of Warwick and Oxford University is now dealing with unexpected results of an experiment with strongly heated graphite (up to 17,000 degrees Kelvin). The findings may pose a new problem for physicists working in laser-driven nuclear fusion and may also lead astrophysicists to revise our understanding of the life cycle of giant planets and stars.

The researchers were attempting to get a better understanding about how energy is shared between the different species of matter, especially, how it is transferred from strongly heated electrons to the heavy ionic cores of atoms that have been left cool. The difference in temperatures between the hot electrons and cooler ions should level out quickly as the electrons interact with the ions; thus, the time it takes to reach a common temperature is a good measure of the interaction strength between the two. This interaction also defines, for instance, how heat or radiation is transported from the inside of a planet or star to its surface and, thus, planetary and stellar evolution. The process is also essential for nuclear fusion where the electrons are heated by fusion products but the ions need to be hot for more fusion to occur.

Read more: Graphite experiment shines new light on giant planets, white dwarfs, laser-driven fusion — phys.org .

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