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Black hole-sized magnetic fields could be created on Earth, study says

an abstract representation of a magnetic field in blue lines
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Scientists should be able to create magnetic fields on Earth that rival the strength of those seen in black holes and neutron stars, a new study suggests. 

Such strong magnetic fields, which would be created by blasting microtubules with lasers, are important for conducting basic physics, materials science and astronomy research, according to a new research paper authored by Osaka University engineer Masakatsu Murakami and colleagues. The paper was published Oct. 6 in the open-access journal Scientific Reports.

Most magnetic fields on Earth, even artificial ones, are not particularly strong. The magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) used in hospitals typically produces fields of around 1 tesla, or 10,000 gauss. (For comparison, the geomagnetic field that swings compass needles to the north registers between 0.3 and 0.5 gauss.) Some research MRI machines use fields as high as 10.5 tesla, or 105,000 gauss, and a 2018 lab experiment involving lasers created a field of up to about 1,200 tesla, or just over 1 kilotesla. But no one has successfully gone higher than that. 

Related: 9 cool facts about magnets

Now, new simulations suggest that generating a megatesla field — that is, a 1 million tesla field — should be possible. Murakami and his team used computer simulations and modeling to find that shooting ultra-intense laser pulses at hollow tubes just a few microns in diameter could energize the electrons in the tube wall and cause some to leap into the hollow cavity at the center of the tube, imploding the tube. The interactions of these ultra-hot electrons and the vacuum created as the tube implodes leads to the flow of electric current. The flow of electric charges is what creates a magnetic field. In this case, the current flow can amplify a pre-existing magnetic field by two to three orders of magnitude, the researchers found.

The megatesla magnetic field wouldn't last long, fading after about 10 nanoseconds. But that's plenty of time for modern physics experiments, which frequently work with particles and conditions that wink out of existence in far less than the blink of an eye. 

Murakami and his team further used supercomputer simulations to confirm that these ultra-strong magnetic fields are in reach for modern technology. They calculated that creating these magnetic fields in the real world would require a laser system with a pulse energy of 0.1 to 1 kilojoule and a total power of 10 to 100 petawatts. (A petawatt is a million billion watts.) Ten-petawatt lasers are already being deployed as part of the European Extreme Light Infrastructure, and Chinese scientists are planning to build a 100 petawatt laser called the Station of Extreme Light, Science Magazine reported in 2018.

Ultrastrong magnetic fields have multiple applications in fundamental physics, including in the search for dark matter. Superstrong magnets can also confine plasma inside nuclear fusion reactors into a smaller area, paving the way for viable fusion energy in the future, Live Science previously reported.

Originally published on Live Science.

Stephanie Pappas
Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science. She covers the world of human and animal behavior, as well as paleontology and other science topics. Stephanie has a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has ducked under a glacier in Switzerland and poked hot lava with a stick in Hawaii. Stephanie hails from East Tennessee, the global center for salamander diversity. Follow Stephanie on Google+.
  • booker
    Sorry I'm not that good at writing letters or explaining myself,but I will try,
    On the 11th of September 2004 my wife and I witnessed a huge UFO, to big to be from this world. we watched and followed it out of sight, which was over eight minutes. The postcode for this place where we watched the spaceship was RG30 3TG.
    The make up photos show the size of what we saw and the pastel coloured widows running in the middle,with small thunderous clods racing fast through it, giving the impression the ship was spinning. There were two other objects in the sky that morning the moon and a bright star just below it, at around 11 o;clock if the ship was at 3 o'clock. There were no birds, no sounds,no other traffic, no clouds,no one around, I stopped the Van in the middle of the road, so anyone driving around the bends would have to stop. No other vehicles came, I wondered if this was a different time so I took something from my Van walked up to a Road sign pulled back the grass and buried it there, came back three days or so later, it was still there. I Tooted my horn which is very loud, thinking that the people in the houses near by might look out there windows, I waited and repeated the Tooting. Then I jumped on top of my Van bonnet to see if there was any one in the field where it was hovering, as it might have been a hologram I thought, this was not the case.After a few minutes of looking all around and trying to remember all we saw it started to move northwards towards M4 motorway, we followed it up to the bridge where it turned East towards London, we watched it go out of site in the distance. There were many cars on the Motorway and I stood on the bridge pointing to the Spaceship, hoping someone would look and see what I was pointing at. which brings me now to believe they never saw anything, or they would have reported it? so would have the people that lived nearby, had they looked out their windows, they must must have heard my horn?
    The AWRE Burghfield is only 200 yards away, this place has more cameras surrounding the area than any other place I know, it has many instruments and data keeping records of all sorts, satellites, spectrometers,radar,etc, all recorded in their archives for that day.
    The proof of this spaceship will show up in distortions of their instruments records, if ever they look?
    What evidence and why I say we were in some type of time tunnel?
    Let me ask, Why no other cars on a road you cant stand in the road for 45 seconds without a vehicle coming past? How come no residents didn't look out their windows? Did they not hear my horn? How come AWRE Burgfield with all their cameras didn't see it? Were we travelling at the speed the spaceship was? How come when we did see traffic and I pointed out the ship, they never reported it? For what reason was it hear for? what did it leave? what did it take? what did it change? How come we were allowed to see it? Why the thunderous clouds? Why the pastel coloured lights? Never harmed us?
    All these questions above are hidden in the archives of that morning, yes it was 14 years ago, but the archive evidence has'not changed,it could have been yesterday, they still there.
    All I ever ask is for them to look at this evidence,they will find all we saw,
    This is so important to the future of our children, for mankind.
    All I've said hear is true.
    The problem here is who has the ability to call for a investigation into a UFO sighting at an ATOMIC NUCLEAR RESEARCH STATION? which will probably mean they put their job on the line?
    Reply