Astronomers usually study their subject from afar. They peer at stars and planets through telescopes, or rely on physics and math to hypothesize about the universe. Now, a group of researchers at UT Austin hopes to open up a new way of studying space: by re-creating the stuff stars are made of in labs right here on Earth.
Stars are made of plasma, a super-hot gas that can reach 3 million degrees. Known as the “fourth state of matter,” plasma develops unique physical properties. Scientists make it here using the “Z-machine” at Sandia National Labs.
The Z-machine is “about two-thirds the size of a football field, and it has 30-plus capacitors that store energy. They’re the size of refrigerators,” says Mike Montgomery, a research scientist in UT’s Department of Astronomy who is helping develop the process.