This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5).
A theoretical study of magnetic reconnection involving magnetic field approaching and exceeding the quantum critical field of 40 terraGauss is the subject of this award. This is a fundamental plasma physics problem with important applications in high-energy astrophysics. Specifically, this research may be key to understanding magnetar flares and the workings of the central engines of gamma-ray bursts. When such a strong field is dissipated, the corresponding plasma energy density inside the reconnection layer is high enough that one expects prodigious pair creation, radiation- and pair-pressure domination and a strong radiative cooling. Furthermore, the large pair density can make the layer optically thick and so the problem becomes in part a radiative transport problem. All these factors mean that the physical regime of interest in this research differs greatly from the traditional environments in which magnetic reconnection has so far been investigated.
The behavior of matter and energy in such regions are inaccessible in the laboratory. The research spans astrophysics, particle physics, high energy density physics, and plasma physics. It may increase our understanding of gamma ray bursts, the most powerful explosions in the universe.