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The Wisconsin Plasma Astrophysics Laboratory (WiPAL) is a flexible user facility designed to study a range of astrophysically relevant plasma processes as well as novel geometries that mimic astrophysical systems. A multi-cusp magnetic bucket constructed from strong samarium cobalt permanent magnets now confines a
, fully ionized, magnetic-field-free plasma in a spherical geometry. Plasma parameters of
provide an ideal testbed for a range of astrophysical experiments, including self-exciting dynamos, collisionless magnetic reconnection, jet stability, stellar winds and more. This article describes the capabilities of WiPAL, along with several experiments, in both operating and planning stages, that illustrate the range of possibilities for future users.
Many astrophysical disks, such as protoplanetary disks, are in a regime where non-ideal, plasma-specific magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) effects can significantly influence the behaviour of the magnetorotational instability (MRI). The possibility of studying these effects in the plasma Couette experiment (PCX) is discussed. An incompressible, dissipative global stability analysis is developed to include plasma-specific two-fluid effects and neutral collisions, which are inherently absent in analyses of Taylor–Couette flows (TCFs) in liquid metal experiments. It is shown that with boundary driven flows, a ion-neutral collision drag body force significantly affects the azimuthal velocity profile, thus limiting the flows to regime where the MRI is not present. Electrically driven flow (EDF) is proposed as an alternative body force flow drive in which the MRI can destabilize at more easily achievable plasma parameters. Scenarios for reaching MRI relevant parameter space and necessary hardware upgrades are described.
A theoretical analysis of equilibrium magnetohydrodynamic flows in annular channels is performed from the perspective of establishing required conditions for liquid metal magnetorotational instability (MRI) experiments. Two different types of fluid rotation are considered: electrically driven flow in an annular channel and Taylor–Couette flow between rotating cylinders. The structure of these flows is studied within a unified approach as a function of the Hartmann and Reynolds numbers. The parameters appropriate for realization of MRI experiments are determined.
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