Laboratory realization of relativistic pair-plasma beams

C. D. Arrowsmith*, P. Simon, P. J. Bilbao, A. F. A. Bott, S. Burger, H. Chen, F. D. Cruz, T. Davenne, I. Efthymiopoulos, D. H. Froula, A. Goillot, J. T. Gudmundsson, D. Haberberger, J. W. D. Halliday, T. Hodge, B. T. Huffman, S. Iaquinta, F. Miniati, B. Reville, S. SarkarA. A. Schekochihin, L. O. Silva, R. Simpson, V. Stergiou, R. M. G. M. Trines, T. Vieu, N. Charitonidis, R. Bingham, G. Gregori

*Corresponding author for this work

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Relativistic electron-positron plasmas are ubiquitous in extreme astrophysical environments such as black-hole and neutron-star magnetospheres, where accretion-powered jets and pulsar winds are expected to be enriched with electron-positron pairs. Their role in the dynamics of such environments is in many cases believed to be fundamental, but their behavior differs significantly from typical electron-ion plasmas due to the matter-antimatter symmetry of the charged components. So far, our experimental inability to produce large yields of positrons in quasi-neutral beams has restricted the understanding of electron-positron pair plasmas to simple numerical and analytical studies, which are rather limited. We present the first experimental results confirming the generation of high-density, quasi-neutral, relativistic electron-positron pair beams using the 440 GeV/c beam at CERN’s Super Proton Synchrotron (SPS) accelerator. Monte Carlo simulations agree well with the experimental data and show that the characteristic scales necessary for collective plasma behavior, such as the Debye length and the collisionless skin depth, are exceeded by the measured size of the produced pair beams. Our work opens up the possibility of directly probing the microphysics of pair plasmas beyond quasi-linear evolution into regimes that are challenging to simulate or measure via astronomical observations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number5029
Number of pages8
JournalNature Communications
Issue number1
Early online date12 Jun 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Jun 2024


  • relativistic
  • electron-positron plasmas
  • astrophysical environments
  • dynamics
  • microphysics
  • pair plasmas


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