Experiments on the interaction of current channels in a laboratory plasma: relaxation to the force-free state
A series of experiments on the dynamic interaction of two current channels has been performed in the large plasma device, a laboratory device at UCLA. The two current channels are formed by coating the cathode source nonuniformly and then biasing it with respect to an anode 10 m away. The experiment consists of two phases, one in which a net current is drawn through the plasma, and one in which the net current is zero. The current channels twist about each other, merge, and evolve toward a force-free state when a net current is drawn through the plasma. When the net current is zero the interaction between the channels is greatly reduced. The dynamics of the system are dominated by electron pressure and associated electrostatic fields. However, as the currents twist, a small amount of magnetic helicity is generated. The helicity and its temporal rate of change are computed and found to compare within experimental uncertainty to the predicted rate.