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UW superheating project aims to explore magnetic fields

Big aluminum sphere will heat gases to 500,000 degrees

By Karen Herzog of the Journal Sentinel

Researchers will be able to simulate the superheated gases that form the sun's magnetic field with a one-of-a-kind sphere that moved Wednesday into a new physics lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

The hollow aluminum sphere, built by four Wisconsin companies for $2.5 million, looks like the famous Death Star from "Star Wars" movies. Weighing 11,000 pounds, it was built to superheat gases to 500,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Researchers say it will help them study how magnetic fields are generated in planets and stars, and better understand why the sun occasionally spews out particles that affect the Earth as "space weather," knocking out satellites and even taking down power grids, explained Cary Forest, a UW-Madison physics professor.

Forest is principal investigator for the effort, known as the Madison Plasma Dynamo Experiment.

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