Arrested Relaxation in an Isolated Molecular Ultracold Plasma
Spontaneous avalanche to plasma splits the core of an ellipsoidal Rydberg gas of nitric oxide. Ambipolar expansion first quenches the electron temperature of this core plasma. Then, long-range, resonant charge transfer from ballistic ions to frozen Rydberg molecules in the wings of the ellipsoid quenches the ion-Rydberg-molecule relative velocity distribution. This sequence of steps gives rise to a remarkable mechanics of self-assembly, in which the kinetic energy of initially formed hot electrons and ions drives an observed separation of plasma volumes. These dynamics adiabatically sequester energy in a reservoir of mass transport, starting a process that anneals separating volumes to form an apparent glass of strongly coupled ions and electrons. Short-time electron spectroscopy provides experimental evidence for complete ionization. The long lifetime of this system, particularly its stability with respect to recombination and neutral dissociation, suggests that this transformation affords a robust state of arrested relaxation, far from thermal equilibrium.
Physical Review A: Covering Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics and Quantum Information