The spin of the electron and it's associated magnetic moment marks the basic unit for magnetic properties of matter1,2. Magnetism, in particular ferromagnetism and antiferromagnetism is described by a collective order of these spins, where the interaction between individual spins reflects a competition between exchange, anisotropy and dipolar energy terms. As a result the energetically favored ground state of a ferromagnetic system is a rather complex spin configuration, the magnetic domain structure3. Magnetism is one of the eldest scientific phenomena, yet it is one of the most powerful and versatile utilized physical effects in modern technologies, such as in magnetic storage and sensor devices. To achieve highest storage density, the relevant length scales, such as the bit size in disk drives is now approaching the nanoscale and as such further developments have to deal with nanoscience phenomena4–9. Advanced characterization tools are required to fully understand the underlying physical principles. Magnetic microscopes using polarized soft X-rays offer a close-up view into magnetism with unique features, these include elemental sensitivity due to X-ray magnetic dichroism effects as contrast mechanism, high spatial resolution provided by state-of-the-art X-ray optics and fast time resolution limited by the inherent time structure of current X-ray sources, which will be overcome with the introduction of ultrafast and high brilliant X-ray sources.

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DOI: 10.1016/S1369-7021(10)70161-9