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Plasma astrophysics

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A field of physics that is growing in interest worldwide that tackles such astrophysical phenomena as the source of violent space weather and the formation of stars.

Stewart Prager

Stewart Prager was the sixth director of PPPL. He joined the Laboratory in 2009 after a long career at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. At Wisconsin, he led research on the “Madison Symmetric Torus” (MST) experiment and headed a center that studied plasmas in both the laboratory and the cosmos. He also co-discovered the “bootstrap current” there—a key finding that has influenced the design of today’s tokamaks. He earned his PhD in plasma physics from Columbia University.

Team led by graduate student at PPPL produces unique simulation of magnetic reconnection

Jonathan Ng, a Princeton University graduate student at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), has for the first time applied a fluid simulation to the space plasma process behind solar flares northern lights and space storms. The model could lead to improved forecasts of space weather that can shut down cell phone service and damage power grids, as well as to better understanding of the hot, charged plasma gas that fuels fusion reactions.

Scientists create first laboratory generation of high-energy shock waves that accelerate astrophysical particles

Throughout the universe, supersonic shock waves propel cosmic rays and supernova particles to velocities near the speed of light. The most high-energy of these astrophysical shocks occur too far outside the solar system to be studied in detail and have long puzzled astrophysicists. Shocks closer to Earth can be detected by spacecraft, but they fly by too quickly to probe a wave’s formation.

Opening the door to new understanding

PPPL and Max Planck physicists reveal experimental verification of a key source of fast reconnection of magnetic fields

Magnetic reconnection, a universal process that triggers solar flares and northern lights and can disrupt cell phone service and fusion experiments, occurs much faster than theory says that it should. Now researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics have discovered a source of the speed-up in a common form of reconnection. Their findings could lead to more accurate predictions of damaging space weather and improved fusion experiments.


U.S. Department of Energy
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.

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