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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.

PPPL, Princeton launch hunt for Big Bang particles offering clues to the origin of the universe

Billions upon billions of neutrinos speed harmlessly through everyone’s body every moment of the day, according to cosmologists. The bulk of these subatomic particles are believed to come straight from the Big Bang, rather than from the sun or other sources. Experimental confirmation of this belief could yield seminal insights into the early universe and the physics of neutrinos. But how do you interrogate something so elusive that it could zip through a barrier of iron a light-year thick as if it were empty space?

PPPL researchers present cutting edge results at APS Plasma Physics Conference

Some 135 researchers, graduate students, and staff members from PPPL joined 1,500 research scientists from around the world at the 56th annual meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics Conference from Oct. 27 to Oct. 31 in New Orleans. Topics in the sessions ranged from waves in plasma to the physics of ITER, the international physics experiment in Cadarache, France; to women in plasma physics. Dozens of PPPL scientists presented the results of their cutting-edge research into magnetic fusion and plasma science.

COLLOQUIUM: Worlds Seen for the First Time - Ceres and Pluto

This year, planetary spacecraft will visit two significant bodies in the solar system. These bodies are the dwarf planets Ceres and Pluto. Ceres was first discovered in 1801 and thought to be a planet. It was only realized 50 years later that Ceres was a member of a huge number of objects in what we now know as the asteroid belt. The Dawn spacecraft was just captured into orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres. After spending more than a year at another asteroid called Vesta and spending 2.5 years finally getting to Ceres.

COLLOQUIUM: Dawn, the Asteroid Redirect Mission, and the Future of Solar Electric Propulsion

The ongoing Dawn mission has as its goal the exploration of the two most massive main-belt asteroids, 4 Vesta and 1 Ceres. This mission is enabled by an on-board, solar powered, ion propulsion system that will provide a total velocity change to the spacecraft of 11 km/s using 425 kg of xenon propellant. Launched in 2007, Dawn has already completed its investigation of Vesta and has successfully rendezvoused with Ceres.

PPPL scientists take key step toward solving a major astrophysical mystery

Magnetic reconnection can trigger geomagnetic storms that disrupt cell phone service, damage satellites and blackout power grids. But how reconnection, in which the magnetic field lines in plasma snap apart and violently reconnect, transforms magnetic energy into explosive particle energy remains a major unsolved problem in plasma astrophysics. Magnetic field lines represent the strength and direction of magnetic fields.

PPPL scientists take key step toward solving a major astrophysical mystery

Magnetic reconnection can trigger geomagnetic storms that disrupt cell phone service, damage satellites and blackout power grids. But how reconnection, in which the magnetic field lines in plasma snap apart and violently reconnect, transforms magnetic energy into explosive particle energy remains a major unsolved problem in plasma astrophysics. Magnetic field lines represent the strength and direction of magnetic fields.

COLLOQUIUM: Space Physics and the Role of Magnetic Reconnection in Space Weather

Earth's magnetosphere is buffeted by the solar wind. The interaction transfers energy electro-mechanically into Earth's environment and sets the magnetospheric and ionospheric plasma into motion. The energy is ultimately converted to heat raising the scale-height of the ionosphere, and to energetic particles responsible for space weather. Magnetic reconnection plays a critical role in both energy input and energy release in geospace, in ways similar to energy conversion at the Sun and other astrophysical and laboratory systems. 

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