Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have received more than $2 million from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to conduct research that could help predict the potentially damaging effects of blasts of subatomic particles from the sun.
Magnetic reconnection (henceforth called "reconnection") refers to the breaking and reconnecting of oppositely directed magnetic field lines in a plasma. In the process, magnetic field energy is converted to plasma kinetic and thermal energy.
Every day, the sun ejects large amounts of a hot particle soup known as plasma toward Earth where it can disrupt telecommunications satellites and damage electrical grids. Now, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and Princeton University’s Department of Astrophysical Sciences have made a discovery that could lead to better predictions of this space weather and help safeguard sensitive infrastructure.
New research reveals a surprising insight into the physics behind magnetic reconnection, a process occurring through the universe that converts magnetic to kinetic energy. The findings, by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) together with other physicists, could lead to a greater ability to predict space weather — fast particles from the sun that can disrupt communications satellites and electrical networks.
When fast-moving particles from the sun strike the Earth’s magnetic field, they set off reactions that could disrupt communications satellites and power grids. Now, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have learned new details of this process that could lead to better forecasting of this so-called space weather.
Scientific discoveries, educational opportunities and wide-ranging events highlighted the 62nd American Physical Society-Division of Plasma Physics annual meeting, which attracted participants from around the world. The session this year, held virtually November 9 to 13, drew more than 150 physicists, engineers and students from the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).
A long-standing puzzle in space science is what triggers fast magnetic reconnection, an explosive process that unfolds throughout the universe more rapidly than theory says it should. Solving the puzzle could enable scientists to better understand and anticipate the process, which ignites solar flares and magnetic space storms that can disrupt cell phone service and black out power grids on Earth.
From helping the nation’s power grid to advancing the creation of “a star in a jar” for a virtually endless supply of electric power, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have developed insights and discoveries over the past year that advance understanding of the universe and the prospect for safe, clean, and abundant energy.
Fast magnetic reconnection, the rapid convergence, separation and explosive snapping together of magnetic field lines, gives rise to northern lights, solar flares and geomagnetic storms that can disrupt cell phone service and electric power grids. The phenomenon takes place in plasma, the state of matter composed of free electrons and atomic nuclei, or ions, that makes up 99 percent of the visible universe. But whether fast reconnection can occur in partially ionized plasma — plasma that includes atoms as well as free electrons and ions — is not well understood.
The Lab captures global features of magnetic reconnection while spacecraft document key local properties.
The findings could improve understanding of a universal process that can disrupt cell phone service and power grids.
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory managed by Princeton University.
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