Solar storms – or Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) – are caused by the sudden release of built-up magnetic stress in the Sun's atmosphere. On Earth, we see the results of small versions of these when plasma streaming from the sun strikes our upper atmosphere and creates the Northern and Southern Lights (the Aurora Borealis and the Aurora Australis). Sometimes, however, these ruptures can be inordinately large and have the potential to wreak havoc on orbiting satellites, radio networks, and national power grids. In an effort to be prepared well in advance of such events, a UK consortium has proposed a satellite system that can provide as much as five days warning of potentially damaging CMEs.
Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) radio telescope in the Western Australia
desert, a Sydney University student, Cleo Loi, has discovered enormous plasma pipes in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. Thought to be responsible
for possible radio interference with satellite navigation systems, the presence of these objects has been predicted for over 60 years, but never before seen. By imaginatively using the radio telescope to observe
in 3D, Loi was able to image large areas of the
sky using the fast photography capabilities of the MWA to produce a movie
that shows the motions of the plasma in real-time.
Taking careful aim with a quadrillion watt laser, researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Lab claim to have managed to speed up subatomic particles to the highest energies ever recorded for a compact accelerator. By blasting plasma in their tabletop-size laser-plasma accelerator, the scientists assert that they have produced acceleration energy of around of 4.25 giga-electron volts. Acceleration of this magnitude over the short distances involved correlates to an energy rise 1,000 times greater than that of a traditional – and very much larger – particle accelerator.
On the eve of the planned first landing
on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the European Space Agency (ESA) announced that the unmanned Rosetta orbiter carrying the Philae lander has recorded a "song" emanating from the comet. The electromagnetic melody was detected by the probe’s Rosetta Plasma Consortium, which is a suite of five instruments used to study 67P.
It's no secret that Star Wars
is full of scenes that defy the laws of physics. From space battles inspired by WW I and II dogfights to beams of light clashing in lightsaber duels. The laser bolts fired from Han Solo's trusty blaster and Luke's X-wing also play by their own rules, traveling much slower than the speed of light and being perfectly visible in the vacuum of space. Researchers in Poland have now created a film to show what a laser bolt would actually look like.
CubeSats are one of the wonders of our day. They allow projects with small budgets and smaller equipment to access low Earth orbit (LEO) at achievable costs. Seeing greater potential for these miniaturized modular satellites, Professor Benjamin Longmire of the University of Michigan is heading a team to install a miniature plasma thruster system into a 3U CubeSat, enabling the vehicle to leave LEO and cruise much of the Solar System. Funding for the project is being sought through Kickstarter.
In September, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) was being tuned to enable it to study proton-lead nucleus collisions for a data run next year. Eventually it ran and data was collected on the collisions for a period of four hours. When the data was analyzed, it revealed that some particle pairs produced in the collision were traveling in the same direction – a highly unusual situation. Although the data is not sufficient for certainty, the consensus appears to favor this as evidence for production of a color-glass condensate, a new form of exotic matter that has so far only existed as a theory.
Not even a month since researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) announced a 500 trillion watt laser shot
, researchers at the Berkeley Lab Laser Accelerator (BELLA) have managed to deliver a record-breaking petawatt, that is, a quadrillion watts, in a pulse just 40 femtoseconds long at a rate of one pulse every second. To put that in perspective, a petawatt is more than the combined output of all electric power plants in the world at any given time and one femtosecond is a quadrillionth of a second.
Thought that title might get your attention, but shooting lightning bolts down laser beams is just what a device being developed at the Picatinny Arsenal military research facility in New Jersey is designed to do. Known as a Laser-Induced Plasma Channel, or LIPC, the device would fry targets that conduct electricity better that the air or ground that surrounds them by steering lightning bolts down a plasma pathway created by laser beams.