By Eddie Gonalez, Jr.
Scientists from Ireland and France announced a major new finding about how matter behaves in the extreme conditions of the Sun’s atmosphere.
The team used large radio telescopes and ultraviolet cameras on a NASA spacecraft to better understand the exotic but poorly understood “fourth state of matter”.
Most of the matter we encounter in our everyday lives comes in the form of solid, liquid or gas, but the majority of the Universe is composed of plasma – a highly unstable and electrically charged fluid.
The Sun is also made up of this plasma.
“We worked closely with scientists at the Paris Observatory and performed observations of the Sun with a large radio telescope located in Nançay in central France,” Dr Eoin Carley, a postdoc at Trinity College Dublin and the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies (DIAS), said in a press release.
“We combined the radio observations with ultraviolet cameras on NASA’s space-based Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft to show that plasma on the Sun can often emit radio light that pulses like a light-house. We have known about this activity for decades, but our use of space and ground-based equipment allowed us to image the radio pulses for the first time and see exactly how plasmas become unstable in the solar atmosphere.”
Studying the behaviour of plasmas on the Sun allows for a comparison of how they behave on Earth, where much effort is now under way to build magnetic confinement fusion reactors. These are nuclear energy generators that are much safer, cleaner and more efficient than their fission reactor cousins that we currently use for energy today.
“Nuclear fusion is a different type of nuclear energy generation that fuses plasma atoms together, as opposed to breaking them apart like fission does,” Peter Gallagher, Professor at DIAS and collaborator on the project, said.
“Fusion is more stable and safer, and it doesn’t require highly radioactive fuel; in fact, much of the waste material from fusion is inert helium.”
“The only problem is that nuclear fusion plasmas are highly unstable. As soon as the plasma starts generating energy, some natural process switches off the reaction. While this switch-off behaviour is like an inherent safety switch — fusion reactors cannot form runaway reactions — it also means the plasma is difficult to maintain in a stable state for energy generation. By studying how plasmas become unstable on the Sun, we can learn about how to control them on Earth.”
Source: Message To Eagle