Tag Archives: Plasma

A Few Reasons Why Tomorrow Might Be A Bit of a Strange Day…

Tomorrow will not be your ordinary Friday. For starters, tomorrow is the 13th, making tomorrow a Friday the 13th.

There will also be a full moon in the sky when the clock strikes 12:01 a.m. tomorrow morning. The last time that happened? October 13, 2000. The next time it will happen? August 13, 2049.

I’m not one for superstitions, but there is one thing I haven’t mentioned yet. Our sun has been shooting off powerful solar flares the last few days, including this one captured by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory early Tuesday morning:

Three recent solar X-flares emitted by the Sun. Click to enlarge (Courtesy of NASA/SDO)

Solar flares are brief, high-radiation eruptions that happen on the surface of the Sun. The three flares emitted in the past two days (pictured above) have been X-flares, the most powerful classification of solar flare. X-flares emit radiation at virtually every wavelength, from radio waves, to the light we can see, to x-rays and gamma rays.

Because of all of the different electromagnetic waves that the flares emit, they can disrupt communications here on Earth. In fact, the flare in the video above caused a temporary radio blackout here on Earth, according to Space.com.

The electromagnetic spectrum. Click to enlarge

Did I mention CMEs? CME stands for coronal mass ejection. This occurs when a powerful solar flare emits a plasma burst along with the radiation. A plasma burst can cause polar geomagnetic storms which are capable of severely disrupting communications and satellite systems, including GPS.

Along with having the potential to cause low levels of radiation poisoning in humans, a strong CME would also create surges in electrical wires, destroying transformers and leaving millions without power.

Despite the scary stuff, CME’s are pretty fascinating. These plasma burst clouds actually compresses Earth’s own magnetic field, which is what causes so many of the potential issues.

Artist depiction of how a CME plasma burst interacts with Earth’s magnetoshpere (Courtesy of NASA)

At first, officials at the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center didn’t think that the flare in the video above had emitted a CME, only to find later that it had actually produced two of them.

They are expected to give Earth a glancing blow when they reach Earth orbit…tomorrow, Friday the 13th.

New Plasma-Fueled Rocket is 165 Times Faster than Speed of Sound!

Most of us only learned about three states of matter while in school: solids, liquids and gases. But there is a fourth state as well- it’s called plasma.

You’ve probably seen a plasma globe before, but lightning, our Sun and all stars, and even the gas you see in a neon sign are all every-day examples of plasma as well.

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Plasma is basically a gas with such high energy that the molecules begin to ionize- that is the positively and negatively charged components of the gas molecules break away from one another.

Because of this ionization, an electromagnetic field can be used to focus the plasma in a specific direction.

Although using plasma for propulsion was first proposed in 1977, it is just now becoming a reality with the advent of new technologies.

Artist-rendering of the VASIMR Rocket (click to enlarge)

The VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket) Plasma Rocket, which is now being tested out by NASA, uses a renewable energy source (radio waves in the form of light which are plentiful in space) to heat Argon gas until it reaches its plasma state.

The rocket then uses an electromagnetic field to focus the plasma, creating a propulsion system.

VASIMR Propulsion System (click to enlarge)

Developers estimate that the VASIMR Rocket will be able to travel at speed up to 126,000 mph (that’s 35 miles every second). The speed of sound is a sluggish 761 mph.

Because of its speed and use of renewable energy sources, the VASIMR greatly increases the limitations of our exploration, allowing us to explore parts of space that we never could before.

But what has NASA scientists most excited is the VASIMR’s application for Mars missions. Currently, the journey to Mars requires too much fuel to make a return trip feasible.

However, since the VASIMR can make this trip in just 39 days (almost 6 times faster than current methods) and employs renewable energy, it makes round-trip missions to Mars a reality.

Read the full story here.

The surface of Mars