Coronal rain

On July 19, 2012, an eruption occurred on the sun that produced a moderately powerful solar flare and a dazzling magnetic display known as coronal rain. Hot plasma in the corona cooled and condensed along strong magnetic fields in the region. Magnetic fields, are invisible, but the charged plasma is forced to move along the lines, showing up brightly in the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of 304 Angstroms, and outlining the fields as it slowly falls back to the solar surface.

Credit: NASA,SDO


Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at Brookhaven National Laboratory 
Produces Quark Soup at Big Bang Temperatures of 4 trillion degrees Celsius

  • Brookhaven’s accelerator physicists have begun pumping liquid helium into RHIC’s 1,740 superconducting magnets to chill them to near absolute zero (-273 degrees Celsius—the coldest anything can get).
  • When the magnets are operating with zero energy loss, the physicists will begin injecting beams of gold ions and steering them into head-on collisions at nearly the speed of light.
  • These collisions create temperatures of 4 trillion degrees Celsius, or 250,000 times hotter than the center of the sun.

  • The result is a liquid quark-gluon plasma, mimicking the universe an instant after the Big Bang.

SOURCE: Brookhaven National Laboratory Newsroom February 3, 2014

TOP IMAGE:  Credit: Enrique Diaz  ||  The massive STAR detector that tracks the thousands of particles produced by each ion collision weighs 1,200 tons and is as large as a house. It is used (with the HFT, below) to search for signatures of quark-gluon plasma (QGP), the form of matter that RHIC was designed to create.

MIDDLE IMAGE:    Installed in the STAR detector, the Heavy Flavor Tracker tracks particles made of “charm” and “beauty” quarks, rare varieties (or “flavors”) that are more massive than the lighter “up” and “down” quarks that make up ordinary matter.

[1] The central portion of the Heavy Flavor Tracker (HFT) being installed at RHIC’s STAR detector (top), and  [2] the surrounding portion before installation (bottom).  Via BNL Newsroom.  

BOTTOM IMAGE: Technician Mike Myers checks components of stochastic cooling “kickers,” which generate electric fields to nudge ions in RHIC’s gold beams back into tightly packed bunches.  (via ScienceDaily)

Fallout isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Falling out of the Solar System.

4 Plasma Technologies That Put Video Game Weapons to Shame

#3. Ion Engines

Ion engines only exert a tiny thrust, making them useless for launch, but once you’re in space, you don’t have to fight air resistance or surface gravity. You can just keep accelerating into endless space. NASA tested their first interplanetary ion engine in 1998 on Deep Space 1, which averaged over 3 million kilometers per kilogram of fuel and reached a maximum speed of over 16,000 kph. With more fuel, the engine could have hit a top speed of 108,000 kph. Oh, and it was solar powered the whole way, running on 2100 watts, less than your workplace probably uses on lighting.

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Here is a +10 Spinny Thing of Doom.

Or a Wartenberg Wheel (used to test how well someone’s nerves are working) hooked up to a high voltage. Could be either.

When something like this is hooked up to a high voltage, the electric field becomes strongest around the pointy bits. It can becomes so strong that the field can rip the electrons from atoms and form a plasma. It’s a process called coronal discharge.

Nitrogen plasmas are purple, and since air is mostly nitrogen, you get a purple plasma. Air plasmas also stink of ozone. After I spent a few weeks in a plasma lab I started to like the smell. Which was not a good thing.

Lnr: If anyone not privileged enough to spend time in a plasm lab wants to know what ozone smells like, stand next to a photocopier for a few minutes while someone is copying an entire terms-worth of notes. Mmm-mmm O3. 

Microwave Induced Plasma

This coaxial microwave plasma source (MPS) generates plasma without using a magnetic field. It works like an inverse luminescent tube excited by microwaves. The coaxial microwave plasma generator consists of a copper rod (antenna) as inner conductor surrounded by quartz tube filled with argon gas, the plasma is the outer conductor. The inside of the tube is at atmospheric pressure whereas the outside is at low pressure. The plasma formed around the quartz tube acts as an outer conductor in such a way that a spatially extended surface wave is created, just in an equivalent (‘inverse’) situation to that found in the Surfatron source (where the plasma is inside the tube instead of outside).

The microwave with a frequency of 2.45 GHz generated by two magnetrons is fed into the copper rods at both ends. On the outside of the tube, in the low pressure, the microwave fields ignite the plasma. The plasma represents a conductive medium so by increasing microwave power the plasma grows from both ends along the tube, and a homogeneous plasma is formed. The high power microwave breakdown at atmospheric pressure leads to the formation of filamentary structures. These striations or string-like structures, also known as birkeland currents, are seen in many plasmas, like the plasma ball, the aurora,lightning,electric arcs, solar flares, and even supernova remnants.

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Method Uses Water to Clean Water

“We’re using water to clean water.” This is how Selma Thagard describes her current work on purifying drinking water.

The assistant professor of chemical & biomolecular engineering at Clarkson Univ. is pioneering a new purification process that, if successful, could help millions of people without access to clean water quickly and efficiently purify water to make it safe for drinking and cooking.

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Plasma ball demonstrations Part II

Top row: Helium, krypton, and neon noble gases are ionized in their glass tubes. The plasma globe’s strong electric field rips the electrons off their atoms and as they return to their various orbitals (levels around an atom) they give off light in that element’s characteristic spectrum.

Bottom row: The plasma ball provides a safe source of high voltage that allows the use of cathode ray tubes (you can also find them in a plasma television screen) to explore how electrons are deflected by magnetic fields. 

Part I here.

A stream of plasma burst out from the Sun, but since it lacked enough force to break away, most of it fell back into the Sun (May 27, 2014).

The GIF/movie combines two wavelengths of extreme ultraviolet light, and covers a little over two hours. Minor eruptions like this one occur almost daily, representing the dynamic activity driven by powerful magnetic forces near the Sun’s surface.

Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory/NASA

Spurting plasma

A stream of plasma burst out from the sun, but since it lacked enough force to break away, most of it fell back into the sun (May 27, 2014).  This eruption was minor and such events occur almost every day on the sun and suggest the kind of dynamic activity being driven by powerful magnetic forces near the sun’s surface.

Image credit: NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory

The forces on an object in flight come from the distribution of pressure on the surface. To alter an object’s trajectory, one has to shift the pressure distribution. On subsonic and transonic aircraft, this is usually done with control surfaces like an aileron, but at supersonic speeds this can require a lot of force. The schlieren images above show an alternative approach in which a plasma actuator near the nosetip generates asymmetric forces on the cone. The actuator discharges plasma at t=0, and flow is from left to right. In the first image, the bubble of plasma is expanding on the upper side of the cone, disrupting the nearby shock wave. Over time, it moves downstream, carrying its disruption with it. The asymmetric effect of the plasma causes uneven pressures on either side of the cone that can be triggered in order to turn it in flight.  (Photo credit: P. Gnemmi and C. Rey)

Significant step towards blood test for Alzheimer's

Scientists have identified a set of 10 proteins in the blood which can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s, marking a significant step towards developing a blood test for the disease. The study, led by King’s College London and UK proteomics company, Proteome Sciences plc,analysed over 1,000 individuals and is the largest of its kind to date.


There are currently no effective long-lasting drug treatments for Alzheimer’s, and it is believed that many new clinical trials fail because drugs are given too late in the disease process. A blood test could be used to identify patients in the early stages of memory loss for clinical trials to find drugs to halt the progression of the disease.

The study, published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, is the result of an international collaboration led by King’s College London and Proteome Sciences plc, funded by Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and Proteome Sciences.

The researchers used data from three international studies. Blood samples from a total of 1,148 individuals (476 with Alzheimer’s disease; 220 with ‘Mild Cognitive Impairment’ (MCI) and 452 elderly controls without dementia) were analysed for 26 proteins previously shown to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease. A sub-group of 476 individuals across all three groups also had an MRI brain scan.  

Researchers identified 16 of these 26 proteins to be strongly associated with brain shrinkage in either MCI or Alzheimer’s. They then ran a second series of tests to establish which of these proteins could predict the progression from MCI to Alzheimer’s. They identified a combination of 10 proteins capable of predicting whether individuals with MCI would develop Alzheimer’s disease within a year, with an accuracy of 87 percent.

Dr Abdul Hye, lead author of the study from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said: “Memory problems are very common, but the challenge is identifying who is likely to develop dementia. There are thousands of proteins in the blood, and this study is the culmination of many years’ work identifying which ones are clinically relevant. We now have a set of 10 proteins that can predict whether someone with early symptoms of memory loss, or mild cognitive impairment, will develop Alzheimer’s disease within a year, with a high level of accuracy.”

Professor Simon Lovestone, senior author of the study from the University of Oxford, who led the work whilst at King’s, said: “Alzheimer’s begins to affect the brain many years before patients are diagnosed with the disease. Many of our drug trials fail because by the time patients are given the drugs, the brain has already been too severely affected. A simple blood test could help us identify patients at a much earlier stage to take part in new trials and hopefully develop treatments which could prevent the progression of the disease. The next step will be to validate our findings in further sample sets, to see if we can improve accuracy and reduce the risk of misdiagnosis, and to develop a reliable test suitable to be used by doctors.”

Dr Eric Karran, Director of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, the UK’s leading dementia research charity, said: “As the onset of Alzheimer’s is often slow and subtle, a blood test to identify those at high risk of the disease at an early stage would be of real value. Detecting the first signs of Alzheimer’s could improve clinical trials for new treatments and help those already concerned about their memory, but we’re not currently in a position to use such a test to screen the general population.

“With an ageing population, and age the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer’s, we are expecting rising numbers of people to be affected over the coming years. It’s important to develop new ways to intervene early in the disease to help people maintain their quality of life for as long as possible.”

Dr Ian Pike, co-author of the paper from Proteome Sciences, said: “By linking the best British academic and commercial research, this landmark study in Alzheimer’s disease is a major advance in the development of a simple blood test to identify the disease before clinical symptoms appear. This is the window that will offer the best chance of successful treatment. Equally important, a blood test will be considerably easier and less expensive than using brain imaging or cerebrospinal spinal fluid.

“We are in the process of selecting commercial partners to combine the protein biomarkers in a blood test for the global market, a key step forward to deliver effective and early treatment for this crippling disease.”

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Globally, it is estimated that 135 million people will have dementia by 2050. In 2010, the annual global cost of dementia was estimated at$604 billion. MCI includes problems with day-to-day memory, language and attention,and can be an early sign of dementia, or a symptom of stress or anxiety. Approximately 10% of people diagnosed with MCI develop dementia within a year but apart from regular assessments to measure memory decline, there is currently no accurate way of predicting who will, or won’t, develop dementia.

Previous studies have also shown that PET brain scans and plasma in lumbar fluid can be used to predict the onset of dementia from MCI. However, PET imaging is highly expensive and lumbar punctures invasive.

Hi! First of all I love your page :)
Second, what can you tell me about plasma? Is the microwave trick really what plasma is?
Thanks;) - Thor-is-Better

Hi Thor! Thanks very much! :)

Well there are three main states of matter: solid, liquid, gas. A fourth state is plasma. When a gas is heated beyond a certain point, or has sufficient electric current flow through it, its atoms split apart into positive and negative ions. This is how matter exists in the Sun and other stars, and – more prosaically – in those plasma globes that the sort of people who in the 1970s had lava lamps have in their bedrooms.

It is possible to make it by taking a grape and slicing it in half down its length, leaving a small amount of skin connecting the two halves. Put it underneath an upturned glass in a microwave on high power, and a ball of glowing light will blast out: a plasma. What’s happening is that the acidic grape juice is rich in ions: when boiled into steam in the microwave, it forms a conductive arc between the two halves of the grape, which together with the scrap of skin creates a circuit. The electrical current that flows through then ionises the steam into a plasma, releasing the eerie light. 

(Not to be confused with blood plasma, which is something completely different entirely!)

A word of warning: some people suggest that this could be bad for your microwave, what with all the superheated gases and so on. It’s also, obviously, very hot, and creates ozone gas, which while not actually poisonous is not very pleasant either.