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Know plasma, know 99.999% of the Universe

(No plasma, no Universe)

The Plasma Universe is a term coined by Nobel Laureate Hannes Alfvén to highlight the importance of plasma throughout the Universe.

See how much you think you know about cosmic plasma below, and then check out our articles, images and the Plasma Universe Timeline:
The Plasma Universe Calendar 2012... now available for free download, or, by print-on-demand in full colour, delivered. It features lots of amazing images of the Universe, including some you may never have seen before, together with fascinating facts about cosmic plasma. Ideal for astronomy buffs and students. Runs 14 months. More...

Note: Some of the theories on this site form the cornerstone of plasma astrophysics. Other theories contradict the generally accepted view (qv). This site merely attempts to describes them, citing peer-reviewed references where available.
1: What is plasma?
What is plasma? We're familiar with solids, liquids and gases, such as solid ice, liquid water and gaseous steam. But heat atoms more, and they 'split' into free ions and electrons: a plasma, e.g., the electrified aurora, above.
2: Where is plasma?
The visible Universe is 99.999% plasma. The Sun is about 100% plasma, as are all stars. Plasma makes up nearly 100% of the interplanetary, interstellar and intergalactic medium. The Earth's ionosphere is plasma.
3: Why is plasma so?
Plasma-lamp 2.jpg
Plasma react very strongly to electromagnetic forces, and is the dominant force in many cosmic plasmas, e.g. stellar surfaces, active galactic nuclei, interplanetary, interstellar and intergalactic space.[1]

4: Electrified plasmas
Heliospheric-current-sheet edit.jpg
Space plasma moving through a magnetic field generates its own electric current, can act as a unipolar inductor, and conducts electricity better than metals, e.g. the heliospheric current sheet above, and Birkeland currents.
5: Plasma filaments
Strong radial magnetic fields can make a plasma pinch like the hourglass-shaped nebula above; produce characteristic filaments like in the plasma ball (top row); and produce particle beams as seen in the dense plasma focus.
6: Galaxy simulation
Computer simulations of two interacting Birkeland currents with plasma clouds trapped in parallel magnetic filaments simulate evolving galaxy formations, without the need for dark matter and black holes!

7: Complex dusty plasmas
A gas as little as 1% ionized may behave as a plasma (e.g. the ionosphere). In addition to light and friction, dust and grains are charged inside a plasma, and behave as one, such as the Glowing Eye Nebula, above.
8: Quasi-neutrality
The quasi-neutrality of plasmas, means they tend overall to be electrically neutral. But plasmas can also violate quasi-neutrality, producing charged regions in double layers and particle beams, such as in M87's jet, above.
9: From lab to space
Plasma Universe research derives from laboratory experiments, such as the dense plasma focus above, with pioneers such as Kristian Birkeland, Hannes Alfvén, Winston H. Bostick. Compare this image with the nebula, far left

10: Types of Plasmas
Plasmas vary according to temperature and density, and have characteristics that scale over many orders of magnitude.
Image copyright Contemporary Physics Education Project

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The Plasma Universe
Know plasma, know 99.999% of the Universe
Astrophysics from the laboratory to the Cosmos