Researchers discover mystery of exotic material in Sun’s atmosphere

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Magnificent CME Solar eruption of plasma
Eruption of filament of solar material from the sun's atmosphere into the space. (Credits - Wikimedia Commons)

A group of researchers from Ireland and France have declared an important finding on the behaviour of matter in the highly extreme conditions of the atmosphere of Sun. They used radio telescopes and UV cameras on a spacecraft of NASA for knowing about the exotic “fourth state of matter” about which very less is known. This state of matter called plasma may be significant in the development of safe, green and environment-friendly nuclear generator. The results of the study have been published in the Nature Communications journal.

Although the matter we encounter in our daily lives can be differentiated to either solid, liquid or gas, the Universe is majorly made of plasma. It is an extremely unstable fluid which is also highly electrical in nature. Even the Sun is composed of plasma. However, the irony lies in the fact that although the plasma is the most common state of matter in the Universe, human beings have a vague idea of it. Reason being its scarcity on Earth, which makes it difficult to understand.

Laboratories on Earth try to simulate the conditions of space however the Sun is the natural laboratory in which the behaviour of plasma can be understood, which is not possible for the ones attempted on Earth.

Dr Eoin Carley, a Postdoc researcher at the Trinity College Dublin who led the joint collaboration said that the sun’s atmosphere has very extreme conditions with the temperatures of plasma soaring to excess of one million degrees Celsius and particles travelling very close to the speed of light. These particles shine very brightly at the radio wavelengths, hence the behaviour of the plasma can be monitored with the aid of large radio telescopes.

Scientists worked with the researchers at the Paris Observatory and the observations of the Sun were performed by a radio telescope situated in Nançay, central France. These observations were combined with the UV cameras mounted on the Solar Dynamics Observatory spacecraft. It was then seen that plasma on the Sun can eject pulses resembling those from the light house. Scientists were aware of this for many years but could observe it directly for the first time with the help of these highly advanced equipments.

The problem with nuclear fusion plasmas is that they are highly unstable. When the plasma starts producing energy, the reaction is switched off by natural processes. This indicates that it is difficult to produce energy while keeping the plasma stable. By learning about the instability of plasma on the Sun, scientists can learn how to control plasma.

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