Center for Magnetic Self Organization

in Laboratory and Astrophysical Plasmas

Exotic Plasmas

We live in a world made of the familiar states of matter: solid, liquid, and gas. By the standards of the universe, though, we live in a rare environment. In fact, more than 99% of the universe is made of a fourth state of matter: plasma. Plasma is often very colorful and can exist in an enormous range of sizes, temperatures, and densities. All stars and nebula contain plasma. The planet Earth is immersed in a plasma called the solar wind. We can even find plasmas on Earth, in fluorescent lights, neon signs, lightning, flames, the Earthís aurora, or in laboratory experiments.

By studying astrophysical plasmas, we hope to understand some basic questions about the universe. Where do magnetic fields come from in stars and galaxies? Why do some stars have strong magnetic fields and others do not? What triggers solar flares and explosive coronal mass ejections? How do stars and planets form?

The study of plasma physics has applications in many fields of research, industry, and technology, including space propulsion, microelectronics, plasma TVs, and even medical instrument sterilization. Most tantalizing of all, plasma may hold the key to mankindís future energy demand through nuclear fusion. Such a task is no easy feat: scientists must capture and control a plasma ten times hotter than the Sun to efficiently gather the energy in nuclear fusion reactions. The reward, however, would change the world with a limitless energy source that would produce no long-lived nuclear waste or greenhouse gases.

The goal of the Exotic Plasmas of the Universe Trading Cards is to present some of the most unique plasmas through pictures and fun facts with the hope that you, too, will find plasmas fascinating. .

A National Science Foundation Physics Frontier Center,
established in coordination with the Department of Energy.