How a 3-centimeter glass sphere could help scientists understand space weather

How a 3cm glass sphere could help scientists understand space weather

UCLA researchers have effectively replicated the type of gravity that exists on or near stars and other planets inside a 3 centimeter diameter glass sphere. Credit: John Koulakis

Solar flares and other types of space weather can wreak havoc with spaceflight and with telecommunications and other types of satellites orbiting Earth. But to date, the ability of scientists to research ways to overcome this challenge has been severely limited. This is because the experiments they conduct in laboratories here on Earth are affected by gravity in a very different way from conditions in space.

But a new study by UCLA physicists may finally help solve this problem, which could be a big step towards protecting humans (and equipment) during space expeditions and making it work properly. satellites. The paper is published in Physical examination letters.

UCLA researchers have effectively replicated the type of gravity which exists on or near stars and other planets inside a glass sphere measuring 3 centimeters in diameter (about 1.2 inches). To do this, they used sound waves to create a spherical gravitational field and generate plasma convection – a process in which gas cools as it approaches the surface of a body, then heats up and rises again. as it approaches the core – creating a fluid current which in turn generates a magnetic current.

This achievement could help scientists overcome the limiting role of gravity in experiments aimed at modeling the convection that occurs in stars and other planets.

“People were so interested in trying to model spherical convection with lab experiments that they actually put an experiment in the space shuttle because they couldn’t get a strong enough central force field on the ground,” said Seth Putterman, a UCLA physics professor and the study’s lead author. “What we showed was that our microwave-generated sound system produced such strong gravity that Earth’s gravity was not a factor. We no longer need to go into space to make these experiences.”

The UCLA researchers used microwaves to heat the sour gas to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit inside the glass sphere. The sound waves inside the ball acted like gravity, restricting the movement of hot, weakly ionized gas, known as plasma, into patterns that resembled plasma currents in stars.

“Sound fields act like gravity, at least when it comes to causing convection in gas,” said John Koulakis, UCLA project scientist and first author of the study. “With the use of microwave-generated sound in a spherical vial of hot plasma, we achieved a gravity field 1,000 times stronger than Earth’s gravity.”

On Earth’s surface, hot gas rises because gravity holds denser, cooler gas closer to the center of the planet.

Indeed, the researchers found that the hot, glowing gas near the outer half of the sphere was also moving outward toward the walls of the sphere. The strong and sustained gravity generated turbulence which resembled that observed near the surface of the sun. In the inner half of the sphere, the acoustic gravity changed direction and went outward, causing the hot gas to flow towards the center. In the experiment, acoustic gravity naturally kept the hottest plasma at the center of the sphere, where it also occurs in stars.

The ability to control and manipulate plasma to reflect solar and planetary convection will help researchers understand and predict how solar weather affects spacecraft and satellite communication systems. Last year, for example, a solar storm destroyed 40 SpaceX satellites. The phenomenon has also been problematic for military technology. Turbulent plasma formation around hypersonic missiles, for example, can interfere with weapon system communications.

Putterman and his colleagues are now stepping up the experiment to better replicate the conditions they are studying and to be able to observe the phenomenon in greater detail and for longer periods of time.

More information:
John P. Koulakis et al, Thermal Convection in a Central Sound-Mediated Force Field, Physical examination letters (2023). DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.130.034002

Quote: How a 3-Centimeter Glass Sphere Could Help Scientists Understand Space Weather (2023, January 23) Retrieved January 23, 2023, from scientists-space.html

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