Simulating a Solar Eruption
(Left Image Courtesy NASA; Right Image Courtesy Paul Bellan, Caltech)
In a burgeoning field called "laboratory astrophysics," researchers are creating plasmas (collections of charged particles) which simulate astrophysical phenomena such as exploding stars and galaxy formation. Using a specially designed plasma gun, Caltech researchers have produced laboratory versions of solar prominences, huge arches extending outwards from the surface of the sun. The prominences often become unstable and erupt, ejecting charged particles and magnetic fields from the sun. An example of an real-life, erupting prominence can be seen in a 1973 Skylab photo, shown at left. The prominences simulated in the Caltech lab (example on right) depend strongly on the voltage distribution over the plane in their experimental surface which corresponds to the surface of the sun. This voltage has been ignored in the past, but the experiments suggest it affects both the formation and shape of prominences.
The above research will be discussed at talk F3S.35 at the 1998 American Physical Society Division of Plasma Physics Meeting in New Orleans, LA..
Link to Caltech webpage on these experiments