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Plasmas - The Greatest Show on Earth

Perhaps the most beautiful and eerie displays of light in our sky are a phenomenon known as the auroras. This natural glow of light in the sky in high latitude regions usually displays ribbons of colors from a fluorescent green to brilliant purple to a vivid crimson somewhat like an unexpected beautiful sunrise or sunset.  Observers often call it the greatest show on Earth.

Auroras are triggered by geomagnetic storms when gusts of solar plasma wind strike the Earth’s magnetic field; charged particles rain down over the north and south magnetic poles, lighting up the atmosphere and causing the air to glow. In the northern latitude, this display is known as the aurora borealis or northern lights and in the southern latitude, it is known as aurora australis or southern lights.  Like lightening, auroras are one of the few naturally-occurring plasmas found here on Earth.

Plasma science involving both natural and artificially produced plasma encompasses a variety of science disciplines ranging from plasma physics, atomic and molecular physics, chemistry, energy security, advanced space propulsion, and material science.  Plasma’s unique behaviors and characteristics make them useful in a large and growing number of scientific and industrial applications important to our universe.  

DOE researchers are making significant progress in this amazing field.  For example, researchers at the...

Related Topics: ambient-gas, auroras, geomagnetic storms, microwave thrusters, nanomaterials, OSTI collections, plasma, SciTech Connect, spaceship propulsion, William Watson