Scientists have learned to create rings of stable plasma in open air

Scientists have learned to create rings of stable plasma in open air

Numerous sci-fi films often feature images of plasma weapons, weapons that shoot clots of ionized high-temperature plasma. However, plasma, one of the most mysterious states of matter, exists on Earth only during short-term lightning strikes, inside neon signs, plasma television panels and numerous scientific installations.

It was only recently that a group of scientists from the California Institute of Technology managed to obtain rings of stable plasma in the open air. Moreover, it was done quite simply, using the thinnest jet of water under high pressure and a plate made of a special crystalline material.

Engineers create a stable outdoor plasma ring
© Mory Gharib / Caltech

Plasma is usually created by heating matter to such a high temperature that electrons are detached from atoms, and matter turns into a “soup” of ions and free electrons. Such a plasma is called high-temperature plasma and it is precisely this plasma that scientists are trying to obtain and stabilize in the chambers of thermonuclear reactors. There is also cold plasma, which is obtained by ionizing gas under the influence of an electric field. It is such a plasma that is in the tubes of neon signs and due to its creation, space ion engines work.

Plasma, which scientists from California managed to obtain in the open air, belongs to a new third type. The splitting of water molecules into atoms and ionization of atoms is carried out due to the high kinetic energy of the movement of the water jet and the interaction of molecules with the atoms of the crystal lattice of the plate. Unlike other attempts to create plasma clots in the atmosphere, which existed for no more than 10 milliseconds, “water” plasma rings can exist indefinitely as long as a stream of water, which is a source of energy, hits the crystal plate.

The jet of water that hits the plate has a diameter of 85 microns. A pressure of 9 thousand psi (about 630 atmospheres) accelerates a stream of water to a speed of 305 meters per second. Scientists compare this to a stream of water, the thickness of a human hair, moving at the speed of a flying bullet.

“Several of our colleagues have argued that it is not possible to create stable plasma outdoors.” – says Francisco Pereira, one of the researchers, – “But we managed to create a ring of stable plasma and maintain it for as long as we need it. At the same time, we do not need a vacuum, or a magnetic field or anything else. “

It is still difficult to say how the new method of creating plasma can be used in practice. Nevertheless, scientists believe that this method can be very useful for research in the field of plasma physics, and in practice, its use is seen in the field of energy storage and storage.


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