Plasma is a fascinating object that can potentially help understand complex cosmological mysteries. There is only one hurdle — it’s found in extremely hot places which we cannot access that easily. It’s most abundant on the surface of the sun, alternately, a lightning bolt can also contain plasma. But researchers at Rice University have found a way to overcome the problem by creating a way to capture the world’s coldest plasma using a magnetic bottle. This will have stellar implications in the fields of clean energy, space weather, and astrophysics and so on.
They made plasma at about -272 degrees Celsius. They achieved this feat by using strontium which has been laser cooled. This created a moment where plasma could be trapped very briefly between the force of surrounding magnets in the system. This is a first-of-its-kind study. It is interesting to note that plasma fusion requires energy and temperature as high as 2.7e+8°F (150 million degrees Celcius).
“One of the major problems is keeping the magnetic field stable enough for long enough to actually contain the reaction,” said co-author Stephen Bradshaw.He added how looking at lab-stabilised plasma could help them understand how these particles interact naturally.
The technology used in the experiment is similar to the quadrupole magnetic setup used in fusion energy researches during the 1960s. They basically created a kind of trap with non-uniformed magnets to expand this plasma. It was contained for just a millisecond but even that is impressive beyond doubt. Unfortunately, they could not observe the plasma escaping.
The team believes if they combine magnetic fields with lasers, they could perform the experiment even better in the future.According to Tom Killian, Rice Dean of Natural Sciences and also one of the authors, this experiment has laid the foundation on which we can potentially study how neutral plasmas work in locations like the sun’s atmosphere or white dwarf stars, which are obviously beyond human reach.
The study can be found in the journal Physical Review Letters.