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Plasma astrophysics

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A field of physics that is growing in interest worldwide that tackles such astrophysical phenomena as the source of violent space weather and the formation of stars.

Stewart Prager

Stewart Prager was the sixth director of PPPL. He joined the Laboratory in 2009 after a long career at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. At Wisconsin, he led research on the “Madison Symmetric Torus” (MST) experiment and headed a center that studied plasmas in both the laboratory and the cosmos. He also co-discovered the “bootstrap current” there—a key finding that has influenced the design of today’s tokamaks. He earned his PhD in plasma physics from Columbia University.

Scientists create first laboratory generation of high-energy shock waves that accelerate astrophysical particles

Throughout the universe, supersonic shock waves propel cosmic rays and supernova particles to velocities near the speed of light. The most high-energy of these astrophysical shocks occur too far outside the solar system to be studied in detail and have long puzzled astrophysicists. Shocks closer to Earth can be detected by spacecraft, but they fly by too quickly to probe a wave’s formation.

Opening the door to new understanding

PPPL and Max Planck physicists reveal experimental verification of a key source of fast reconnection of magnetic fields

Magnetic reconnection, a universal process that triggers solar flares and northern lights and can disrupt cell phone service and fusion experiments, occurs much faster than theory says that it should. Now researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics have discovered a source of the speed-up in a common form of reconnection. Their findings could lead to more accurate predictions of damaging space weather and improved fusion experiments.

PPPL and Max Planck physicists reveal experimental verification of a key source of fast reconnection of magnetic fields

Magnetic reconnection, a universal process that triggers solar flares and northern lights and can disrupt cell phone service and fusion experiments, occurs much faster than theory says that it should. Now researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics have discovered a source of the speed-up in a common form of reconnection. Their findings could lead to more accurate predictions of damaging space weather and improved fusion experiments.

PPPL physicists make first-ever direct observation of collisional plasmoid instability during magnetic reconnection in a laboratory setting

Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have for the first time directly observed a phenomenon that had previously only been hypothesized to exist. The phenomenon, plasmoid instabilities that occur during collisional magnetic reconnection, had until this year only been observed indirectly using remote-sensing technology.

PPPL physicists make first-ever direct observation of collisional plasmoid instability during magnetic reconnection in a laboratory setting

Physicists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have for the first time directly observed a phenomenon that had previously only been hypothesized to exist. The phenomenon, plasmoid instabilities that occur during collisional magnetic reconnection, had until this year only been observed indirectly using remote-sensing technology.

Top 10 PPPL stories that you shouldn’t miss

The past year saw many firsts in experimental and theoretical research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL). Here, in no particular order, are 10 of the Laboratory’s top findings in 2016, from the first results on the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade to a new use for Einstein’s theory of special relativity to modeling the disk that feeds the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy.

1. First results of the National Spherical Torus Experiment-Upgrade (NSTX-U)

A better way to simulate accretion of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way is developed by PPPL and Princeton scientists

cientists at Princeton University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have developed a rigorous new method for modeling the accretion disk that feeds the supermassive black hole at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. The paper, published online in December in the journal Physical Review Letters, provides a much-needed foundation for simulation of the extraordinary processes involved. 

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