Northern lights as seen over Norway. Credit: Jan R. Olsen

Topics: Electromagnetism, Plasma Physics, Solar Flares

Jonathan Ng, a Princeton University graduate student at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), has for the first time applied a fluid simulation to the space plasma process behind solar flares northern lights and space storms. The model could lead to improved forecasts of space weather that can shut down cell phone service and damage power grids, as well as to better understanding of the hot, charged plasma gas that fuels fusion reactions.

The new simulation captures the physics of magnetic reconnection, the breaking apart and snapping together of the magnetic field lines in plasma that occurs throughout the universe. The simulations approximate kinetic effects in a fluid code, which treats plasma as a flowing liquid, to create a more detailed picture of the reconnection process.

Previous simulations used fluid codes to produce simplified descriptions of reconnection that takes place in the vastness of space, where widely separated plasma particles rarely collide. However, this collisionless environment gives rise to kinetic effects on plasma behavior that fluid models cannot normally capture.

Team produces unique simulation of magnetic reconnection
More information: Jonathan Ng et al, Simulations of anti-parallel reconnection using a nonlocal heat flux closure, Physics of Plasmas (2017). DOI: 10.1063/1.4993195

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