Concept

Astrophysical plasma

Summary
Astrophysical plasma is plasma outside of the Solar System. It is studied as part of astrophysics and is commonly observed in space. The accepted view of scientists is that much of the baryonic matter in the universe exists in this state. When matter becomes sufficiently hot and energetic, it becomes ionized and forms a plasma. This process breaks matter into its constituent particles which includes negatively charged electrons and positively charged ions. These electrically charged particles are susceptible to influences by local electromagnetic fields. This includes strong fields generated by stars, and weak fields which exist in star forming regions, in interstellar space, and in intergalactic space. Similarly, electric fields are observed in some stellar astrophysical phenomena, but they are inconsequential in very low-density gaseous media. Astrophysical plasma is often differentiated from space plasma, which typically refers to the plasma of the Sun, the solar wind, and the ionospheres and magnetospheres of the Earth and other planets. Plasmas in stars can both generate and interact with magnetic fields, resulting in a variety of dynamic astrophysical phenomena. These phenomena are sometimes observed in spectra due to the Zeeman effect. Other forms of astrophysical plasmas can be influenced by preexisting weak magnetic fields, whose interactions may only be determined directly by polarimetry or other indirect methods. In particular, the intergalactic medium, the interstellar medium, the interplanetary medium and solar winds consist of diffuse plasmas. Scientists are interested in active galactic nuclei because such astrophysical plasmas could be directly related to the plasmas studied in laboratories. Many of these phenomena seemingly exhibit an array of complex magnetohydrodynamic behaviors, such as turbulence and instabilities. In Big Bang cosmology, the entire universe was in a plasma state prior to recombination. Norwegian explorer and physicist Kristian Birkeland predicted that space is filled with plasma.
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