Scientists from Ireland and France have announced a major new finding about how matter behaves in the extreme conditions of the Sun's atmosphere. They used large radio telescopes and ultraviolet cameras on NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) spacecraft to better understand the exotic but poorly understood "fourth state of matter", known as plasma.
This matter could hold the key to developing safe, clean and efficient nuclear energy generators on Earth. Most of the matter we encounter in our everyday lives comes in the form of solid, liquid or gas, but the majority of the Universe is composed of plasma - a highly unstable and electrically charged fluid. The Sun is also made up of this plasma.
Despite being the most common form of matter in the Universe plasma remains a mystery, mainly due to its scarcity in natural conditions on Earth, which makes it difficult to study. Nuclear fusion plasmas are highly unstable. As soon as the plasma starts generating energy, some natural process switches off the reaction. The researchers combined the radio observations with ultraviolet cameras on to show that plasma on the Sun can often emit radio light that pulses like a light-house.
The collaboration between Irish and French scientists is ongoing and they're already making progress with newly built radio telescopes in Ireland, such as the Irish Low Frequency Array (I-LOFAR). I-LOFAR can be used to uncover new plasma physics on the Sun in far greater detail than before, teaching us about how matter behaves in both plasmas on the Sun, here on Earth and throughout the Universe in general.
More information: Eoin P. Carley et al, Loss-cone instability modulation due to a magnetohydrodynamic sausage mode oscillation in the solar corona, Nature Communications (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-10204-1