New computer model could safeguard Earth’s infrastructure

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Photo of Raphael Rosen
Raphael Rosen, Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
May 17, 2021

Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) and Princeton University’s Department of Astrophysical Sciences have developed a new computer model that could help safeguard Earth’s sensitive infrastructure from cosmic events known as coronal mass ejections.

Every day, the sun ejects large amounts of a hot particle soup known as plasma toward Earth where it can disrupt telecommunications satellites and damage electrical grids. 

The new model for understanding these events uses an innovative mathematical method that incorporates a novel insight for predicting the behavior of plasma in the region above the surface of the sun known as the solar corona. The model was originally inspired by a similar model that describes the behavior of plasma used as fuel in experimental devices here on Earth that were designed to develop fusion energy. Fusion is the nuclear process that powers the sun and scientists are seeking to replicate the process to generate electricity for all humanity.

“Our method could ultimately be used to improve space weather prediction,” said Andrew Alt, a graduate student in the Princeton Program in Plasma Physics at PPPL and lead author of the paper reporting the results in the Astrophysical Journal.

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