Published on Dec 28, 2011
Dr. France Cordova, NASA's Chief Scientist, chaired this, the eighth seminar in the Administrator's Seminar Series. She introduced the NASA Administrator, Daniel S. Goldin, who, in turn, introduced the subject of plasma. Plasma, an ionized gas, is a function of temperature and density. We ve learned that, at Jupiter, the radiation is dense. But, Goldin asked, what else do we know? Dr. Cordova then introduced Dr. James Van Allen, for whom the Van Allen radiation belt was named. Dr. Van Allen, a member of the University of Iowa faculty, discussed the growing interest in practical applications of space physics, including radiation fields and particles, plasmas and ionospheres. He listed a hierarchy of magnetic fields, beginning at the top, as pulsars, the Sun, planets, interplanetary medium, and interstellar medium. He pointed out that we have investigated eight of the nine known planets,. He listed three basic energy sources as 1) kinetic energy from flowing plasma such as constitutional solar wind or interstellar wind; 2) rotational energy of the planet, and 3) orbital energy of satellites. He believes there are seven sources of energetic particles and five potential places where particles may go. The next speaker, Dr. Ian Axford of New Zealand, has been associated with the Max Planck Institut fuer Aeronomie and plasma physics. He has studied solar and galactic winds and clusters of galaxies of which there are several thousand. He believes that the solar wind temperature is in the millions of degrees. The final speaker was Dr. Roger Blanford of the California Institute of Technology. He classified extreme plasmas as lab plasmas and cosmic plasmas. Cosmic plasmas are from supernovae remnants. These have supplied us with heavy elements and may come via a shock front of 10(sup 15) electron volts. To understand the physics of plasma, one must learn about x-rays, the maximum energy of acceleration by supernova remnants, particle acceleration and composition of cosmic rays, maximum acceleration, and how fast protons are heated by ions. He asked questions about where high energy cosmic rays are made, what accelerates electrons, radiates gamma rays, makes electronpositron plasma, and finally noted that pulsars are good time keepers, but we need a better understanding of their mechanism and of plasmas, both cosmic and ground-based. In the discussion period, Goldin asked if NASA should put up an x-ray interferometer. The answer was no; gamma rays are of greater interest just now. Goldin also asked what the assembled scientists would like to see for a future mission? They expressed an interest in learning more about the origin of galaxies, cosmic rays, solar systems, planets, the existence of life "out there", gamma ray sources, the nature of gamma ray bursts, and the flow of gases around black holes. The discussion concluded with a suggestion that NASA should communicate to the general public more information regarding actual technological trials and tribulations involved in getting an experiment to work. The speakers thought that this would help non-scientists to better appreciate what it is that NASA does in connection with the benefits that are achieved.