Natural Science COSMIC VISION, The World & I, Washington Times

Anthony Peratt and G. Carroll Strait


The cosmos is a vast, interconnected body of invisible magnetic fields guiding electrified streams that become visible only where they converge to spin out galaxies and stars.

Looking out from planet Earth on a clear night, we usually see nothing between us and the Moon but empty space. Although we're looking through air, its invisibility makes sense to us. That is the nature of air. It is real but invisible.

On some clear nights, in arctic and antarctic regions, the sky is filled with indefinite, undulating colored sheets that move and dance. That, we are told, is the aurora. It is the visible manifestation of huge, invisible electric currents embracing Earth. The aurora is a natural plasma light show.

Even on nights when we see nothing between us and the Moon, radio signals sent from Earth's surface are mysteriously reflected back instead of being transmitted into space. Although these radio waves pass readily through walls, they are reflected by a zone of apparently empty space. That zone, called the ionosphere, is the closest of several electrified sheaths that surround and protect Earth. It is a natural plasma resonator whose reflection frequencies coincide with the ion wave radio frequencies.

When scientists began studying the nature of space, their probes reported finding electrified matter in layers around Earth. Farther out, electrified matter, plasma, was streaming away from the Sun. In addition, the probes discovered weak magnetic fields in interplanetary space that were guiding the movement of this plasma wind.

Today, after traveling for more than 20 years, Voyager 1 and 2 are nearing the edge of the solar system. Conserving power, they communicate infrequently but have always reported that they are still in a plasma environment. Amazingly, out to the far reaches of the solar system, the solar wind is still a plasma, with a small but profoundly significant fraction of free electrons and hydrogen ions (protons) that have not combined to form hydrogen atoms.

Sheltered by multiple layers of ionized gases shaped by magnetic fields and mapped by spacecraft such as the the one shown here, Earth sails through plasma wind expelled from the Sun (far away in the 10:00 direction).

FROM NEW PERSPECTIVES ON THE EARTH'S MAGNETOTAIL, AGU, 1999
ART BY HITOSHI IKEMATUS/COURTESY OF THE INSTITUTE OF SPACE AND ASTRONAUTICAL SCIENCE, JAPAN

Plasma dynamics, caused by a supernova 2,500 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus the Swan, are captured in the Hubble Space Telescope image showing ionized oxygen (blue), ionized sulfur (red), and energized hydrogen (green).

JEFF HESTER/COURTESY OF ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY AND NASA

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