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Plasma is Awesome Vol. 3

We’re back with Volume 3 of our popular “Plasma is Awesome” series! In this volume, as always, we look at incredible Plasma stories that you might have missed but need to know about. Make yourself comfortable and get stuck into two incredible Plasma stories looking at Supersonic Plasma and Plasma Vortex’s… awesome!

Supersonic Plasma detected in Earth’s atmosphere for the first time

Incredibly, for the first time ever researchers have discovered that supersonic plasma jets exist in the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

These Plasma jets appear to be changing the chemical composition of Earth’s ionosphere and are pushing this atmospheric layer up so far that some of the Earth’s atmospheric materials are being leaked into space.

The ionosphere is an atmospheric layer which spans 46 to 621 miles above Earth’s surface and more than a century ago scientist Kristian Birkeland proposed that vast electric currents powered by solar wind were travelling through Earth’s ionosphere. These vast electrical currents were confirmed in the 1970’s and are known as Birkeland currents which carry up to 1 TW of electrical power to the upper atmosphere.

As part of an ongoing project, scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) have sent a trio of Swarm satellites into the space between Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere to learn more about the Birkeland currents.

Plasma is Awesome SWARM Satellite - ESA
Courtesy of ESA/ATG medialab

The satellite trio has recently made an incredible breakthrough, discovering that these electrical fields are driving extreme supersonic plasma jets, also dubbed as “Birkeland current boundary flows”.

The supersonic Plasma jets can drive the upper ionosphere to temperatures near 10,000 degrees Celsius and change its chemical composition. The jets also cause the ionosphere to flow upwards to higher altitudes, where additional energisation can lead to a loss of material in outer space.

If you’d like to read more about these incredible plasma jets, check out our source article from Science Alert.

Lorry fuel efficiency to be improved by Plasma vortex’s?

Plasma Treating - AerospaceVortex generators are widely used throughout aerospace and are typically mounted on the upper side of the wing to enhance lift at take-off and landing. Researchers at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology hope to bring this same phenomenon to lorries and could potentially reduce fuel consumption by up to five percent.

The technology developed by researchers, in collaboration with truck manufacturer Scania, is entirely electronic, whereas the traditional mechanical vortex generator widely used throughout aerospace is operated on a basic aerodynamic principle; if you reduce the separation of the airflow on the leeward side of an air foil, you can enhance the lift while at the same time, reducing drag.

Plasma Vortex Lorry
The test model developed by KTH researchers

The new system uses plasma actuators to apply a high voltage between two electrodes, the surrounding air molecules then become ionised and as a result, accelerate through an electric field, resulting in wind.

How does it work? When wind hits a truck at an angle the friction deprives the air of energy needed to push its way around the truck. As the wind moves around the corner towards the leeward side of the truck, the air within the boundary layer slows and can no longer surface, this separation of air flow results in a bubble filled with eddies and swirls of air being formed.

A Plasma vortex generator is placed at the front corner and slices through the boundary layer at its head, this creates a spiral of air that mixes high velocity air into the boundary layer. The injection of high velocity air towards the surface prevents air from separating and makes it follow the surface, which lowers the drag.

If you’re interested in finding our more about this awesome Plasma application, take a look at our source article from The Engineer.

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