(Originally posted 9/7/2017 on Read With The Gringa)
If the gringa’s dear readers are anything like herself, you have spent plenty of time watching shows like Star Trek and reading fantastic science fiction. That means you’ve heard plenty of references to plasma: plasma storms, plasma discharges, plasma cannons, etc. But what the heck is plasma? Is it good for anything? Can we harness its power? Here’s the scoop on plasma.
Plasma is an ionized gas. What that means is that atoms, molecules and all kinds of stuff are constantly being converted into ions. This happens by removing electrons from the affected substance. An ion contains an electrical charge when conversion is complete. That means plasma packs a wallop of a punch. And there is lots of plasma throughout our Universe.
The Sun’s mass makes up nearly the entire mass of our Solar System, 99.85% of it. That mass creates gravity so powerful it squishes things together, like atoms, creating a fusion reaction which makes… wait for it… PLASMA.
99.999% of the Sun is plasma. Scientists estimate that more than 99% of all matter exists in a plasma state. If so much of it is lying about, why aren’t we humans using it for electricity and power and stuff? Why are we still in the Stone Ages with coal and petroleum? Because cosmic plasma is a bit trickier than the plasma we find here on Earth, like lightning. The Sun’s plasma is not just electrified. It also has its own magnetic field. And, boy is it hot!
Because of the magnetics that are part and parcel of the Sun’s plasma, harnessing our nearest star as an energy source would prove to be highly disruptive to communications. Basically, radio frequencies would fry. You see, the Sun is a fusion nuclear reactor way up in the sky. The gringa’s not sure, then, if direct solar power would really be “green” energy.
To harness the power of cosmic plasma for terrestrial use, scientists would have to, theoretically, confine the reactor. Yep, that means putting the Sun in a box, so to speak. Despite years of research, little progress has been made to figure out how to do that and humanity survive in the end. One reason is because scientists have no idea how cosmic plasma and the resulting fusion reaction would affect any barrier they might construct as a containment field. Yeah, those invisible forcefields on Star Trek? Mm hmm. Pure fantasy.
But despite this frustration, scientists remain committed to finding a solution. They are well aware that the current energy sources of Earthlings are finite. One day all the coal will be gone. There will be no more crude to suck from the ground. And even developing more solar and wind energy supplies will only take the entire globe so far. Large industrial areas and densely populated regions will need the power of plasma if they want a constant, reliable power supply.
But why can’t scientists seem to make any progress? In order to test a theory, a scientist must conduct a controlled experiment that re-creates the conditions. Since there is no way to reproduce the 15 million degree Fahrenheit temperature of the Sun, um, yeah, progress is pretty much going nowhere.
Sure, science has come up with fun gadgets like plasma balls that are basically sold as lighting novelties. But that glass bottle is not anywhere close to being sufficient to bottle a chunk of the Sun. Scientists literally have to find a way to put a sizable piece of the Sun inside of something.
And finding a substance that can withstand temperatures in excess of the 100 million degrees produced by fusion reactions has to do more than not melt. When the plasma comes into contact with the barrier, it must remain pure and clean.
The gringa can only wonder what the heck might happen should those walls fail. Will half the globe be scorched to infinity in a split second? Will the survivors on the other side of the globe become so radiated they die a slow, agonizing death over the course of the next few weeks or months? Or will a wave of plasma ride the ionosphere to the other side and the survivors know that death is on the way because their blue sky turns blood-red? Or will they basically be cooked alive from a sudden increase in temperature? In other words, will the entire globe become a microwave oven?
Scientists claim that plasma energy will be the cleanest energy ever. Yet, at the same time they are conducting research on the effects of radiation and plasma damage. So, the gringa remains skeptical about the “green” selling points.
Science communities around the world hope to have the first plasma reactor operational by 2018.
Nuclear science professors at MIT explain that the general public shouldn’t expect any real development of commercial plasma fusion reactors for about two more decades. The gringa will be at an age by that time where I might actually appreciate the prospect of a quick and relatively painless death. But, for the sake of my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I suppose I should keep a watchful eye on the developments of this future energy source.
Image Credit: Space.com