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1 - Space physics

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 October 2009

Thomas E. Cravens
Affiliation:
University of Kansas
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Summary

Most of the visible matter in the universe exists as a fluid composed of electrically charged particles rather than as a gas made of neutral atoms or molecules. Gas mixtures of electrically charged particles, such as electrons and ions, are called plasmas. Plasmas are found in the following solar system environments: the solar atmosphere, the interplanetary medium, planetary magnetospheres, and planetary ionospheres. Most of the interstellar medium is also plasma, as are most other regions of our galaxy.

Most of the plasma found in our own solar system is accessible to in situ measurements made by instruments onboard spacecraft. Since the advent of the space age in the late 1950s, space probes have visited Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and comets Giacobini–Zinner, Halley, and Grigg–Skjellerup. The space environment surrounding the Earth has also been extensively studied by experiments onboard rockets and satellites. The Sun and astrophysical plasma environments outside our own solar system are not subject to direct measurements but must be observed remotely with sophisticated instruments located either at ground-based observatories or on orbiting observatories. An exception to this are the very energetic particles called cosmic rays, which can be observed using Earthbased or balloon-borne experiments. Solar cosmic rays have energies up to about 100 million electron volts (100 MeV) and originate in the solar corona.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1997

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  • Space physics
  • Thomas E. Cravens, University of Kansas
  • Book: Physics of Solar System Plasmas
  • Online publication: 26 October 2009
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511529467.004
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  • Space physics
  • Thomas E. Cravens, University of Kansas
  • Book: Physics of Solar System Plasmas
  • Online publication: 26 October 2009
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511529467.004
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Space physics
  • Thomas E. Cravens, University of Kansas
  • Book: Physics of Solar System Plasmas
  • Online publication: 26 October 2009
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511529467.004
Available formats
×