, Volume 227, Issue 1-2, pp 97-107

Plasma and the universe: large scale dynamics, filamentation, and radiation

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Abstract

One of the earliest predictions about the morphology of the universe is that it be filamentary (Alfvén, 1950). This prediction followed from the fact that volumewise, the universe is 99.999% matter in the plasma state. When the plasma is energetic, it is generally inhomogeneous with constituent parts in motion. Plasmas in relative motion are coupled by the currents they drive in each other and nonequilibrium plasma often consists of current-conducting filaments.

In the laboratory and in the Solar System, filamentary and cellular morphology is a well-known property of plasma. As the properties of the plasma state of matter is believed not to change beyond the range of our space probes, plasma at astrophysical dimensions must also be filamentary.

During the 1980s a series of unexpected observations showed filamentary structure on the Galactic, intergalactic, and supergalactic scale. By this time, the analytical intractibility of complex filamentary geometries, intense self-fields, nonlinearities, and explicit time dependence had fostered the development of fully three-dimensional, fully electromagnetic, particle-in-cell simulations of plasmas having the dimensions of galaxies or systems of galaxies. It had been realized that the importance of applying electromagnetism and plasma physics to the problem of radiogalaxy and galaxy formation derived from the fact that the universe is largely aplasma universe. In plasma, electromagnetic forces exceed gravitational forces by a factor of 1036, and electromagnetism is ≈ 107 times stronger than gravity even in neutral hydrogen regions, where the degree of ionization is a miniscule 10−4.

The observational evidence for galactic-dimensioned Birkeland currents is given based on the direct comparison of the synchrotron radiation properties of simulated currents to those of extra-galactic sources including quasars and double radio galaxies.