I wake up scheming


When you’re a jet…

Ever since the seventies, astrophysicists have had evidence for the existence of blazars: black holes heavier than a million suns that spew superhot plasma jets into intergalactic space at up to 99.9% the speed of light, not caring what star systems they disrupt or how many human lives they incinerate.  And every time I look up at the stars I promise myself that someday I’ll be able to wield that kind of power.

What’s frustrating is that – until recently – nobody has done anything to take those astrophysical jets and put them in the hands of the common man (that is, me) who needs them for a very important project.  No, I’m not trying to take over the earth here, but some days, taking over the earth just seems like too petty a project.  My whole life I’ve been dying to blow up a planet, just one measly planet.  Or a couple planets.  Or maybe a star.  And finally, science is taking steps towards making that possible.

That’s right; after decades of patient thumb-twiddling, I might finally be able to get to work wreaking havoc on the cosmos, if some research being conducted by the Bellan Plasma Group at the California Institute of Technology is as promising as it seems.

The group, led by Paul Bellan, has shown that plasma jets like the ones created by blazars can be simulated in the laboratory in a highly reproducible way.  The group pumped ionized gases through a strong magnetic field and watched (with power-hungry zeal, I presume) as a set of magnetic flux tubes self-coalesced to form a single beam of plasma.  The jet organizes itself based on its own magnetic forces, which suggests that anything that spews plasma into a vacuum can create the kind of superhot plasma jet produced by a blazar.  The kind of plasma jet that I would need in order to incinerate Jupiter.

As usual, the science leaves me several steps short of accomplishing anything useful. So far, Bellan’s group has only created plasma jets that move at 0.01% the speed of light for less than a meter.  Far short of the jets I need even for small-scale planetary annihilation.  But the implications are clear: start thinking about which planets you want in the solar system and which ones you’re willing to say goodbye to.

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