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The fundamental particles of 3 ways travel to (almost) the speed of light

The journey at the speed of light is a basic element of science fiction in space. No movie from "Star Wars" seems complete until the Millennium Falcon (or a rival ship) uses its hyperdrive. And many "Star Trek" fans enjoy talking about the relative speeds of jumps in the USS Enterprise's star system, compared to the speeds of other Federation ships.

But in real life, physics gets in the way. The theory of special relativity of Einstein. In essence, it puts a speed limit on the cosmic journey; As far as we can tell, nothing goes faster than the speed of light. Worse still, any object that has mbad tends to become increasingly mbadive (dragging down the speed of the object) as it approaches the speed of light. As far as we know, only small particles can reach the speed of light.

One hundred years ago, on May 29, 1919, scientists. Make measurements of a solar eclipse. That confirmed Einstein's work. To celebrate, NASA offered three ways that particles can accelerate at an amazing speed in a new declaration.

Related: Why do not we have a Hyperdrive & # 39; Star Wars & # 39; still?

Electromagnetic fields

The sun is a crazy environment to study physics, because it is very extreme compared to the Earth. It is also a real-life laboratory that shows how nuclear reactions occur. It is also an example of an environment with electromagnetic fields, which, as NASA points out, is the same force that prevents magnets from falling out of your refrigerator.

Magnetic fields and electric fields work together to accelerate the particles with an electric charge. This charge allows the electromagnetic fields to push the particles, sometimes at speeds that approach the speed of light.

We can even simulate this process on Earth. Huge particle accelerators (such as in the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory of the Department of Energy, or in the European Organization for Nuclear Research) Large Hadron Collider) create pulsed electromagnetic fields. These fields accelerate charged particles close to the speed of light. Then, scientists often hit these particles to see what particles and energy are released.

In fractions of a second after these collisions, we can quickly observe elementary particles that existed in the first few seconds after the universe was formed. (That event, called the Big Bang, it happened about 13.8 billion years ago.)

Magnetic explosions

The sun also hosts phenomena called solar flares. Dancing on the surface of the sun is a tangle of magnetic fields. Sometimes, these fields intersect and fit, sending columns of solar material off the surface and, sometimes, charged particles along with it.

"When the tension between the crossed lines becomes too large, the lines are broken and re-aligned explosively in a process known as magnetic reconnection," NASA officials said in the statement. "The rapid change in the magnetic field of a region creates electric fields, which causes all the charged particles to move at high speeds."

The particles that flow from the sun can accelerate close to the speed of light, launched from the sun thanks to the magnetic reconnection. An example of such objects is the solar wind, the constant flow of charged particles that the sun emits to the solar system. (There may also be other factors that accelerate these particles, such as wave-particle interactions, which are explained in the next section of this article).

Magnetic reconnection is also likely to occur on large planets, such as Jupiter and Saturn. Closer to home, NASA is studying magnetic reconnection close to Earth using the Multiscale Magnetosphere Mission, which measures the magnetic field of our planet using four spacecraft. The results may be useful to better understand how particles accelerate throughout the universe, NASA officials said.

Wave-particle interactions

The particles can also ripple at high speeds when the electromagnetic waves collide; That phenomenon is more technically called wave-particle interactions.

"When electromagnetic waves collide, their fields can be compressed, charged particles bouncing between waves can gain energy similar to a ball bouncing between two walls that merge," NASA officials said.

These interactions take place throughout the universe. Near Earth, NASA missions like the Probes go allen they are observing wave-particle interactions to better predict the movements of the particles and protect the electronics in the satellites. This is because high-speed particles can damage these delicate parts of the ship.

Supernovas, or explosions of stars, can also play a role in more distant interactions. Researchers have theorized that after a star explodes, it creates an explosive wave, a layer of hot, dense compressed gas that moves away from the stellar core at high speed. These bubbles are filled with charged particles and magnetic fields, creating a likely environment for wave-particle interactions. This process can expel high energy cosmic rays – which consist of particles – at speeds close to the speed of light.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us On twitter @Spacedotcom and in Facebook.

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