A plasma is a gas that is signicantly ionized (through heating or photoionization) and thus is composed of electrons and ions, and that has a low enough density to behave classically, i.e. to obey Maxwell-Boltzman statistics rather than Fermi-Dirac or Bose-Einstein. Plasma physics originated in the nineteenth century, in the study of gas discharges (Crookes 1879). However, it was soon realised that plasma is also the key to understanding the propagation of radio waves across the Atlantic (Heaviside 1902). The subject received a further boost in the early 1950s, with the start of the controlled (and the uncontrolled) thermonuclear fusion program. The various connement devices described in the preceding chapter are intended to hold plasma at temperatures as high as 108 K; the diculty of this task has turned out to be an issue of plasma physics as much as MHD. After fusion, the next new venue for plasma research was extraterrestrial. Although it was already understood that the Earth was immersed in a tenuous out ow of ionized hydrogen known as the solar wind, the dawn of the space age in 1957 also initiated experimental space plasma physics. More recently, the interstellar and intergalactic media beyond the solar system as well as exotic astronomical objects like quasars and pulsars have allowed us to observe plasmas under quite extrem

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