First Announcement:
Workshop on Opportunities in Plasma Astrophysics

(January 18-21, 2010 at Princeton)

Plasma astrophysics is a discipline that is rapidly growing in scientific opportunity. This scientific fertility arises from the maturation of plasma theory, computation, and experimental techniques, combined with the surge in observational data.

Plasma astrophysics is defined here to include processes active in space, solar, and astrophysical plasmas. In many circumstances, a detailed understanding of the plasma physics under the specific space and astrophysical conditions holds the key to many long-standing mysteries. The practice of plasma astrophysics consists of diverse components: low energy density magnetized and unmagnetized basic plasma experiments, high energy density experiments, liquid metal experiments, analytic theory, fluid and kinetic computation, theoretical astrophysics, observations (space, solar, and astrophysical), and aspects of fusion experiments. (Some contributions to ongoing Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey on plasma astrophysics are listed here.)

Purpose of workshop
The diversity of plasma astrophysics, and the participation of many individual investigators scattered in different adjacent areas, can eclipse the unity of the field, the commonality of the physics problems, and the many opportunities for new scientific discovery. Although there are many examples of fruitful collaborations on some areas of plasma astrophysics, there is much to be gained by a more unified exploration and articulation of scientific opportunities. This workshop is intended to expand beyond traditional meetings which tend to focus on a subset of areas within plasma astrophysics.

The workshop has the following goals
A concise report will be generated as a result of this workshop, of use to the plasma astrophysics community, but also mostly understandable to the general physical scientist. This report is distinguished from previous reports* or the forthcoming reports from ongoing activities** that included plasma astrophysics only as a small part of a larger study, although these reports will serve as one of our input sources.

Format of the workshop
The first three days of the workshop will be devoted to the definition of research problems and potential means of solution. Sessions will be organized by physics topics. Within each topic, presentations will cover the major challenges and the full diversity of approaches to address the problem, spanning both low and high energy density plasmas with theoretical, numerical and experimental opportunities.

The morning of the fourth day will report on a synthesis of the first three days (prepared by a working group as listed in the organization below). This will be followed by discussions of next steps in the process. The next steps will be formulated with the recognition that no single funding agency provides a home for plasma astrophysics, a problem that this exercise hopes to diminish. Possible next steps, in addition to the production of a concise report or white paper summarizing workshop conclusions, include commitment to a follow-on meeting to further refine ideas presented, and articulation of workshop results to relevant funding agencies and other interested organizations.

Workshop organization
The program will be organized by a committee of experts spanning the topical breadth of the field. Each topic is assigned to a working group led by a group leader. Before the workshop, each group will gather input from the broader community, identify major challenges in each topic, formulate an array of diverse approaches to meet these challenges, and finally prepare presentations at the workshop. During the workshop, each working group will receive feedback from participants and other working groups. The following is a tentative list of topics to be covered:
  1. Magnetic reconnection (Jim Drake)
  2. Collisionless shock and particle acceleration (Marty Lee)
  3. Radiative hydrodynamics (Bruce Remington)
  4. Momentum transport (Eliot Quataert)
  5. Magnetic dynamo (Ellen Zweibel, co-lead: Fausto Cattaneo)
  6. Interface and shear instabilities (Dmitri Ryutov)
  7. Magnetized dusty plasmas (Ed Thomas)
  8. Waves and turbulence (Amitava Bhattacharjee, co-lead: Stuart Bale)
  9. Jets and outflows including structure formation (Hui Li)
  10. Relativistic, ultra-strongly magnetized, and pair plasmas (Edison Liang)
  11. Cross-cutting issues, tool development, and uncovered topics (TBD)
Click HERE for a current list of members in each working group.

The organizing committee will consist of leaders of the working groups (one per group) listed above, and will be co-chaired by Fausto Cattaneo, Hantao Ji, Stewart Prager and Bob Rosner. The working group members are chosen by the organizing committee. The workshop is open to general participation; interested persons are encouraged to contribute through attendance or through submission of short "white papers" to the working groups or to the organizing committee.

Support and endorsement
The workshop will be hosted by the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. The components of DoE, NSF and NASA with responsibility for plasma astrophysics are all supportive of the workshop. The workshop is also endorsed by Topical Group in Plasma Astrophysics (GPAP) and Division of Plasma Physics (DPP) of American Physical Society (APS). Travel assistance will be announced later if available.

* See, for example,
** Reports are expected from two ongoing activities: