The role of gravity in the motion of plasma arcs inside 'plasma balls': An investigation in the NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program

B. Zoltowski
K. Leard
N. Carter
K. Budzinski


We present results of an investigation performed by undergraduates as part of the NASA Reduced Gravity Student Flight Opportunities Program. The goal was to determine the importance of buoyancy-driven convection on the motion of plasma streamers in commercially available 'plasma balls.' The motion of the plasma streamers was studied as a function of acceleration level provided by drop experiments and parabolic flights on NASA KC-135. We determined that there were more than two contributing factors to the motion of plasma arcs: buoyancy-driven convection and magnetic fields from the Tesla coil that generated the high voltage in the plasma ball. When the plasma ball was isolated from the Tesla coil, the streamer velocities were higher. The velocities were nonzero at zero acceleration level and increased with increasing acceleration level. The nonzero velocity at zero acceleration could be the result of residual acceleration in the KC-135 or more likely an intrinsic aspect of this system.