MSSL Planetary Science News

Cassini mission provides insight into Saturn

Publication date:

An artist's rendition of the Cassini spacecraft approaching the planet Saturn. Image credit: NASA/JPL

Scientists have found the first direct evidence for explosive releases of energy in Saturn's magnetic bubble using data from the Cassini spacecraft, a joint mission between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Italian Space Agency. The research is reported in the journal Nature Physics.

Ions from Comet 67P – early Rosetta results and increasing activity

Publication date:

Comet 67P and Lithium release comparison. From Coates et al. (2015)

As a comet nears the Sun, its icy nucleus heats, and neutral water and other gas molecules sublime, carrying ice and dust grains away also. The gas ionizes in sunlight, producing pickup ions. In a new paper, Andrew Coates and colleagues look at the early pickup process at 67P using data from the Rosetta Plasma Consortium (RPC) particle instruments. They compare the results to what was learned with the AMPTE and Giotto missions 30 years ago. The trajectory of Rosetta, the first spacecraft to fly with a comet at different distances to the Sun, is ideal for this. They discuss an elegant momentum balance seen between the new-born pickup ions and the solar wind.

Planetary group student organises Sample Space Science Week at MSSL for sixth formers

Publication date:


MSSL has just finished its second annual work experience week for sixth formers. Adi Ramani, one of the sixth formers taking part, explains enthusiastically: “It was an amazing week. I don’t think anything was lacking. It is the perfect experience for anyone wanting to pursue Physics or Engineering.”

Titan's atmosphere even more Earth-like than previously thought

Publication date:


Scientists at UCL have observed how a widespread polar wind is driving gas from the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan. The team analysed data gathered over seven years by the NASA/ESA Cassini probe, and found that the interactions between Titan’s atmosphere, and the solar magnetic field and radiation, create a wind of hydrocarbons and nitriles being blown away from the top of its atmosphere into space. This is very similar to the wind observed coming from the Earth’s polar regions.

Venus is slowly losing its atmosphere

Publication date:

Artist's view of Venus, a planet with no magnetic shelter

Two new papers on ionospheric photoelectrons in the tail of Venus are about to be published in Planetary and Space Science, led by UCL-MSSL scientists. They show that Venus is losing 300kg of its atmosphere per day.

Planetary Space Weather

Publication date:

In an article just published in Astronomy and Astrophysics Reviews, Jean Lilensten (IPAG, Grenoble), Andrew Coates (UCL-MSSL) and co-authors discuss the emergence of a new interdisciplinary topic - planetary space weather.

ExoMars landing sites narrowed down – and PanCam appears on BBC News

Publication date:


The first landing site selection workshop for the Esa-Roscosmos ExoMars rover was held on 26-28 March at ESAC near Madrid. Prof Andrew Coates of the Planetary Science Group attended the meeting, as Principal Investigator of the PanCam instrument on the rover. MSSL leads the international PanCam team which includes hardware from Germany and Switzerland, with important contributions from Austria, as well as the UK. PanCam includes a pair of wide angle cameras (WACs) for stereo imaging and a High Resolution Camera (HRC) for zoom capability. PanCam provides geological and atmospheric context for the mission.

Kimberley Birkett awarded 2013 Outstanding Student Paper Award (OSPA) at the AGU Fall Meeting

Publication date:

Congratulations to PhD student Kimberley Birkett, who won the prestigious award for her poster ‘Modelling Cometary Sodium Tails’ at the AGU Fall Meeting 2013.

Research Images Competition

Publication date:


 Congratulations to PhD student Kimberley Birkett who is a runner up in the UCL Graduate School 'Research Images as Art' competition:

Rover Trial

Publication date:

ExoMars prototype in Atacama Desert

The week of 7-12 October saw an ambitious test of a prototype ExoMars Rover in the Atacama Desert in Chile, including an emulator of the MSSL-led PanCam instrument. The SAFER trial was controlled from the remote operations centre at the Space Catapult Centre, Harwell attended by Andrew Griffiths and Andrew Coates. Harwell. For more information:

Dr. Chris Arridge awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship

Publication date:

Dr. Chris Arridge

Dr. Chris Arridge has commenced a prestigious Royal Society University Research Fellowship (URF) in the Planetary Science Group at MSSL and is joined by Dr. Lucie Green (Solar Physics, URF 2012) and Dr. Tom Kitching (Astrophysics, URF 2011). Professor Alan Smith, Director of MSSL said 'We are very proud to host these three exceptional scientists and look forward to working with them in the years to come. They will significantly strengthen our engagement in science exploitation, future missions, outreach and education.'

Planetary science group hosts Cassini CAPS Team Meeting 43

Publication date:

Planetary group scientist Annie Wellbrock presenting at the Cassini CAPS Team Meeting.

On Thursday 31 May and Friday 1 June the Planetary science group is hosting the 43rd meeting of the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS) team.

Selection of JUICE mission to Jupiter and Ganymede by ESA

Publication date:

Artist's impression of ESA's JUICE mission (Credit: ESA/M. Carroll)

ESA's next "large class" (L-class) mission will be a mission called JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer) to study the giant planet Jupiter, its planetary system and magnetosphere, and particularly its moon Ganymede.

Planetary group scientists attend Cassini Magnetospheric and Plasma Science Meeting

Publication date:

Saturn (Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

Andrew Coates and Tom Nordheim attended the Cassini Magnetospheric and Plasma Science (MAPS) working group meeting at University of Cologne on 28-30 March.

Comet studies in the planetary group catch media attention at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting

Publication date:

Image of comet Hale-Bopp. Credit: ESO/E. Slawick

In a presentation at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester, planetary group PhD student Yudish Ramanjooloo presented his work on using amateur images of comets to infer the properties of the surrounding solar wind. This work was picked up for a media article in Sky at Night online.

Planetary group attends the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Manchester

Publication date:

The Manchester Museum - location of the opening reception for the RAS National Astronomy Meeting

Several members of the planetary group are attending the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting, hosted by the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester, from 27-30 March 2012.

Dr. Gethyn Lewis attends a meeting of the Spacecraft Plasma Interaction Network

Publication date:

Calculated charging state for the Cassini spacecraft

Dr. Gethyn Lewis will attend a consortium meeting of the Spacecraft Plasma Interaction Network of Europe (SPINE) at the European Space Agency's space research and technology centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands, from 5 - 7 March 2012. The SPINE consortium aims to share resources and coordinate efforts to understand and model the interaction of spacecraft with their space plasma environments, including spacecraft charging. Dr. Lewis has been involved in modelling work using tools (Spacecraft Plasma Interaction System - SPIS) developed by the SPINE consortium to understand the charging of the Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn.

Dione's thin oxygen exosphere

Publication date:

Image of Saturn's icy moon Dione. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Dione is a moon of Saturn, discovered in 1684 by the Italian astronomer Giovanni Cassini. Over 300 years later, planetary scientists including Andrew Coates and Geraint Jones from MSSL-UCL, have discovered that Dione has a weak exosphere near its surface (at planets with denser atmospheres, the exosphere is the outermost layer of its atmosphere). This work was featured on BBC News Online and is also the feature of a science nugget on the planetary science group website.

Planetary Group attends the 2011 Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco

Publication date:

Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco

Drs. Geraint Jones, Adam Masters, and Mr Yudish Ramanjooloo are attending the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) at the Moscone Centre in San Francisco, USA.

Dr. Adam Masters wins the Robert Boyd Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement

Publication date:

Dr. Adam Masters giving his lecture

Dr. Adam Masters from the Planetary Science group has won this year’s Robert Boyd Award for Outstanding Scientific Achievement.

ScienceWatch interview with Prof. Andrew Coates

Publication date:

Prof. Andrew Coates with the Cassini CAPS-ELS instrument

The ScienceWatch website recently interviewed Prof. Andrew Coates for the Featured Interviews section of their website.

4th ExoMars Science Working Team Meeting, ESTEC, The Netherlands

Publication date:

Surface of Mars (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University)

Prof. Andrew Coates (PanCam Principal Investigator) and Dr. Craig Leff (PanCam Project Manager) attended the 4th ExoMars Science Working Team meeting at the ESA Research and Technology Centre ESTEC on 13-14 October 2011.

Joint meeting of the European Planetology Network and Division of Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society in Nantes, France

Publication date:

Saturn (Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)

From 3 - 7 October 2011 Prof. Andrew Coates and Dr. Adam Masters attended the joint meeting of the European Planetology Network and the American Astronomical Association's Division of Planetary Sciences.

Workshop on future observations and study of Uranus

Publication date:

Image of Uranus from the Keck Telescope (Credit: Lawrence Sromovsky, University of Wisconsin-Madison/ W. M. Keck Observatory)

Dr. Chris Arridge will attend a Uranus workshop in Pasadena, California on 17/18 October 2011. The meeting will focus of the highest priority science questions on Uranus, looking at how these science questions can be addressed by Earth-based and Earth-orbiting observatories and modelling. Dr. Arridge will give a presentation on Uranus’ magnetosphere and the its sources of charged particles.

Cassini CAPS Team Meeting: Glacier National Park, Montana

Publication date:

Glacier National Park, Montana, USA

Professor Andrew Coates and Dr Gethyn Lewis will attend the Cassini CAPS team meeting in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA on 22 and 23 September 2011. Dr Lewis will give an update on the current status of the CAPS/ELS instrument and Professor Coates will give presentations on Saturn's largest moon Titan.

Search UCL News

Page last modified on 08 sep 11 11:24