MSSL Planetary Science News

Dr. Chris Arridge awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship

1 November 2012

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.'

Dr. Chris Arridge

Dr. Arridge will undertake a project titled "Mass and energy transport in giant planet magnetospheres throughout the universe". Jupiter's moon Io is the most volcanic body in the Solar System and was the first place beyond Earth where we saw a volcano erupting. These volcanoes have a profound effect on Jupiter's space environment (called its magnetosphere) but one thing we don't know is what happens to the magnetosphere when a volcano suddenly starts erupting. Does it suddenly have a large effect, or does it take time for the particles from the volcano to get into space and start having an effect? In my URF I'll be looking at this problem which has wide relevance for understanding other magnetospheres in our solar system and understanding Space Weather here at Earth. We also don't know how the 11-year solar cycle affects the magnetospheres of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Until recently we have not had the necessary measurements from spacecraft to try to study this, but we are now entering an age where we can investigate this. This is an another problem I'll address in my URF. Overall I'll be trying to understand how the solar cycle and sudden changes in volcanoes and moons affect giant planet magnetospheres, both in our Solar System and beyond, and I'll be using models and observations to try to solve this. One of the biggest unsolved problems in astrophysics is how particles gain energy. At Jupiter the particles are far hotter than they should be and scientists have calculated that 10 TW of energy is required to heat them (roughly the energy consumption of the entire world) but we don’t know where this comes from! We believe the energy comes from the rotation of Jupiter but we don’t know how this energy is converted from kinetic to thermal energy. The third topic to be addressed in my URF will be to use models and spacecraft measurements to try to understand how these particles get so hot.

The different faces of Io taken by the Galileo spacecraft (Credit: NASA/JPL/Galileo Project)

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