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Space Plasma Physics

The aurora, as seen from the ISS. Credit: NASA
The aurora, as seen from the ISS. Credit: NASA

The Space Plasma Physics group at MSSL is a leading, internationally recognised research group studying the physical interaction between the Earth and the Sun and the fundamental physics of space plasmas. The group has a history of producing instrumentation for, and analysing data from, international space exploration missions in collaboration with scientists around the world.

The group is heavily involved in the current Cluster mission and the proposed Solar Orbiter mission. Much of our research involves exploiting data from the Cluster mission, in conjunction with other missions and facilities. We also provide operational support and data processing for the Cluster and Double Star missions and the Cluster Active Archive. We have a number of PhD opportunities for students to study some of the many aspects of space plasmas.

Details of our mission involvement, research and upcoming projects can all be found on this site.

MSSL Space Plasma News

Dr. Colin Forsyth at National Space Centre CareersFest

 Dr. Colin Forsyth attended the annual Year 12 CareersFest at the National Space Centre in Leicester. Colin gave short talks on the different career opportunities at MSSL and career pathways, as well as taking part in the "Meet the Scientist' session, where the attending students had an opportunity to put their questions to the assembled scientists and engineers, as well as getting up close to some of MSSL's space hardware. More...

Cluster-MAARBLE-Van Allen Probes Workshop 2014

Prof. Andrew Fazakerley, Drs. Colin Forsyth and Dimitry Pokhotelov and students Kirthika Mohan and Ali Varsani all attended the 24th Cluster Workshop, entitled "Geospace Revisited" and held in conjunction with the Van Allen Probes and MAARBLE communities. The workshop took place at the Rodos Palace hotel on the greek island of Rhodes. More...

Solar Orbiter SWA Critical Design Review completes in ESTEC

Together with consortium colleagues from France, Italy and the USA, members of MSSL's PI team for the Solar Orbiter SWA investigation returned to ESTEC in the Netherlands for the 2-day co-location meeting for the Critical Design Review (CDR) of the SWA instrument suite. 
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MSSL Space Plasma Science Nuggets

Plot of magnetotail properties against solar wind driving: (a) Magnetic pressure in the lobes; (b) total pressure in the plasma sheet (magnetic pressure + H+ + O+); (c) plasma sheet ion temperature; and (d) plasma sheet ion density. The overlaid boxes show the median (blue line), upper and lower quartiles (large box) and upper and lower deciles (small box) of the ordinate data split into deciles of the solar wind driving from the entire data set. The grey lines show the fits to our semiempirical model. The solid lines show fits of these models to the whole data set, and the dashed lines show fits to the shown median values. From Forsyth et al., GRL, 2014

Increases in plasma sheet temperature with solar wind driving during substorm growth phases

Through its interaction with the solar wind, Earth's magnetosphere can store 1015 J of magnetic energy in its magnetotail. This energy is explosively released during magnetospheric substorms; events during which the stored magnetic energy is directed into the ionosphere to cause the aurora, heats in the plasma in the magnetotail and is ejected back into the solar wind behind the magnetosphere. More...

Figure 1.  Auroral observations during a  substorm. (a) and (b) North-south slice through the aurora from two auroral cameras close-by in white-light, and (c) and (d) in red-line and blue-line auroral emission, respectively.   (e)-(h) shows east-west slices through the auroral cameras, showing the formation and evolution of wave-like auroral beads at the start of this substorm.

Inner magnetospheric onset preceding reconnection and tail dynamics during substorms: Can substorms initiate in two different regions?

The explosive release of energy within a substorm marks the beginning of one of the most dynamic and vibrant auroral displays seen in the night-time skies.  Stored magnetic energy is quickly converted to plasma kinetic energy, resulting in dramatic changes both in the large-scale magnetic topology of the Earth’s night-side magnetic field, and in energetic particles being accelerated towards Earth. More...

Ionospheric waves observed by EISCAT radar in Tromso, Norway

Waves in the ionosphere detected by ground GPS receiver network

Ground networks of GPS receivers can be used to characterise ionospheric perturbations. As the dual frequency navigational GPS signal propagates through the ionosphere, due to dispersive properties of the ionised media it carries information about the total ionospheric electron content (TEC). With careful analysis, ionospheric perturbations due to various natural drivers can be detected. Ground networks of GPS receivers in Japan have been used to detect small ionospheric effects from propagating extra long ocean waves, those causing catastrophic tsunamis as they reach the shore. In Scandinavia and Canada, the effects from auroral activity and from magnetospheric plasma waves have been observed in GPS TEC measurements. Such effects can be of crucial importance for the precise GPS positioning but can be also utilised to monitor the Earth’s magnetosphere and in particular the radiation belts. More...

Schematic showing the layers of an FTE. From Varsani et al. (2014)

High-time-resolution observations of an FTE using Cluster

We have presented the Cluster observations of a crater FTE on 12 February 2007, when the quartet was located in the low-latitude boundary layer, and widely separated on the magnetopause plane. The passage of the structure was sequentially observed by Cluster 2, 3, 4 and 1 respectively, analysed in detail. But what are flux transfer events, and why are they important within the magnetosphere? More...

Azimuthal electric field PSD values derived from ground-based magnetometer measurements of the D-component magnetic field PSD at L = 7.94, 6.51, 5.40, 4.26, 4.21, 2.98, and 2.55. The dashed lines represent constant fits to these PSD values. From Ozeke et al. (2014)

New and improved analytic expressions for ULF wave radiation belt radial diffusion coefficients

Ozeke et al. [2014] presented analytic expressions for ULF wave-derived radiation belt radial diffusion coefficients, as a function of L and Kp, which can easily be incorporated into global radiation belt transport models. The diffusion coefficients are derived from statistical representations of ULF wave power, electric field power mapped from ground magnetometer data, and compressional magnetic field power from in situ measurements.
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Page last modified on 16 aug 11 12:20