Space Plasma Physics

Artist's impression of Double Star. (c) ESA
Artist's impression of Double Star. (c) ESA

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

Plasma Group Welcomes Dr Zhonghua Yao

The MSSL Space Plasmas Group warmly welcomes Dr Zhonghua Yao as a new colleague.  Dr Yao joins us from the School of Earth and Space Sciences, Peking University in China, where he recently completed a Ph.D. under the supervision of Prof. Zuyin Pu, a longstanding and trusted colleague and a leading scientist in our field in China.  More specifically, Zhonghua's research work addresses one of the central issues of magnetotail physics, and one which has been of great interest to our group for some time, that of the role of fast flow enhancements in the transport of mass and energy within the magnetotail during magnetospheric substorms. More...

Cluster Science Operations Working Group meeting #60

Prof. Andrew Fazakerley (Cluster PEACE PI) and Gill Watson (lead of the PEACE Operations Team at MSSL) attended this meeting at the European Space Operatipons Centre (ESOC), Darmstadt, Germany on 4, 5 Mar 2014, and contributed 3 presentations. The recent progress of the mission was reviewed and forward planning was done for the coming year. Initial work was done on a longer range science plan, with a future mission extension in mind. In the evening, the retiring Cluster Spacecraft Operations Manager arranged a cultural and dining visit to the Eberbach monastery in the Rhinegau region (where some of the filming of "The Name of the Rose" was done). More...

13th Solar Orbiter SWT meeting held at Royal Observatory of Belgium, Brussels, 24-26 September 2013

Members of Solar Orbiter SWA consortium went to Brussels to attend the 13th Solar Orbiter Science Working Team meeting. 

MSSL Space Plasma Science Nuggets

The Aurora Australis seen from the International Space Station (ISS-029). Courtesy: NASA

Structure and variability of the auroral acceleration region

Bright auroral arc appear when charged particles from the magnetosphere are accelerated into the upper atmosphere. Collisions between charged particles and neutrals excite the electrons in the neutral particles which then de-excite by emitting auroral light. Particles, in particular electrons, are accelerated out of the magnetosphere and into the atmosphere by magnetic-field-aligned electric potential drops in a region known as the auroral acceleration region (AAR). In a recent paper, Forsyth et al. [2012] investigated the temporal variability and spatial structure in one such region. More...

Artist impression of the Earth's bow shock. (c) UCL

What is the source of magnetotail flux-ropes?

Travelling compression regions (TCRs) are perturbations in the magnetotail lobe magnetic field caused by structures moving Earthward or tailward within the plasma sheet. Previous works have suggested that these structures are created by either time-dependant reconnection occurring at a single X-line, forming a flux-bulge-type structure, or space-variant reconnection at multiple X-lines, forming flux-rope-type structures. By analysing a TCR and its source structure using the Cluster spacecraft, Beyene et al. (2011) have endeavoured to determine which of these mechanisms creates TCRs. More...

Artists impression of the plasma regions of the magnetosphere. (c) UCL 2011

Particle Distributions in the Magnetotail

For the first time, Walsh et al. have examined, in detail, the particle distributions in the magnetotail to determine the average pitch angle distributions.  More...

Artist's impression of the Cluster quartet. (c) ESA

Calculating currents from four spacecraft

Ampere's law tells us that the curl of a magnetic field is proportional to current density. In order to measure the curl of a magnetic field in space, one needs to know approximate the variation of the magnetic field between four non-coplanar points. Such measurements are achieved by the Cluster quartet. More...

A 3D cut showing regions of the magnetosphere. FTE formation occurs on or near the subsolar magnetopause (yellow circle).

Discovery of the 'Travelling Magnetopause Erosion Region'

Recent work by Owen et al. has shed new light on the structure of the magnetopause following bursts of reconnection through the discovery of 'Travelling Magnetopause Erosion Regions'. More...

Page last modified on 16 aug 11 12:20