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 Robert Wicks

The MSSL Space Plasmas group welcomes Dr. Robert Wicks to the laboratory and the group. Robert joins as a new-appointment joint Lecturer at UCL with activities split between MSSL and the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction. Robert comes to us from Goddard Space Flight Center, NASA, where he has worked for the past three years. Prior to this, Robert spent three years as a post-doc at Imperial College London, having completed his PhD studies at the University of Warwick in 2009. 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...

SWA EAS sensor on the BBC's 'Stargazing Live'

The Solar Orbiter SWA instrument featured heavily in an article broadcast as part of the BBC's 'Stargazing Live' event on March 20th 2015.  For those with access to the BBC's iplayer, the full program can be accessed here until mid-April 2015. 

MSSL Space Plasma Science Nuggets

An ENLIL model run of a remote CME associated with an unusual Forbush Decrease that was observed on 30th May 2012

Near-Earth Cosmic Ray Decreases Associated with Remote Coronal Mass Ejections

Galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) are highly energetic, charged particles that originate from outside of the heliosphere. The flux of GCRs reaching us varies in response to the magnetic field in which the particles propagate. In time-scales of hours, GCR flux can be suppressed by coronal mass ejections (CMEs) due to the increased magnetic field strength and from scattering by turbulence within the magnetic field. The GCR flux incident on Earth is inferred by measuring neutrons at the surface which are generated when GCRs interact with atmospheric particles. Therefore, when a CME passes over Earth, neutron monitors give a sudden decrease of a number of percent which then recovers slowly as the CME passes out into the outer heliosphere. This change in the neutron monitor data is known as a “Forbush Decrease”. More...

Solar Ejecta through the Heliosphere

The solar flare that occurred on 7th June 2011 was not unusually bright, nor was it unexpected. It was classified as a medium-sized event and its effects were barely felt back here on Earth.

Origin of polar auroras revealed

Auroras are the most visible manifestation of solar wind driven magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling, but many aspects of these spectacular displays are still poorly understood. A paper by Fear et al. published in Science in December 2014 has answered a long standing question about what produces the unusual ‘theta aurora’. Theta aurora are so named because when seen from above it looks like the Greek letter theta – an oval with a line crossing through the centre. The unusual aspect is the ‘line through the centre’ due to aurorae occurring closer to the poles than the normal aurora, which are found about 65–70° degrees north or south of the equator in an area called the ‘auroral oval’ that is reasonably well understood by scientists. More...

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...

Page last modified on 16 aug 11 12:20