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Space Plasma Physics

MSSL engineer working on one of the Cluster II PEACE instrument
MSSL engineer working on one of the Cluster II PEACE instrument

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.

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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. 
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MSSL Space Plasma Science Nuggets

Aurora picture from TIMED/GUVI, and the footpoints of Cluster and DMSP

Transpolar arc observation after solar wind entry into the high latitude magnetosphere

During periods of northward Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF), geomagnetic activity is generally quiet, but solar wind plasma can penetrate and be stored in the magnetosphere. Recently, a new region of solar wind plasma entry into the terrestrial magnetosphere, in the lobes tailward of the cusp was reported and high latitude magnetic reconnection was suggested to be the most probable mechanism of the entry [Shi et al., 2013]. Higher energy ions have been found by Fear et al. [2014] and interpreted as due to magnetotail reconnection during periods of northward IMF. Since these events are rare, the fate of the entered plasma has not been widely studied. It is not known whether those plasmas entry will contribute to aurora. In this study, with very unique conjugate observations of aurora and high latitude in-situ observations, we investigate a possible link between solar wind entry and the formation of transpolar arcs in the polar cap. More...

The evolution of Mercury’s magnetosphere during the substorm.

The magnetospheric substorm at Mercury

Magnetospheric substorms are space weather disturbances powered by the rapid release of magnetic energy stored in the lobes of planetary magnetic tails. Despite the comprehensive observations of substorm at Earth, there are rare detail observations of substorm processes at Mercury. More...

Figure 1 from Kempf et al. [2015] showing modelled density variations in the vicinity of the bow shock

The Earth’s foreshock: simulations and in-situ satellite data

The super-magnetosonic solar wind impinging the Earth’s magnetic field creates the bow shock, the giant bow-shaped boundary shielding the Earth’s magnetosphere from the interplanetary environment. At this boundary, the plasma is compressed and heated while slowing down to sub-magnetosonic flow speeds. In fluid theory no information can travel upstream of a shock, but kinetic processes can cause solar wind particles to be reflected back off a shock and propagate upstream along the magnetic field lines. The upstream region magnetically connected to the bow shock, where reflected particles can interact with the solar wind, is called the foreshock. As the foreshock cannot be described by plasma fluid theory, the kinetic plasma simulations are required to understand the large-scale foreshock dynamics.  More...

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.
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Page last modified on 16 aug 11 12:20