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.

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MSSL Space Plasma News

Dr. Licia Ray joins the MSSL Space Plasma Physics Group

We welcome Dr Licia Ray who has recently joined the MSSL Space Plasmas More...

Congratulations to Dr. Jonny Rae

Congratulations to Dr. Jonny Rae, who has been promoted to Reader of 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...

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...

SWA EAS Sensor Makes Appearance on the BBC's 'Sky at Night'

The Solar Orbiter SWA EAS sensor was exhibited by Andrew Coates during the BBC's 'Sky at Night' program on May 10th 2015.  Although the program concentrated on results from the Venus Express mission, it was recorded at UCL/MSSL and featured some of the wider aspects of MSSL's activities.  More...

SWA instruments on Display on Solar Orbiter STM Spacecraft

On 13th March 2015 Airbus Stevenage invited the UK Instrument PI's and the national press to view the Structural and Thermal Model of the Solar Orbiter Spacecraft, which has just been completed with the installation of the heatshield.  The STM will now go off for testing in Germany. 

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MSSL Space Plasma Science Nuggets

ULF wave power spectral density as a function of solar wind variability

Influence of solar wind variability on magnetospheric plasma waves

Solar wind impacts the Earth’s magnetic cavity driving various waves and instabilities inside the magnetosphere. The waves in the range of few mHz (ultra low frequency range, ULF) are particularly important for the dynamics of radiation belts, the populations of energetic particles trapped inside the Earth’s magnetosphere. The physical mechanisms behind driving ULF wave power are not fully understood but they are known be strongly dependent on the upstream solar wind conditions. The time-average solar wind parameters, such as average solar wind speed and density, are typically used to characterise the upstream solar wind conditions. In this work, the alternative approach is taken and the solar wind conditions are characterised by the dynamic variability of solar wind parameters, statistically quantified by their standard deviations. For the statistical study, the nine-year dataset of GOES satellite observations at the geostationary orbit is processed to characterise the magnetospheric ULF wave power, while the variability of solar wind is characterised using solar wind data from the Lagrangian L1 point. It is demonstrated that the magnetospheric wave power in ULF frequency range is the most sensitive to the variability of interplanetary magnetic field vector rather than variabilities of other solar wind parameters (plasma density, solar wind speed and temperature). The work results from collaboration between MSSL, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Alberta. More...

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...

Page last modified on 16 aug 11 12:20