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.

MSSL Space Plasma News

Dr. Colin Forsyth at the Festival of Nature

Dr. Colin Forsyth was invited to talk at the Festival of Nature Wild Weekend run by the Bristol Natural History Consortium. Dr. Forsyth's talk, entitled "The Greatest Light Show on Earth", was given to a packed tent at the harbour side in Bristol. 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...

Solar Orbiter SWA Critical Design Review kicks-off in ESTEC

Together with consortium colleagues from France, Italy and the USA, members of MSSL's PI team for the Solar Orbiter SWA investigation went to ESTEC in the Netherlands to make the kick-off presentation for the Critical Design Review (CDR) of the SWA instrument suite. 

MSSL Space Plasma Science Nuggets

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.

An example of the difficulty to visually define an time and location for auroral break-up, but how well an automated algorithm picks out this period of brightening. From Murphy et al. (2014)

Automated determination of auroral breakup during the substorm expansion phase using all-sky imager data

MSSL researchers participated in the development of a novel method for quantitatively and routinely identifying auroral breakup following substorm onset using the THEMIS (Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms) all-sky imagers.

. Field-Aligned currents observed by the AMPERE mission and ground perturbations of the Hall current components  of the substorm current wedge during three substorm expansion phases.  The polarisation ellipses point towards the centre of the substorm current wedge, and the integrated FACs from AMPERE show a significantly complex current structure results in a net upward and downward current structure as first identified by McPherron et al. [1973]. From Murphy et al. (2014)

The detailed spatial structure of field-aligned currents comprising the substorm current wedge

We present a comprehensive two-dimensional view of the field-aligned currents (FACs) during the late growth and expansion phases for three isolated substorms utilizing in situ observations from the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment and from ground-based magnetometer and optical instrumentation from the Canadian Array for Realtime Investigations of Magnetic Activity and Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms ground-based arrays.

ULF waves in the Van Allen belts. Figure from Mann et al., (2013)

Discovery of the action of a geophysical synchrotron in the Earth’s Van Allen radiation belts

Although the Earth's Van Allen radiation belts were discovered over 50 years ago, the dominant processes responsible for relativistic electron acceleration, transport and loss remain poorly understood. Here we show evidence for the action of coherent acceleration due to resonance with ultra-low frequency waves on a planetary scale.

ULF wave model outputs for a 1 mHz ULF wave source located along the afternoon sector magnetopause (peaked at 1500 h MLT), showing radial electric right (left), azimuthal electric field (centre) and northward magnetic field perturbation (left). Plots were taken at five wave periods after the beginning of the source wave. Figure 1 from Degeling et al. (2013)

The influence of magnetospheric convection and magnetopause motion on Radiation Belt electrons

Understanding the acceleration, transport and loss of relativistic electrons in Earth’s magnetosphere is a high-priority international science objective.  Observations indicate that there are a vast number of effects to be considered in this region ranging from large-scale global effects to effects on the electron gyroscale and from the interaction of electrons with electromagnetic wave processes, to global changes in the Earth’s magnetosphere.   More...

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