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Space Plasma Physics

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

The MSSL plasma group attends the Autumn MIST meeting

On Friday 24 November the members of the MSSL space plasma group attended the Autumn MIST meeting at the Royal Astronomical Society in London. 
The MIST meeting is a reasonably small (but growing) congregation of the UK space physics community which enables friends and colleagues from  all over the country to catch up. MIST also allows younger members of the community such as new students and postdocs to present their work to a friendly and welcoming audience.  More...

Space Plasma Group hosts London NERC DTP training

Students from this year's intake into the London NERC DTP visited the University of London Observatory, Royal Astronomical Society and MSSL to undertake training in the natural hazards of space weather. The three-day training course included practicals on space weather instrumentation, taking part in a space weather disaster scenario run by the Met Office and the design of a new space weather monitoring mission. More...

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MSSL Space Plasma Highlights

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How 'Coronal' Are Solar Wind Electrons?

We aim to understand the link between the Sun's atmosphere, the corona, and the constant stream of plasma which escapes it, the solar wind. To do so we test how similar energetic electron populations (the isotropic 'halo' and the beamed 'strahl') in the solar wind are to their expected earlier state in the corona. Models for the formation of these electron populations in the corona suggest that their energy content should depend on the local temperature, for which we can use solar wind oxygen ionisation state measurements as a proxy. Comparing electron halo temperature and strahl energy content to these ionisation states, we find only a very weak link which varies with the type of solar wind stream and the 11-year solar cycle. We find minor evidence to suggest that this is due to solar wind processing during its outward flow. More...

A figure showing the spatial distribution of electron density, average ion mass, and mass density for quiet (bottom) and active (top) conditions.

A magnetospheric plasma mass density model for varying geomagnetic activity

The terrestrial magnetosphere, a region around the Earth where the motion of positively and negative charged particles (plasma) is largely controlled by the geomagnetic field, is a highly variable and structured environment. The variations in the density and composition of the plasma is an important factor in shaping how the global magnetic field responds to perturbations and how energy propagates throughout the system. A key phenomenon associated with the variability is the geomagnetic storm. In this study, observations of the plasma are used to construct a model describing how the number density, composition, and mass density of the magnetospheric plasma changes in response to storm conditions. More...

Page last modified on 16 aug 11 12:20