Space Plasma Physics

Artist's impression of plasma regions of the magnetosphere
Artist's impression of plasma regions of the magnetosphere

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

An auroral substorm observed by the IMAGE FUV-WIC instrument. Courtesy: H. U. Frey/IMAGE/NASA

A New Technique for Determining Substorm Onsets and Phases from Indices of the Electrojet (SOPHIE)

Substorms are a fundamental mode of variability of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere system. Previous studies have shown that they can process over 1000 TJ of captured solar wind energy and, in so doing, divert magnetospheric currents through the ionoshpere. This diversion of currents results in a distinct signature in ground-based magnetometer measurements at auroral latitudes. In a new paper, Forsyth et al [2015] have developed a technique for identifying all parts of a substorm from this ground-magnetometer data. More...

Average UK thunder days (RTH;top) and lightning rates (RL; second). RL is shown in the remaining panels split by A to T or T to A current sheet crossings on 80 and 10 day intervals.

Lightning as a Space Weather Hazard

UK lightning rates previously have been shown to be influenced by large compressed regions of solar wind known as corotating interaction regions (CIRs). CIRs are often co-located with the heliospheric current sheet (HCS) at 1AU. A catalogue of all HCS crossings from 2000 to 2007 is computed using the change in the magnetic field direction. The average lightning rates (RL; from the UK MetOffice’s radio network) and average thunder days (RTH; from audio records) were then computed for 40 days either side of the HCS crossing. These results are shown in the top two rows of the figure. 13.5-and 27-day peaks in thunderstorm activity is observed corresponding to the regularity of HCS crossings of the Earth as they rotate around with the Sun. More...

A physical explanation for the magnetic decrease ahead of dipolarization fronts

Bursty Bulk Flows (BBFs) are intervals of fast Earthward plasma and magnetic flux transport in the plasma sheet, and are usually considered as the most important carriers of mass and energy towards the near-Earth region. A BBF consists of one or more individual flow bursts (FBs) [Angelopoulos et al., 1992]. Both the plasma velocity and the north-south component of the magnetotail’s magnetic field inside the BBF are significantly larger than in the surrounding region. They carry a stronger magnetic field and current density on their leading edge than in the surrounding magnetotail. The front of the BBF is often associated with a sharp increase in the northward magnetic field component B_z and is thus known as the dipolarization front (DF) [Nakamura et al., 2002; Sergeev et al., 2009]. This is usually a kinetic-scale structure of width of the order of an ion gyro-radius, i.e. ~1000km. More...

Statistical characterisation of the growth and spatial scales of the substorm onset arc

During southward IMF reconnection on the dayside leads to a build up of magnetic energy in the tail. As flux is piled into the tail the configuration becomes unstable leading to an explosive release in magnetic energy, termed a substorm. The rearrangement of the magnetic field is accompanied by highly dynamic substorm aurora.  More...

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...

Page last modified on 16 aug 11 12:20