Planetary and Plasma Physics

The original Atmospheric Physics Laboratory, part of UCL Astrophysics,
has, over the course of the last two decades,
developed a suite of planetary global circulation models,
making use
inĀ  many cases of the hydrodynamic core of the UCL Earth
model. The planetary
models which have been developed include those for Jupiter
Saturn (KIM) and Mars (MarTIM). Important contributions to
this planetary work have been
made by past graduate students and PDRAs, who have been
managed by
Professor Alan Aylward and Professor Steve Miller. Prof. Aylward, as well as being
involved in model development, also has extensive
experience of terrestrial auroral and ionospheric
observations, including analysis of
data from radar instruments and Fabry-Perot interferometers.
Prof. Miller has established
an observational programme, based on giant planet aurorae
and the emissions of cometary
regions, often analysing the infared emissions of the H3+ molecular ion
found in these

The group has in more recent years extended the focus of its
research beyond the upper atmospheres of planets into the magnetosphere region,
largely due to the work of Dr. Nicholas Achilleos and his collaborators on the
Cassini Mission at Saturn
. In particular, we
are involved with magnetospheric and auroral studies at the
planets Saturn
and Jupiter, through established and nascent collaborations
with Cassini and HST scientists. See our publication lists under our personal profiles for more
details of these studies and their authors.

We list below the people involved in these activities and
our collaborators at the
Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL). We also
describe our various research activities in the broader context of Solar System plasma
environments and atmospheres. For a global
overview of all planetary research at UCL, a useful link is
UCL Centre for Planetary


UCL Physics and Astronomy (Bloomsbury Campus)

  • Dr. Nicholas Achilleos (Lecturer, Group Coordinator) Nick's initial research, as a postgraduate student in Australia, was in the field of the magnetic atmospheres of white dwarf stars. Subsequently, he was a PDRA at UCL, a software engineer in industry, and a support scientist for the Cassini Magnetometer Team at Imperial College. Currently a lecturer with the Department of Physics and Astronomy, his
    research interests include the magnetospheric dynamics of Saturn and Jupiter, and how these planets' magnetospheres influence their atmospheric flows and aurorae. He has experience in modelling and observation of Jupiter's and Saturn's thermospheres, auroral regions and magnetospheres. For more details, follow links at his UCL Profile.
  • Prof. Alan Aylward
    Alan is the head of the Atmospheric Physics Laboratory, and has conducted research into (terrestrial) thermospheric and ionospheric physics, incoherent scatter radar, planetary upper atmospheres and ionospheres, and modelling of terrestrial and planetary atmospheres.
  • Prof. Steve Miller (Professor of Planetary Astronomy) Steve has established important planetary observational programmes, and is also interested in: Chemistry and dynamics of the atmospheres of the Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and Titan; using H3+ to investigate planetary atmospheres and the early Universe; and communicating scientific ideas to the media and general public (he is also the Head of Science and Technology Studies at UCL).
  • Dr. Patrick Guio (Research Associate) Patrick's background is mainly in the field of plasma physics, both theory and observation. His interests include the simulation of plasma turbulence, dust-plasma interactions, incoherent scattering and high-performance computing. Since taking up his post at UCL, he has also collaborated on studies of Saturn's magnetic field and plasma environment, and characterising the structure of auroral emissions. For more details, follow links at
    his UCL Profile.
  • Nathan Pilkington
    Nathan commenced his PhD studies at UCL in 2012. His work has focused on Saturn's magnetopause, and has examined the influence of the internal hot plasma population on the location of this magnetospheric boundary. Nathan has been able to undertake this work by assembling a large dataset of Cassini magnetopause crossings at Saturn, including information about magnetic and plasma pressure - this is the largest such dataset assembled to date at the time of writing.


  • Dr. Christopher Arridge (Royal Society Fellow, Lancaster University) .
    Chris' main research interests lie in the area of
    magnetospheric structure and
    dynamics of the giant planets in the Solar System. Using
    Cassini field and plasma
    data, he has completed many studies of the structure of
    Saturn's plasma disc and
    current sheet, the planet's magnetospheric boundaries, and
    the periodic phenomena
    observed in the Cassini datasets. He has collaborated
    with Nick and Patrick
    in constructing field and plasma models of the disc-like
    magnetospheres of Saturn and
  • Dr. Cesar Bertucci (Uni. Buenos Aires) .
    Cesar is interested in the interaction between Saturn's magnetosphere and the moon, Titan. He has collaborated with Nick, Chris and Patrick on observational / modelling studies of this interaction and on Saturn's general magnetospheric dynamics. He has also done work on plasma waves at Mars.
  • Dr. Adam Masters (Imperial College, former JAXA International Fellow) .
    Adam is currently at Imperial College, and has also worked with the Japanese Space Exploration Agency (JAXA) in
    Sagamihara, Tokyo. He used
    both magnetic and plasma data in his original PhD work,
    which examined
    the bow shock at Saturn, hot flow anomalies upstream of this
    region, and the
    observable signatures of the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability at
    Saturn's magnetopause.
    He continues to collaborate with Chris and Nick on Cassini
    studies, which have recently
    focused on the 'layers' present near Saturn's magnetopause
    and the magnetic 'shears'
    associated with their current systems.
  • Dr. Licia Ray (former NSF Research Fellow). Licia completed her PhD at the University of Colorado, studying the influence of rapid planetary rotation upon ionosphere-magnetosphere coupling at Jupiter. Subsequently she worked as a research associate at Imperial College London.
    She then started a research post at UCL Physics and Astronomy, initially supported by a National Science Foundation fellowship, studying the influence of thermospheric dynamics on M-I coupling. She is now based at UCL's MSSL (Mullard Space Science Laboratory).
  • Dr. Nick Sergis (Academy of Athens).
    Nick is an expert on the analysis of hot plasma data, and has collaborated with us on several studies of Saturn's magnetospheric dynamics / plasma disk / ring current. He is a member of the Cassini MIMI (Magnetospheric Imaging Instrument) team (PI: Prof. S. Krimigis).
  • Dr. Chris Smith (Head of Physics, Brooksbank School).
    Chris did his PhD at UCL on the topic of thermospheric modelling of the giant planets. He continues to publish excellent research in this area, often involving UCL co-authors, and he also visits the group from time to time.
  • Dr. Japheth Yates (Imperial College) .
    Jaf is currently working on Cassini magnetometer data from Saturn's magnetosphere. His PhD was obtained at UCL, and mainly focused on magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling at Jupiter, and how the Jovian aurora responds to transient changes in the solar wind.
  • Cassini studies .
    We have led studies involving Cassini data / plasma moments which have been supported by collaborations with Prof. Michele Dougherty (Cassini magnetometer PI), Prof. Andrew Coates (Cassini CAPS PI), Prof. Michelle Thomsen (LANL), Dr. Rob Wilson (LASP).
  • Additional Jovian studies .
    Nick has been involved in a recent collaborative study of Jupiter's thermosphere-ionosphere-magnetosphere coupling, led by Dr. Chihiro Tao (IRAP).
Magnetospheres Jupiter Flow  
Magnetospheres Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling / Aurorae  

Page last modified on 25 aug 15 12:05 by Nicholas A Achilleos