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 (JIM / JASMIN), 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 environments.

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 the UCL Centre for Planetary Sciences.


UCL Physics and Astronomy (Bloomsbury Campus)

  • Prof. 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, hisresearch 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.
  • Dr. Patrick Guio (Senior Research Fellow) 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 athis UCL Profile.
  • Arianna Sorba Arianna commenced her PhD studies in 2015. She is studying the compressibility and dynamics of Saturn's disc-like magnetosphere.
  • Will Dunn Will joined the group in 2017, sharing his time between Astrophysics (P&A) and MSSL, where he works with Prof. Graziella Branduardi-Raymont. Will works on observation and interpretation of giant planet auroral emissions, particularly in the X-ray waveband.
  • Flavien Hardy commenced his PhD studies in 2017. He is studying the processes which determine the morphology of the magnetopause.


  • Prof. Alan Aylward Alan is an Emeritus professor and the former head of the Atmospheric Physics Laboratory. He 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. Christopher Arridge (Royal Society Fellow, Lancaster University) .Chris' main research interests lie in the area of magnetospheric structure anddynamics of the giant planets in the Solar System. UsingCassini field and plasmadata, he has completed many studies of the structure ofSaturn's plasma disc andcurrent sheet, the planet's magnetospheric boundaries, andthe periodic phenomenaobserved in the Cassini datasets. He has collaboratedwith Nick and Patrickin constructing field and plasma models of the disc-likemagnetospheres of Saturn andJupiter.
  • 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) inSagamihara, Tokyo. He usedboth magnetic and plasma data in his original PhD work,which examinedthe bow shock at Saturn, hot flow anomalies upstream of thisregion, and theobservable signatures of the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability atSaturn's magnetopause.He continues to collaborate with Chris and Nick on Cassinistudies, which have recentlyfocused on the 'layers' present near Saturn's magnetopauseand the magnetic 'shears'associated with their current systems.
  • Dr. Licia Ray (former NSF Research Fellow, Lancaster University). 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 Lancaster University.
  • Dr. Nathan Pilkington . Nathan obtained his PhD with our group at UCL, working on the structure of the magnetopause of the planet Saturn. Using Cassini data, Nathan as part of this work established the most comprehensive database of Saturn magnetopause crossings to date. He is currently based in Portsmouth.
  • 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. He is currently a Fellow of the European Space Agency based at ESAC, just outside Madrid.
  • 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 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 16 oct 17 15:40 by Nicholas A Achilleos