Space Plasmas

Module code: PA4603

This module builds upon your knowledge of electromagnetism and the motion of charged particles in electric and magnetic fields to derive the laws determining the behaviour of plasmas and magnetised fluids – magnetohydrodynamics (MHD).  MHD will then be used to understand the structure and dynamics of plasma environments in the solar system and beyond. 

We will explore why the solar wind flows outwards from the Sun, why this carries the Sun’s magnetic field into the heliosphere to interact with the plasma environments of the planets and comets, and how that interaction differs at magnetised and magnetised bodies.  This will lead to an understanding of the generation of auroras and the dynamics excited within the magnetospheres and ionospheres of a variety of planets and comets, particularly Mercury, Venus, Earth, the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Io and Ganymede, Saturn, and Uranus.

Topics covered

  • Basic Principles: particle motion in an electromagnetic field
  • Plasma fluid dynamics and magnetohydrodynamics
  • Phenomenology of the solar corona, solar wind, interplanetary magnetic field, magnetospheres, ionospheres, and the heliosphere
  • The Dungey cycle and electrical current systems within the magnetosphere
  • Comparative magnetospheric physics: application to different solar system bodies