Dr Jonathan Nichols

Reader in Planetary Auroras

School/Department: Physics & Astronomy, School of

Telephone: +44 (0)116 252 5049



I graduated from the University of Leicester in 1997 with a first class MPhys degree in Physics with Space Science and Technology and went on to obtain a PhD from the University of Leicester in 2005 under the supervision of Professor S. H. W. Cowley on the topic of Magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling currents in Jupiter’s middle magnetosphere.

From 2004-2006 I held a postdoctoral research associate (PDRA) position at the University of Leicester before leaving for Boston University Massachusetts where I held a PDRA post until 2008 working on a large Hubble Space Telescope program of observations of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s ultraviolet (UV) auroras.

After returning to a PDRA post at the University of Leicester in 2008 I was awarded a five-year Science and Technology Facilities Council Advanced Fellowship in 2011 and I continue to work with Hubble Space Telescope data along with interplanetary spacecraft data.

I have held the post of Director of Admissions for the School of Physics and Astronomy along with visiting faculty and thesis committee positions at Boston University and Chiang Mai University. I currently hold a readership and am Director of Research and Enterprise.


My research interests initially focused on the magnetospheric dynamics and auroras (‘northern lights’) of Jupiter and Saturn but have since widened to include other planets and moons exoplanets and brown dwarfs (often termed ""failed stars"" - I prefer ""very successful planets""!).

I study the behaviour of the magnetic fields of these objects and how this relates to their auroral emissions and in the case of exoplanets and brown dwarfs their detectability.

I use a combination of theoretical modelling remote sensing and in situ data analysis (where available!) for example employing data obtained by the Cassini orbiter around Saturn Juno at Jupiter and images and spectra obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).

I have an HST allocation of over 600 orbits and have led to date 8 programs as Principal Investigator (PI) observing targets such as Jupiter's Ganymede's and Saturn’s UV auroras and exoplanets.


Nichols, J. D., & Cowley, S. W. H. (2022). Relation of Jupiter's dawnside main emission intensity to magnetospheric currents during the Juno mission. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 127, e2021JA030040. https://doi. org/10.1029/2021JA030040

Nichols, J.D. et al, 2020. An Enhancement of Jupiter's Main Auroral Emission and Magnetospheric Currents. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics 125, e2020JA027904.

Nichols, J.D. et al., 2017. Response of Jupiter's auroras to conditions in the interplanetary medium as measured by the Hubble Space Telescope and Juno. Geophysical Research Letters 44, 7643-7652.

Nichols, J.D., and Milan, S.E., 2016. Stellar wind-magnetosphere interaction at exoplanets: computations of auroral radio powers. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 461, 2353-2366.

Nichols, J.D. et al., 2015. A model of force balance in Jupiter's magnetodisc including hot plasma pressure anisotropy. J. Geophys. Res. 120.

Nichols, J.D. et al., 2015. Hubble Space Telescope Observations of the NUV Transit of WASP-12b. Ap. J. 803, 9.

Nichols, J.D. et al., 2014. Dynamic auroral storms on Saturn as observed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 3323-3330.

Nichols, J.D. et al., 2012. Origin of Electron Cyclotron Maser Induced Radio Emissions at Ultracool Dwarfs: Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling Currents. Ap. J. 760, 59.

Nichols, J.D. 2011. Magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling at Jupiter-like exoplanets with internal plasma sources: implications for detectability of auroral radio emissions. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 414, 2125' 2138.

Nichols, J. D. and S. W. H. Cowley (2004), Magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling currents in Jupiter's middle magnetosphere: effect of precipitation-induced enhancement of the ionospheric Pedersen conductivity, Ann. Geophysicae, 22, 1799-1827.


I am happy to supervise PhD projects on many aspects of planetary and exoplanetary magnetospheres and auroral emission.


I teach the following modules within the Department of Physics and Astronomy:

PA 1130: Electricity and magnetism

PA 1600C: Introduction to space science

PA 3246: Python

I also supervise 3rd and 4th year undergraduate research projects and tutorials

Press and media

I am happy to discuss many aspects of planetary and exoplanetary science.

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