Space Plasma Physics

Space Plasma Physics

Space plasma physics is the study of the Sun’s hot, ionized outer atmosphere and its interactions with the planets and other bodies of the solar system.  Solar-terrestrial physics (STP) applies specifically to the processes occurring as the solar wind couples with the plasma environment of the Earth, that is the magnetosphere and ionosphere, and how these impact our atmosphere and technological infrastructure such as satellites, telecommunications networks, power grids, and pipelines.  On one hand, STP explains how the magnetosphere protects us from the solar wind and produces the beautiful auroras, but on the other it studies the potentially hazardous effects of Space Weather.

We undertake world-class research in space plasma and solar-terrestrial physics, through data analysis, modelling, and theory.  We are a founding member of the international SuperDARN collaboration which designs, deploys, and operates a global network of ionospheric radars.  

Central to our research is the assimilation of SuperDARN observations with those of other radar systems (e.g., the European Incoherent Scatter radars, EISCAT), ionospheric sounders, ground magnetometer networks, auroral cameras, sounding rockets, and NASA, ESA, and JAXA spacecraft missions including Geotail, Polar, Cluster, DoubleStar, IMAGE, the Van Allen Probes, AMPERE, and ERG-Arase.  

We are centrally involved in the development of the forthcoming ESA/CAS SMILE (Solar wind, Magnetosphere, and Ionosphere Link Explorer) spacecraft mission which will for the first time image the magnetosphere in X-rays.

Specific research areas of interest to us include: 

  • The coupling of the solar wind with the magnetosphere, ionosphere, and atmosphere, which produces a circulation of plasma in the near-Earth environment, the generation of electrical current systems in space and magnetic perturbations on the ground, and the formation of the auroras; 
  • The acceleration of particles to relativistic speeds in the inner magnetosphere during geomagnetic storms; 
  • Ultra-low frequency vibrations of the magnetic field of the Earth; and,
  • Large-scale atmospheric waves launched from the ground and from space, coupling the troposphere, mesosphere, and thermosphere.