Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

Latest news

Representing the MIST Community in award nominations

MIST Council has recently launched an effort to create an award nominations task force with the following aims:

  1. Actively contribute towards more equal representation and a diverse range of nominees for awards
  2. Recognise and promote the work of overlooked members of the community
  3. Provide a means for students and ECRs to gain experience in preparing an effective nomination package

The initial plan is to start by considering those awards given out by the Royal Astronomical Society. This is so there will be sufficient time to prepare nomination packages by the RAS deadline (July 2020), and the wide range of awards will allow us to consider the entire MIST community. The task force is spearheaded by Oliver Allanson, Jasmine Sandhu, and Maria-Theresia Walach.

This task force is inspired by Liz MacDonald, a heliophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Liz Macdonald organized the Nomination Task Force within AGU’s Space Physics and Aeronomy (SPA) section, which has been summarised in an article in Eos. We plan to work in a manner similar to that described in the article, as we believe that by having a community task force we will be able to achieve community-wide representation in a timely manner.

If you would like to be part of the task force then please sign-up using our Google Form by Friday 4th October. At this stage we are not soliciting for specific ideas for nominees. Instead we are seeking to gauge support and receive feedback. We would like to emphasise that all members of the MIST community are welcome, and indeed encouraged, to sign-up to to join this task force, from PhD student to Emeritus Professor.

New MIST Chair and Vice-Chair elected

Congratulations to John Coxon on becoming MIST Chair, and to Jasmine Sandhu on becoming MIST Vice-chair in a unanimous vote at a Council meeting last week.
MIST Council elects a new Chair whenever the previous Chair steps down, and in addition this year, the council has decided to elect a Vice-Chair for the first time.
On behalf of the MIST community, we would like to thank Ian McCrea for doing a superb job as Chair during his tenure on the Council.

EGU elections now open

The call for candidates for the EGU 2019 elections is currently open, with a deadline of 15 September 2019. The following roles are up for election: Union President, General Secretary, and the Division Presidents. More details about these roles and how you can nominate yourselves/colleagues can be found on the EGU website. 
MIST Council would like to emphasise that this is an excellent opportunity to contribute to and shape the field on an international scale, and we hope to see members from the MIST community putting themselves forward.

Summer Science Exhibition 2020

The Royal Society is currently accepting proposals for the Summer Science Exhibition 2020, and the deadline for proposals is 10 September 2019. Further details on applying can be found here.
MIST Council would like to highlight that this is an excellent opportunity for cross-institutional collaborations! The MIST community is involved in a number of projects with a particularly timely aspect (e.g. Solar Orbiter and SMILE), which would be very appropriate to propose to the Royal Society. If you are currently preparing a proposal that you are happy to invite community members to join or you have an idea for a proposal that you would like to work with the community on, then please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with a short outline by 9 August 2019. We hope to then share these projects with the community to build support for the proposals and involve the wider community!
We will be discussing this further and sharing ideas on the #public-engagement channel on the MIST Slack workspace. If you aren’t on the MIST Slack workspace then click here for details.

2019 Rishbeth prize winners announced

We are pleased to announce that the Rishbeth Prizes this year are awarded to Affelia Wibisono and Michaela Mooney , both of the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (UCL).
Affelia Wibisono wins the prize for the best MIST student talk, entitled “Jupiter’s X-ray Aurorae as seen by XMM-Newton concurrently with Juno”. Michaela wins the best MIST poster prize, for a poster entitled “Evaluating auroral forecasts against satellite observations”.
MIST Council would like to congratulate both Affelia and Michaela. As prize winners, Affelia and Michaela have been invited to write articles for Astronomy & Geophysics, which we look forward to reading.

Nuggets of MIST science, summarising recent MIST papers in a bitesize format.

If you would like to submit a nugget, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will arrange a slot for you in the schedule. Nuggets should be 100–300 words long and include a figure/animation. Please get in touch!

Effects of VLF transmitter waves on the inner belt and slot region

by Johnathan Ross (British Antarctic Survey)

Signals from man made VLF (Very Low Frequency) transmitters can leak from the Earth-ionosphere wave guide into the inner magnetosphere, where they propagate as electromagnetic waves and contribute to electron dynamics in the inner radiation belt and slot region. These waves are highly localised around the transmitters and are strongest on the nightside. It has been suggested that these waves may be responsible for removing the hazardous MeV energy electrons from this region that can be extremely damaging to satellites. The VLF transmitter waves scatter electrons in pitch angle (the angle between the background field and electron velocity). In an average sense, this scattering can be represented by a diffusion equation, with a diffusion coefficient that can be calculated using quasi-linear theory. In this study we use ~5 years of Van Allen Probesobservations to construct global statistical models of the diffusion coefficients for each individual VLF transmitter, as a function of L*, Magnetic Local Time (MLT) and geographic longitude.

These diffusion coefficients are then incorporated into a 1D pitch-angle diffusion model with longitude and MLT dependence. We find that global averages of the wave power capture the long-term dynamics of the loss process, despite the highly localised nature of the waves in space. We use our model to assess the role of VLF transmitter waves compared to other important loss processes (hiss waves and coulomb collisions) on electron loss in the inner radiation belt and slot region. The figure shows the decay timescales as a function of L value for different combinations of the VLF transmitter (T), coulomb collisions (C), and hiss wave (H) processes. At moderate relativistic energies, E~500 keV (panel d), waves from VLF transmitters have a significant role! They reduce electron lifetimes by an order of magnitude or more, down to the order of 200 days near the outer edge of the inner radiation belt. However, VLF transmitter waves are ineffective at removing multi-MeV electrons (panel f) from either the inner radiation belt or slot region. The results suggest that although the VLF transmitters are important for radiation belt loss, they cannot be responsible for removing the dangerously high energy electrons from the region occupied by satellites.

For more information, please see the paper:

Ross, J. P. J.,  Meredith, N. P.,  Glauert, S. A.,  Horne, R. B., &  Clilverd, M. A. ( 2019).  Effects of VLF transmitter waves on the inner belt and slot region. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics,  124, 5260– 5277. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JA026716

Electron decay timescales considering a combination of different loss processes.

Figure: Electron decay timescales from the 1D model with MLT and longitude averaging. The lines correspond to: black - Coulomb collisions; green - hiss and Coulomb collisions; blue - VLF transmitters and Coulomb collisions; red - VLF transmitters, hiss and Coulomb collisions.

How does substorm activity affect the ring current?

by Jasmine Kaur Sandhu (MSSL, UCL)

Earth’s magnetosphere is highly dynamic and due to coupling with the solar wind huge amounts of energy can be stored in the stretched magnetotail. Substorms (impulsive bursts of nightside reconnection) rapidly close large amounts of the tail flux and, through enhanced convection and injection of plasma, substorms can significantly energise the ring current population.

Do substorms with different properties affect the ring current differently?

Substorms can occur as an isolated event (preceded and followed by quiet periods) or as part of a compound event (multiple substorms occurring one directly after the other). A statistical analysis of ion observations from the Van Allen Probes was conducted to identify the similarities and differences in the ring current population during isolated substorms and the first compound substorm in a sequence. Figure a,b,d,e shows L-MLT maps of the median ring current energy content for both isolated and compound substorms, as well as before substorm onset (growth phase) and after substorm onset (expansion phase). Figure c,f shows statistically significant changes following onset and Figure g,h shows the difference in energy content for compound substorms compared to isolated.

Both types of substorms are associated with an enhancement post-onset, where the total enhancement is larger for a compound substorm. We also observed that the ring current energy content is elevated during compound substorms compared to isolated substorms, both before and after onset. Analysis shows that a key driver of these differences is the enhanced and prolonged solar wind driving prior to onset of compound substorms. Plasma is more effectively circulated to the inner magnetosphere and the density of injections are increased.

Overall the work demonstrates the importance of solar wind driving for the substorm – ring current relationship and suggests that compound substorms are able to very effectively energise the ring current to a high degree.

For more information, please see the paper:

Sandhu, J. K.,  Rae, I. J.,  Freeman, M. P.,  Gkioulidou, M.,  Forsyth, C.,  Reeves, G. D., et al. (2019). Substorm‐ring current coupling: A comparison of isolated and compound substorms. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics,  124. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JA026766

Plots showing the spatial distribution of ring current energy content.

Figure: Values for each L‐MLT bin are plotted at the bins' location in the L‐MLT domain for the H+ ions. The mean energy values, E (J), are shown for (a) growth phases of isolated substorms, (b) expansion phases of isolated substorms, (d) growth phases of compound substorms, and (e) expansion phases of isolated substorms. The difference in the mean values, ΔE (J), for the expansion phase relative to the growth phase is shown for (c) isolated substorms and (f) compound substorms. The difference in mean values for the compound substorms relative to the isolated substorms is shown for (g) the growth phase and (h) the expansion phase. It is noted that, for the difference plots (c, f, g, h), the difference in mean values is only plotted if the distributions are identified to be statistically different according to the Kolmogorov‐Smirnov test with p<0.01. MLT = magnetic local time.


First evidence for multiple-harmonic standing Alfvén waves in Jupiter’s equatorial plasma sheet

By Harry Manners (Imperial College London)

Ultra-low-frequency (ULF) magnetohydrodynamic waves carry energy and momentum through planetary magnetospheres, corresponding to perturbations on large spatial-scales. These perturbations can lead to global oscillations of the magnetic field known as field line resonances (FLRs). While ULF waves and FLRs have been studied extensively in the terrestrial magnetosphere, relatively little literature exists concerning the same phenomena in magnetospheres of the outer planets.

We have used magnetometer data from the Galileo spacecraft to search for ULF wave-power at Jupiter, specifically in the thin, dense equatorial plasma sheet (see panel a of Figure). By removing the background magnetic field we were able to isolate perturbations in the direction transverse to the background field (panel b). We obtained frequency-time information via wavelet transforms of the magnetic-field residuals.

We found evidence for a multiple-harmonic wave structure isolated in the equatorial plasma sheet, on 8th November 1996. Four harmonics were detected, with periods ranging from 4 to 22 minutes (panel c).

We band-pass filtered the transverse field components to obtain a ~1 nT contribution from each harmonic. Subsequent polarization analysis revealed reversals in handedness in each signal consistent with the structure of a multiple-harmonic standing Alfvén wave (panel d). The same analysis suggests all of the detected harmonics are odd modes, with no evidence to support the presence of even modes. We currently have no explanation for the absence of the even modes, but speculate that it is a consequence of the symmetry of the driving mechanism with respect to the magnetic equator.

For more information, please see the paper:

Manners, H. A., & Masters, A. (2019). First evidence for multiple‐harmonic standing Alfvén waves in Jupiter's equatorial plasma sheet. Geophysical Research Letters, 46. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019GL083899

Galileo magnetometer data showing the presence of multiple harmonics and reversals in the handedness.

Figure: a) Magnetic field data from the Galileo spacecraft during 8th November 1996. b) Transverse magnetic field residuals, showing ULF wave packets. c) Wavelet transform of one of the transverse components, showing coincident enhancements in wave power at 22, 14, 7 and 4 minutes. d) Reversals in the handedness of the 22 minute wave signal, consistent with standing Alfvén waves.


Timescales of Birkeland Currents Driven by the IMF

By John Coxon (University of Southampton)

Birkeland currents are the mechanism by which information is communicated from Earth’s magnetopause to the ionosphere. Understanding the timescales of these currents is very useful for understanding the ionosphere’s reaction to magnetopause phenomena. We use the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE) dataset, which uses magnetometers on 66 spacecraft in low Earth orbit to derive Birkeland current density on a grid of colatitude and magnetic local time. The current densities are derived in a ten minute sliding window, evaluated every two minutes.

We use the SPatial Information from Distributed Exogenous Regression (SPIDER) technique (Shore et al, 2019), which treats each coordinate of a global dataset (e.g. AMPERE or SuperMAG) independently, regressing the time series in each coordinate against some external driver to find the time lag that maximises the correlation of the two. 

The figure below shows the correlation (left) and lag (centre) of the current densities with Interplanetary Magnetic Field (IMF) Bz. We focus on the R1 and R2 regions (right) here. Southward (negative) Bdrives Birkeland current as a result of magnetic reconnection, as shown by the correlations. Looking at the lags on the dayside, the poleward lags are 10–20 minutes, reflecting the time taken for the Birkeland currents to start to react to magnetic reconnection. At all MLT, the equatorward lags are 60–90 minutes, reflecting the time at which the polar cap is largest. On the nightside, the poleward lags are 90–150 minutes, reflecting how long it takes the polar cap to contract during nightside reconnection. More details on the R1/R2 correlations, and other correlations between Birkeland current and IMF Band By, are available in the full study.

For more information, please see the paper: 

Coxon, J. C., Shore, R. M., Freeman, M. P., Fear, R. C., Browett, S. D., Smith, A. W., et al. ( 2019). Timescales of Birkeland currents driven by the IMF. Geophysical Research Letters, 46, 78937901. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018GL081658

Polar plots showing the correlation and lag of AMPERE current density data. A schematic illustrating the key regions is also shown.

Figure: Correlation (left) and lag (centre) of AMPERE current density with IMF Bz in March 2010. A key to the regions visible is presented in the right-hand panel, to allow easy references in the text above.


The Impact of Radiation Belt Enhancements on Electric Orbit Raising

By Alexander Lozinski (British Antarctic Survey)

Electric orbit raising is a method of getting satellites into geostationary orbit (GEO) using low-thrust electric propulsion. A satellite intended for GEO is first placed into elliptical geostationary transfer orbit after separating from the launch vehicle. Following this, maneuvers are performed to raise the satellite to GEO. In conventional launches, chemical propulsion is used and this process requires a few days. With electrical thrusters, orbit raising can be performed more efficiently but requires a longer period (around 200 days) due to the lower thrust.

This method of raising satellites was introduced commercially in 2014 with the launch of the first all-electric satellites. Although the lower wet mass due to lack of chemical propellant reduces launch costs, the longer time required for the satellite to reach GEO leaves it exposed to irradiation from trapped protons of the Van Allen belts. This can cause degradation to solar cells via non-ionising displacement collisions.

Sustained enhancements in trapped proton flux can occur via trapping of solar energetic particles following a large geomagnetic disturbance. In this work, the solar cell degradation through time for a variety of real electric orbit raising scenarios was calculated in both a quiet and active environment, based on measurements taken by CRRES before/after the March 1991 storm. The trajectories of two previously launched satellites (EOR-1 and EOR-2) that underwent electric orbit raising is shown in the figure. The figure also shows the calculated remaining output power of the solar cell, P/P0, through time for both trajectories in an active environment. Reductions in P/P0 represent degradation to the solar cells.

A key finding is a large (up to 5%) increase in P/P0 degradation that occurs when electric orbit raising is performed in an enhanced radiation belt environment. However, the figure also demonstrates that some orbits are more at risk than others. Orbits with a higher initial apogee (e.g. EOR-2, red line) spend less time in regions of high proton flux, and experience less degradation. The work highlights the significant impacts of an enhanced environment on solar cell degradation, and identifies how this degradation can in part be mitigated with an appropriate choice of orbit and shielding.

For more information, please see the paper:

Lozinski, A. R., Horne, R. B., Glauert, S. A., Del Zanna, G., Heynderickx, D., & Evans, H. D. R. ( 2019). Solar cell degradation due to proton belt enhancements during electric orbit raising to GEO. Space Weather, 17. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019SW002213

The orbital trajectories are shown for two different satellites, and the corresponding solar cell degradation for the different orbits is also shown.

Figure caption: The left panel shows the remaining power, P/P0, as a function of time for two satellites. The right panels show trajectories of the two satellites over the first 200 mission days.