MIST

Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

Latest news

Debye mission proposal for ESA F-class call

We are currently preparing a proposal for the space mission “Debye” in response to ESA’s F-Class call. As the first dedicated electron-astrophysics mission, Debye will use the solar wind as a testbed to study universal small-scale electron processes throughout the universe. The mission's key science question is: “How are electrons heated in astrophysical plasmas?”
 
Debye will consist of up to four spacecraft that will orbit the Lagrange point L2. The main spacecraft will measure electron distribution functions with unprecedented cadence and very high resolution, electric fields, magnetic fields, and plasma ions. The deployable spacecraft will provide multi-point and multi-baseline measurements of the magnetic field to determine the nature of fluctuations on electron scales.
 
Read more ...

RAS Specialist Discussion suggestions invited

The RAS is inviting suggestions from Fellows of the RAS for Specialist Discussion meeting topics in the academic year 2019/20. These meetings are held on the second Friday of the month between October and May in a given academic year; the April meeting will be moved due to the second Friday being Good Friday. 

If you would like to organise one of these meetings, you can do so by submitting a proposal no longer than one A4 page. Geophysics proposals, including MIST science, should be sent to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., and the deadline is 1 March 2019.

Your proposal should include the title of the meeting; the names of the co-convenors (at least one of whom should be a RAS Fellow); the topics you intend to cover; the rationale (including timeliness); suggestions for invited speakers; and the preferred date for the meeting. More information, including detailed guidance, can be found on the RAS website.

 

RAS awards for 2019 announced

MIST Council would like to extend their congratulations to the 2019 Royal Astronomical Society award winners, as well as the recent AGU award winners. In particular, we congratulate the following MIST members recognised for their significant achievements:
  • Margaret Kivelson (UCLA) has been awarded the Gold Medal in Geophysics for a lifetime of outstanding achievement in understanding planetary magnetospheres and their connections to the planets they surround.
  • Tom Stallard (Leicester) has been awarded the Chapman medal in Geophysics for outstanding contributions to understanding planetary upper atmospheres and their interactions with their magnetospheres.
  • The Cluster Science and Operations Team have been awarded the Geophysics Group Award for their continued success ensuring the operations and scientific exploitation of the European Space Agency’s Cluster mission.
  • Mark Clilverd (British Antarctic Survey) has been awarded the James Dungey Lecture for their excellent research on energetic particle precipitation and its effects on the upper atmosphere and climate, and their vast experience delivering outstanding scientific talks to a broad range of audiences.
  • Julia Stawarz (Imperial College London) has been awarded the Basu United States Early Career Award for Research Excellence in Sun-Earth Systems Science for significant contributions in furthering understanding of collisional plasma turbulence and kinetic scale processes. 
MIST Council would also like to congratulate Fran Bagenal (Colorado), who has been awarded the AGU Van Allen Lecture for exceptional work on the understanding of planetary magnetospheres and outstanding contributions to planetary missions.

New community resources now available

MIST Council are pleased to announce three resources for the MIST community on the MIST website.

List of research groups

The list of MIST research groups has been updated to include the latest members of the MIST community, and to incorporate the latest links to their presences online. Old groups, or groups at institutions which have merged since the original list was written, are now excised, and the list should be an exhaustive and up-to-date list of British MIST institutions.

List of seminar speakers

We asked the MIST community to come forward and be listed on our list of seminar speakers, and the uptake has so far been very encouraging. The list ranges from relatively junior PhD students to academics at various institutions, and if you're arranging seminars for your research group, we would encourage you to take a look.

List of public engagement projects

Following the success of the recently-held Public Engagement in MIST (MIST+PE) symposium, there was an appetite for MIST Council to better advertise the public engagement being done at MIST institutions across the UK. The Public Engagement page on the MIST website aims to advertise the MIST community's strengths to the rest of the community.

If you spot omissions on any of the above pages, or would like us to include content, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

New mailing list for Python in space science

A new mailing list for space scientists who use Python has been founded. Angeline Burrell writes: 

There's been a recent push for more community python development and peer-to-peer support. Much of this is focused in the US at the moment, but as the results of the recent survey showed, MIST scientists are active or interested in python as well. If you would like to become involved, you can join the email list by contacting This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The mailing list will comprise discussion as well as webinars/telecons from Python users, so the list should be useful for a range of abilities with Python. To join, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Solar Wind Dependence of Magnetospheric Ultra-Low Frequency Plasma Waves

By Sarah Bentley, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, UK

Ultra-low frequency plasma waves (ULF, 1-15 mHz) are implicated in the energisation and transport of radiation belt electrons. Therefore a description of magnetospheric ULF wave power in terms of driving parameters is highly desirable for radiation belt forecasting; in particular, we want to describe power in terms of solar wind properties, as the solar wind is the dominant driver behind these waves.

However, identifying solar wind driving parameters is severely hampered by the nature of the solar wind. All solar wind parameters are highly interrelated due to their common solar sources and the interactions within the solar wind between the Sun and Earth, resulting in the effect that all solar wind properties correlate so strongly with speed vswthat investigating their relationship to magnetospheric properties is difficult.

To circumvent analysis techniques that require properties such as a linear interdependence between these parameters, we use a series of simple yet systematic two-parameter plots (e.g. Figure 1) to identify which parameters are causally correlated to ULF wave power, rather than just correlated via a relationship with speed vsw. We find that speed, the southward component of the interplanetary magnetic field and summed power in proton number density perturbations (vsw, Bz < 0 and δNp) are the three dominant parameters driving power in magnetospheric ultra-low frequency waves. These parameters can be used in future modelling but are also of interest because there is clearly a threshold at Bz = 0, and because ULF wave power depends more on perturbations δNp than the number density Np itself.

For more information, see the paper below or an informal blog post here.

Bentley, S. N., Watt, C. E. J., Owens, M. J., & Rae, I. J. (2018). ULF wave activity in the magnetosphere: Resolving solar wind interdependencies to identify driving mechanisms. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 123. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017JA024740

Figure 1: A two-parameter plot taken from Bentley et al., 2018. We bin the ULF power observed at one station (roughly corresponding to geostationary orbit) at one frequency (2.5mHz) and observe whether it increases with increases in solar wind speed vswand/or the component Bz of the interplanetary magnetic field, using fifteen years of data. Cut-throughs at constant speed and Bz are shown in (b) and (c). ULF power increases with speed and with more strongly negative Bz for Bz<0, but only with speed for Bz>0.  

The Role of Proton Cyclotron Resonance as a Dissipation Mechanism in Solar Wind Turbulence

By Lloyd Woodham, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, UK

The solar wind contains turbulent fluctuations that are part of a continual cascade of energy from large scales down to smaller scales. At ion-kinetic scales, some of this energy is dissipated, resulting in a steepening in the spectrum of magnetic field fluctuations and heating of the ion velocity distributions, however, the specific mechanisms are still poorly understood. Understanding these mechanisms in the collisionless solar wind plasma is a major outstanding problem in the field of heliophysics research.

We use magnetic field and ion moment data from the MFI and SWE instruments on-board the Wind spacecraft to study the nature of solar wind turbulence at ion-kinetic scales. We analyse the spectral properties of magnetic field fluctuations between 0.1 and 5.5 Hz over 2012 using an automated routine, computing high-resolution 92 s power and magnetic helicity spectra. To ensure the spectral features are physical, we make the first in-flight measurement of the MFI ‘noise-floor’ using tail-lobe crossings of the Earth's magnetosphere during early 2004. We utilise Taylor's hypothesis to Doppler-shift into the spacecraft frequency frame, finding that the spectral break observed at these frequencies is best associated with the proton-cyclotron resonance scale, 1/kc, compared to the proton inertial length di and proton gyroscale ρi. This agreement is strongest when we consider periods where βi,perp ~ 1, and is consistent with a spectral break at di for βi,par « 1 and ρi for βi,perp » 1.

Histograms for 2012 of the estimated helicity onset frequency, fb, versus the three characteristic plasma scales, converted into frequencies using Taylor's hypothesis - fL represents fkc, fdi, and fρi, for each column respectively. The data used are for periods where 0.95 ≥ βi,perp ≥ 1.05. The colour-bar represents the column-normalised number of spectra. The black dashed lines represent fb = fL and similarly, the red dashed lines are fb = fL√2 and fb = fL√2, which give the resolution of the wavelet transform about the line fb = fL due to the finite width of the Morlet wavelet in frequency space. We see the best agreement between fb and fkc during these periods.

We also find that the coherent magnetic helicity signature observed at these frequencies is bounded at low frequencies by 1/kc and its absolute value reaches a maximum at ρi. These results hold in both slow and fast wind streams, but with a better correlation in the more Alfvénic fast wind where the helicity signature is strongest. We conclude that these findings are consistent with proton-cyclotron resonance as an important mechanism for dissipation of turbulent energy in the solar wind, occurring at least half the time in our selected interval. However, we do not rule out additional mechanisms.

Woodham et al., 2018, The Role of Proton Cyclotron Resonance as a Dissipation Mechanism in Solar Wind Turbulence: A Statistical Study at Ion-kinetic Scales, ApJ, 856, 49, DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/aab03d

 

The Broadband Excitation of 3-D Alfvén Resonances (FLRs) in a MHD Waveguide

By Tom Elsden, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, UK

Field line resonance (FLR) has been the theoretical mechanism used to explain a myriad of ground and spaced based observations of ultra low frequency (ULF) waves in Earth’s magnetosphere. FLR is a plasma physics process whereby energy from a global oscillation (fast mode) can be transferred to local oscillations along magnetic field lines (Alfvén mode), where the fast mode frequency matches the local Alfvén frequency. This process was first studied analytically where the plasma was only inhomogeneous in the radial direction (mathematically 1D) [Southwood, 1974, Chen and Hasegawa, 1974] and has since been extended both analytically and numerically to more complicated systems [e.g. Lee and Lysak, 1989, Chen and Cowley, 1989, Wright and Thompson, 1994, Russell and Wright, 2010].

A feature of FLRs in complicated geometries, such as a dipole, is that the poloidal (radial) and toroidal (azimuthal) Alfvén frequencies are different [e.g. Radoski, 1967]. This infers that the location where the FLR will occur is dependent on the polarisation of the Alfvén wave. This property has recently been explored theoretically in 3D [Wright and Elsden, 2016] and forms the basis of this current work. The magnetosphere is asymmetric and therefore requires an understanding of FLR in 3D. We look at wave coupling in an excessively asymmetric waveguide in order to study the physics clearly.

The figure below taken from Elsden and Wright [2018], displays cuts in the equatorial plane from a 3D MHD waveguide simulation using a 2D dipole magnetic field geometry. In each panel, the x-axis is the radial direction (α) and the y-axis the azimuthal direction (β), and the density varies with azimuth. The left panel shows the energy density (dimensionless units) integrated along a field line, showing an accumulation of energy along curved resonance paths, where the FLR polarisation is between poloidal and toroidal. The middle and right panels show the square root of the kinetic energy in the equatorial plane, revealing ridges which develop by phase mixing in 3D. We find that with a broadband driver it is the natural fast waveguide modes which drive FLRs. Such modes are fairly insensitive to the form of the driver, and hence the resonances are seen at the same locations for many different driving stimuli. This means that the resonances are a property of the medium, and can hence be used as a seismological tool to infer properties of the equilibrium. Finally, the key point is that traditionally FLRs are regarded as having a strictly toroidal polarisation. However, here we have shown in 3D that they can have other polarisations.

Elsden, T. and A. N. Wright (2018), The Broadband Excitation of 3D Alfvén Resonances in a MHD Waveguide, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 123, doi:10.1002/2017JA025018

Figure: Left: Energy density integrated along a field line. Black dashed line represents a theoretical prediction of the main FLR location. Middle: Square root of the the kinetic energy in the equatorial plane. Right: Same as middle but annotated for use in other plots in the paper.



AuroraWatch UK: An Automated Aurora Alert System

By Nathan A. Case, Department of Physics, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK

The aurora borealis, though most often visible from more northerly latitudes, can occasionally be seen from the UK too. To help the public in their endeavour to see the northern lights from the UK, Lancaster University’s AuroraWatch UK issues alerts of when the aurora might be visible.

As the currents driving the aurora intensify, they produce disturbances to the local magnetic field. Since its inception in September 2000, AuroraWatch UK has been using its own suite of magnetometers to record these disturbances and issue real-time alerts about where in the UK an aurora might be seen.

We have now combined and standardised these alerts, using the latest alert algorithm to produce a 17-year dataset of UK aurora alerts. This dataset, along with the real-time data, is freely available for the community and the general public to use. We find that the alerts match well with the wider Kp index and the solar cycle.

Case, N. A., Marple, S. R., Honary, F., Wild, J. A., Billett, D. D., & Grocott, A. 2017. AuroraWatch UK: An automated aurora alert system. Earth and Space Science, 4, 746–754. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017EA000328

(left) A pie chart illustrating the number of hours spent at each AuroraWatch UK activity level, as a percentage of the total number of hours. (right) A histogram of the percentage of hours spent at an elevated alert level (i.e., yellow or above) per year. Also plotted are (solid line) the percentage of time per year where Kp ≥ 4 and (dashed line) the mean daily sunspot number per year (as a proxy for solar activity). The sunspot number is divided by 10 for scale.

Nugget: Are steady magnetospheric convection events prolonged substorms?

By Maria-Theresia Walach, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, Leicester, UK

The large scale convection of magnetic flux within the Earth’s magnetosphere due to reconnection, also known as the Dungey cycle [Dungey, 1961; 1963], is partially driven by the solar wind. During southward IMF reconnection at the subsolar magnetopause opens flux, which is then added to the magnetotail. Depending on the strength of solar wind-driving, the magnetospheric response can be delayed, episodic or prolonged, also known as “magnetospheric modes” [e.g. Pulkkinen et al., 2007].

Walach and Milan [2015] produced a statistical analysis of the event progression of steady magnetic convection events (intervals where the dayside reconnection is balanced by nightside reconnection [e.g. DeJong et al., 2008]), substorms (dominant dayside reconnection is followed by a delayed interval of dominant nightside reconnection [e.g. Baker et al., 1996]), and sawtooth events (signatures appearing to be quasi-periodic and quasi-global substorms [e.g. Henderson, 2004]). Superposed epoch analyses show that 58% of the studied steady magnetospheric convection events are part of prolonged substorms, where dayside reconnection is at first dominant. Then nightside reconnection is initiated as part of a substorm, but as the solar wind-driving continues the Earth’s magnetosphere then progresses into a state of steady magnetospheric convection, after which the substorm recovery continues.

Walach, M.-T., S. E. Milan (2015), J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 120, doi:10.1002/2014JA020631.

walach nugget

Superposed epoch analysis of substorms (red), sawtooth events (orange), steady magnetospheric convection events with preceding substorms (blue) and steady magnetospheric convection events without preceding substorms (green). The onset of the steady magnetospheric convection events with preceding substorms has been shifted to match the preceding substorm onset. The time of the event duration for the steady magnetospheric convection events in superposed epoch analyses in the right column has been normalised.