Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

Latest news

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.

Call for MIST/GEM Liaisons

There is a potential opening for a member of the MIST community to act as a liaison with the GEM (Geospace Environment Modelling) group. This will be an opportunity to act as a representative of the UK MIST community and inform GEM about relevant activities within the MIST community.

GEM liaisons will typically have the following responsibilities:

  1. Attend​​ a preponderance ​​of ​​GEM Steering ​​Committee ​​meetings​ ​at ​​summer​ ​workshop and​ ​mini-GEM​ ​​(June​ ​and​ ​December)
  2. Provide​​ written​​ annual​​ report​​ to​​ GEM Communications ​​Coordinator​​​ (by ​​April)
  3. Help ​​recruit ​​new​ ​GEM Steering​ ​Committee ​​members ​​​(as ​​needed)
  4. Provide ​​feedback​​ from​​ the​​ MIST community ​​and​​ share​​ with the GEM Chair/Vice​ ​Chair​ ​​(ongoing)

At this stage we would like to welcome any expressions of interest for this role from the community. If you are interested in being a GEM Liaison, then please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. including up to 100 words detailing why you would like to be a liaison and how your experience equips you for this role, and how often you would be able to attend GEM meetings.

If you have any further questions or would like more information about what the role would entail then please get in touch!

ESA Voyager 2050

As was touched upon at the business lunch at NAM, ESA has launched the next in its series of milestones to shape long-term scientific planning, which is called Voyager 2050.
The next milestone in this process is a call for white papers, and this is outlined in detail here. In short, 20 page proposals are invited describing clear science questions and explaining how a space mission would address those questions. The deadline is 5 August 2019.
MIST Council hopes that members of the MIST community are planning to submit white papers to this call, and we would be very interested to hear from those who are planning to do this, or those who have already applied to be part of the Topical Teams also outlined in the call.

MIST Council election results

Following a call for nominations, Greg Hunt (Imperial College London) and Maria-Theresia Walach (Lancaster University) have been elected unopposed to MIST Council. We congratulate the two new MIST councillors!

We would also like to express our thanks and appreciation to both Ian McCrea and Sarah Badman who are leaving MIST Council, for their invaluable contributions and commitment to the MIST community.

UK Space Agency call for nominations for the position of Chair of the Science Programme Advisory Committee

The UK Space Agency (UKSA) is seeking a new Chair for the Science Programme Advisory Committee (SPAC). The position of Chair of the Science Programme Advisory Committee will become vacant on 1 July 2019.

The UK Space Agency welcomes applications from the UK space science community. The full position and person specifications are on the Government's website.


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.

Nugget: Statistical characterisation of the growth and spatial scales of the substorm onset arc

By Nadine Kalmoni, UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Holmbury St. Mary, Dorking, Surrey, UK

During southward IMF reconnection on the dayside leads to a build up of magnetic energy in the tail. As flux is piled into the tail the configuration becomes unstable leading to an explosive release in magnetic energy, termed a substorm. The rearrangement of the magnetic field is accompanied by highly dynamic substorm aurora.

The relatively high temporal and spatial resolution of the THEMIS mission All Sky Imagers have allowed recent observations of small scale azimuthal structures, auroral beads, which form in the minutes leading to auroral onset [e.g. Rae et al., 2009]. Conjugate observations in the Northern and Southern hemisphere suggest that the beads have a common magnetotail driver and are the ionospheric signature of a magnetospheric instability [Motoba et al., 2012].

Kalmoni et al. [2015] statistically analyse the growth and spatial scales of clear signatures of auroral beads observed in the minutes leading to substorm onset. The statistical observations are compared with the Shear-Flow Ballooning Instability (SFBI) [Voronkov et al., 1997] and the Cross-Field Current Instability [Lui, 2004 and references therein] which have both been proposed to play a role in substorm onset. Our observations conclude that the SFBI initiated in the near-Earth plasma sheet is the most likely explanation.

Kalmoni, N. M. E., I. J. Rae, C. E. J. Watt, K. R. Murphy, C. Forsyth, and C. J. Owen (2015), J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 120, doi:10.1002/2015JA021470.

kalmoni nugget

Normalised growth rate as a function of spatial scale in comparison to (a) the Cross-Field Current Instability for inner-edge and mid-tail plasma sheet parameters and (b) the Shear-Flow Ballooning Instability for varying shear-flow widths.