Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

Latest news

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.

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!

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!

The Association of High‐Latitude Dayside Aurora With NBZ Field‐Aligned Currents

By Jennifer Carter, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester, UK

Under northward interplanetary magnetic field conditions, when the IMF Bz > 0 nT, non-filamentary auroral emissions may be seen within the dayside polar cap and separate from the main auroral oval. These emissions are associated with lobe reconnection occurring at the high-latitude magnetopause on open field lines. Two mechanisms have been proposed to explain these emissions. The first involves the precipitation of magnetosheath plasma at the footprint of the high-latitude reconnection site, resulting in a “cusp spot”. This cusp spot has been shown to move in response to the east-west (BY) orientation of the solar wind. The second mechanism associates the auroral emissions known as High-Latitude Detached Arcs (HiLDAs) with upward field-aligned currents inside the polar cap. Under northward IMF, twin-cell field-aligned currents (NBZ system) can be found inside of the main region 1-region 2 field aligned current system. Under the influence of positive IMF BY, the upward NBZ cell expands across the noon sector in the Northern Hemisphere, whereas under negative BY, the downward cell will enlarge. The reverse scenario occurs in the Southern Hemisphere for either BYdirection.

Previous observations of HiLDAs have been limited to the Northern Hemisphere for a small data set, and previous authors have linked this phenomenon to season, as the HiLDAs have only been detected during the summer. We used concurrent auroral observations from Defense Meteorological Satellite Program Special Sensor Ultraviolet Spectrographic Imager (SSUSI) experiment, and FAC distributions constructed from the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE), from the Iridium telecommunication satellite constellation, to perform a large statistical study of HiLDAs under varying IMF for both hemispheres. We observe a patch of auroral emission that is co-located with the upward NBZ FAC in the dayside polar cap in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres under northward IMF conditions.

We observe the HiLDA emission to move in response to changes in the IMF BYcomponent (e.g. Figure 1), whereby the HiLDAs are seen to move into the polar cap under positive BY, or be pushed up against, and therefore indiscernible from, the main auroral oval under negative BY(Northern Hemisphere case). We also support the hypothesis that these emissions are only detectable in the summer hemisphere, indicating a dependence on ionospheric conductivity via photoionisation in the predominantly sunlit hemisphere.

For more information, see the paper below:

Carter, J. A., Milan, S. E., Fogg, A. R., Paxton, L. J., & Anderson, B. J. (2018). The association of high‐latitude dayside aurora with NBZ field‐aligned currents. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 123. https://doi.org/10.1029/2017JA025082

Figure 1: Northern Hemisphere summer auroral emissions in the Lyman-Birge-Hopfield long band with overlaid field-aligned current contours, for the Northern (N, row a) and Southern (S, row b) Hemispheres. Clock angles are given in the left-hand column. Interplanetary magnetic field magnitudes are between 5 and 10 nT. Field-aligned current contours are overlaid for upward (red) and downward (turquoise) currents, at absolute magnitudes of 0.1 (solid line), 0.3 (dashed line), and 0.5 (dotted line) μA/m2.


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.