Space and Planetary Physics
In Space and Planetary Physics, we study the physics of space plasmas, from the Sun, through interplanetary space to the atmospheres of Earth, other planets, their rings and moons.
Our research probes the fundamental physics that underpins the space environment of the Solar System. We also conduct planetary physics research that investigates the interiors, origins and evolution of solar system bodies. To carry out this research, we use state of the art instrumentation on a variety of spacecraft located around the solar system, from the Hubble Space Telescope at Earth, to MAVEN at Mars, and Cassini at Saturn. We are also involved in future space missions, including missions to Jupiter such as the Juno mission (arriving 2016) and the European Space Agency’s JUICE mission to Jupiter coming in 2030, and in developing ideas for future space missions. Our observational work is complemented with computer modelling using a range of models, from bespoke software to internationally-developed numerical models.
Our research into Earth's space environment uses a range of ground- and space-based instrumentation. Measurements by the Cluster, THEMIS and MMS spacecraft allow us to probe the solar-terrestrial interaction in situ. Observations by ground-based magnetometers and ionospheric radars such as the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network (SuperDARN) provide an invaluable remote sensing capability. As part of this effort, Lancaster space physicists develop and deploy state-of-the-art experiments in the UK and inside the Arctic and Antarctic circles.”
We research space weather to investigate the mechanisms by which the Sun controls near-Earth space to understand better the risks posed to high-tech infrastructure both on and above the surface of our planet. We also run the AuroraWatch service which provides forecasts of displays of the northern lights over the UK.
- Space Weather
- Aurorae on Earth, Jupiter and Saturn
- Structure and dynamics of giant planet magnetospheres
- Electrodynamics of magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling
- Thermospheric changes due to space weather and climate change
- Dusty plasmas in the atmosphere and on planets and moons
- Non-linear plasma physics in the ionosphere
- Scientific planning for future planetary science missions
Opportunities & PhD Projects
We welcome enquiries from researchers who are interested in moving advanced fellowships to Lancaster, or who are in the early stages of preparing a fellowship application and would like to apply for this at Lancaster. We also warmly encourage applications from candidates wanting to pursue a PhD in Space and Planetary Physics.
We advise potential applicants to contact Professor Jim Wild as early as possible so that the applications process can proceed smoothly and successfully. The list below contains a non-exhaustive set of fellowship opportunities that are available for research in the areas of science covered by the Space and Planetary Physics group. Many of the deadlines can change from year-to-year, so we strongly advise checking the funders' website for the current deadline dates and further details.
- STFC Ernest Rutherford Fellowship [deadline September each year]
- Royal Astronomical Society Research Fellowship [deadline October each year]
- Royal Astronomical Society Daphne Jackson Fellowship [rolling applications process]
- Royal Astronomical Society Norman Lockyer Fellowship
- Royal Society University Research Fellowship [deadline: October each year]
- Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship [deadline: November each year]
- Royal Society Newton International Fellowship
- UKSA Aurora Fellowships [calls open occasionally]
- Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowship [deadline: September each year]
- Royal Commission for the Exhibition 1851 Fellowship [deadline: February each year]
- Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship [deadline: March each year]
We encourage applications from excellent candidates wanting to pursue a PhD in Space and Planetary Physics.
Below is a list of PhD projects currently being offered in the Space and Planetary Physics Group. Interested candidates should contact the project supervisor (indicated below) for further information. For general information about PhD studies in Physics at Lancaster please contact our postgraduate admissions staff at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also apply directly at lancaster.ac.uk/physics/study/phd/ stating the title of the project and the name of the supervisor in your application. Applicants are normally expected to have the equivalent of a first (1) or upper second class (2.1) degree in Physics, Astrophysics or a related discipline.
Physics of Jupiter’s Magnetosphere and Planetary Environment
Dr Chris Arridge
The magnetospheres of the giant planets are influenced by planetary ring systems and natural satellites, populations of dust, neutral gas, plasma, and radiation belts, and the host planet’s atmosphere, all embedded within the supersonic solar wind. The challenge of unravelling how these elements interact, and what physical processes are at work has been studied for over 40 years using spacecraft and ground-based observatories. Most recently, the Cassini-Huygens mission at Saturn/Titan, and the Juno mission at Jupiter have been providing data to answer these questions. The challenges of understanding these systems include processing and comparing 100s of GB of data; accounting for sampling, resolution and other instrumental biases; and inferring the state of processes in large-scale systems with limited spacecraft trajectories. In this project, the physics of Jupiter’s magnetosphere will be investigated using data from previous space missions (e.g., Galileo), numerical models, remote observations of the Aurora, and new data from Juno. The project will involve applying techniques from data science, such as machine learning, clustering, modelling, and statistical inference.
Funding is available on a competitive basis. Interested candidates should contact Dr Chris Arridge (email@example.com) for further information. Applicants are normally expected to have the equivalent of a first (1) or upper second class (2.1) degree in Physics, Astrophysics or a related discipline.
Dynamics of gas giant magnetospheres and aurorae
Dr Sarah Badman
We are entering a new era of understanding of giant planet environments thanks to the Juno mission at Jupiter, the recent Cassini mission at Saturn, and concurrent Hubble Space Telescope images of the UV aurora. The combination of these measurements allow us to probe how the vast gas giant magnetospheres responds to changes in the external (e.g. solar wind) and internal (e.g. the volcanic moon Io) conditions. This project will exploit the available data to investigate the mechanisms and timescales of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s magnetospheric dynamics.
The successful candidate should hold a minimum of a UK MPhys Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a Physics-based subject. The candidate is expected to successfully work as part of a team, and to complete research suitable for the award of a PhD in Physics, including publications in high impact peer-reviewed journals. Funding is available on a competitive basis.
Please contact Dr Sarah Badman for further information.
Outer Planet Magnetosphere-Ionosphere coupling
Dr Licia Ray
Jupiter’s upper atmosphere is connected to the local plasma environment allowing the two regions to exchange energy and angular momentum. We still don’t understand the mass flow out of the atmosphere though, which is directly affected by energy inputs into the atmosphere. This outflow can alter magnetospheric dynamics and modify coupling. We will address aspects of this interaction through the development of MI coupling theory and numerical models.
The successful candidate should hold a minimum of a UK MPhys Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a Physics-based subject. The candidate is expected to successfully work as part of a team, and to complete research suitable for the award of a PhD in Physics, including publications in high impact peer-reviewed journals.
Funding is available on a competitive basis. Please contact Dr Licia Ray for further information.
The Space and Planetary Physics group runs training workshops throughout the year that are dedicated to postgraduate students and also accessible to MPhys students who are doing their final year projects in the group. These workshops cover subject-specific and more general research skills.
The form and content of these workshops are determined through dialogue with PhD students so that the most effective training can be provided. These workshops are based on the needs of the SPP students but are also available to other postgraduate students. Postdoctoral researchers are also invited to attend these workshops in order not only to allow postgraduate students to benefit from the experience of our postdocs but also to provide further training opportunities for postdocs.
Additional training is offered by the Faculty of Science and Technology, ISS, and the Library. Our students also have the opportunity to participate in departmental outreach training and to develop their presentation skills via participation in the departmental outreach programme.
The group runs a fortnightly group meeting where recent research from students, postdocs and academics is presented and discussed. We also have a regular seminar programme with external speakers. Current research is also discussed in regular smaller informal discussions over tea and coffee. These are focused in research themes and we currently run "Gas Giant Gossip" and "Rocky Planet Roundup". Other academics also lead small discussions on more focused topics with their research students.
- Lancaster Space Physics Summer school (September 2015) [Included lectures on kinetic theory, fluids and MHD, MHD models of magnetospheres, and measurements of particles and plasma, and two practical workshops on data analysis] – Professor D.J. Southwood, Dr C.S. Arridge, Dr S.V. Badman
- Programming skills (March 2016) – Dr C.S. Arridge
Our students can also apply to attend various national and international summer schools, including: