The planet Saturn with it's rings.

Space and Planetary Physics

Group Members

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Research Activity

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.

Key Research

  • 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.

PhD Projects

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 You can also apply directly at 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 ( 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.

  • Space weather at mid-latitudes: climatology, dynamics and drivers of atmospheric Joule heating


    Dr Adrian Grocott


    The Earth experiences ‘space weather’ that impacts the planetary environment in a variety of ways. These impacts are a recognised environmental hazard, as detailed in the UK National Risk Register. A major impact arises due to the deposition of energy in the atmosphere by Joule heating whereby charged particles, under electromagnetic forcing from the solar wind and magnetospheric dynamics, collide with the neutral constituents of the atmosphere. This can lead to atmospheric uplift (which affects satellite drag, position control and lifetime), excitation of thermospheric winds (which can couple to the lower atmosphere, affecting weather and climate) and triggering of atmospheric gravity waves (which can transport energy and momentum throughout different layers of the atmosphere and across the globe).

    This project utilises a range of international space physics facilities to study the characteristics, variability, dynamics, and drivers of Joule heating. In particular, it will employ ionospheric plasma measurements and computational models to determine the importance of ionospheric electric fields in our efforts to model Joule heating. The ultimate goal of the project is to produce a state-of-the-art model to forecast the Joule heating response to changes in the solar wind and geomagnetic activity.

    As a PhD student in Lancaster’s “Space and Planetary Physics” (SPP) group, you will conduct cutting-edge research in the company of world-leading scientists. You will develop and exploit skills in computer-based data analysis and computational modelling techniques, and deliver oral presentations and written accounts of your work. To this end, you will receive a programme of training in the scientific and technical background required to conduct your research and in the written and oral presentation skills required to disseminate your results to the national and international scientific community. You will also benefit from an internship at the Met Office, which performs operational space weather forecasts for the UK.

    Applicants should hold a minimum of a UK Honours Degree at 2:1 level or equivalent in a subject such as Physics or Geophysics.

    This is a NERC-funded project available through Lancaster’s ENVISION Doctoral Training Programme. The closing date for applications is Friday 17th January 2020. Please visit ENVISION for eligibility requirements and further details on the ENVISION programme including how to apply.

    Please contact Dr Adrian Grocott ( for further information.

  • Dynamics of Jupiter’s magnetosphere and Aurora


    Dr Sarah Badman


    We are entering a new era of understanding of giant planet environments thanks to the Juno mission at Jupiter, and concurrent Hubble Space Telescope images of Jupiter’s UV aurora. The combination of these measurements allow us to probe how the vast magnetosphere 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 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.

Postgraduate Training

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.

Recent workshops:

  • 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: