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 probes 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 arriving 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 programme of research into Earth’s space environment uses a range of ground- and space-based instrumentation. Measurements by the Cluster, THEMIS and MMS spacecraft, to name a few, allow us to probe the solar-terrestrial interaction in situ, whilst 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 undertake research into 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

People

Loading People

We couldn't find anybody that matched your criteria

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)1524 593702 C024, C - Floor, Physics Building

Space and Planetary Physics

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)1524 593417 C023, C - Floor, Physics Building

Space and Planetary Physics

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)1524 592106 B505b, B - Floor, Physics Building

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)1524 510407

Space and Planetary Physics

B504, B - Floor, Physics Building

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)7907 402638

Space and Planetary Physics

Space and Planetary Physics

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)1524 594576 C022, C - Floor, Physics Building

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)1524 510402 B505a, B - Floor, Physics Building

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)1524 510410 B504, B - Floor, Physics Building

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)1524 510404

Space and Planetary Physics

Space and Planetary Physics

Space and Planetary Physics

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)1524 594010 C021, C - Floor, Physics Building

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)1524 592106 B505b, B - Floor, Physics Building

Space and Planetary Physics

Space and Planetary Physics

+44 (0)1524 510545 C025, C - Floor, Physics Building

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.

Fellowships

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 py-pgadmiss@lancaster.ac.uk. 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.

  • The impact of space weather on UK railways

    Supervisor

    Professor Jim Wild

    Description

    Space weather describes the changing properties of near-Earth space, which influences the flow of electrical currents in this region, particularly within the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere. Space weather results from solar magnetic activity, which waxes and wanes over the Sunspot cycle of 11 years, due to eruptions of electrically charged material from the Sun's outer atmosphere. Particularly severe space weather can affect ground-based, electrically conducting infrastructures such as power transmission systems, pipelines and railways. Ground-based networks are at risk because rapidly changing electrical currents in space, driven by space weather, cause rapid geomagnetic field changes on the ground. These magnetic changes give rise to electric fields in the Earth that cause geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) to flow to or from the Earth, through conducting networks, instead of in the more resistive ground. Railway infrastructure, safety-critical systems, and operations can be affected by induced electrical currents during extreme space weather. Studies of railway operations outside the UK have shown that induced and/or stray currents from the ground during strong magnetic storms result in increased numbers of signalling anomalies in track currents.  Meanwhile, induced direct current flowing in overhead line equipment has the potential to stop train movement.

    In this project, you will investigate the level of GIC in UK rail infrastructure for the first time by undertaking a comparison of naturally-occurring geomagnetic activity with rail GIC measurements. The outcomes of this project will increase our understanding of the vulnerability of critical infrastructure to the space weather hazard.

    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 Professor Jim Wild for further information.

  • Electrodynamics of the Earth’s Magnetosphere

    Supervisor

    Dr Adrian Grocott

    Description

    The Earth’s magnetosphere is largely controlled by the interaction between the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetic field. This interaction drives a large-scale electrical current circuit hundreds of thousands of km in size, and couples the magnetosphere to the ionised upper atmosphere - the ionosphere. These currents are also associated with a large-scale circulation of plasma and magnetic flux and together they dominate the dynamics of near-Earth space. In this project you will probe this interaction by developing novel analyses of Iridium constellation spacecraft observations of the current systems that link the magnetosphere and ionosphere (the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment - AMPERE), and ground-based radar observations of the large-scale plasma circulation (using the Super Dual Auroral Radar Network - SuperDARN).

    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 Adrian Grocott for further information.

  • Dynamics of Jupiter’s magnetosphere and Aurora

    Supervisor

    Dr Sarah Badman

    Description

    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

    Supervisor

    Dr Licia Ray

    Description

    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.

  • Physics of Jupiter’s Magnetosphere and Planetary Environment

    Supervisor

    Dr Chris Arridge

    Description

    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 (c.arridge@lancaster.ac.uk) 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.

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 TechnologyISS, 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] – Prof 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:

Publications