The energetics and impact of plasma instabilities in the near-Earth geospace environment

Theme: Environmental Physics & Mathematical Modelling

Primary Supervisor:

Daniel Verscharen

Space and Climate Physics, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Christopher Chen

School of Physics and Astronomy, QMUL

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Project Description:

The Earth is embedded in a complex plasma environment that forms due to the interactions between the supersonic solar wind and Earth’s magnetic field. These interactions are the key drivers for “space weather”, a term that summarises the effects of our geospace environment on human technology and society. Plasma instabilities are important for the energetics of collisionless space plasmas like the solar wind and the Earth’s magnetosheath. The magnetosheath is a plasma region near the Earth, filled with solar-wind plasma that has been decelerated to subsonic flow speeds during its crossing of the Earth’s bow shock.
The goal of this project is the analysis and quantification of the energetics of plasma instabilities in the solar wind and in the Earth’s magnetosheath, and their impacts on space weather. This project will begin with the analysis of spacecraft measurements (e.g., from Solar Orbiter and from the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission) of plasma particles and electromagnetic fields to characterise various types of instabilities in the geospace environment. We will then evaluate the linear stability of the plasma with the help of our Arbitrary Linear Plasma Solver (ALPS) code, a novel numerical tool to solve the plasma dispersion relation of waves and instabilities. ALPS combined with cutting-edge plasma measurements in different regions of the geospace environment will allow us to quantify the energetic importance of instabilities for the plasma evolution and their impact on, for example, the propagation of energetic particles and other transient space-weather events.

Policy Impact of Research:

Understanding the evolution and energetics of the geospace plasma environment is key to enabling predictive and reliable, physics-based forecasting tools for space weather. This fundamental research project underpins these efforts based on cutting-edge quantitative analyses of the plasma behaviour in the relevant environmental context.

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