Magnetosphere, Ionosphere and Solar-Terrestrial

Latest news

2021 Astronomy Grants

The closing date for the 2021 Astronomy Grants Round is 4th March 2021. Submissions are accepted from now. The Astronomy Guidelines for Applicants have been revised and can be found via the links below (the PDF with the full guidance is available under the ‘who can apply’ section on both pages):

Applicants should ensure they have read the guidelines in detail and contact the office with any queries ahead of submission.

Key points or revisions from the 2020 guidelines have been briefly summarised below for information:

  • Page Limits – The page limit per project has been simplified and is no longer based on a requested FTE calculation.
  • Applicant/Project FTE – There has been a change to the upper limit for requested applicant FTE (25%, not including PI management time). The guidance for total FTE requests per project has also been updated and must be strictly adhered to.
  • Outreach Projects – Clarification on the page limit for outreach projects/outreach funding.
  • Pathways to Impact – UKRI removed the requirement to submit a pathways to impact plan in March 2020; however applicants should still consider impact as part of their case for support (see guidelines for further information).
  • Publications Table – Updates to the information required in the publications table.

New groups submitting their first consolidated grant proposal or those considering a consortium proposal are advised to inform the office ahead of submitting to the closing date. If you have any queries please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

2020 Space Census

MIST members are invited to submit to the 2020 Space Census!

The 2020 Space Census is the first national survey of the UK space workforce. It is a 5-10 minute anonymous online demographic survey of individuals for anyone working in the UK space sector in any capacity. The results will be used to improve what it’s like to work in the sector, to tackle discrimination, and to make the sector more attractive to new recruits.

More information about the Census, along with answers to commonly asked questions, can be found here.

The UK Space Agency’s press release about the Census can be found here.

STFC Policy Internship Scheme now open

This year has proved the critical importance of science having a voice within Parliament. But how does scientific evidence come to the attention of policy makers? If you are a STFC-funded PhD student, you can experience this first-hand through our Policy Internship Scheme, which has just opened for applications for 2020/21. During these three-month placements, students are hosted either at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) or the Government Office for Science (GO Science).

POST is an independent office of the Houses of Parliament which provides impartial evidence reviews on topical scientific issues to MPs and Peers. Interns at POST will research, draft, edit and publish a briefing paper summarising the evidence base on an important or emerging scientific issue. GO Science works to ensure that Government policies and decisions are informed by the best scientific evidence and strategic long-term thinking. Placements at GO Science are likely to involve undertaking research, drafting briefing notes and background papers, and organising workshops and meetings.

The scheme offers a unique opportunity to experience the heart of UK policy making and to explore careers within the science-policy interface. The placements are fully funded and successful applicants will receive a three-month extension to their final PhD deadline.

For full information and to see case studies of previous interns, please see our website. The closing date is 10 September 2020 at 16.00.

Applied Sciences special issue: Dynamical processes in space plasmas


Applied Sciences is to publish a special issue on the topic of dynamical processes in space plasmas which is being guest edited by Georgious Nicolaou. Submissions are welcome until 31 March 2021, and submission instructions for authors can be found on the journal website. For general questions, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

MIST elections in 2020

The election for the next MIST councillors opens today, and will run until 23:59 on 31 July 2020. The candidates are Michaela Mooney, Matt Owens, and Jasmine Kaur Sandhu. 

If you are subscribed to this mailing list you should receive a bespoke link which will let you vote on the MIST website, which will be sent by This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. If you don’t receive this link, please check your junk folder! The candidates’ platforms are on the voting platform, and also reproduced below for your convenience. 

Michaela Mooney

I’m a final year PhD student at MSSL standing for MIST Council as a student representative. During my PhD, I’ve been actively engaged in the department as a Student Rep in the Staff Student Consultation Committee and in the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Committee. I’m an active member of the MIST research community through proposals for RAS Discussion meetings and NAM sessions on geomagnetic activity. 

My main goals as a MIST Council representative would be to:

  • lobby funding bodies to reduce the impact of the pandemic on PhD students.
  • facilitate the organisation of virtual conferences and careers days to ensure that students continue to have opportunities to present research and access to careers information.
  • support good practises in equality, diversity and inclusion within the MIST community.

My key priority would be to limit the impact of the pandemic on students and ensure equality of opportunities.

Matt Owens

Now, more than ever, it’s vital our community address its diversity problems. If anyone is standing for MIST council from an underrepresented demographic, I’d encourage you to vote for them; MIST needs their experience and insight. If not, I’ll seek to ensure MIST council continues to promote equality of opportunity and diversity in science.

MIST’s primary role is to represent our solar-terrestrial science within the wider discipline. I’m predominantly a heliospheric scientist, but keep a toe in the solar physics community. E.g., I’ve served in editorial capacities for both JGR and Solar Physics, and have a good deal of experience with both NERC and STFC funding. As such, I’d hope to see MIST working closely with UKSP, as we have a lot of common interest. I am also keen that the MIST community coordinate to make the most of the industrial and operational forecasting opportunities that are open to it. Finally, I’m a very recent convert to open science. I would seek to increase the prevalence of research code publication and use of community tools within our field, for reasons of both efficiency and reproducibility.

Jasmine Kaur Sandhu

I am a post-doctoral research associate at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory, UCL, with a research focus on inner magnetospheric physics. During my time as a Council member I have led a number of initiatives, primarily the MIST Student’s Corner, the MIST Nugget Series, and the MIST online seminar series. If elected, I will continue to focus on supporting early career researchers in ways that promote diversity of both science and the scientists within our community. This will include developing a set of up-to-date, comprehensive, and informative resources on funding opportunities available to early career researchers for travel funding and fellowships. This will be supported by a mentor-like scheme for assistance and guidance on applications.

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 Climatology of Extreme Geomagnetic Field Fluctuations

by Neil Rogers (Lancaster University)

Strong electrical currents in the Earth’s ionosphere and magnetosphere can produce geomagnetically induced currents (GIC) in ground-based infrastructure, such as electricity cables. For extreme conditions this can lead to instability and failure of the electricity supply. The magnitude of these currents is proportional to the rate of change of the horizontal geomagnetic field, dBH/dt.  Climatological statistics of |dBH/dt| may be combined with models of ground conductivity and impedances in the electricity network to evaluate the risk of GICs.     

Using 1.9 billion measurements from 125 magnetometers worldwide we fitted Generalised Pareto (GP) distributions to occurrences of dBH/dt above the 99.97th percentile (P99.97). By extrapolating the GP tail distributions we predicted the magnitude of dBH/dt expected every 200 years. This is shown in Figure 1a (with 95% confidence intervals) as a function of corrected geomagnetic (CGM) latitude. 

Plots showing how extreme values of the rate of change of the geomagnetic field varies spatially.

Figure 1. a) 200-year return levels for |dBH/dt|. b) Occurrence probabilities of |dBH/dt| > P99.97 vs CGM latitude and MLT.

The sharp increase near 53° CGM latitude suggests that the largest |dBH/dt| result from substorm expansions in a greatly expanded auroral region. Figure 1b presents the occurrence probability of |dBH/dt| > P99.97 vs latitude and magnetic local time (MLT). In the auroral zones this maximises in the hours before midnight due to substorm activity and in the 3-10 MLT sector due to ULF wave activity. Poleward of the dayside cusp region (~77° CGM latitude) occurrence rates increase near local noon, in summer, and under northward interplanetary magnetic field (IMF), indicating a relation to magnetospheric tail-lobe reconnection. At latitudes below 40° most occurrences were related to Sudden Commencements, the effect of shock fronts arriving in the solar wind. 

This study models extreme dBH/dt as functions of latitude, MLT, month, and compass direction for return periods up to 500 years, and examines the effect of IMF orientation. The results demonstrate the response of the geomagnetic field to different drivers, and have significant potential in advancing modelling of GIC hazards.

For more information, please see the paper:

Rogers NC, Wild JA, Eastoe EF, Gjerloev JW & Thomson AWP. 2020. A global climatological model of extreme geomagnetic field fluctuations. J. Space Weather Space Clim. 10, 5. https://doi.org/10.1051/swsc/2020008

Tomographic imaging of travelling ionospheric disturbances

By Karl Bolmgren (University of Bath)

The ionosphere, the electrically charged upper atmosphere, has important effects on technologies like radio communication and satellite-based positioning. For high-accuracy positioning using Global Navigational Satellite Systems (GNSS), such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), ionospheric models are often used to estimate the ionospheric effect on satellite to ground communication. This effect is determined by the ionospheric electron content, and sudden changes or disturbances in the electron content can be challenging to include in such models.

A common type of disturbance called Travelling Ionospheric Disturbances (TIDs) are caused by gravity waves in the ionosphere, which are present all over the globe. They can be observed as wave-like fluctuations in Total Electron Content (TEC) and come in widely different spatial and temporal scales. The largest TIDs are generally caused by geomagnetic storm activity, while the more common, smaller TIDs can be caused by activity in the neutral atmosphere, like thunderstorms, perturbations from earthquakes or tsunamis, and the sudden temperature gradients associated with the solar terminator. In order to improve existing models and learn more about TIDs, we need reliable methods to study them.

A simulated Travelling Ionospheric Disturbance

Figure: Cross-section electron density of a modelled TID used to evaluate the tomographic images. For this particular simulation, a horizontal wavelength of 700 km, an initial perturbation speed of 20 m/s, and a period of 30 min was used.

Computerised ionospheric tomography is a powerful tool to image the ionosphere. Tomography is a technique used to reconstruct the 3D structure of an object from integrated measurements and is commonly used in e.g. medical imaging. In ionospheric tomography, the 3D ionospheric electron density is reconstructed from integrated measurements of TEC. We have used simulated TIDs to test how well ionospheric tomography can be used to image different scales of TIDs, and an example of a simulated TID is shown in the figure. We showed that incorporating geostationary satellites can significantly improve the imaging of TIDs. The imaging technique has significant implications for how we observe and investigate ionospheric features, such as TIDs, and presents a method to incorporate these phenomena into existing ionospheric delay correction techniques for applications like GNSS.

For more in details, please see:

Bolmgren, K., Mitchell, C., Bruno, J., & Bust, G. (2020). Tomographic imaging of traveling ionospheric disturbances using GNSS and geostationary satellite observations. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 125, e2019JA027551. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JA027551  

Local Time Asymmetries in Jupiter's Magnetodisc Currents

By Chris Lorch (Lancaster University)

Jupiter’s large, rapidly rotating magnetosphere is highly influenced by the presence of a global, centrifugally confined current disk comprised of co-rotating plasma from the volcanic moon Io. Azimuthal and radial currents flow through this current disk closing via magnetic field aligned currents (FACs), which are associated with Jupiter’s main auroral emission. These currents arise from dynamical processes within the magnetosphere, driven by the transport and circulation of Iogenic plasma. Characterising the structure and asymmetries in this current system is key to deciphering the dominant drivers of Jupiter’s magnetosphere-ionosphere (MI) coupled system and the behaviour of its plasma disk. 

Previous work by Khurana [2001] examined the solar wind influence on Jupiter’s magnetosphere using equatorial maps of Jupiter’s current disk and the results demonstrated clear azimuthal asymmetries fixed with local time (LT). However, the analysis was limited the lack of spacecraft coverage in the dusk – dayside magnetosphere provided by the Galileo spacecraft.  

Maps of current density mapped to Jupiter's equatorial plane, illustrating the azimuthal asymmetries.

Figure 1: Equatorial maps detailing the structure of Jupiter’s current disk with Jupiter located at (0,0). Dashed circles and radial lines represent 20RJ and 1 hr local time boundaries respectively. A compressed bow shock and magnetopause (Joy et al [2002]) are shown as black solid lines. a) The radial height-integrated current density, warmer (cooler) colours are indicative of current flowing radially outwards (inwards). b) The azimuthal height integrated colour density, flowing in the direction of corotation. c) The divergence of the perpendicular height-integrated current density, indicating the location of upward and downward FACs. Warmer (cooler) colours indicate the presence of upward (downward) FACs.

Lorch et al. [2020] determines the structure of the current disk at all LTs by considering magnetometer data at Jupiter from every available spacecraft, including Juno, up to 28 July 2018.  We apply an automated identification tool to magnetometer data from Jupiter’s current disk in conjunction with updated models of Jupiter’s intrinsic magnetic field and current disk geometry. In total, we identify 7382 lobe traversals, calculating the associated height-integrated current density for each crossing.  Additional coverage provided by the later half of the Galileo mission and the recent Juno mission allowed us to map all LTs. Asymmetries exist in both the radial (Figure 1a) and azimuthal (Figure 1b) currents into 20 RJ. Furthermore, we quantify the structure of upward and downward FACs in previously unmapped regions of Jupiter’s magnetosphere (Figure 1c). We find a positive net current density of 1.87 MA / RJ2, suggesting unmapped currents must close either down-tail or along the magnetopause. Our results demonstrate important asymmetries in Jupiter’s current systems that play a crucial role in the MI coupled system. Amalgamating these results into future MI coupling models has the potential to remove discrepancies between model predictions and observations.

For more information, please see the paper:

Lorch, C. T. S., Ray, L. C., Arridge, C. S., Khurana, K. K., Martin, C. J., & Bader, A. (2020). Local time asymmetries in Jupiter's magnetodisc currents. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 125, e2019JA027455. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JA027455 

Where does slow Alfvénic solar wind come from?

By David Stansby (MSSL, UCL) 

The solar wind is a continuous flow of plasma from the surface of the Sun, flowing out into interplanetary space. Faster solar wind is known to originate in large coronal holes, but slower solar wind has a wide range of different sources. A subset of slow solar wind is filled with pure Alfvén waves, much like the fast solar wind, suggesting it has a similar origin in coronal holes.

In our study we tested this theory of coronal hole origin, using Helios in-situ measurements of the solar wind at 0.35 AU. Figure 1 shows a wide range of plasma properties in typical fast solar wind (black), highly Alfvénic slow solar wind (blue), and non-Alfvénic slow wind (red).

Distributions for different solar wind types are compared for proton radial velocity, alpha abundance, proton number density flux, and temperature.Distributions for different solar wind types are compared for proton radial velocity, alpha abundance, proton number density flux, and temperature.

Figure 1: In-situ solar wind properties for three intervals of solar wind, measured at 0.35 AU. The three types of solar wind are Fast (black), Slow Alfvénic (blue), and Slow non-Alfvénic (red).

The fast and Alfvénic slow wind had similar

  • Alpha particle abundances
  • Alpha particle drift speeds
  • Alpha particle temperature anisotropies
  • Alpha to proton temperature ratios (in both parallel and perpendicular directions) 

These similarities imply that the heating and acceleration mechanisms of fast and slow Alfvénic solar wind are qualitatively similar, acting in the same way on protons and alpha particles. This agrees with the theory that slow Alfvénic wind originates in coronal holes, like fast solar wind.

In contrast, the fast and Alfvénic slow wind had different

  • Electron, proton, and alpha particle temperatures
  • Mass fluxes

These differences can be explained by different magnetic field geometries in the low corona: slower wind is released on magnetic field lines which undergo more expansion in the corona, increasing the mass flux and reducing the temperatures. This implies that whilst slow Alfvénic wind originates in coronal holes, it most probably originates in small coronal holes.

For more information, please see:

The origin of slow Alfvénic solar wind at solar minimum, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 492, 39–44 (2020), D Stansby, L Matteini, T S Horbury, D Perrone, R D’Amicis, L Berčič, https://doi.org/10.1093/mnras/stz3422

Bifurcated Region 2 Field-Aligned Currents Associated With Substorms

By Harneet Sangha (University of Leicester)

The Earth’s field-aligned currents (FACs) are a key component of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere-atmosphere coupled system. They connect the magnetosphere to the ionosphere, forming two concentric rings of opposite polarity currents at dawn and dusk. The inner ring (Region 1, R1), at higher latitudes, connects to the magnetopause, whereas the lower latitude ring (Region 2, R2) connects to the inner magnetosphere. By studying them, we are able to observe the energy transfer throughout the system. They are highly variable, and the small scale changes can be difficult to detect. With the use of the Active Magnetosphere and Planetary Electrodynamics Response Experiment (AMPERE) (comprising 66-satellites that gather the data), we can observe these small scale, structures and variations in the FACs on short time scales.

In our work, we have observed a new phenomenon which we describe as the bifurcation of the R2 currents, and the formation of a new R2 current ring (seen in Figure 1). These current signatures appear to be associated with the substorm expansion phase, and during ongoing geomagnetic activity they appear to have a 1 hour quasi-periodicity. We suggest that these bifurcations are related fast, westward flows in the midlatitude ionosphere, known as subauroral polarization streams (SAPS).

We have proposed a new mechanism that describes the formation of these current bifurcations - consecutive particle injections into the inner magnetosphere during disturbed conditions cause separate partial ring currents to form, leading to the presence of distinct R2 current systems.

AMPERE current density data.

Figure 1: A series of polar projections of the AMPERE current density data for the Northern Hemisphere on 2 June 2011, from 06:50 to 08:12 UT. The colour scale for downward (blue) and upward (red) FACs saturate at ± 0.5 µA/m2. Concentric circles show colatitudes in steps of 10°, and 12 MLT (local noon) is presented at the top of the plots, with 06 MLT (dawn) on the right. The dashed box shows the dawn-dusk axis. At 06:50 UT a standard R1/R2 FAC distribution is evident. The locations of interest are highlighted in the first panel with arrows, where by 07:44 UT the R2 FACs bifurcate to form two concentric rings and can be seen between 20° and 30° colatitude.

For more information, please see the paper:

Sangha, H., Milan, S. E., Carter, J. A., Fogg, A. R., Anderson, B. J., Korth, H., & Paxton, L. J. (2020). Bifurcated Region 2 field‐aligned currents associated with substorms. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 125, e2019JA027041. https://doi.org/10.1029/2019JA027041