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!

Inter‐hemispheric survey of polar cap aurora

By Jade Reidy, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southampton, UK.

The formation mechanism of polar cap arcs is still an open question. Since they were first discovered (over a century ago), there have been conflicting reports of polar cap arcs forming on open field lines [e.g., Hardy et al., 1982; Carlson and Cowley, 2005] and on closed field lines [e.g., Frank et al., 1982; Fear et al., 2014]. It is possible that there are more than one type of formation mechanism [e.g., Newell et al., 2009; Reidy et al., 2017].

Reidy et al. [2018] investigates the interhemispheric nature of polar cap arcs using low-altitude ultraviolet imaging, combined with particle data, to determine whether they occur on open or closed field lines. Figure 1 shows an example of an image from SSUSI (Special Sensor Ultra-Violet Spectrographic Imager) (left) with the corresponding SSJ/4 particle spectrograms (right). The SSUSI instruments, on board DMSP (Defence Meteorological Satellite Program) spacecraft, are UV imagers that scan across the polar regions, building up images over 20 minutes. The SSJ/4 particle spectrometer is also on board DMSP spacecraft and provides measurements of the particle precipitation directly above the spacecraft.

In Fig. 1 the SSUSI image has been projected on to a magnetic local time grid with noon at the top and dawn to the right. The black and grey dashed lines on the particle spectrograms and corresponding black and grey vertical lines on the DMSP footprint (black line on the SSUSI image) give an estimated position of the poleward edge of the auroral for the electrons and ions respectively (see Reidy et al. [2018] for details). Multiple sun-aligned arcs can be seen poleward of this edge, hence assumed to be occurring within the polar cap. The arcs seen on the dawnside of the SSUSI image are associated with ion and electron precipitation (indicated by red bars on both the DMSP track and the particle spectrograms), similar arcs were also seen in the opposite hemisphere. These arcs are consistent with formation on closed field lines [Fear et al., 2014; Carter et al., 2017]. The arc seen on the duskside of the polar cap is associated with electron-only precipitation (indicated by yellow bars). This kind of particle signature is consistent with accelerated polar rain and is hence consistent formation on open field lines [Newell et al., 2009; Reidy et al., 2017].

Reidy et al. [2018] investigated 21 events in December 2015 using SSUSI images and corresponding SSJ/4 data. Nine of these events contained arcs consistent with a closed field line mechanism, i.e. arcs associated with ion and electron precipitation present in both hemispheres (similar to the arcs on the dawnside of Fig. 1). Six of these events contained arcs that were associated with electron-only precipitation, consistent with an open field line mechanism (e.g. the duskside of Fig. 1). Examples of events containing arcs that were not, at first sight, consistent with either an open or a closed field line formation mechanism are also explored. This study shows the complex nature of polar cap arcs and highlights the needs for future study as there is still much to understand about their formation mechanism.

Please see the paper below for more information:

Reidy, J., R.C Fear, D. Whiter, B.S. Lanchester, A.J. Kavanagh, S.E. Milan, J.A. Carter, L.J. Paxton, and Y. Zhang. (2018), Inter‐hemispheric survey of polar cap aurora, J. Geophys. Res. Space Physics, 123. https://doi.org/10.1029/2017JA025153

Figure 1. An image from the SSUSI instrument on board DMSP spacecraft F17 is shown on the left. The time at the top of the image indicates the time when the spacecraft crossed 70 degrees magnetic latitude as it passed from dawn to dusk (i.e. left to right). The corresponding data from the SSJ/4 particle spectrometer is shown on the right with the electron spectrogram in the top panel and the ion spectrogram at the bottom. Precipitation associated with polar cap arcs is indicated on the DMSP track on the SSUSI image (indicated by a black line) and the particle spectrograms in red for ion and electron signatures and orange for electron-only signatures.


What can the annual 10Be solar activity reconstructions tell us about historic space weather?

By Luke Barnard, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, UK.

Cosmogenic isotopes, such as 10Be and 14C, provide estimates of past solar activity, constraining past space climate with reasonable uncertainty for several millennia. However, much less is known about past space weather because as we look further into the past, particularly before the space age, reliable records of space weather events become scarce (Barnard et al., 2017).

Advances in the analysis of 10Be by McCracken & Beer (2015) (MB15) suggest that annually resolved 10Be can be significantly affected by solar energetic particle (SEP) fluxes. This presents an opportunity to provide a valuable record of past SEP fluxes, and to determine and isolate any SEP effects for the accurate quantification of past solar activity.

In Barnard et al. (2018) we assess whether the MB15 reconstruction was biased by significant historic space weather, and whether 10Be can provide a proxy of such events. We compared the MB15 reconstruction of the annual heliospheric magnetic field magnitude (HMF) with two independent HMF estimates  derived from sunspot records and geomagnetic variability (Owens et al., 2016), which are thought to be unbiased by space weather events. Computing the differences between the MB15 HMF reconstruction with the geomagnetic and sunspot reconstructions over the 115-year period of 1868-1983, we performed statistical tests to infer whether the differences appear to depend on large space weather events. We use records of ground level enhancements (GLEs) and great geomagnetic storms (GGMS, the top 10% of all storms identified in the aa geomagnetic index), as markers of years with large space weather events.

Figure 1 shows the empirical cumulative distribution function (ECDF) of the differences between the MB15 and geomagnetic reconstructions (Fg1), and between MB15 and the sunspot reconstruction (Fr1). Panels A and C show the ECDF of Fg1 (red line) in years with and without GGMS respectively, while Panels B and D show the ECDF of Fr1 (blue line) under the same conditions. Each panel also shows bootstrapped estimates of the ECDF (grey lines) from resampling the complete Fg1 and Fr1 series, independent of whether GGMS occurred. The distributions of Fg1 and Fr1 are different in years with and without GGMS, and, being at the opposite extremes of the bootstrap distribution, are larger than would be expected due to random sampling of the same underlying distribution. Consequently, we interpret this as evidence that large space weather events do bias the MB15 reconstruction.

Future advances rely on reducing uncertainty on the inversion of the cosmogenic isotope data, requiring a holistic modelling approach for the Earth system, magnetosphere, heliosphere and local interstellar environment. The research output of the MIST community is important in improving the models underlying the inversion of the cosmogenic isotope data, and consequently for improving the quantification of past space weather and climate.

Please see the paper below for more information:

Barnard, L., McCracken, K. G., Owens, M. J., & Lockwood, M. (2018). What can the annual 10Be solar activity reconstructions tell us about historic space weather? J. Space Weather Space Clim., 8, A23. DOI: 10.1051/swsc/2018014

Figure 1. (A) The ECDF of Fg1is given in red, computed for only years without GGMS events. The grey lines show 100 bootstrap estimates of the Fg1ECDF, computed by randomly sampling the Fg1series. Panel B has the same structure as panel A, but instead shows the ECDF of Fr1in blue. Panels (C) and (D) have the same structure as (A) and (B), but instead show the ECDFs of Fg1and Fr1for only years with GGMS events.

Field‐Aligned Currents in Saturn's Magnetosphere: Observations From the F‐Ring Orbits

By Gregory J. Hunt, Department of Physics, Imperial College London, UK.

In a magnetized planetary system, large-scale electrical currents that flow along the magnetic field lines are fundamental in the transfer of angular momentum through the coupling of the magnetosphere and ionosphere [e.g., Cowley, 2000]. In the case of Saturn, two such types of these current systems have been deduced from Cassini magnetometer data and studied in detail [e.g. Bunce et al., 2008; Talboys et al., 2009a; Talboys et al., 2009b; Southwood & Kivelson, 2009; Talboys et al., 2011; Hunt et al., 2014, 2015, 2016; Bradley et al., 2018]. The first type is an axisymmetric, quasi-static field-aligned current system, which is associated with the transfer of angular momentum from the planet to Saturn’s outer magnetospheric plasma. The second type is associated with the planetary period oscillation (PPO) phenomenon at Saturn [e.g., Carbary & Mitchell, 2013]. Specifically, there are two rotating field-aligned current systems with oppositely directed currents on either side of the pole. One is associated with the northern hemisphere and the other with the southern hemisphere. These two rotating current systems result in the near 10.7-hour oscillations observed throughout the Saturnian system [e.g., Southwood & Kivelson, 2007; Andrews et al., 2010; Southwood & Cowley, 2014].

Hunt et al. [2018a] performed a statistical survey for both the northern and southern hemisphere auroral field-aligned current regions from a set of orbits prior to Cassini’s Grand Finale, known as the F-ring orbits. This analysis showed in each hemisphere there was the quasi-static and that hemisphere’s PPO field aligned current systems. Interestingly, the PPO current systems’ strengths had decreased by approximately 50% when compared to previous results [Hunt et al., 2014, 2015]. This reduction is in agreement with a decrease in the PPO amplitudes as determined by Hunt et al. [2018b]. The general form and strengths of the overall current profiles for both hemispheres are shown in the figure below. Other differences were observed in the azimuthal field poleward and equatorward of the field-aligned current region. These imply possible seasonal and local time effects on the overall field-aligned current structure and azimuthal field topology.

For more information, see our paper below:

Hunt, G. J., Provan, G., Bunce, E. J., Cowley, S. W. H., Dougherty, M. K., & Southwood, D. J. (2018a). Field‐aligned currents in Saturn's magnetosphere: Observations from the F‐ring orbits. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 123, 3806–3821. https://doi.org/10.1029/2017JA025067

Figure: Overall current profiles versus northern (a) and southern (b) ionospheric colatitudes. Coloured profiles are the F-ring orbit data, with color code shown at the top of the figure. A mean profile is shown by the joined filled circles. (c, d) Comparison between the F-ring orbit mean profiles from (a) and (b) and the 2008 mean profile (joined crosses) for the northern and southern hemisphere, respectively. The error bars are the standard deviation of the F-ring means. Grey shaded regions are standard deviation of the 2008 means. Black squares show colatitude bins where Welch’s T test shows the 2008 and F-ring averages are significantly different. The open-closed field line boundary (OCB) is shown by the vertical dashed lines.

Shapes of Electron Density Structures in The Dayside Mars Ionosphere

By Catherine Diéval, Department of Physics, Lancaster University, UK.

The dayside Mars ionosphere is thought to be reasonably well understood (see e.g. a review by Withers, 2009). The top of the ionosphere is influenced, among various factors, by localized crustal magnetic fields (e.g. Acuña et al., 1999), solar EUV and solar wind input, in the absence of a global magnetic moment. However a peculiar ionospheric feature is still the subject of ongoing research: non-horizontal electron density structures are regularly observed in localized areas with strong and near vertical crustal magnetic fields, in the topside ionospheric levels remotely sampled by the MARSIS radar (Picardi et al., 2004) onboard the Mars Express orbiter (e.g. Andrews et al. 2014; Diéval et al., 2015; Duru et al., 2006; Gurnett et al., 2005). These structures are detectable via oblique echoes returned to the radar after it sends a radio wave pulse through the ionosphere.The reflectors often appear at higher apparent altitude than the surrounding ionosphere, and so are nicknamed "bulges".

Previous studies also used radar returns uncorrected for signal dispersion. Actually, the group velocity of the radio waves varies with the refractive index of the plasma layers encountered, until reflection occurs. The apparent ranges of the received echoes are calculated using the time delays of the echoes and assuming the speed of light in vacuum. However this leads to overestimating the ranges,so interpretations on the shape of the structures based on these are uncertain.

Our work (Diéval et al., 2018), is a statistical study using timeseries of electron density profiles (electron density function of altitude, corrected for signal dispersion) to study the shape of 48 structures, in their full frequency (thus altitude) range, during the period that Mars Express passes over them.

Figure 1 shows that at any frequency, the most frequent shape is the bulge, dwarfing three other types of detected shapes: dips, downhill slopes and uphill slopes. All these shapes are inclined, thus able to reflect oblique echoes. Interestingly, bulges were reproduced in simulation results of Matta et al. (2015).

For more information, see the paper below:

Diéval, C., Kopf, A. J., & Wild, J. A. (2018). Shapes of magnetically controlled electron density structures in the dayside Martian ionosphere. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 123, 3919–3942. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017JA025140

Figure 1: Distribution of the four simplest shapes of structures as a function of frequency, for the 48 events, displayed as colored symbols: bulges (red dots), dips (black diamonds), uphill slopes (blue ‘x’), downhill slopes (green ‘+’). Data points at frequency levels within in the sensitivity gaps are not displayed.

Plasma Heating From Dipolarizations in Saturn's Magnetotail

By Andrew Smith, Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Southampton, UK.

Magnetic reconnection in a planet's magnetotail allows the stretched field to snap back towards the planet, carrying with it a bundle of plasma.  This is known as a dipolarization front, which often manifest in spacecraft data as rapid rotations of the magnetic field accompanied by a change in the local plasma character.  Dipolarization fronts have been observed at Earth, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn and are thought to be linked to bright auroral displays.

We performed a large automated survey of Cassini data, identifying 28 intervals when the spacecraft was in the path of dipolarization fronts sweeping towards Saturn.  The changes in plasma properties were investigated, along with the supra-thermal composition.  A large dawn-dusk asymmetry was present in the observations, with 79% of the events located post-midnight.  Figure 1 shows the change in plasma characteristics from that preceding the front (a) to within the dipolarizing material (b).  All of the identified events showed an increase in the electron temperature and a coupled reduction in the electron density.  Figures 1c and (d) show the relative change in temperature and density respectively.  Overall, the temperature was found to increase by factors between 4 and 12, while the density dropped by factors of 3-10.  The variable plasma properties are thought to be linked to a variable reconnection location, particularly post-midnight.

Figure 1: Panels (a) and (b) show the electron density plotted aainst the electron temperature for before (a) and after (b) the dipolarization front.  These panels are plotted on the same axes scale for direct comparison.  The gray lines indicate how the events move in density-temperature space.  Panels (c) and (d) show the electron temperature and density (respectively) before the front plotted against the electron temperature and density after the passage of the front.  The points and error bars provided are the mean and standard error of the mean respectively.  The diagonal black dashed line shows the location of $y = x$: where the points would lie if there was no change following the passage of the front.  The red dashed lines indicate least squares linear fits to the data; the details of the fit parameters are provided on the panels.  The color bar for all four panels indicates the radial distance at which the spacecraft encountered the event.


For more information, see the paper below:

Smith, A. W., Jackman, C. M., Thomsen, M. F., Sergis, N., Mitchell, D. G., & Roussos, E. (2018). Dipolarization fronts with associated energized electrons in Saturn's magnetotail. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 123, 2714–2735. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017JA024904