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The University of Southampton
Centre of Excellence for In situ and Remote Intelligent Sensing

IRIS Summer 2021 Internship

Including the Aurora in orbit prediction

An 8-week long summer internship is available to investigate a new technique for remotely determining the temperature of the neutral atmosphere at 250 km altitude using spectrographic measurements of the aurora, with potential applications in orbit prediction. The internship is funded by the Centre of Excellence for In-situ and Remote Intelligent Sensing (IRIS) and will be supervised by Dr Daniel Whiter in the Space Environment Physics group, School of Physics & Astronomy. 

As society becomes increasingly reliant on space technology, it is increasingly important for us to understand the variability of the upper atmosphere and the environment in which spacecraft operate. The temperature of the upper atmosphere is highly variable on multiple time scales, particularly in the polar regions where aurora and the dynamic solar wind can cause localised intense heating. Changes in temperature link to changes in neutral density, and so changes in the drag experienced by spacecraft and space debris in low Earth orbit. Accurate orbit prediction therefore relies on knowing how the atmospheric temperature responds to different space weather events. However, monitoring the temperature during an active auroral event is challenging; spacecraft can provide only very short snippets of information as they rapidly pass overhead, and models cannot yet reproduce short term variability. 

The University of Southampton has operated an auroral spectrograph on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard for several years. Previous work using the spectrograph has shown that the ratio of intensities of two auroral O+ emission lines does not match earlier theories for the excitation ionisation of O+. The proposed explanation is that conservation of angular momentum limits the allowed change in quantum numbers as atomic O is ionised to O+ by electron impact. The exciting implication of this theory is that it would be possible to remotely measure the neutral atmospheric temperature at 250 km altitude continuously throughout an auroral event at high time resolution. Such measurements could be used to improve forecasts of drag on spacecraft. During this internship you will perform a statistical study into the auroral O+ emission ratio and compare results with models and other available measurements in order to validate the new technique for measuring temperature. 

Southampton undergraduates in any year of study are welcome to apply, including those graduating in summer 2021. We anticipate that the placement is most suited to a Physics student, but students on other science and engineering courses are also welcome to apply. Programming experience (e.g. Python, IDL) is vital. Experience or understanding of spectroscopy and atomic physics are an advantage.

To apply, please send a short CV and cover letter of no more than 1 page briefly outlining your experience, motivation and career aspirations to  by 12:00 noon on Monday 7th June 2021

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