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Spotlight on the Space Environment Physics Group

Published: 23 September 2020
Plasma simulation
Plasma simulation of a magnetic field at the shockwave between solar wind and the Earth environment

The University of Southampton’s Space Environment Physics (SEP) Group has been unravelling mysteries around space phenomena for over half a century.

The group is behind ground-breaking research into how our solar system works - with the promise of plenty more discoveries in years to come.

Dr Robert Fear, Associate Professor and Head of the SEP Group since 2013, says: "We look at the natural space environment, from the solar wind down to the upper levels of the atmosphere of Earth and other planets."

Key aspects of the SEP Group's work are driven by understanding the fundamental science, especially around the aurora and how the Earth’s magnetosphere behaves.

Dr Daniel Whiter, NERC Independent Research Fellow, specialises in researching the aurora and its effect on our planet. He is also behind the Aurora Zoo citizen science project.

Shockwaves in space are also of interest to the SEP Group. Dr Imogen Gingell, Royal Society University Research Fellow in Space Physics, is conducting research to understand what happens at shockwaves.

"Similar to when a fighter jet goes past there is a sonic boom - the solar wind gets deflected around bodies in the solar system," she says. "The solar wind is going faster than the speed of sound so you get a shockwave, called a bow shock."

Other magnetospheres in the solar system are also explored by the group. Dr Caitriona Jackman, Associate Professor, has explored how the magnetospheres of Mercury, Earth, Jupiter and Saturn work.

The SEP Group is keen to discover the impact of these natural processes on manmade technology, both in space and on the ground. To do this, it needs to understand 'space weather' - the changing environmental conditions in near-Earth space.

"Space weather can have an impact where we have anything long and metal, particularly at high altitudes," Robert explains. "It's an issue in places such as Canada and Scandinavia, where power grids, oil pipelines and rail infrastructure can get damaged by geomagnetic storms, and is recognised as an issue of growing importance in the UK."

Read more in the Summer 2020 edition of Re:action, the University’s research and enterprise magazine.



See also here.

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