Postgraduate research project

Exploring the Time-Dependence of Kinetic Structure at Earth’s Bow Shock

Competition funded View fees and funding
Type of degree
Doctor of Philosophy
Entry requirements
2:1 honours degree
View full entry requirements
Faculty graduate school
Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences
Closing date

About the project

When the solar wind interacts with Earth’s magnetosphere, it is heated and slowed from supersonic to subsonic speeds at the bow shock. Shockwaves in space are ‘collisioness’ – the energy in the flow cannot be dissipated by particle collisions (viscosity) since the density is far too low. Instead, electromagnetic effects at the smallest plasma scales must be responsible. These processes lead to a turbulent and strongly time-dependent shock transition region. Observations of Earth’s bow shock and the magnetosheath by state-of-the-art missions such as Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) enable high-resolution exploration of the 3D micro-physics of these regions at a particular snapshot in time. Furthermore, ‘string of pearls’ configurations of all 4 MMS spacecraft allow us capture shock processes at different times, effectively allowing us to directly observe how they evolve. The objective of this project is therefore to identify and characterise plasma process in the shock, and then examine how they evolve in time using a combination of spacecraft observations and simulations. 


The student will:

  • develop methods for identification and classification of time-dependent shock structures such as surface ripples, cyclic shock reformation, stream instabilities, and magnetic reconnection
  • utilize ‘string of pearls’ and other novel configurations of the MMS spacecraft to track the time evolution of these structures, and 
  • directly compare the observed time evolution to that seen in high performance plasma simulations run by the student in Southampton. 

We may also adapt these methods for use with interplanetary shocks observed by Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter, where serendipitous spacecraft conjunctions allow for observations of time dependence.   We also expect these outcomes to aid in preparation for future science with missions such as NASA’s Helioswarm, and proposed missions such as Plasma Observatory and MAKOS.