Space Plasma Physics
Research in the Space Plasma Physics Group (SPPG) involves a combination of advanced space plasma simulations, as well as the analysis of data from missions such as NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale mission (MMS) and ESA’s CLUSTER. In addition, we research and model space weather-relevant processes, and we are leading ESA’s Geomagnetic Expert Service Centre.
One of the main research focuses in our group is to understand how magnetic reconnection works.
Magnetic reconnection is the mechanism that drives the often-explosive release of stored magnetic energy into kinetic energy of charged particles. A burst of energy released in the Earth’s space environment is estimated to be as much as 10^16J, and in magnetar flares it can reach up to 10^39J. By comparison Norway's yearly energy consumption is about 10^19J. Arguably, this is one of the most important energy conversion and transport processes in astrophysical plasmas, in space plasmas, and in man-made plasmas in the laboratory. Its full understanding, though, remains elusive.
In our magnetosphere this process occurs over just a few kilometers, while the global consequences span several hundreds of thousands of kilometers. Understanding the inner workings of this process, how it couples to these large scales - combined with a multiplicity of possible physical mechanisms render this problem extremely challenging. Only recent advances in spacecraft instrumentation and computational techniques and power create an environment, which is ripe to solve this problem. Solving this problem also has wide-ranging consequences for our ability to understand the engine behind most of the harmful effects of the space environment, commonly referred to as space weather.
The Space Plasma Physics Group studies magnetic reconnection using both space-based observations and computer simulations. The observations are made using four spacecraft (MMS) flying at close proximity to each other, in a geometry specifically designed to study magnetic reconnection.
Our computer simulations involve modelling billions of particles to understand the dynamics of a system that undergoes magnetic reconnection. Such a kinetic/fundamental treatment of the problem is necessary to fully understand the process. These simulations are computational heavy and we are therefore restricted to a relatively small domain.
To capture the larger consequences of magnetic reconnection we model the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere interaction using magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) simulations. Such fluid simulations are excellent to understand the large-scale consequences of magnetic reconnection, and how it leads to magnetic substorms and what the implications are for our space weather.
Read more about our exciting projects at https://spacephysics.w.uib.no/