The Umeå Space Plasma Physics Group focuses on studying naturally occurring plasmas in the solar system.
One specific focus of the group is the analysis of plasma processes in Earth’s magnetosphere and in the coupled solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere system, so-called solar-terrestrial physics. Magnetospheric regions high above Earth's surface are directly connected via magnetic fields to lower altitudes, and we study phenomena in the magnetosphere and upstream solar wind that can generate disturbances closer to the ground. Such space weather disturbances can cause harmful effects on human infrastructure but also create beautiful auroras (northern lights). Moreover, we study plasma processes in the neighbourhood of other objects in the solar system such as Mars, Venus, planetary moons, asteroids, and comets. In addition to this, we have initiated the international “Exoplasma” team which uses a plasma physics approach to study atmospheric evolution and habitability at exoplanets.
In our work we use data from both spacecraft and ground-based observatories as well as from computer simulations. We utilize in-situ satellite data from multi-national space agencies such as NASA, ESA and JAXA as well as ground-based data from worldwide observatories equipped with e.g. magnetometers and all-sky cameras. We also conduct large scale computational simulations of several solar system objects ranging from magnetised planets (e.g., Earth and Mercury) to unmagnetised planets (e.g., Mars and Venus), and from various-sized airless bodies (e.g., the Moon, the Galilean moons of Jupiter, and asteroids like Ceres and Psyche) to small bodies with large atmospheres (e.g., comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko) and many more. Such simulation studies are of great significance since they put the analysis of the observed data into context. Moreover, they can reveal small-to-large scale plasma phenomena in various modelled environments, which are otherwise unachievable if analysis is solely based on observed data.
The group is also playing an active role in current and future space missions, for example ESA's Comet Interceptor mission, which will be launched in 2029 and provide the first ever multi-point measurements at a comet. The spacecraft will be launched to the Sun-Earth Lagrange point L2, and wait there for a dynamically new comet, that is to say, a comet that is passing through the inner solar system for the first time. Then the spacecraft will move to intercept that comet in a fast flyby. Just before the comet encounters the spacecraft, it will separate into three parts that each will collect data along its own trajectory through the cometary plasma environment.
The group is also a collaborator on the NASA's Lunar Vertex joint lander and rover payload suite to the Moon to explore a locally magnetized area on the lunar surface. It is planned to be launched in December 2023. Our group has also been actively working with the Umeå Lunar Venture project. The aim is to put the first electric field instrument ever on the surface of our moon. The project has been conducted in collaboration with undergraduate students and the German company PT Scientists.