Research group The Umeå Space Plasma Physics Group focuses on studying naturally occurring plasmas in the solar system.
One specific focus is the analysis of plasma processes in Earth’s magnetosphere and the coupled solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere system. Magnetospheric regions high above Earth's surface are directly connected through magnetic fields to lower altitudes, and we study phenomena in the magnetospehere and upstream solar wind that can cause disturbances closer to the ground. Such disturbances can cause harmful space weather effects on human infrastructure but also cause beautiful auroras (northern lights). We also study plasma processes in the neighbouhood of other objects in the solar system such as Mars, Venus, planetary moons, and comets. 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. The space data are complemented by worldwide ground based observations to complete the bigger picture which are made possible thanks to international joint efforts across the globe. 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 conducted from spacecraft data.
The group is also playing an active role in pursuing being part of current and future space missions for example ESA's Comet Interceptor mission, which will be launched in 2029 and provide the first multi-point measurements at a comet ever. 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, to appear. 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, planned to be launched in December 2023. The Space Plasma Physics 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, among others, the German company PT Scientists.