The solar wind is a continuous plasma outflow from the Sun. Due to the solar wind’s low density and high temperature, collisions between plasma particles are very rare so that non-equilibrium conditions often develop. If these non-equilibrium conditions exceed certain thresholds, the plasma becomes unstable and drives the growth of electromagnetic or electrostatic fluctuations. These instabilities play a key role for the energetics of the solar wind as they re-distribute energy between the plasma particles and the electromagnetic fields.
A fleet of spacecraft measure the electromagnetic fields and the properties of the plasma in the solar wind. For example, the MSSL-led Solar Wind Analyser (SWA) instrument onboard the ESA mission Solar Orbiter is recording velocity distribution functions of the solar wind plasma (ions and electrons) with excellent cadence and resolution. These measurements show the non-equilibrium properties of the solar wind and the results of the action of plasma instabilities.
This project will combine direct spacecraft measurements from Solar Orbiter (and possibly other space-based assets) with modern analysis tools like the MSSL-led Arbitrary Linear Plasma Solver (ALPS) code to evaluate the stability and instability of the solar wind. The project will go beyond the assumptions of bi-Maxwellianity and homogeneity in order to develop a realistic picture of the instabilities in the solar wind. In this way, the project will ultimately evaluate the importance of plasma instabilities for the solar-wind thermodynamics under different solar-wind conditions and at different distances from the Sun.
Desired Knowledge and Skills
- Undergraduate in physics or astrophysics
- Good understanding of electromagnetism and statistical physics
- Computational and data-visualisation skills are desired
An upper second-class Bachelor’s degree, or a second-class Bachelor’s degree together with a Master's degree from a UK university in a relevant subject, or an equivalent overseas qualification.
Additional eligibility requirements
The STFC studentship will pay your full tuition fees and a maintenance allowance for 3.5 years (subject to the PhD upgrade review).
This project is based in the Department of Space & Climate Physics, located at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL) in Holmbury, Surrey. MSSL is located in remote countryside in Surrey. There is limited public transport to reach the site. Before you apply to study for a PhD in our department, please check our location carefully and consider how you will regularly commute to MSSL.
How to apply
Our STFC studentships starting in September 2024 are open for applications until 26th January 2024.
For details of how to apply please refer to our website: PhD Opportunities | UCL Department of Space and Climate Physics - UCL – University College London