Reading Solar System Science

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Meteorology

Abstract

We combine seven research projects in this proposal that will separately and collectively advance our knowledge and understanding of the Sun, interplanetary space, and planets throughout our solar system. We have two main themes - to understand the science behind "Space Weather" and to investigate planets in our solar system to better understand their potential for sustaining life.

Space Weather describes the variability of our space environment that can affect technological infrastructure upon which we rely. For example, artificial satellites, aviation systems, power distribution networks and communications can all be affected by the variability of plasma and magnetic fields in near-Earth space. This variability is controlled by the Sun's magnetic cycle and carried by the solar wind through the solar system. Our research will help us understand how the Sun's magnetic field varies from one solar cycle to the next, and will allow us to predict future magnetic activity over the next few decades. We will determine how the interplanetary, or heliospheric, magnetic field is created and destroyed close to the Sun. Results from these two projects will be validated by the upcoming ESA mission Solar Orbiter, due to launch in 2018 and provide new and deep understanding of the nature of the magnetic solar cycle.

We will investigate how large solar wind structures, known as Coronal Mass Ejections, change as they are transported throughout the heliosphere. We will use the same data assimilation techniques used worldwide in numerical weather prediction and climate modelling to study the source of the slow solar wind, with velocities of 300-500km/s. These research projects will further our understanding of how the Sun influences near-Earth space and our Space Weather.

At Earth, we will investigate how the solar wind controls conditions inside Earth's magnetic bubble, known as the magnetosphere. In this region, the material is so tenuous that collisions between particles are very rare. Instead, the electrons and ions in near-Earth space undergo interactions with electromagnetic waves that change their energy and direction and can lead to significant electron acceleration to relativistic speeds. We will specifically investigate how the electromagnetic waves are energised by variability within the magnetosphere, driven by the variable conditions of the solar wind.

The ability of the icy moons around Jupiter to support life will be investigated using state-of-the-art oceanographic models. One of the key factors in the search for life is the availability of nutrients, but we currently have no way of accurately determining what lies under the ice on Europa and Ganymede. We will use modelling to predict how different salinity levels in the sub-ice ocean will influence the space-based observations made by ESA's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer JUICE, which will launch in 2022 and is due to visit the Jovian system in 2030. The new understanding from this project will allow scientists to use observations from JUICE to probe deep underneath the ice for signs that the moons have the potential to support life.

We will investigate the electrification of clouds at Venus. Venus has no protective magnetic field like the Earth or Mercury, and it's proximity to the sun means that space weather effects on Venus' atmosphere may be very different to space weather interactions at other planets. We will build a new laboratory analogue of Venus' atmosphere to determine how droplets within clouds in Venus unique atmosphere become charged. This work is very important to understand the global electrical circuit on Venus and how it is effected by solar activity.

Planned Impact

We have identified the following stakeholder groups that will benefit from our research:

Met Office: Through regular meetings within the Reading Academic Partnership at the Met Office, we will work closely with the Met Office Space Weather Operations Centre (MOSWOC) to ensure that our science continues to be embedded in their operations with the joint aim to improve and/or extend their operational outputs. The risk of Severe Space Weather is included in the National Risk Register of civil emergencies and MOSWOC exists to provide space weather forecasts and useful information to aid mitigation of this risk in the UK. The Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading is one of only four institutions in the UK in the Met office's Academic Partnership, providing a clear pathway for knowledge exchange with the Met Office. Of the four Academic Institutions in the partnership, Reading has the greatest range in expertise in the science underlying space weather. Projects 1.1-1.5 address important scientific advances that will enable future improvements to the Met Office's operational outputs.

Power companies and Insurance Underwriters in Space sector: The Department of Meteorology has an extensive network of industry contacts who participate in knowledge exchange through themed meetings hosted at the department, and joint supervision of undergraduate, Masters-level and doctoral projects. Results from projects 1.1-1.5 will be shared with our current industrial partners through regular themed meetings with a view to exploring new, mutually beneficial, research projects in the areas of space weather prediction and mitigation.

International Space Weather Organisations: We engage directly with international space weather organisations in the US such as the Space Weather Predictions Center (with project partner Curt de Koning in Project 1.3), and Predictive Science (with project partner Pete Riley in Project 1.2) to use our new scientific results to help improve forecasts of extreme space weather events. We plan a number of face to face meetings in order to share results with the aim of improving their operational outputs.

School Students: We plan a programme of school visits where staff present new research results and run workshop activities (past activities have included "Exploring the solar system" using NASA visualisation tools). We will build upon our new scientific results and excitement surrounding upcoming mission launches to create new activities and themed talks. We will add new Space and Planetary activities into our highly successful annual Work Experience program inspired by results from all projects. The Work Experience program in the Department of Meteorology is annually attended by over 40 students from across the South of England, Wales and the Midlands.

Wider Public/space enthusiasts/amateur scientists: Project 1.3 includes a proposal to extend the highly-successful "Solar Stormwatch" citizen science project which has to date attracted over 20,000 participants. We plan to share our results through the project website to inspire and educate the volunteers, providing an opportunity to discuss the science behind space weather with their peers and expert scientists on discussion boards associated with the project. We will promote the "Solar Stormwatch" project through social media, and it will be hosted on the popular Zooniverse citizen science platform.

Publications

10 25 50

 
Description Advisor to European Space Agency
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Advisor to UK Space Agency
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description Royal Astronomical Society Summer Bursary
Amount £1,200 (GBP)
Organisation Royal Astronomical Society 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2020 
End 09/2020
 
Description Solar wind data assimilation - maximising the accuracy of space-weather forecasting
Amount £357,854 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/S010033/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 04/2022
 
Description University of Reading Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme
Amount £1,440 (GBP)
Organisation University of Reading 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2019 
End 09/2019
 
Title Dataset: Random forest models of ultra-low frequency magnetospheric wave power. 
Description Predictive models of ground-based ultra-low frequency (ULF, 1-15 mHz) wave power, corresponding to magnetospheric waves. The series of decision tree ensembles (random forests) are dependent on solar wind properties, latitude and azimuthal angle around the Earth (magnetic local time, MLT). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
URL https://zenodo.org/record/3828506
 
Title Dataset: Random forest models of ultra-low frequency magnetospheric wave power. 
Description Predictive models of ground-based ultra-low frequency (ULF, 1-15 mHz) wave power, corresponding to magnetospheric waves. The series of decision tree ensembles (random forests) are dependent on solar wind properties, latitude and azimuthal angle around the Earth (magnetic local time, MLT). 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
URL https://zenodo.org/record/3828505
 
Title HUXt solar wind model 
Description Near-Earth solar-wind conditions, including disturbances generated by coronal mass ejections (CMEs), are routinely forecast using three-dimensional, numerical magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) models of the heliosphere. The resulting forecast errors are largely the result of uncertainty in the near-Sun boundary conditions, rather than heliospheric model physics or numerics. Thus ensembles of heliospheric model runs with perturbed initial conditions are used to estimate forecast uncertainty. MHD heliospheric models are relatively cheap in computational terms, requiring tens of minutes to an hour to simulate CME propagation from the Sun to Earth. Thus such ensembles can be run operationally. However, ensemble size is typically limited to 10 to 100 members, which may be inadequate to sample the relevant high-dimensional parameter space. Here, we describe a simplified solar-wind model that can estimate CME arrival time in approximately 0.01 seconds on a modest desktop computer and thus enables significantly larger ensembles. It is a one-dimensional, incompressible, hydrodynamic model, which has previously been used for the steady-state solar wind, but it is here used in time-dependent form. This approach is shown to adequately emulate the MHD solutions to the same boundary conditions for both steady-state solar wind and CME-like disturbances. We suggest it could serve as a "surrogate" model for the full three-dimensional MHD models. For example, ensembles of 10k to 1M members can be used to identify regions of parameter space for more detailed investigation by the MHD models. Similarly, the simplicity of the model means it can be rewritten as an adjoint model, enabling variational data assimilation with MHD models without the need to alter their code. The model code is available as an Open Source download in the Python language. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact HUXt is used by researchers from multiple institutions in the UK, US, China, Austria, Switzerland, and India have published papers based upon its use. As part of a STFC SWIMMR project, HUXt is currently being transitioned into operational forecasting use at the Met Office. 
URL https://github.com/University-of-Reading-Space-Science/HUXt
 
Title Pitch-angle diffusion experiments to investigate temporal variability of diffusion coefficients 
Description ASCII files documenting the results from a series of numerical experiments using one-dimensional Fokker-Planck equation to study pitch-angle diffusion in Earth's radiation belt for temporally-varying pitch-angle diffusion coefficients. Results from these files were used to obtain Figures 3 and 4 in "The implications of temporal variability in wave-particle interactions in Earth's Radiation Belts", Watt et al., [GRL, 2020] There are two ensemble experiments with temporal variability scale equal to 2 minutes, and 6 hours. The 2 minute ensemble files have naming convention: XX_2minvariation_L3.1d where XX indicates the run number in the ensemble. There are 60 experiments in the ensemble. The 6 hour ensemble files have naming convention: runXX_6hvariation_L3.1d where 1 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This model is the first to use stochastic parameterization in a space weather context. 
URL https://zenodo.org/record/4290006
 
Description School Visits (Berkshire) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact PI makes multiple individual visits to schools across Berkshire, Hampshire and in London area (KS1-KS5). Presentations made on importance and impact of project, and advertising careers in space sector to pupils, especially focussing on girls' schools. Presentations spark questions and discussion - pupils in KS4-KS5 often blog about visit afterwards, or write article for school newsletter/newspaper.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019