Imperial College London


Faculty of Natural SciencesDepartment of Physics

Reader in Planetary Science



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117 results found

Heritier K, Galand M, Henri P, Johansson FL, Beth A, Eriksson AI, Vallières X, Altwegg K, Burch JL, Carr C, Ducrot E, Hajra R, Rubin Met al., 2018, Plasma source and loss at comet 67P during the Rosetta mission, Astronomy and Astrophysics, ISSN: 0004-6361

Context.The Rosetta spacecraft provided us with a unique opportunity to study comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from a closeperspective and over a two-year time period. Comet 67P is a weakly active comet. It was therefore unexpected to find an active anddynamic ionosphere where the cometary ions were largely dominant over the solar wind ions, even at large heliocentric distances.Aims.Our goal is to understand the different drivers of the cometary ionosphere and assess their variability over time and over thedifferent conditions encountered by the comet during the Rosetta mission.Methods.We used a multi-instrument data-based ionospheric model to compute the total ion number density at the position ofRosetta. In-situ measurements from the Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA) and the Rosetta PlasmaConsortium (RPC)–Ion and Electron Sensor (IES), together with the RPC–LAngmuir Probe instrument (LAP) were used to computethe local ion total number density. The results are compared to the electron densities measured by RPC–Mutual Impedance Probe(MIP) and RPC–LAP.Results.We were able to disentangle the physical processes responsible for the formation of the cometary ions throughout thetwo-year escort phase and we evaluated their respective magnitudes. The main processes are photo-ionization and electron-impactionization. The latter is a significant source of ionization at large heliocentric distance (>2 au) and was predominant during the lastfour months of the mission. The ionosphere was occasionally subject to singular solar events, temporarily increasing the ambientenergetic electron population. Solar photons were the main ionizer near perihelion at 1.3 au from the Sun, during summer 2015.


Moore L, Galand M, Kliore AJ, Nagy AF, O'Donoghue Jet al., 2018, Saturn's Ionosphere, Saturn in the 21st Century, Editors: Baines, Publisher: Cambridge University Press

This chapter summarizes our current understanding of the ionosphere ofSaturn. We give an overview of Saturn ionospheric science from the Voyager erato the present, with a focus on the wealth of new data and discoveries enabledby Cassini, including a massive increase in the number of electron densityaltitude profiles. We discuss recent ground-based detection of the effect of"ring rain" on Saturn's ionosphere, and present possible model interpretationsof the observations. Finally, we outline current model-data discrepancies andindicate how future observations can help in advancing our understanding of thevarious controlling physical and chemical processes.


Beth A, Galand MIF, 2018, Effects of the convective field on weakly outgassing comets., Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Vol: 469, Pages: S824-S841, ISSN: 0035-8711

By applying a kinetic approach, we have developed two models in order to assess the influence of one main driver of plasma acceleration, the convective electric field, on the cometary ion distribution at 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P/C-G). This electric field is carried by the solar wind and corresponds to the acceleration undergone by cometary ions ultimately picked up. We have quantified its contribution on ion number density and mean velocity profiles, supported by an intercomparison with the recent literature. We found that the ion number density should reflect a departure from the observed ∼1/r law. We discuss reasons for this discrepancy.


Chadney JM, Koskinen TT, Galand M, Unruh YC, Sanz-Forcada Jet al., 2017, Effect of stellar flares on the upper atmospheres of HD 189733b and HD 209458b, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Vol: 608, ISSN: 0004-6361

Stellar flares are a frequent occurrence on young low-mass stars around whichmany detected exoplanets orbit. Flares are energetic, impulsive events, andtheir impact on exoplanetary atmospheres needs to be taken into account wheninterpreting transit observations. We have developed a model to describe theupper atmosphere of Extrasolar Giant Planets (EGPs) orbiting flaring stars. Themodel simulates thermal escape from the upper atmospheres of close-in EGPs.Ionisation by solar radiation and electron impact is included and photochemicaland diffusive transport processes are simulated. This model is used to studythe effect of stellar flares from the solar-like G star HD209458 and the youngK star HD189733 on their respective planets. A hypothetical HD209458b-likeplanet orbiting the active M star AU Mic is also simulated. We find that theneutral upper atmosphere of EGPs is not significantly affected by typicalflares. Therefore, stellar flares alone would not cause large enough changes inplanetary mass loss to explain the variations in HD189733b transit depth seenin previous studies, although we show that it may be possible that an extremestellar proton event could result in the required mass loss. Our simulations dohowever reveal an enhancement in electron number density in the ionosphere ofthese planets, the peak of which is located in the layer where stellar X-raysare absorbed. Electron densities are found to reach 2.2 to 3.5 times pre-flarelevels and enhanced electron densities last from about 3 to 10 hours after theonset of the flare. The strength of the flare and the width of its spectralenergy distribution affect the range of altitudes that see enhancements inionisation. A large broadband continuum component in the XUV portion of theflaring spectrum in very young flare stars, such as AU Mic, results in a broadrange of altitudes affected in planets orbiting this star.


Hajra R, Henri P, Vallières X, Galand M, Héritier K, Eriksson AI, Odelstad E, Edberg NJT, Burch JL, Broiles T, Goldstein R, Glassmeier KH, Richter I, Goetz C, Tsurutani BT, Nilsson H, Altwegg K, Rubin Met al., 2017, Impact of a cometary outburst on its ionosphere: Rosetta Plasma Consortium observations of the outburst exhibited by comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on 19 February 2016, Astronomy and Astrophysics, Vol: 607, ISSN: 0004-6361

© ESO, 2017. We present a detailed study of the cometary ionospheric response to a cometary brightness outburst using in situ measurements for the first time. The comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (67P) at a heliocentric distance of 2.4 AU from the Sun, exhibited an outburst at ∼1000 UT on 19 February 2016, characterized by an increase in the coma surface brightness of two orders of magnitude. The Rosetta spacecraft monitored the plasma environment of 67P from a distance of 30 km, orbiting with a relative speed of ∼0.2 m s-1. The onset of the outburst was preceded by pre-outburst decreases in neutral gas density at Rosetta, in local plasma density, and in negative spacecraft potential at ∼0950 UT. In response to the outburst, the neutral density increased by a factor of ∼1.8 and the local plasma density increased by a factor of ∼3, driving the spacecraft potential more negative. The energetic electrons (tens of eV) exhibited decreases in the flux of factors of ∼2 to 9, depending on the energy of the electrons. The local magnetic field exhibited a slight increase in amplitude (~5 nT) and an abrupt rotation (∼36.4°) in response to the outburst. A weakening of 10-100 mHz magnetic field fluctuations was also noted during the outburst, suggesting alteration of the origin of the wave activity by the outburst. The plasma and magnetic field effects lasted for about 4 h, from ∼1000 UT to 1400 UT. The plasma densities are compared with an ionospheric model. This shows that while photoionization is the main source of electrons, electron-impact ionization and a reduction in the ion outflow velocity need to be accounted for in order to explain the plasma density enhancement near the outburst peak.


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