Space Physics

Space Physics involves the study of charged particles and magnetic fields in the invisible realm above and beyond the atmospheres of planets. It includes the study of the Sun's corona, the ionosphere and magnetosphere of planets, the heliosphere, and the local interstellar medium. The ultimate challenge of space physics is to understand the physical concepts behind space weather and to someday be able to accurately predict it.

Ground-based observations of sun-spot cycles, cosmic rays, spectacular displays of the aurora borealis, and the pointing direction of comet tails, established the basic foundation for the development of the field of space physics. The development of plasma physics, and the launch of rockets and artificial satellites, opened the gateway to space plasma physics. It is now understood that solar activity and the sunspot cycle, control the flow of the solar wind, which in turn modulates cosmic ray intensities, as well as energizing the magnetospheres and ionospheres of planets. What we learn from studying our Sun and the environment of the heliosphere, can readily be applied to other stellar astrophysical objects and systems throughout the universe. Therefore, by studying space plasmas, we gain an understanding of the universe as a whole.

Present studies in space physics at the University of Alberta can be divided into the following topics:

  • global morphology of the polar ionosphere determined from optical and HF-radar observations;
  • the physics of magnetic storms and substorms;
  • the generation mechanisms for auroral arcs and associated nonlinear plasma instabilities;
  • global simulations of Earth's magnetosphere and magnetospheres of other planets;
  • relativistic particle energization and dynamics inside Earth's magnetosphere;
  • remote monitoring of plasmaspheric dynamics;
  • theoretical studies of nonlinear plasma instabilities associated with substorm dynamics.

Outreach in Space Physics