Module Information

Module Identifier
Module Title
Ionised Atmospheres and Space Plasma
Academic Year
Intended for use in future years
Other Staff

Course Delivery

Delivery Type Delivery length / details
Seminars / Tutorials 2 seminars
Practical 3 application workshops


Assessment Type Assessment length / details Proportion
Semester Assessment 3 Hours   Written Examination  70%
Semester Assessment Assignments Sheets  30%
Supplementary Assessment 3 Hours   Written Examination  100%

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

1. Describe the fundamental characteristics of plasmas.

2. Discuss the behaviour of plasmas from the standpoints of both individual particles and bulk fluid-like properties.

3. Explain the properties of certain types of waves and instabilities in plasmas.

4. Discuss the formation of shocks in a collisionless medium

5. Discuss the physical processes governing the production and loss of ionisation in an atmosphere

6. Explain the characteristics of different ionospheric layers in terms of the variation with height of the production, loss and transport mechanisms

7. Describe the role of ionospheric and thermospheric chemistry in determining the characteristics of the ionosphere near the F-layer peak

8. Outline the principles of propagation of radio waves in an ionised medium and from them derive the principles of radio sounding

9. Discuss the principles of incoherent scatter radar and how it can be used to study the ionosphere

10. Understand the solar-terrestrial coupling processes and their effects on the ionosphere and magnetosphere

11. Describe the process of magnetic reconnection

12. Discuss the motion of particles in the magnetosphere

Brief description

The course covers the essentials of plasma physics, including the nature of a plasma, motion of single charged particles in a magnetic field, magnetohydrodynamics, waves in plasma, and instabilities. The theory will be illustrated by examples from interplanetary space and the magnetosphere.
The presence of ionisation in the upper atmosphere was postulated to account for long distance radio wave propagation. Subsequent research established the existence of the ionosphere. Active research continues to study ionospheric plasma processes in terms of solar-terrestrial interactions, in particular at high latitudes where the aurorae are a spectacular optical manifestation of incoming particles from space.
The morphology of the ionosphere is described, the production and loss processes of ionisation under normal conditions are explained, and the effects of neutral winds and electric fields are considered. An introduction is given to the influence of the ionosphere on radiowaves. The coupling of the solar wind to the Earth's magnetoshphere is discussed and the consequences on the ionosphere described.


Plasma Physics
Occurrence of plasmas, temperature of a plasma, Debye shielding, plasma oscillations. Motion of a single charged particle in (a) a homogenous magnetic field; gyro-radius and frequency; (b) a converging magnetic field; magnetic mirror; (c) an inhomogenous magnetic field; drift motion (d) a magnetic field with a perpendicular electric field.

Magnetohydrodynamics: Maxwell's equations applied to a plasma; diffusion time of magnetic field in a plasma; "frozen-in" fields, magnetic Reynold's number. Waves in a plasma: electron plasma waves, ion-acoustic waves, MHD waves, shear Alfven waves, fast-mode (compressional) waves. Collisionless shocks. Types of instability, two-stream instability (simple "doppler-shift" treatment), Rayleigh-Taylor and Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities (qualitative treatment).

The ionosphere at mid and low latitudes: D, E and F regions, ionisation production and loss mechanisms, Chapman layers. Transport of ionisation and the formation of the F2 peak. Ionospheric chemistry and the physical basis of anticorrelations between electron temperature and density. Ionospheric dynamics and the servo-theory of the F-region.

Experimental techniques: Radiowave propagation: plasma frequency, gyrofrequency, phase velocity, group velocity, refractive index. The Appleton-Hartree equation and radio sounding. Incoherent scatter and ionospheric radar.

The High-Latitude Ionosphere and the Magnetosphere: Magnetoscopic regions. Geomagnetic field; dipolar and distorted. Motion of charged particles; gyro, bounce and drift motion. Solar wind-magnetosphere coupling; magnetic reconnection. Plasma convection. Electric currents; Pedersen, Hall, field-aligned. High-latitude ionosphere coupling to Magnetoshpere, auroral electrojets, geomagnetic substorms, aurora.

Reading List

Recommended Text
Francis, F Chen (1995) Introduction to Plasma Physics and Controlled Fusion Primo search Gurnett, Donald A. and Bhattacharjee, Amitava (2005) Introduction to Plasma Physics with Space and Laboratory Application Cambridge University Press Primo search Hargreaves, J. K. (1995.) The solar-terrestrial environment :an introduction to geospace--the science of the terrestrial upper atmosphere, ionosphere, and magnetosphere /J.K. Hargreaves. Primo search Kivelson, MG and Russell, CT (1995) An Introduction to Space Physics Cambridge University Press Primo search
Supplementary Text
Goldston, R.J. and Rutherford, P.H. (1997) Introduction to Plasma Physics Institute of Physics Publishing Primo search


This module is at CQFW Level 6