Space Physics

Space is not empty! Space physics includes the interplanetary medium (or solar wind), the ionospheres and magnetospheres of Earth and the other planets, and the interaction between the solar wind and the local interstellar medium. Space plasmas are crucial for modern astrophysics: they are the only astrophysical plasmas amenable to detailed in situ observation and comparison of theories with data. Space weather is currently very topical and the focus of much research on space physics. It addresses the prediction and understanding of solar-terrestrial events like energetic particle damage to spacecraft, the aurora of Earth and Jupiter, induced currents on power lines, and communication fadeouts that affect the technology used in modern society.

Multiple Australian Universities are active in space physics, as can be seen in the Australian report to COSPAR. At LaTrobe University the primary foci are the observation (with the TIGER Project) and interpretation of ionospheric irregularities that develop near the auroral oval during space weather events. The University of Newcastle group focuses on magnetic perturbations and associated space weather in Earth’s magnetosphere. The University of Sydney group focuses on the theory and observation of wave and radio phenomena in the solar corona, solar wind, magnetospheres of the Earth and other planets, and the heliopause, which marks the outer plasma boundary of the solar system.

Studies of planetary radio emissions include Jovian radio emissions associated with electrodynamic interactions between Jupiter and moons such as Io, and prediction of radio fluxes from extrasolar terrestrial planets orbiting white dwarf stars. A final point is that the first Australian scientific satellite, FedSat, has been launched.