Space Physics

Coronal Mass Ejection at Earth

This illustration demonstrates a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) and its interaction with the Earth’s magnetosphere. The Space Physics group at LASP studies how energy moves between two plasmas—for example, how a CME interacts with Earth’s magnetosphere. (Courtesy Steele Hill/NASA)

In our daily environment, we encounter matter in three different states: solid, liquid, and gas. In space, a fourth state of matter exists: the plasma state. Plasma is like a gas, with individual particles moving freely under the influence of gravity and collisions. However, the particles in plasmas are charged and move primarily under the influence of electromagnetic forces; space plasmas are usually collisionless.

Plasmas make up 99% of the material in the universe and plasma processes in near-Earth space can seriously affect certain modern technologies. So, it is important to understand the physical processes that occur in plasmas, particularly those processes that occur naturally in space plasmas.

Space plasma research at LASP focuses on space plasma within our solar system. The group focuses on numerical modeling of plasma, designing space missions, building instruments to measure plasma, and analyzing and interpreting plasma observations.

Some of our interests are:

  • The physical processes that create the aurora
  • The origins and dynamics of the Van Allen radiation belts
  • The spatial and temporal evolution and origin of the solar wind
  • The interaction of the solar wind plasma with magnetic obstacles such as the magnetospheres of Earth and Mercury
  • The interaction of the solar wind with weakly or non-magnetic objects such as Mars and the Moon
  • Energy transport and conversion in space plasmas