Long before the advent of spaceflight, it was realized that space is not empty. The Universe hosts a harsh plasma environment and understanding the complex interactions of bodies immersed in it is therefore indispensable to make progress in space science. Not so long ago, parallel computing was looked upon as an exotic business, practiced only in a dark corner of some eerie computer science departments. Nowadays, however, almost all consumer computers are equipped with multi-core central processors and supercomputers are steadily on their way to exascale performance. In this talk I will focus on the first fully kinetic global simulations of the solar wind interaction with (1) lunar magnetic anomalies and (2) weakly outgassing comets.
One of the most peculiar lunar surface features are swirls, the high-albedo patterns that are always found co-located with lunar magnetic anomalies. The opposite, however, does not hold true. By coupling the observed magnetic field topology with 3D fully kinetic simulations, we reveal why not every magnetic anomaly forms a distinct albedo marking, possibly solving a decades old enigma.
First observed in 1969, comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko was escorted for almost two years along its 6.45-yr elliptical orbit by ESA’s Rosetta orbiter spacecraft. Zooming in on the weakly outgassing phase of its evolution, global kinetic simulations allow disentangling the observed ion and electron dynamics, providing important constraints to increase the scientific return of the Rosetta mission.