A&G Highlights Meeting - November 2023 Hybrid

A&G Highlights Meeting
Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash
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Dr Beatriz Sanchez-Cano (University of Leicester)

Fowler Award 

Mars’ ionosphere: from our current knowledge to the future of Mars exploration

For planets without a global intrinsic magnetic field, the ionosphere is the conducting layer embedded within the thermosphere and exosphere that is mostly the result of solar EUV photoionization. Furthermore, it is also the layer that connects the neutral atmosphere with space and acts as the main obstacle to the solar wind. The solar wind interaction with the ionosphere is, therefore, a critical factor for understanding atmospheric evolution of unmagnetised or nearly unmagnetised planets, but also for planetary exploration as it has an impact on current technology deployed on each planet. This has been largely proven by the near three decades of continuous Mars’ exploration, which has opened the door to the understanding of the Martian space environment as never done before for other planet than Earth. Understanding the fate of Mars’ ionosphere, as a natural sink of both internal (i.e., atmospheric cycles) and external (i.e., solar wind) energy inputs, is the key for a successful future systematic exploration of Mars.

This talk will focus on our current knowledge of the Martian ionosphere, how it is affected by space weather activity, and how it compares to other planets. In particular, I will focus on recent advances in the understanding of the ionospheric reaction to different Space Weather events during different phases of the solar cycle, both from the data analysis and ionospheric modelling perspectives. Finally, I will give my perspective on some of the key outstanding questions that still remain unknown but are part of the next generation of Mars’ ionospheric science and exploration.

Dr Beatriz Sanchez-Cano is an STFC Ernest Rutherford fellow and Lecturer at the University of Leicester, working mainly on planetary-solar wind interactions. Beatriz did her PhD in Spain at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, having several long-research stays at the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) of the European Space Agency (ESA) in the Netherlands, and at the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Italy. She then moved to Leicester in 2014 as a PostDoctoral Research Associate, where she became an academic member in 2021.

Her research work has significantly contributed to our understanding of the Martian ionosphere, through analysis of data from a range of instruments and missions, and through development of a widely used numerical model. Moreover, Dr Sánchez-Cano contributes to an array of space missions, such as the BepiColombo mission to Mercury where she is Guest Investigator, the Mars Express mission where she is CoI and in co-charge of the radar ionospheric observations, in addition to various current and future Mars missions, including leadership of an ESA M7-class mission proposal, M-MATISSE, devoted to the Mars’ plasma environment and currently in Phase-0 of study at ESA.


Dr. Elizabeth Watkins (Manchester)

Characterising Superbubble Populations and Their Energetics in Nearby Galaxies Using JWST and ALMA

Bubbles (hot expanding regions of ionised gas) allow us to chart the interaction between stellar feedback (i.e., stellar winds, supernovae), the interstellar medium within galaxies and the larger galactic flows needed to regulate star formation processes globally. In this presentation, I will discuss how JWST and ALMA are providing novel constraints on bubble populations and stellar feedback physics, and their impact on molecular clouds. The first JWST observations of nearby galaxies unveiled a rich population of bubbles, therefore using JWST observations, I will present the first catalogue of these bubbles in NGC628 (i.e., the Phantom galaxy) at high resolution (39ly) and statistically evaluate their characteristics and relate them to the global star forming picture within NGC628. I will also present the largest molecular superbubble catalogue found to date within 18 nearby galaxies using ALMA.  By leveraging the kinematic information available with ALMA observations, I quantify how feedback powering the superbubbles impacts sites of future star formation within the superbubble shells.

Dr. Elizabeth Watkins originally received her PhD in Astronomy at Cardiff University studying the impact of stellar feedback on individual star forming molecular clouds in the Milky Way. She continued studying stellar feedback during her first postdoctoral position at Heidelberg University, but while there she moved onto studying feedback at much larger scales in nearby galaxies focusing on identifying and observing superbubbles -- large expanding regions of hot gas. She currently works at the University of Manchester where she is comparing simulations of stellar feedback with observations to better understand how feedback impacts the evolution of molecular clouds and star formation within galaxies.


Professor Marina Galand - Imperial College London

James Dungey Lectureship

Revealing plasma interactions under auroral skies in the Solar System

Jim Dungey, for whom we are celebrating the 100-year anniversary of his birth, pioneered many fundamental concepts in Space Physics. Among others, he was the first to recognise the importance of magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling, which yields the exchange of particle, momentum, and energy between the atmosphere of a Solar System body and its near-space environment. Jim was also fascinated by the aurora borealis (or northern lights), which, on Earth, is a photo-manifestation of the magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling in the high latitude regions.  The lecture will focus on these two aspects dear to Jim, with application to Ganymede, the only moon in the Solar System known to generate its own magnetic field, and to comet 67P escorted by the ESA/Rosetta mission. We will then focus on future explorations with two ESA missions, Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) and Comet Interceptor. JUICE, launched in April 2023, is on its way to Jupiter. It will be the first spacecraft to orbit an extra-terrestrial moon, namely Ganymede. Comet Interceptor, adopted by ESA in 2022, is planned to be launched in 2029 to visit a dynamically-new comet reaching, for the first time, the inner Solar System.

Marina Galand is Professor in planetary science at Imperial College London. Her principal research interest is the study of planetary atmospheres and cometary comae. She has investigated the deposition of solar and auroral energy in atmospheres throughout the Solar System and beyond, using sophisticated, state-of-the-art kinetic and fluid models she has developed and adapted to new environments. She has undertaken this modelling activity in close links to space missions, such as Cassini and Rosetta. Her original approach combines multi-instrument observations with physics-based models for optimising the science return. She is Science Co-I for Rosetta/RPC, Ariel, JUICE/UVS and JUICE/RPWI, and is leading the magnetometer on probe B2 for Comet Interceptor. She has been awarded the IoP-SFP Fernand Holweck Medal and Prize for her research. She is actively involved in outreach to increase the public’s interest in space science and inspire the next generations.



Book a RAS A&G Highlights 2023 Online or In Person Ticket

Venue Address

The Geological Society,Burlington House,LONDON


51.5087877, -0.13876359999995