Exploring and understanding

We all know that our world is unique, but we need to understand it in the context of the wider solar system.

If we can understand why Mars has lost so much of its early atmosphere and liquid water, or why Venus’ climate has diverged so markedly from our own, we will be in a better position to take care of our own Earth.

Our researchers are learning about the formation of the solar system, the effects of impact events, and how our magnetosphere shields us from the space environment.

This will allow us to better understand how the solar system evolved, and what is likely to happen in the future.


Space weather monitoring

  • We are investigating monitoring space weather through a sensor network of small satellites spread through space, making multi-point measurements of basic space-weather properties.

Water and life in the solar system

  • Where and when was liquid water present in the Solar System? Were these aqueous environments suitable for the evolution and subsequent survival of life?

Solar-flare forecasting with multi-wavelength data

  • Major space weather events have their origin in activity on the Sun. Solar flares and coronal mass ejections can cause damage to space hardware, and also to terrestrial systems such as power distribution. Can we learn to predict flares and ejections well enough to give useful warning?

The sun: our astrophysical accelerator laboratory

  • The Sun is the most prolific accelerator of particles in the solar system, able to rapidly increase a particle’s energy by many orders of magnitude. Such impulsive bursts of energy (solar flares) produce intense radiation and power space weather. We need to discover more about physical processes involved and conditions that trigger them.

Ultrasonic drill tools for planetary exploration

  • Drilling on the surface of extraterrestrial planets such as Mars is difficult. The low gravity means that the rover on which the drill could be mounted will appear to have very little weight, which makes it difficult to press the drill firmly against the rock. The next generation of Mars landers will therefore require a new system for drilling into the surface soil, rock and ice.

Ultrasonic penetrators for planetary soils

  • Mars has about one-third of Earth’s gravity and therefore will produce significantly lower weight on bit (WOB) when drilling is attempted. Without sufficient WOB, the effectiveness of conventional drilling techniques can be severely reduced.

Solar and heliospheric physics

  • The existence of the energetic particles and their emission signatures has shaped our current understanding of the Universe. We want to know more about how these particles energise, how they escape the solar atmosphere and how they travel from the Sun to the Earth and beyond.

Autonomous guidance of planetary rovers

  • For every action they take, rovers have to report their situation to Earth and then wait for instructions on how to proceed. This time delay in communications greatly hampers progress. What if rovers had the capability to make basic decisions about path planning themselves?

Numerical models of stellar and planetary dynamos

  • Stellar and planetary magnetic fields, including the best known geomagnetic field, are among the most notable properties of stars and planets. The established theory of the nature of these magnetic fields field is that they are generated by a dynamo process driven by convection in the fluid regions of planets and stars. 

Extraterrestrial hydrology: the history of water on Mars

  • There is now abundant evidence that free water once flowed across the surface of Mars. The origin and nature of this water remains obscure.  When was free water present? Where did it come from? What caused hydrological systems to be established and how long did they exist for?

UK Fireball Network

  • There are over 60,000 meteorites in worldwide collections. These rocks represent the building blocks of our Solar System and are the only surviving materials from the first few million years of solar system history. However, one key piece of information is missing: we don’t know where any of them come from. 

Solar magnetic field modelling

  • Solar activity is dominated by the Sun’s magnetic field - from the large-scale magnetic field of the solar dynamo to active regions in the solar atmosphere. Modelling the Sun’s magnetic field at these different scales is vital for understanding solar activity.