Space Science

The New Mexico Consortium (NMC) and Los Alamos National Laboratory's (LANL) Intelligence and Space Research (ISR) division pursue joint research in space science. Research topics include space weather, plantetary exploration, and remote sensing of the earth. The NMC and LANL seek to increase student and faculty involvement in research, and we also hope to facilitate the development of new missions. Currently space science research at the NMC includes: 


Plasma Structure and Composition as a Driver of Wave Growth in the Inner Magnetosphere

Lauren Blum, NASA/Goddard
Michael Denton, NMC Research Scientist

Uncovering the underlying physics behind electro-magnetic (EM) wave generation in the Earth's magnetosphere is essential for better predicting where and when the waves will be present.  EM waves cause particle acceleration and/or loss and hence are important for prediction and mitigation of the potentially damaging radiation environment that satellites operate within.  Recent studies of EMIC waves reveal a dependence of the waves' spatial extent on magnetic local time (MLT), wave frequency, and L shell around Earth.  Various hypotheses have been proposed to explain some of these patterns, including different sources (and spatial extents) of ion anisotropy on the day versus night side, compositional variations throughout the inner magnetosphere, or cold plasma density structure. Studies of ion dynamics in the inner magnetosphere have shown rapid evolution in spatial structures and boundaries, as well as composition, but the relationship between these variations and characteristic EMIC wave scales has yet to be explored. Multipoint measurements in the inner magnetosphere (e.g from satellite missions such as the NASA Van Allen Probes) can allow the spatial and temporal evolution of various particle populations and wave modes to be disentangled.
The figure to the left shows observations of the H+ flux measured by Van Allen Probes spacecraft in orbit around the Earth.  9 hours elapsed between the plots and during this time geomagnetic activity in the magnetosphere increased substantially.  The lower-energy population (plasmasphere) was energized, likely as a result of interactions with electro-magnetic waves.

SHINE: Physics of the Interplanetary Electric Potential and Modifications to Exosphere Models of the Solar Wind

Xiangrong Fu, NMC Research Scientist
Joe Borovsky, Space Science Institite
S. Peter Gary, Space Science Institute
The overarching objective of this SHINE project is to make improvements to the physics of exosphere models of the solar wind and to see how those improvements affect the properties of the solar wind and the exobase that drives it. Part of this objective is to determine whether exosphere models can be corrected and made competitive with other models for the solar wind acceleration and evolution. The major advance in this SHINE project will be to replace a static (in the Sun’s reference frame) interplanetary potential with a potential made up of multiple weak double layers in the solar-wind plasma. The changed reaction of ions to moving potential structures (instead of a Sun-stationary potential structure) will result in: (1) changed terminal velocities for the protons and heavy ions as a function of the electron velocity distribution function at the exobase, (2) a related reduction in the total electrostatic potential needed to accelerate the solar wind, (3) heating, rather than cooling, of the solar-wind ions as they are accelerated, (4) differences in the outward acceleration of protons and heavy ions.

Electron Acceleration and Emissions from the Solar Flare Termination Shock

Fan Guo, LANL Staff Scientist, NMC Affiliate
The overarching goal of the project is to understand electron acceleration and emission by reconnection-driven termination shocks in solar flares. Solar flares are remarkable sites for particle acceleration and high-energy emissions in the solar system (Lin et al. 2003). However, how the nonthermal particles are accelerated is currently under debate. The goal of this project will be to model the dynamical evolution of the termination shock and its electron acceleration through several studies. The outcome will advance our understanding of multi-wavelength emissions and the role of the termination shock in dissipating energy and accelerating particles in solar flares.Fan Guo, LANL Staff Scientist, NMC Affiliate

Space Weather Research and NASA's Van Allen Probes Mission    

Geoff Reeves: NMC-LANL Senior Scientist and Project Lead
Mick Denton, Xiangrong Fu: NMC Research Scientists
Alex Boyd, Cristian Ferradas: NMC Post-Docs
Brian Larsen, Reiner Friedel, Yue Chen, Greg Cunningham, Mike Henderson, Ruth Skoug, Steve Morley, Vania Jordanova, Andrew Walker, Phil Fernandes, Lisa Winter:  LANL-NMC Research Scientists 
This NASA funded project conducts research on Space Weather - the environment and activity in space that can harm satellites and endanger Earth-based systems that depend on them. In particular the project focuses on analysis of space weather data from NASA’s Van Allen Probes (RBSP) satellites ( The Helium Oxygen Proton Electron (HOPE) plasma spectrometers on the twin Van Allen Probes satellites was designed and built at Los Alamos and is not maintained and operated by NMC. Additionally, the NMC leads the science and analysis team for the Energetic particle, Composition, and Thermal plasma (RBSP-ECT) instrument suite, operates the Science Data and Operations Center.

The Energetic particle, Composition, and Thermal plasma (RBSP-ECT) instrument suite, led by Prof. Harlan Spence of the University of New Hampshire, is a collaboration that includes Los Alamos National Laboratory, The Aerospace Corporation, the University of Colorado, and Southwest Research Institute.

RBSP-ECT Science Data and Operations Center:

Collaborative Research: Turbulence, Structures, and Diffusive Shock Acceleration

Fan Guo, LANL Staff Scientist, NMC Affiliate

Although shock waves are thought to be effective accelerators of particles via the diffusive shock acceleration (DSA) mechanism, the predicted characteristics of the energetic particle distribution are often inconsistent with observations. We propose to investigate the amplification and generation of turbulence by fast mode shock waves, and the subsequent acceleration of charged particles, particularly electrons, in the turbulent wake of a shock. For the first time, we will develop quantitative and testable models of particle energization in turbulence generated and amplified by shocks that is dissipated via reconnection current layers and associated magnetic islands. 


INSPIRE Track 1: Aurorasaurus - Citizen Scientists Experiencing the Extremes of Space

Elizabeth MacDonald: Founder, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, NMC Affiliated Researcher
Matt Heavner: Co-PI, NMC Research Scientist
Burcu Kosar: NMC Postdoc, NASA GSFC
Kasha Patel: Science Communication, GSFC, NMC
Michael Cook: Outreach, University of North Dakota
Past Collaborators:  Michelle Hall, Jessica Clayton, Science Education Solutions, Andrea Tapia, Nicholas Lalone PSU, Nathan Case, Lancaster University, Sean McCloat, University of North Dakota, Ideum
The INSPIRE program aims for transformative, interdisciplinary research. This project has three intertwined goals. In the area of Geospace the goal is to create a robust system for rapid collection, management, visualization, analysis, interpretation, and redistribution of data on auroral events contributed by citizen observers that significantly improves our understanding of auroral physics and nowcasting of space weather. In the area of citizen science, the goal is to create an informal science learning environment that engages a diverse public audience to participate in reporting auroral observational data and conducting citizen science research activities. In the area of human­centered computing, the goal is to design a computer interface incorporating social media and commication technologies that enable a virtual community to participate in advancing understanding of space weather.  
From this program came the Aurorasaurus website, the first aurora borealis mapping program of its kind using social media. Auroasaurus displays public sightings of the northern lights where individuals can provide observations via Tweet or direct observations.The website displays pertinent scientific background and satellite and groundbased observations for further inquiry. 
The most significant new result from this project has been the citizen scientist assisted discovery of the Steve aurora. Aurorasaurus is leading the publication of this new result, along with the University of Calgary and others. The paper will be submitted to Science Advances, a high impact journal, in Sept. 2017. The result is significant because citizen scientists have documented a new type of aurora, AND because it is in the sub­auroral region but highly connected to both auroral physics and magnetospheric physics.
Aurorasaurus articles at
Aurorasaurus press at
Steve aurora blog post at

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