RSPPG Senior Staff Information
BSc, Planetary Science, University College London, 1994-1997
My main research interest is in using astronomy as a tool to better understand the planets, in particular as a way of supporting current space missions. My own research centres on the investigation of the infrared aurora of the gas giants using both ground and space based observations.
Ground based high-resolution spectroscopy
Using high resolution spectroscopy, I investigate the ion wind structure within the auroral regions of Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus. These ion winds are driven by currents connected to the solar wind and so detecting and characterising the way ions move in the ionosphere can give direct insight into the magnetospheric processes which produce them. High resolution spectroscopy is also useful in detecting weak auroral emission, useful in characterising weaker secondary emission.
Ground based imaging
Using the same observing technique as high-resolution spectroscopy, it is possible to convert spectrometers into very narrow bandwidth imagers (narrow in both the image size and the wavelength resolution). While this is usually of limited use, in the study of planetary aurorae, it provides an excellent tool for picking up weak emission. This technique, for instance, made the first-ever observations of Saturn’s infrared aurora. In addition, I am also involved with ultraviolet observations of Jupiter and Saturn using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Cassini support observations
An important part of the observations we make is in order to support ongoing space missions, by providing a ground-truth to the in-situ measurements. Currently, I hold a long-term observing status at NASA’s InfraRed Telescope Facility, allowing me to make repeated observations of Saturn’s aurora in order to produce new science and to improve the scientific returns from the Cassini mission itself.
The Cassini-VIMS instrument is an infrared multiband imager. I am a founding member and lead researcher in the UK MAG-VIMS collaboration team, who have unique access to cooperate with the VIMS team, reducing and analysing observations of Saturn’s infrared aurora. These observations allow us a unique view of the aurora of a gas giant as Cassini moves into an inclined orbit. They also provide by far the highest quality infrared images available for planetary aurora.