Space Science Research Projects

Space Science Research Projects

The New Mexico Consortium and Los Alamos National Laboratory’s (LANL) Intelligence and Space Research (ISR) division pursue joint research in space science. Research topics include space weather, planetary exploration, and remote sensing of the earth. The NMC and LANL seek to increase student and faculty involvement in research, and hope to facilitate the development of new missions. Read below to learn more about space science research at the NMC:

RELATED PROJECTS

NASA Moon Image

Response to RFP No EW-2692-LDRM, Lunar Dust Research Mitigation Science Definition Team

Dr. Delzanno, Gian Luca – LANL/NMC Research Scientist, Joint Appointee


Response to RFP No EW-2692-LDRM, Lunar Dust Research Mitigation Science Definition Team
This project involves the participation of Delzanno to the Lunar Dust Science Definition Team funded by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The goal of this team is to develop the science case for a payload to be deployed on the surface of the moon to perform fundamental lunar dust experiments.
NASA project lead by the Jet Propulsion Lab of Cal Tech (California Institute of Technology)
Research

Understanding Energetic Particle Acceleration and Variability in the Vicinity of Interplanetary Shocks

Dr. Gan, Zhaoming – NMC research Scientist
Ming Yuan Lo, Student Assistant


The proposal will combine state-of-the-art hybrid simulations (kinetic ions and fluid electrons) and MHD-PIC (MHD with kinetic ion feedback) simulations with in situ spacecraft measurements provided by ACE, Wind, and STEREO. We will examine how low-energy particles, magnetic fluctuations in the shock region, and shock properties in accelerating particles by numerical simulations for energetic particle acceleration and in situ observations. The outcome of this project will consist of the roles of those factors in the acceleration of charged particles at shocks and contribution to energetic particle variabilities close to the interplanetary shocks.

Innovative Advances in Understanding Auroral Phenomena by Harnessing the Power of Citizen Science

Dr. Matthew Heavner – LANL/NMC Research Scientist
Supporting Staff Francesca Di Mare – Postdoctoral Researcher


A two-year effort is proposed to study auroral oval characteristics by utilizing citizen science aurora data collected by the Aurorasaurus project. This study is composed of two parts: (1) the development of a state-of-the-art auroral model that can assimilate real-time soft sensor data with existing empirical models to improve knowledge of auroral oval specification and (2) a comprehensive study of STEVE (Strong Thermal Emission Velocity Enhancement) arcs using high quality citizen science images. Both projects enable improved understanding of the coupling between Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere and build on the INSPIRE award that established this highly successful citizen science project to study aurora. This study uses geospatially high resolution citizen science aurora data collected during the peak of the last solar maximum by the Aurorasaurus project. Utilizing this data now to build a new auroral model will allow it to be fully validated and ready for the next solar maximum.
This project is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Density Fluctuations in Near-Sun Solar Wind Turbulence

Primary Investigator Dr. Fu, Xiangrong – NMC/LANL Research Scientist

Co-Investigator Dr. Gan, Zhaoming – NMC Research Scientist

 The solar wind is a turbulent plasma originating from the upper atmosphere of the sun. Due to the magnetic field penetrating the solar wind, the turbulence exhibits strong anisotropy and it has been most thoroughly studied in the framework of incompressible magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), assuming only Alfvenic fluctuations and no density variation. However, in-situ observations clearly show density variations consistent with a compressible component in the solar wind, especially close to the Sun where the turbulent Mach number is large. In fact, compressible turbulence, although poorly understood, has much richer physics including density/ pressure variation, multiple wave modes, various nonlinear wave-wave interactions, and multiple energy dissipation channels. The proposed work will address origins of density fluctuation as manifested in the complex compressible turbulence in the near-Sun solar wind. Our recent studies show that a large fraction of the density fluctuation is not from compressible waves, as suggested in the traditional view. The fluctuations do not follow linear dispersion relations, but instead appear to be nonlinear structures. This result prompts us to re-evaluate the generation mechanism of density fluctuations in compressible turbulence. We will use in-situ measurements of the near-Sun solar wind by Parker Solar Probe (PSP) to characterize the properties of density fluctuations and their dependence on solar wind conditions and heliospheric distance. This study will also address the stability of nonlinear structures and dissipation of density fluctuations. Methodology We propose to study the properties and origins of density fluctuations in compressible solar wind turbulence using state-of-the-art 3D MHD and hybrid simulations. MHD simulations are appropriate for investigating turbulence at large fluid scales where energy is injected. Accompanying hybrid simulations will be used to study dissipation of density fluctuations near ion kinetic scales. This proposal will also use data from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP) mission. Plasma data from the PSP SWEAP instrument and magnetic field and quasi-thermal-noise plasma density data from the PSP FIELDS instrument will be used to calculate power spectral densities and correlation measures. Plasma and magnetic field data from the ACE and Wind missions will be used to compare and contrast the PSP near-sun measurements with 1 AU solar wind observations. Conjunction observations between PSP and Solar Orbiter will be explored to identify signatures of compressible turbulence and its evolution in the heliosphere. Comparison between simulation and observation data is key to make sure the simulation reveals the physical process in real solar wind and the observations are properly interpreted. Relevance of the Problem By addressing compressible turbulence and the origins of density fluctuations, the proposed research is highly relevant to one of the objectives of the HSR program: “Explore and characterize the physical processes in the space environment from the Sun to the heliopause and throughout the universe”. The proposed work, which includes both numerical simulation and data analysis of NASA missions (PSP, ACE, WIND), is aligned with the HSR program.
This project is sponsored by NASA.
Research

Continued Support for the SWIFT Mission

Dr. Palmer, David – LANL and NMC Research Scientist, Joint Appointee

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) has been a partner in the Swift spacecraft since the pre-proposal stages and has supported the mission through to the present.  This proposal is to continue this support under the LANL-affiliated institution: New Mexico Consortium (NMC).

Dr. David Palmer, of LANL and NMC, helped to design the Swift BAT instrument and was responsible for the onboard Flight Science Software for BAT.  Since launch he has participated in the Swift and BAT scientific investigations (the majority of Swift-BAT GCNs list him as a co-author) and has provided maintenance and upgrades for the BAT software.  Among these upgrades is a tiling mode that controls the spacecraft to observe a number of fixed patterns around a central point, allowing searches over a wider FOV than is provided by a single pointing of the Narrow Field Instruments.

This tiling mode has been in productive use for a number of years.  Since then, Dr. Palmer has developed an advanced tiling mode, suitable for searching very large areas such as the error boxes provided by gravitational wave observatories (LIGO/Virgo).  This software has been delivered to the Swift team and is currently used in routine operations.

Under this proposal, Dr. Palmer will continue to support and maintain the BAT software, and develop new capabilities as the need arises, in consultation with the rest of the Swift team and leadership.  Dr. Palmer will also continue in his scientific role in Swift and BAT.

This NMC project is sponsored by NASA.

computing at New Mexico Consortium Los Alamos

BlackCAT CubeSat: A Soft X-ray Sky Monitor, Transient Finder, and Burst Detector for High-Energy and Multimessenger Astrophysics

Dr. Palmer, David – LANL and NMC Research Scientist, Joint Appointee

Dr Palmer will lead the effort to develop the software for the BlackCAT mission, and participate in other aspects of spacecraft development. He will also analyze the resulting scientific data and publish results. The software to be developed and/or adapted includes: • On-board instrument scientific and engineering software for the BlackCAT instrument and its interface to the spacecraft systems • Ground systems for controlling the spacecraft and processing the returned data for analysis and scientific distribution. • Testing and simulations systems for development and verification of these systems. Dr Palmer will lead the team to design and implement these software systems. His role will include • Scoping and architecting the systems • selecting, adapting and interfacing third-party software packages where appropriate • directing the software team (primarily PSU personnel) in most of the actual coding • producing code that is specific to his expertise The development schedule envisions a March 2024 launch, with reviews, deliveries, and other milestones to be scheduled to achieve full operational capability at the time of launch, and to provide earlier capability necessary support for hardware and mission development and testing.

This project is sponsored by NASA in collaboration with Pennsylvania State University.

Heliophysics Big Year

IBEX - Interstellar Boundary Explorer
Support in-flight operations, continued on-orbit calibration, and data reduction for the IBEX-HI instrument

Reisenfeld, Daniel – LANL and NMC Research Scientist, Joint Appointee
Maria Voskresenskaya, NMC Research Scientist

This project is studying the solar wind ion heating in the regime when the turbulent Mach number is high and the plasma beta is low, i.e. the low-beta compressible turbulence regime. This regime is particularly relevant in the near-Sun region where the solar wind originates and the magnetic energy density is large. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission is actively exploring this exciting region now. Large-scale 3D MHD and hybrid simulations will be carried out to address the problem using turbulence and plasma parameters provided by in-situ spacecraft measurements and global models. The study will enable us to test competing solar wind heating mechanisms and provide critical microphysics inputs for improved global solar wind models.

This project is funded by NASA. This project is funded by a NASA award through Princeton University

Solar Wind Research

Heating of Ions in the Low-beta Compressible Solar Wind

Xiangrong (Sean) Fu, LANL Staff Scientist and NMC Research Scientist
Hui Li, LANL Staff Scientist
William Matthaeus, University of Delaware


The solar wind is the high speed plasma flow originated from the Sun, carrying magnetic field and energetic particles and propagating throughout the heliosphere. In-situ measurements have shown that solar wind is turbulent and ions are heated, though the heating mechanisms for solar wind ions are still under debate and a subject of active research.

We will study the solar wind ion heating in the regime when the turbulent Mach number is high and the plasma beta is low, i.e. the low-beta compressible turbulence regime. This regime is particularly relevant in the near-Sun region where the solar wind originates and the magnetic energy density is large. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission is actively exploring this exciting region now. Large-scale 3D MHD and hybrid simulations will be carried out to address the problem using turbulence and plasma parameters provided by in-situ spacecraft measurements and global models. The study will enable us to test competing solar wind heating mechanisms and provide critical microphysics inputs for improved global solar wind models.

This project is funded by NASA.

NMC Space Science Aurora Los Alamos

Innovative Advances in Understanding Auroral Phenomena by Harnessing the Power of Citizen Science

Space Weather Research - New Mexico Consortium, Los Alamos, New Mexico

Space Weather Research and NASA's Van Allen Probes Mission

computing at New Mexico Consortium Los Alamos

Collaborative Research: WoU-MMA: Understanding the Physics and Electromagnetic Counterparts of Neutrino Blazars with Numerical Simulations

Dr. Guo, Fan – LANL/NMC Research Scientist
Lo, Ming Yuan – Student Assistant, NMC


Study of neutrino blazars under a self-consistent physical paradigm, bridging the gap between first-principle simulations and multi-messenger signatures.Overview Blazars, relativistic jets from active galactic nuclei pointing very close to our line of sight, are among the most powerful cosmic particle accelerators in the Universe. They exhibit very bright, highly variable, nonthermal-dominated emission across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, indicating extreme particle acceleration in compact regions, often referred to as the blazar zone. Recently, NSF-funded IceCube have detected a very high energy neutrino event potentially in association with a flaring blazar TXS 0506+056 detected by Fermi. This exciting multi-messenger discovery provides the first observational evidence that extragalactic cosmic rays and neutrinos may originate from the blazar zone. Finding more neutrino blazars becomes one of the top scientific questions in the multi-messenger astronomy and a key element of NSF’s “Window on the Universe”. Intellectual Merit Neutrino blazars have proved to be difficult to identify with blind surveys of all blazars. IceCube has performed extended correlation studies, but mostly yielded insignificant correlations. Therefore, neutrino blazars are likely to be characterized by special physical conditions, which make them a rare population of blazars. This proposed program attempts to address overarching questions connected to the physical conditions favorable for proton acceleration to multi PeV energy, explore the relation between neutrino emission and electromagnetic signatures, and uncover the characteristic radiation patterns that can distinguish neutrino blazars. To address these questions, it is proposed to study neutrino blazars combining MHD, PIC, particle transport, and polarized radiation transfer simulations. These simulations are designed to track the cosmic ray acceleration and transport, thus identify temporal correlation between neutrinos and multi-wavelength signatures as well as characteristic radiation patterns for neutrino blazars. This approach therefore leverages current observational efforts to reveal underlying blazar zone physics, and provides solid predictions for future multi-messenger discoveries. Broader Impacts The proposed research will offer research opportunities for undergraduate students at Purdue University. They will work under the advisory of the Co-PIs and Collaborator to gain experience on the exciting frontiers of multi-messenger astrophysics and relativistic jet physics. The wide context of the proposal equally allows for analytical and numerical projects as well as comparison with observations, so that undergraduates can pick the opportunity that fits their main interest. The Co-PI will also participate in outreach with high school students via the Saturday Morning Astrophysics Program at Purdue University. This is a successful monthly program for Indiana middle and high school students offered within the outreach activities of the Physics and Astronomy department. A new annual activity will be introduced connected to the topic of special relativity. It will involve presentations by the faculty and graduate students where the main concepts will be highlighted. The students will then be involved with hands-on, table-top activities where they can absorb these concepts. This outreach activity will culminate with a half-day Astrophysics Camp for students in the third year of the project.

Funded by the National Science Foundation.

SHINE PROJECT - New Mexico Consortium, Los Alamos, New Mexico

Collaborative Research: Achieving a New Understanding of Solar Flare Termination Shocks

Dr. Guo, Fan – LANL/NMC Research Scientist
Lo, Ming Yuan – Student Assistant, NMC


This research will use a combination of multi-wavelength observations and numerical tools to study particle acceleration and emissions in solar flare termination shocks. In the standard scenario of solar flares, high-collimated reconnection outflows impinge upon the top of the newly reconnected flare arcade, producing a fast-mode shock at the looptop region, which is referred to as the solar flare termination shock. These shocks have been suggested as a viable mechanism for driving the plasma heating and particle acceleration in solar flares. However, detailed understanding of the relevant physical processes and their observational signatures has been lacking. The overarching goal of this proposed project is to achieve a new understanding of the termination shocks, in particular, of their role in electron acceleration and transport in solar flares. We will combine cutting-edge magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) and large-scale particle simulations in 2.5D and 3D to model the realistic magnetic field and plasma evolution in solar flares, as well as the associated energy release, electron acceleration and transport processes in the context of reconnection-driven termination shocks. The modeling results will produce synthetic observations from different viewing perspectives, which be critically tested against the state-of-the-art microwave, (E)UV, and X-ray imaging and spectroscopy data. The latter also provide diagnostics for the thermal plasma (including its dynamics, temperature, density, and magnetic field) and the accelerated electrons (including their total number density and distribution in energy) to guide the modeling and to test the theories.

Funded by the National Science Foundation.

Heliophysics Big Year

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 non-thermal 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.

PAST PROJECTS

Research
  • Parametric Instabilities and Nonlinear Interactions of Alfven Waves in Low-beta Plasmas
  • Genesis Mission Constraints on Solar-Wind Fractionation: CNO Regime Measurements and Data Analyses to Determine Solar Abundances from the Solar WindPlasma Structure and Composition as a Driver of Wave Growth in the Inner Magnetosphere
  • Magnetic Reconnection at the Dayside Magnetopause and the Role of Magnetospheric Ions
  • Collaborative Research: Turbulence, Structures, and Diffusive Shock Acceleration