Space physics at the IFT deals with the Earth's upper atmosphere, the ionosphere and the magnetosphere; and with cosmic dust and dusty plasma phenomena. The northern lights are a well-known phenomenon in the region between the Earth’s atmosphere and the magnetosphere at high latitudes. Conditions and processes here are associated with the influx of electromagnetic radiation and charged particles (the solar wind) that originate in the Sun and determine the near-Earth space weather. Cosmic dust particles that hit the Earth lead to dusty plasma phenomena in the upper polar atmosphere; they form Noctilucent Clouds that are visibly observed and Polar Mesospheric Summer Echoes that are observed with radar.
The University of Tromsø is the host institution for EISCAT facilites near Tromsø and on Svalbard. EISCAT is an international research organisation that operates radar instruments for investigating the upper atmosphere, the ionosphere and the magnetosphere, including the aurora. As the ionosphere is in the plasma state, its processes are largely based on plasma physics. Therefore, in addition to studying geophysical phenomena, the EISCAT radars can also be used to study plasma physics. The UiT space physics group takes an active role in the preparation for the new radar EISCAT_3D. (See EISCAT radar on the left)
Scientists at the University of Tromsø conduct rocket experiments using the Andøya Rocket Range and SVALRAK in Svalbard to study the electrically charged dust particles (dusty plasma) in the middle atmosphere. Studies of the interplanetry medium and the solar wind and its interaction with the Earth's magnetosphere are also part of the space research programme in Tromsø and the group participates in international space projects. (See MiniDusty rocket payload on the right.)
The space physics activities at the Department are strengthened by the plasma laboratory Aurolab that can be employed to investigate plasma processes found in space, especially those occurring during energetic particle precipitation that cause the Aurora. The Aurolab's plasma chamber Njord is designed to study flows and beams in weakly magnetized, low-temperature plasmas, the physical processes that cause charged particle acceleration, magnetic field-aligned electric fields, and plasma instabilities and turbulence.
Other research groups at the department: