UW ESS Space Plasma Simulation Lab

My Contribution and Project Overview

The intent of this project is to show that astronomical systems about which we know only certain key parameters can be modeled by a similar and better understood simulations. With the recent increases in computing power, the field of space physics has been able to greatly increase the rate at which information can be collected about a given system. Computer simulations of astrophysical phenomena can collect both a deeper level and wider scope of data than could direct observation with conventional telescopes and satellites. Two systems are to be explored using the related simulation program: Jupiter and its moon Io within the boundaries of our own solar system, and the system of star HD 209458 and its closely orbiting planet HD 209458b, “Osirius”, in the Pegasus constellation.

While it would appear that the two situations differ vastly, they are in fact notably similar. Within each system, the ratio of the radius of the large body to the orbit radius of the small body reveals this similarity: The ratio within the extrasolar system is 0.11, and that of Jupiter and Io is 0.16. Using data collected by the Galileo satellite, enough is known to create a highly accurate model of Jupiter and Io. A model of the extrasolar system will be created using data gathered remotely about the star and planet, as well as properties that can be inferred because of the similarity between HD 209458 and the Sun. The first results are expected to show the validity of the simulation program for each of the two systems being examined. Establishing that well formed models can be applied successfully to less understood phenomena expands our ability to investigate distant systems. This in turn will help us to understand the formation and development of local systems and allow us a more complete view of Earth’s history in the context of comparable extra-solar systems.


Dr. Erika Harnett, University of Washington, Earth and Space Sciences


Poster Presented at 2010 SURP Student Poster Exhibition

Presentation delivered at 2011 SURP Student Poster Exhibition

Aurora on Jupiter's Pole

Sample data: Jupiter at center, and Io is located at the head of the red stream, indicating a high concentration of plasma trailing behind. This indicates ions are being stripped from Io.