Professor in Space and Plasma Physics
The Northern Lights is an astronomical phenomenon that not only appears on Earth but also on other planets. While this phenomenon is perceived as being incredibly beautiful, it is actually caused by space particles striking atoms in the Earth’s atmosphere, which can cause major interference in technology.
Tomas Karlsson’s research area of space physics is about measuring and understanding different phenomena in our solar system. The space between astronomical objects is filled with plasma that is an electrically conducting gas. Via his research, he aims to increase understanding of how plasma winds from the sun interact with the magnetic fields of astronomical objects.
Like every other planet with a magnetic field, the Earth has a protective bubble that protects us against solar wind particles and cosmic radiation. However, this magnetosphere does not fully shield us against some particles that are able to sneak through.
These are seen as polar lights in the sky and give rise to electromagnetic fields that interfere with all technology in the nearby area on Earth. This interference is called space weather and probes are being sent to other planets, asteroids and comets to gain a better understanding of this. One current example is Solar Orbiter, a probe that should provide unique measurements of the actual plasma in solar wind close to the sun.
Tomas Karlsson spends most of his time analyzing data from space probes, but also uses computer simulations to interpret and explain the measurements.