Southampton Astronomy

Compact Objects and Time Domain Astronomy

Postgraduate Studies in Southampton

The School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Southampton offers postgraduate studies (Ph.D.) in a variety of fields in astronomy and space science, including observational and theoretical astrophysics of our own and other galaxies, as well as the study of planetary magnetospheres. We also have a strong interest in high-energy, space-based astrophysics in general and in particular in the major gamma-ray satellite INTEGRAL.

Possible research topics are generally outlined by the research interests of our members of staff. If you have any questions about any particular topic you are welcome to contact people directly. Dr Francesco Shankar would be glad to respond to any (in)formal enquiries.

More general information on postgraduate work in the Physics and Astronomy department at Southampton is available. For more information about the University and its surroundings, look at the University home page. Have a look at the astronomy group's home page to find out more on what we do here.

Research Projects for PhDs starting in 2019

Several PhD places will be available in the astrophysics group this year, with projects chosen from among those listed below. Candidates need not express a preference for project/supervisor before interviews are held. Applications will be reviewed at the end of January and successful candidates invited for interview shortly afterwards. Late applications may be considered. We also offer the possibility to co-host PhD studentships in collaboration with ESO, Europe’s flagship observatory. PhD projects will typically be supervised by a member of staff of the astro group and one at ESO in Garching near Munich (Germany) or Santiago (Chile). Students will have the opportunity to work two years in an international environment in Germany or Chile before finishing their last year at the University of Southampton. Please contact a member of staff if you are interested.

Scroll down to view the available projects below


For further information, please contact:

Dr Francesco Shankar

Room 5067 (building B46);
Ext. 22150

School of Physics & Astronomy
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
SO17 1BJ, U.K.

Tel. +44-(0)-23-8059-2150

How to apply

To apply you will need to get an application form (which asks brief details of your past courses) and the names and addresses of two people who can provide you with a reference. The key aspects are (a) what degree course you have done, and any relevant components, especially project work, and (b) your references. Do not worry if you do not know exactly what you want to do. It would be surprising if you did!

If you are interested in applying and would like an application form and further information, please fill in the on-line form, selecting the "Astrophysics" option to have your request directed to the astronomy group. For part-time research, use this form instead. To apply for the Mayflower Scholarship, use this form.

For more information on how to apply and online application form please visit the University web page.

Research Facilities
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Structure of the Earth's magnetosphere under Northward IMF conditions

The Earth's magnetic field forms a cavity in the solar wind called the magnetosphere; the interaction between the solar wind and the magnetosphere is ultimately responsible for the dynamics of near-Earth space, including variations in the intensity of the radiation belts and the most spectacular displays of the aurora (the northern and southern lights). The nature of these interactions depends on the orientation of the magnetic field associated with the solar wind (the interplanetary magnetic field, or IMF); a "southward" orientation of the IMF (opposite to the Earth's magnetic field) is preferential for many magnetospheric processes, but the IMF direction is highly variable, and the dynamics of the magnetosphere under northward IMF conditions are, in comparison, poorly understood. One example of this is the structure of the night side of the Earth's magnetosphere, which forms an extended magnetotail. The magnetotail consists of a plasma sheet sandwiched between two low density regions called the lobes. In the textbook picture of the magnetotail, the low latitude "plasma sheet" is hot, whereas the plasma in the lobes is very cold and usually low in density. However, a recent series of papers have begun to challenge this paradigm, and have found that under certain conditions uncharacteristically hotter/higher density plasma can be observed in the lobes, some of which are associated with perplexing "high latitude" auroral emissions which lie poleward of the main auroral region. The mechanisms causing both the plasma structure and the high latitude auroral emissions are hotly debated. The aim of this project is to use in situ satellite data from spacecraft such as the European Space Agency's Cluster mission to determine and explain the structure of the magnetotail during the more complex intervals associated with northward IMF. This will begin with a statistical classification of the plasma environment during northward IMF conditions, and will lead on to a comparison with global scale auroral datasets. We expect this work will lead to a significant contribution to our understanding of the magnetosphere's response to northward IMF conditions.

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Fine-scale electric fields and Joule heating from observations of the Aurora

The Earth's aurora borealis are a spectacular natural phenomenon, caused by energy deposition from the 'solar wind' into the upper atmosphere through the process of Joule heating. Recent work at Southampton has shown that electric fields on temporal scales of hundreds of milliseconds can be determined by auroral observations made by state-of-the-art instruments. So far, only simple electric field structures have been considered, but more complex parameterizations could quantify spatial variability on scales of hundreds of metres and therefore reveal the true contribution to atmospheric heating made by Joule heating. The project will involve fieldwork on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, in order to operate the auroral cameras and supporting ionospheric radars; training will be provided in Arctic survival and safety techniques, and operation of the optical and radar instrumentation.

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The Next Generation of Supernova Surveys

Exploding stars, or supernovae, impact upon many diverse areas of astrophysics, from galaxy formation, to stellar evolution, to cosmology and studies of dark energy. The next few years will see a revolution in this field, with the numbers of objects available to study rising from the hundreds to thousands and tens of thousands per year. In particular, two major new facilities will revolutionise the study of supernovae: the first is the billion-dollar Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), an 8-m survey telescope that will image the whole sky every 3 days, and which will find new supernova explosions at an unprecedented rate. The second is the 4MOST multi-object spectrograph, which will study thousands of supernova explosions in great detail as part of its TIme Domain Extragalactic Survey (TIDES). This combination will provide the ultimate cosmological sample of type Ia supernovae, probing completely new parts of time-domain parameter space, and Southampton is involved in this key work.
This project will use scientific results based on existing samples of supernovae - from the Dark Energy Survey, the OzDES survey, and the Palomar Transient Factory - to prepare for the advent of these new facilities. This will involve developing new techniques to classify large samples of supernova events based only on photometric data (with immediate application to existing Dark Energy Survey data), and the calculation of the rate of occurrence of exotic supernova explosions. This is the perfect opportunity to get involved in two major new surveys from the start of their operations.

Last updated 16th November 2018 PhDAdmissionCoordinator