Dr Jonathan Nichols

Jon Nichols


MPhys (Hons), PhD (Leicester)

Tel: 0116 252 5049

Email: jdn4@le.ac.uk

Office: Room S2, Physics and Astronomy Building


Dr Nichols graduated from the University of Leicester in 1997 with a first class MPhys degree in Physics with Space Science and Technology, and went on to obtain a PhD from the University of Leicester in 2004 under the supervision of Prof. S. H. W. Cowley, on the topic of Magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling currents in Jupiter’s middle magnetosphere.  From 2004-2006 he held a post-doctoral research associate (PDRA) position at the University of Leicester before leaving for Boston University, Massachusetts, where he held a PDRA post until 2008, working on a large Hubble Space Telescope program of observations of Jupiter’s and Saturn’s ultraviolet (UV) auroras.  After returning to a PDRA post at the University of Leicester in 2008 he was awarded a 5-year Science and Technology Facilities Council Advanced Fellowship in 2011, and Dr Nichols continues to work with Hubble Space Telescope data, having been awarded time to observe Jupiter, Saturn, Ganymede, and exoplanet WASP-12b.  Dr Nichols was appointed to a lectureship in 2013 and a readership in 2016.

Research interests

My research interests initially focused on the magnetospheric dynamics and auroras (‘northern lights’) of Jupiter and Saturn, but have since widened to include Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, exoplanets and brown dwarfs.  I study the behaviour of the magnetic fields of these objects, and how this relates to their auroral emissions and, in the case of exoplanets and brown dwarfs, their detectability. I use a combination of theoretical modelling, remote sensing and in situ data analysis (where available!), for example employing data obtained by the Cassini orbiter around Saturn, and images and spectra obtained by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST).  To date, I have led 6 HST programs as Principal Investigator (PI), observing Saturn’s UV auroras, Ganymede’s UV auroras and atmosphere, and the extreme ‘hot Jupiter’ exoplanet WASP-12b.


I teach the following modules within the Department of Physics and Astronomy:

  • PA 1130: Electricity and Magnetism
  • PA 1603: Planetary Exploration
  • PA 2603: Jovian planets and moons (with Dr T. S. Stallard)
  • PA 3240: Scientific Python

Professional activities

I have been the PI of 6 Hubble Space Telescope programs and was a member of the Planets Review Panel for the Cycle 21 HST Time Allocation Committee, and the NASA Solar System Workings 2 Panel.  I am a Science Team Member on the NASA Juno mission to Jupiter.  Over 2009-2011 I was the Team Leader of the International Space Science Institute (ISSI) International Team “The auroras of the outer planets”.  I am an Associate Member of the Planets Working Group in the LOFAR Transients Key Project and a Member of the Keck Institute for Space Studies study program “Planetary Magnetic Fields: Planetary Interiors and Habitability”.

Science Communication

My work features regularly in specialised and national media reports.  I am also a regular speaker at schools, astronomical societies, and other special interest groups. I have contributed to a number of television documentaries and radio programmes. These include:

  • Wonders of the Solar System (BBC)
  • Stargazing Live (BBC)


Selected Publications

  • Nichols, JD, Burleigh MR, Casewell SL, Cowley SWH, Wynn GA, Clarke JT, and West AA, Origin of ultra-cool dwarf radio emissions: magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling currents, Ap. J., Vol 760, Issue 1, Article ID 59, Pages 9pp, doi:10.1088/0004-637X/760/1/59.
  • Nichols JD. Magnetosphere‐ionosphere coupling at Jupiter‐like exoplanets with internal plasma sources: implications for detectability of auroral radio emissions, Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc., Vol 414, Pages 2125—2138, doi:0.1111/j.1365-2966.2011.18528.x
  • Nichols JD, et al., Variation of Saturn’s UV aurora with SKR phase. Geophys. Res. Lett., Vol 37, Pages L15102, doi:10.1029/2010GL044057
  • Nichols JD and Cowley SWH. Magnetosphere‐ionosphere coupling currents in Jupiter’s middle magnetosphere: effect of precipitation‐induced enhancement of the ionospheric Pedersen conductivity, Ann. Geophys., Vol 22, Pages 1799–1827, doi: 10.5194/angeo-22-1799-2004

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