The Martian ionosphere is produced by a number of controlling processes, including solar extreme ultraviolet radiation (EUV) and X-ray ionization, impact ionization by precipitating electrons, and day-to-night transport. This study investigates the structural variability of the Martian ionosphere with the aid of the radio occultation (RO) experiments made on board the recent Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. On the dayside, the RO electron density profiles are described by the superposition of two Chapman models, representing the contributions from both the primary layer and the low-altitude secondary layer. The inferred subsolar peak electron densities and altitudes are 1.24×105 cm–3 and 127 km for the former, and 4.28×104 cm–3 and 97 km for the latter, respectively, in general agreement with previous results appropriate for the low solar activity conditions. Our results strengthen the role of solar EUV and X-ray ionization as the driving source of plasma on the dayside of Mars. Beyond the terminator, a systematic decline in ionospheric total electron content is revealed by the MAVEN RO measurements made from the terminator crossing up to a solar zenith angle of 120°. Such a trend is indicative of day-to-night plasma transport as an important source for the nightside Martian ionosphere.
Photoelectrons are produced by solar Extreme Ultraviolet radiation and contribute significantly to the local ionization and heat balances in planetary upper atmospheres. When the effect of transport is negligible, the photoelectron energy distribution is controlled by a balance between local production and loss, a condition usually referred to as local energy degradation. In this study, we examine such a condition for photoelectrons near Mars, with the aid of a multi-instrument Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution data set gathered over the inbound portions of a representative dayside MAVEN orbit. Various photoelectron production and loss processes considered here include primary and secondary ionization, inelastic collisions with atmospheric neutrals associated with both excitation and ionization, as well as Coulomb collisions with ionospheric thermal electrons. Our calculations indicate that photoelectron production occurs mainly via primary ionization and degradation from higher energy states during inelastic collisions; photoelectron loss appears to occur almost exclusively via degradation towards lower energy states via inelastic collisions above 10 eV, but the effect of Coulomb collisions becomes important at lower energies. Over the energy range of 30–55 eV (chosen to reduce the influence of the uncertainty in spacecraft charging), we find that the condition of local energy degradation is very well satisfied for dayside photoelectrons from 160 to 250 km. No evidence of photoelectron transport is present over this energy range.