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.
The exobase is defined as the interface between the strongly collisional and the collisionless parts of an atmosphere. Although in reality the exobase is a transition region of finite depth, it is conventionally defined as the boundary above which an upwardly ejected neutral particle makes one collision at higher altitudes. Such an idealized definition is of practical use and serves as a good tracer of the overall size of an atmosphere as it expands and contracts under the influences of both external and internal sources. Knowledge of the atmospheric properties near the exobase is crucial to first-order estimates of atmospheric escape rates on terrestrial planets. Since its arrival at Mars on 21 September 2014, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has provided comprehensive maps of the Martian upper atmosphere under a variety of conditions. This allows, for the first time, a thorough investigation of the variations of the exobase altitude on this red planet. In this study, we use the N2 density measurements accumulated by MAVEN’s Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer from October 2014 to November 2018 to determine the exobase altitudes for a large number of MAVEN orbits. Our analysis reveals clearly the variations of exobase altitude with local time and solar extreme ultraviolet (EUV) flux, as well as tentative evidence for the impact of global dust storms. These observations are indicative of thermal expansion of the Martian upper atmosphere, driven either externally by solar EUV energy deposition or internally by global dust storms.
The photoelectron peak at 22–27 eV, a distinctive feature of the energetic electron distribution in the dayside Martian ionosphere, is a useful diagnostic of solar extreme ultraviolet (EUV) and X-ray ionization as well as of large-scale transport along magnetic field lines. In this work, we analyze the pitch angle distribution (PAD) of energetic electrons at 22–27 eV measured during several representative Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) orbits, based on the electron spectra gathered by MAVEN’s Solar Wind Electron Analyzer (SWEA) instrument. On the dayside, most photoelectron spectra show an isotropic PAD as is expected from production via solar EUV/X-ray ionization. The photoelectron spectra occasionally observed on the nightside show instead a strongly anisotropic PAD, indicative of cross-terminator transport along ambient magnetic field lines. This would in turn predict the presence of dayside photoelectrons, also with a strongly anisotropic PAD, which was indeed revealed in SWEA data. Comparison with magnetic field measurements made by the MAVEN Magnetometer suggests that on average the photoelectrons with anisotropic PAD stream away from Mars on the dayside and towards Mars on the nightside, further supporting the scenario of day-to-night transport. On both sides, anisotropic photoelectrons tend to be observed above the photoelectron exobase at ～160 km where photoelectron transport dominates over local production and energy degradation.