Solar Wind (SW) electron precipitation is able to deposit a substantial amount of energy in the nightside Martian upper atmosphere, potentially exerting an influence on its thermal structure. This study serves as the first investigation of such an issue, with the aid of the simultaneous measurements of both neutral density and energetic electron intensity made on board the recent Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft. We report that, from a statistical point of view, the existing measurements do not support a scenario of noticeable neutral heating via SW electron precipitation. However, during 3%−4% of the MAVEN orbits for which data are available, strong correlation between nightside temperature and electron intensity is observed, manifested as collocated enhancements in both parameters, as compared to the surrounding regions. In addition, our analysis also indicates that neutral heating via SW electron precipitation tends to be more effective at altitudes below 160 km for integrated electron intensities above 0.01 ergs·cm−2·s−1 over the energy range of 3−450 eV. The results reported here highlight the necessity of incorporating SW electron precipitation as a heat source in the nightside Martian upper atmosphere under extreme circumstances such as during interplanetary coronal mass ejections.
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.
Electron pitch angle distributions similar to bidirectional electron conics (BECs) have been reported at Mars in previous studies based on analyses of Mars Global Surveyor measurements. BEC distribution, also termed “butterfly” distribution, presents a local minimum flux at 90° and a maximum flux before reaching the local loss cone. Previous studies have focused on 115 eV electrons that were produced mainly via solar wind electron impact ionization. Here using Solar Wind Electron Analyzer measurements made onboard the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, we identify 513 BEC events for 19–55 eV photoelectrons that were generated via photoionization only. Therefore, we are investigating electrons observed in regions well away from their source regions, to be distinguished from 115 eV electrons observed and produced in the same regions. We investigate the spatial distribution of the 19–55 eV BECs, revealing that they are more likely observed on the nightside as well as near strong crustal magnetic anomalies. We propose that the 19–55 eV photoelectron BECs are formed due to day-to-night transport and the magnetic mirror effect of photoelectrons moving along cross-terminator closed magnetic field lines.
An important population of the dayside Martian ionosphere are photoelectrons that are produced by solar Extreme Ultraviolet and X-ray ionization of atmospheric neutrals. A typical photoelectron energy spectrum is characterized by a distinctive peak near 27 eV related to the strong solar HeII emission line at 30.4 nm, and an additional peak near 500 eV related to O Auger ionization. In this study, the extensive measurements made by the Solar Wind Electron Analyzer on board the recent Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft are analyzed and found to verify the scenario that Martian ionosphere photoelectrons are driven by solar radiation. We report that the photoelectron intensities at the centers of both peaks increase steadily with increasing solar ionizing flux below 90 nm and that the observed solar cycle variation is substantially more prominent near the O Auger peak than near the HeII peak. The latter observation is clearly driven by a larger variability in solar irradiance at shorter wavelengths. When the solar ionizing flux increases from 1 mW·m-2 to 2.5 mW·m-2, the photoelectron intensity increases by a factor of 3.2 at the HeII peak and by a much larger factor of 10.5 at the O Auger peak, both within the optically thin regions of the Martian atmosphere.