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Observations of the nightside ionosphere of Mars by the Mars Express Radio Science Experiment MaRS

Observations of the nightside ionosphere of Mars by the Mars Express Radio Science Experiment MaRS

Publication date: 15 October 2012

Authors: Withers, P., et al.

Journal: Journal of Geophysical Research
Year: 2012

Copyright: American Geophysical Union.

The vertical structure of the nightside ionosphere of Mars and its dependence on solar zenith angle are currently poorly determined, as is the importance of two key sources of nightside plasma, electron precipitation and transport of dayside plasma. We examined 37 electron density profiles of the ionosphere of Mars at solar zenith angles of 101-123 degrees obtained by the Mars Express Radio Science Experiment MaRS between 18 August and 1 October 2005. In general, solar activity was low during this period, although several solar energetic particle events did occur. The results show: i) trends in peak electron density and altitude with solar zenith angle are consistent with transport of dayside plasma as an important plasma source up to 115 degrees, but not higher; ii) peak altitudes of around 150 km observed at larger (>115 degrees) solar zenith angles are consistent with simulated plasma production by electron precipitation; iii) peak altitudes observed during solar energetic particle events are at 90 km, consistent with accepted models. Solar energetic particle events can be the main source of nightside plasma. These results challenge current models of the nightside ionosphere, including their implications for plasma sources. The total electron content is correlated with peak electron density, requiring explanation. Due to the geographical distribution of this dataset (latitudes poleward of 38N), we do not explore the influence of crustal field strength and direction on the nightside ionosphere.

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