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Journal Article

Expansion and Shrinking of the Martian Topside Ionosphere


Dubinin,  E. M.
Department Planets and Comets, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;


Fränz,  Markus
Department Planets and Comets, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;


Woch,  Joachim
Department Sun and Heliosphere, Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Max Planck Society;

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Dubinin, E. M., Fränz, M., Pätzold, M., Woch, J., McFadden, J., Halekas, J. S., et al. (2019). Expansion and Shrinking of the Martian Topside Ionosphere. Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics, 124(11), 9725-9738. doi:10.1029/2019JA027077.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0005-8622-D
The observations made by the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN spacecraft in the topside (≥200 km) ionosphere of Mars show that this region is very responsive to the variations of the external (solar extreme ultraviolet flux, solar wind, and interplanetary magnetic field [IMF]) and internal (the crustal magnetic field) drivers. With the growth of the solar irradiance the ionosphere broadens while with increase of the solar wind dynamic pressure it shrinks. As a result, the upper ionospheric boundary at solar zenith angles of 60–70° can move from ∼400 to ∼1,200 km. Similar trends are observed at the nightside ionosphere. At Pdyn ≥ 1–2 nPa the nightside ionosphere becomes very fragmented and depleted. On the other hand, the ion density in the nightside ionosphere significantly (up to a factor of 10) increases with the rise of the solar extreme ultraviolet flux. Large‐amplitude motions of the topside ionosphere also occur with variations of the value of the cross‐flow component of the IMF. The upper dayside ionosphere at altitudes of more than 300–400 km is sensitive also to the direction of the cross‐flow component of the IMF or, correspondingly, to the direction of the motional electric field in the solar wind. The ionosphere becomes very asymmetrical with respect to the Vsw×BIMF direction and the asymmetry strongly enhances at the nightside. The topside ionosphere above the areas with strong crustal magnetic field in the dayside southern hemisphere is significantly denser and expands to higher altitudes as compared to the ionosphere above the northern nonmagnetized lowlands. The crustal magnetic field also protects the nightside ionosphere from being filled by plasma transported from the dayside. The draping IMF penetrates deeply into the ionosphere and actively influences its structure. Weak fields and, correspondingly, weak magnetic field forces only slightly affect the ionosphere. With increase of the induced magnetic field strength the transport motions driven by the magnetic field pressure and field tensions seem to be intensified and we observe that the local ion densities at the dayside considerably decrease. A different trend is observed at the nightside. The ion density in the nightside ionosphere above the northern lowlands is higher than in the southern hemisphere indicating that plasma transport from the dayside is the main source of the nightside ionosphere. Nonstop variations in the solar wind, the IMF and the solar irradiance together with planetary rotation of the crustal magnetic field sources lead to a continuous expansion/shrinking and reconfiguration of the topside ionosphere of Mars.