Dayside electron density structures organised by the Martian crustal magnetic fields
Tuesday, 15 December 2015: 08:00
2007 (Moscone West)
The Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) onboard Mars Express is able to detect remotely the Martian topside electron densities down to the main ionospheric peak. In the ionospheric mode it transmits a sequence of pulses in the frequency range 0.1 to 5.5 MHz and measures the delay of reception of the reflected signals returned by the ionospheric plasma layers below the spacecraft. Previous studies using MARSIS have investigated localized electron density structures in the dayside Martian ionosphere, located in areas of typically near-vertical or oblique orientation of the Martian crustal magnetic fields. These crustal fields are remnants of the now extinct global Martian dipole magnetic field, with the strongest fields in the Southern hemisphere reaching up to |B| > 200 nT at altitudes of 400 km. These density structures are often detected as apparent upwellings above the surrounding ideally horizontally stratified ionosphere. Previous studies searched the density structures at a fixed sounding frequency of 1.9 MHz (equivalent to a plasma density of 4.47·104 cm-3), which is a typical frequency at which they are detected. In addition, these studies did not account for the signal dispersion due to the propagation through the ionosphere, which causes larger time delays for receiving the radar echoes, and therefore an underestimation of the altitude of these structures. In the present work we propose to use a statistical dataset of such density structures detected on the dayside of Mars by MARSIS in areas of oblique crustal fields, to determine the interval of densities for which the structures are found to make apparent upwellings. Then we use the corresponding electron density profiles corrected for signal dispersion, to determine the real altitudes of the density structures, their vertical extent and their plasma scale heights compared to the surrounding ionosphere. These new informations give critical hints for uncovering their origins (plasma diffusion along near-vertical fields or reduced electron-ion recombination rates due to localized heating in areas of near-vertical fields), in addition of their control by the crustal field orientation and their established long term stability, despite changing solar wind conditions.