In Situ Measurements of Thermal Ion Temperature in the Martian Ionosphere

K. G. Hanley, J. P. McFadden, D. L. Mitchell, C. M. Fowler, S. W. Stone, R. V. Yelle, M. Mayyasi, R. E. Ergun, L. Andersson, M. Benna, M. K. Elrod, B. M. Jakosky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


In situ measurements of ionospheric and thermospheric temperatures are experimentally challenging because orbiting spacecraft typically travel supersonically with respect to the cold gas and plasma. We present (Formula presented.) temperatures in Mars' ionosphere derived from data measured by the SupraThermal And Thermal Ion Composition instrument onboard the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN spacecraft. We focus on data obtained during nine special orbit maneuvers known as Deep Dips, during which MAVEN lowered its periapsis altitude from the nominal 150 to 120 km for 1 week in order to sample the ionospheric main peak and approach the homopause. We use two independent techniques to calculate ion temperatures from the measured energy and angular widths of the supersonic ram ion beam. After correcting for background and instrument response, we are able to measure ion temperatures as low as 100 K with associated uncertainties as low as 10%. It is theoretically expected that ion temperatures will converge to the neutral temperature at altitudes below the exobase region (∼180–200 km) due to strong collisional coupling; however, no evidence of the expected thermalization is observed. We have eliminated several possible explanations for the observed temperature difference between ions and neutrals, including Coulomb collisions with electrons, Joule heating, and heating caused by interactions with the spacecraft. The source of the energy maintaining the high ion temperatures remains unclear, suggesting that a fundamental piece of physics is missing from existing models of the Martian ionosphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2021JA029531
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Mars ionosphere
  • electrostatic analyzer
  • ion chemistry
  • ion temperature
  • ionosphere

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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