The Morphology of the Topside Martian Ionosphere: Implications on Bulk Ion Flow

X. S. Wu, J. Cui, S. S. Xu, R. J. Lillis, R. V. Yelle, N. J.T. Edberg, E. Vigren, Z. J. Rong, K. Fan, J. P. Guo, Y. T. Cao, F. Y. Jiang, Y. Wei, D. L. Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Prior to the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, the only information on the composition of the Martian ionosphere came from the Viking Retarding Potential Analyzer data, revealing the presence of substantial ion outflow on the dayside of Mars. Extensive measurements made by the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer allow us to examine the morphology of the Martian ionosphere not only in unprecedented detail but also on both the dayside and the nightside of the planet. Above 300 km, various ionospheric species present a roughly constant density scale height around 100 km on the dayside and 180 km on the nightside. An evaluation of the ion force balance, appropriate for regions with near-horizontal magnetic field lines, suggests the presence of supersonic ion outflow predominantly driven by the ambient magnetic pressure, with characteristic dayside and nightside flow velocities of 4 and 20 km/s, respectively, both referred to an altitude of 500 km. The corresponding total ion outflow rates are estimated to be 5 × 1025 s−1 on the dayside and 1 × 1025 s−1 on the nightside. The data also indicate a prominent variation with magnetic field orientation in that the ion distribution over regions with near-vertical field lines tends to be more extended on the dayside but more concentrated on the nightside, as compared to regions with near-horizontal field lines. These observations should have important implications on the pattern of ion dynamics in the vicinity of Mars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)734-751
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Planets
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2019


  • Martian ionosphere
  • crustal magnetic anomalies
  • ion outflow
  • magnetic pressure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


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