October 14, 2014

Ion loss on Mars caused by the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability

Penz T., Erkaev N.V., Biernat H.K., Lammer H., Amerstorfer U.V., Guneir H., Kallio E., Barabash S., Orsini S., Milillo A., Baumjohann W.
Planetary and Space Science

Summary: Mars Global Surveyor detected cold electrons above the Martian ionopause, which can be interpreted as detached ionospheric plasma clouds. Similar observations by the Pioneer Venus Orbiter electron temperature probe showed also extreme spatial irregularities of electrons in the form of plasma clouds on Venus, which were explained by the occurrence of the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. Therefore, we suggest that the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability may also detach ionospheric plasma clouds on Mars. We investigate the instability growth rate at the Martian ionopause resulting from the flow of the solar wind for the case where the interplanetary magnetic field is oriented normal to the flow direction. Since the velocity shear near the subsolar point is very small, this area is stable with respect to the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability. We found that the highest flow velocities are reached at the equatorial flanks near the terminator plane, while the maximum plasma density in the terminator plane appears at the polar areas. By comparing the instability growth rate with the magnetic barrier formation time, we found that the instability can evolve into a non-linear stage at the whole terminator plane but preferably at the equatorial flanks. Escape rates of O+ ions due to detached plasma clouds in the order of about 2 x 1023-3 - 1024 s-1 are found. Thus, atmospheric loss caused by the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability should be comparable with other non-thermal loss processes. Further, we discuss our results in view of the expected observations of heavy ion loss rates by ASPERA-3 on board of Mars Express. © 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.