October 14, 2014

The density and temperatures of the upper martian atmosphere measured by stellar occultations with Mars Express SPICAM

Forget et Al.
Journal of Geophysical Research, Volume 114, Issue E1, CiteID E01004

Summary: We present one Martian year of observations of the density and temperature in the upper atmosphere of Mars (between 60 and 130 km) obtained by the Mars Express ultraviolet spectrometer Spectroscopy for Investigation of Characteristics of the Atmosphere of Mars (SPICAM). Six hundred sixteen profiles were retrieved using stellar occultations technique at various latitude and longitude. The atmospheric densities exhibit large seasonal fluctuations due to variations in the dust content of the lower atmosphere which controls the temperature and, thus, the atmospheric scale height, below 50 km. In particular, the year observed by SPICAM was affected by an unexpected dust loading around Ls = 130° which induced a sudden increase of density above 60 km. The diurnal cycle could not be analyzed in detail because most data were obtained at nighttime, except for a few occultations observed around noon during northern winter. There, the averaged midday profile is found to slightly differ from the corresponding midnight profile, with the observed differences being consistent with propagating thermal tides and variations in local solar heating. About 6% of the observed mesopause temperatures exhibits temperature below the CO2 frost point, especially during northern summer in the tropics. Comparison with atmospheric general circulation model predictions shows that the existing models overestimate the temperature around the mesopause (above 80 to 100 km) by up to 30 K, probably because of an underestimation of the atomic oxygen concentration which controls the CO2 infrared cooling.