October 14, 2014

Radar absorption due to a corotating interaction region encounter with Mars detected by MARSIS

Morgan et Al.

Summary: Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionospheric Sounding (MARSIS) is a subsurface and topside ionosphere radar sounder aboard the European Space Agency spacecraft Mars Express, in orbit at Mars since 25 December 2003, and in operation since 17 June 2005. The ionospheric sounding mode of MARSIS is capable of detecting the reflection of the sounding wave from the Martian surface. This ability has been used in previous work to show that the surface reflection is absorbed and disappears during periods when high fluxes of energetic particles are incident on the ionosphere of Mars. These absorption events are believed to be the result of increased collisional damping of the sounding wave, caused by increased electron density below the spacecraft, in turn caused by impact ionization from the impinging particles. In this work we identify two absorption events that were isolated during periods when the surface reflection is consistently visible and when Mars is nearly at opposition. The visibility of the surface reflection is viewed in conjunction with particle and photon measurements taken at both Mars and Earth. Both absorption events are found to coincide with Earth passing through solar wind speed and ion flux signatures indicative of a corotating interaction region (CIR). The two events are separated by an interval of approximately 27 days, corresponding to one solar rotation. The first of the two events coincides with abruptly enhanced particle fluxes seen in situ at Mars. Simultaneous with the particle enhancement there are an abrupt decrease in the intensity of electron oscillations, typically seen by the Mars Express particle instrument ASPERA-3 between the magnetic pileup boundary and the Martian bow shock, and a sharp drop in the solar wind pressure, seen in the proxy quantity based on MGS magnetometer observations. The decrease in oscillation intensity is therefore the probable effect of a relaxation of the Martian bow shock. The second absorption event does not show a particle enhancement and complete ASPERA-3 data during that time are unavailable. Other absorption events are the apparent result of solar x-ray and XUV enhancements. We conclude that surface reflection absorption events are sometimes caused by enhanced ionospheric ionization from high energy particles accelerated by the shocks associated with a CIR. A full statistical analysis of CIRs in relation to observed absorption events in conjunction with a quantitative analysis of the deposition of ionization during space weather events is needed for a complete understanding of this phenomenon. If such analyses can be carried out, radar sensing of the Martian ionosphere might be useful as a space weather probe.