October 14, 2014

Ion escape from Mars as a function of solar wind conditions: A statistical study

Ion escape from Mars as a function of solar wind conditions: A statistical study

Nilsson et Al.
Icarus

Summary: The influence of solar EUV and solar wind conditions on ion escape at Mars is investigated using ion data from the Aspera-3 instrument on Mars Express, combined with solar wind proxy data obtained from the Mars Global Surveyor (MGS) spacecraft. A solar EUV flux proxy based on data from the Earth position, scaled and shifted in time for Mars, is used to study relatively long time scale changes related to solar EUV variability. Data from May 2004 until November 2005 has been used. A clear dependence on the strength of the subsolar magnetic field as inferred from MGS measurements is seen in the ion data. The region of significant heavy ion flows is compressed and the heavy ion flux density is higher for high subsolar magnetic field strength. Because of the difference in outflow area, the difference in estimated total outflow is somewhat less than the difference in average flux density. We confirm previous findings that escaping planetary ions are mainly seen in the hemisphere into which the solar wind electric field is pointed. The effect is more pronounced for the high subsolar magnetic field case.The average ion motion has a consistent bias towards the direction of the solar wind electric field, but the main motion is in the antisunward direction. The antisunward flow velocity increases with tailward distance, reaching above 100 km s-1 at 2 to 3 Martian radii downtail from Mars for O+ ions. Different ion species reach approximately the same bulk flow energy. We did not find any clear correlation between the solar EUV flux and the ion escape distribution or rate, probably because the variation of the solar EUV flux over our study interval was too small. The results indicate that the solar wind and its magnetic field directly interacts with the ionosphere of Mars, removing more ions for high subsolar magnetic field strength. The interaction region and the tail heavy ion flow region are not perfectly shielded from the solar wind electric field, which accelerates particles over relatively large tail distances.