Comparison of terrestrial and Martian TEC at dawn and dusk during solstices

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This paper used the similarities between the ionospheres on Mars and Earth, the most similar of the terrestrial planets, to examine the relative importance of photochemical and transport processes at dawn and dusk. The amount of plasma present in the ionosphere, as measured by the total electron content (TEC), was examined at different locations for both solstice seasons over a solar cycle. Using the rate of change of TEC as a function of solar zenith angle made it possible to compare the plasma production via photoionisation and loss via recombination in the main layer of each planetary ionosphere despite the extreme differences in the total quantity of plasma. This study finds that, at least to first order, the dawn and dusk TEC slopes at Mars are symmetric. This symmetry is interpreted as an indicator of photochemical equilibrium. Deviations from photochemical equilibrium in different geographic and aerographic regions were used to explore the underlying processes responsible for plasma transport. Seasonal and solar cycle variations were also examined at dusk. These variations found that differing interactions with solar forcing mechanisms resulted in a Martian ionosphere with regions that showed evidence of significant transport processes at solar maximum, while at Earth transport processes were most important at solar minimum. In general, the photochemical processes in both ionospheres behave similarly when no magnetic field is considered. The presence or absence of a magnetic field shape the production via photoionisation and loss via recombination processes in both ionospheres, especially when considering plasma transport. This study has notable implications for comparative aeronomy, as a good understanding of how the ionosphere of magnetised and un-magnetised bodies compares is important for characterising planetary environments and atmospheric evolution over long time scales. [Figure not available: see fulltext.].




Burrell, A. G., Sánchez-Cano, B., Witasse, O., Lester, M., & Cartacci, M. (2020). Comparison of terrestrial and Martian TEC at dawn and dusk during solstices. Earth, Planets and Space, 72(1).

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