Fluctuations in the Martian atmosphere due to solar events that affect the planet’s climate
Mars has been the subject of significant interest to understand whether life exists elsewhere in the universe, but many gaps remain in the understanding of the history of Mars’ atmosphere. Observations of the Martian ionosphere, gained through the Langmuir Probe and Waves instrument on NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft, help evaluate fluctuations in the atmosphere that could have changed the planet’s climate over time. Since Mars lacks a magnetosphere, the ionosphere is directly exposed to solar winds, which induces a magnetic field to create a barrier. Therefore, as the density of the ionosphere decreases, the planet has less protection against solar storms, which can strip the atmosphere. Electron density measurements with respect to altitude during different periods, including data from deep dips, show that the ionospheric peak is typically around 150 km above Mars’ surface. However, measurements of electron density with respect to altitude during coronal mass ejections in early March of 2015 reveal that the increased solar activity lowered the Martian ionopause, potentially allowing for increased atmospheric escape (Thampi et al., 20181). This indicates that solar disturbances earlier in Mars’ history could have played a role in atmospheric loss in the upper atmosphere, causing a planet that could have once supported life to become cold and dry (Mace, 20202).
References: 1. Mace, M. (2020, November 18). Escape from mars: How water fled the Red Planet. University of Arizona News. https://news.arizona.edu/story/escape-mars-how-water-fled-red-planet#:~:text=%22The%20loss%20of%20its%20atmosphere,to%20warm%20and%20wet%20Earth.
- Thampi, S. V., Krishnaprasad, C., Bhardwaj, A., Lee, Y., Choudhary, R. K., & Pant, T. K. (2018, July 21). MAVEN Observations of the Response of Martian Ionosphere to the Interplanetary Coronal Mass Ejections of March 2015. wiley. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018JA025444
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