The Impact of Dust Activity on the Ionosphere of Mars Through an Analysis of Ionospheric Variability
Currently, the Martian atmosphere is thin, arid, and unable to support liquid water. Surface features on Mars suggest that the atmosphere was not always like this but instead was robust enough to support rivers and oceans. Determining how exactly the atmosphere transitioned from the thick, wet atmosphere that created massive surface features to the dry one we observe today is dependent upon a thorough understanding of the interaction between the Martian ionosphere and the solar wind. The structure and composition of the ionosphere play an important role in this interaction. Dust storms on Mars occur seasonally and can be large enough to disturb the structure of the upper atmosphere. Utilizing insitu observations by the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) satellite, this study analyzes the impact of dust on the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. By accounting for predictable sources of ionospheric variability like EUV Flux, SZA, and neutral densities, the less quantifiable impact of regional and global dust activity is determined. The results of this study suggest that significant dust activity can cause disturbances in ionospheric densities. These disturbances are tied to perturbations in the thermosphere caused by aerosol heating of atmospheric dust. A complete analysis of the evolution of the Martian atmosphere requires the inclusion of the impacts of dust activity on the Martian ionosphere.