The Mars topside ionosphere response to the X8.2 solar flare of 10 September 2017

Document Type


Publication Date



Physics and Astronomy

Publication Title

Geophysical Research Letters


On 10 September 2017, irradiance from a magnitude X8.2 solar flare impacted Mars while the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) orbiter was characterizing the Mars upper atmosphere. This solar flare was the largest to occur during the MAVEN mission to date, nearly tripling the ionizing irradiance impacting Mars in tens of minutes, and provides an opportunity to study the planet's response to extreme irradiance changes. This letter reports in situ observations of the Mars topside ionosphere's response to this flare above 155 km made 1.67 hr after the flare soft X-ray peak. The observed plasma density increase is higher than expected based solely on increased ionization, and the electron temperature decreases below 225 km; both effects can be explained by an expanded neutral atmosphere, which efficiently dissipates any flare-induced heating of the thermal electrons at altitudes where CO2 is the dominant species. Further, the ion density and composition change significantly at both fixed altitude and pressure level, which can be explained by a change in the O:CO2 density ratio, highlighting the importance this ratio has in determining ionospheric structure.

Link to Published Version