Interplanetary dust particles sporadically enter planetary atmospheres at orbital velocities and ablate as collisions occur with ambient gases to produce a persistent layer of metallic atoms (for example, Fe, Mg, Na) in their upper atmospheres. Such layers are well studied at Earth, but have not been directly detected elsewhere in the Solar System. Here we report the detection of a meteoric layer consisting of Mg+ ions near an altitude of 90 km in the Martian atmosphere from ultraviolet remote sensing observations by NASA's MAVEN spacecraft. We observe temporal variability in the Mg+ layer over the course of a Martian year, moving up and down in altitude seasonally and in response to dust storms, and displaying diurnal fluctuations in density. We also find that most meteor showers do not significantly perturb this layer, which constrains the fluence of eleven observed Martian meteor showers to less than our estimated global dust flux. The persistence and variability of the Mg+ layer are difficult to explain with existing models and reconcile with other transient layers of ions observed in the Martian ionosphere. We suggest that the transient layers are not sourced from the persistent Mg+ layer and thus not derived from meteoric material, but are ambient ions produced by some unknown mechanism.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)