Student: Sarah Henderson, Graduate Student in Astrophysics, University of Iowa
Faculty Advisor: Jasper Halekas
My research focuses on solar wind interactions with the Martian atmosphere. As the solar wind propagates towards Mars, protons within the plasma may interact with the planet’s hydrogen corona by means of charge exchange, which can ultimately result in an energetic neutral hydrogen atom propagating with a speed similar to that of the incident proton.
This process allows these particles to pass electromagnetic boundaries around Mars and propagate deep into its ionosphere, where they collide with atmospheric constituents, resulting in a shower of ions that can be detected by spacecraft. I seek to understand and characterize the distribution and behavior of energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) in the upper Martian atmosphere on the planet’s dayside by utilizing in-situ data collected by the Solar Wind Ion Analyzer (SWIA) on the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft. My project seeks to characterize both the energetic and angular distribution of these particles as a function of altitude ranging between approximately 120 – 300 km in order to understand the role of collisions and the behavior of these particles as they propagate downward in the atmosphere. I also hope to create a global picture as to how hydrogen ENAs behave at different solar zenith angles, as well as how they behave in the presence of crustal magnetic fields.