Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences
Nicholas M. Schneider
The atmosphere of every planet is surrounded by a tenuous cloud of hydrogen gas, referred to as a hydrogen corona. At Mars, a substantial fraction of the H present in the corona is moving fast enough to escape the planet's gravity, permanently removing H from the Martian atmosphere. Because this H is ultimately derived from lower atmospheric water, loss of H from Mars is capable of drying and oxidizing the planet over geologic time. Understanding the processes that supply the H corona and control its escape is therefore essential for a complete understanding of the climate history of Mars and for assessing its habitability. In this thesis, I present the most complete analysis of the H corona ever attempted, surveying eight years of data gathered by the ultraviolet spectrograph SPICAM on Mars Express. Using a coupled radiative transfer and physical density model, I interpret brightness measurements of the corona in terms of escape rates of H from the planet, uncovering an order-of-magnitude variability in the H escape rate never before detected. These variations are interpreted using a completely new photochemical model of the atmosphere, demonstrating that newly discovered high altitude water vapor layers are sufficient to produce the observed variation. Finally, I present first results of the SPICAM successor instrument IUVS, an imaging ultraviolet spectrograph carried by NASA's MAVEN spacecraft. IUVS measurements are producing the most complete dataset ever gathered for the Martian H corona, enabling supply and loss processes to be assessed in more complete detail than ever before. This dataset will allow present-day loss rates to be extrapolated into the past, determining the absolute amount of water Mars has lost to space over the course of its history. Planets the size of Mars may be common throughout the universe; the work of this thesis is one step toward assessing the habitability of such planets in general.
Chaffin, Michael Scott, "The H Corona of Mars" (2015). Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 36.