Empirical Models of the Electron Temperature and Density in the Nightside Venus Ionosphere

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  06 Jul 1979:
Vol. 205, Issue 4401, pp. 102-105
DOI: 10.1126/science.205.4401.102


Empirical models of the electron temperature and electron density of the late afternoon and nightside Venus ionosphere have been derived from Pioneer Venus measurements acquired between 10 December 1978 and 23 March 1979. The models describe the average ionosphere conditions near 18°N latitude between 150 and 700 kilometers altitude for solar zenith angles of 80° to 180°. The average index of solar flux was 200. A major feature of the density model is the factor of 10 decrease beyond 90° followed by a very gradual decrease between 120° and 180°. The density at 150° is about five times greater than observed by Venera 9 and 10 at solar minimum (solar flux80), a difference that is probably related to the effects of increased solar activity on the processes that maintain the nightside ionosphere. The nightside electron density profile from the model (above 150 kilometers) can be reproduced theoretically either by transport of 0+ ions from the dayside or by precipitation of low-energy electrons. The ion transport process would require a horizontal flow velocity of about 300 meters per second, a value that is consistent with other Pioneer Venus observations. Although currently available energetic electron data do not yet permit the role of precipitation to be evaluated quantitatively, this process is clearly involved to some extent in the formation of the nightside ionosphere. Perhaps the most surprising feature of the temperature model is that the electron temperature remains high throughout the nightside ionosphere. These high nocturnal temperatures and the existence of a well-defined nightside ionopause suggest that energetic processes occur across the top of the entire nightside ionosphere, maintaining elevated temperatures. A heat flux of 2 x 1010 electron volts per square centimeter per second, introduced at the ionopause, is consistent with the average electron temperature profile on the nightside at a solar zenith angle of 140°.