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Does Phobos Reflect Solar Wind Protons? Mars Express Special Flyby Operations With and Without the Presence of Phobos

Abstract : We characterize the solar wind proton reflection (backscattering) from Phobos using a series of Mars Express operations. The plasma data obtained during the Phobos flyby of Mars Express in January 2016 showed a non-solar wind signal possibly reflected from the Phobos surface. Similar signatures were previously reported during an earlier Phobos flyby in 2008. On the other hand, although Mars Express has encountered Phobos (within 100 km) more than 10 times, it has thus far detected only two clear cases of reflected protons. The intermittency of the reflected proton detections could indicate that these protons are not from Phobos but are produced by the spacecraft body or solar arrays under a special attitude configuration during the flyby maneuver. To rule out these artifacts as the cause, we conducted three special operations; Mars Express was operated using the identical attitude and solar panel control sequence but without Phobos nearby. All the measured plasma data during the special operations exhibit no additional plasma signatures. These fake flyby experiments indicate that the measured non-solar wind protons during the real flyby are not from the spacecraft and that Phobos likely reflects solar wind into space. On the other hand, the intermittency of the reflected protons from Phobos remains unexplained. The reflected protons are vital additional plasma components because they inject enough energy to disturb the near-Phobos plasma environment. In addition, we can utilize these reflected particles to remotely measure the surface precipitation flux.
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Submitted on : Thursday, May 19, 2022 - 4:50:34 PM
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yoshifumi Futaana, Mats Holmström, Andrey Fedorov, Stas Barabash. Does Phobos Reflect Solar Wind Protons? Mars Express Special Flyby Operations With and Without the Presence of Phobos. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 2021, 126, ⟨10.1029/2021JE006969⟩. ⟨insu-03672355⟩

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