THEMIS-VIS observations of clouds in the martian mesosphere: Altitudes, wind speeds, and decameter-scale morphology

T. H. McConnochie, James Bell, D. Savransky, M. J. Wolff, A. D. Toigo, H. Wang, M. I. Richardson, Philip Christensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


We present measurements of the altitude and eastward velocity component of mesospheric clouds in 35 imaging sequences acquired by the Mars Odyssey (ODY) spacecraft's Thermal Emission Imaging System visible imaging subsystem (THEMIS-VIS). We measure altitude by using the parallax drift of high-altitude features, and the velocity by exploiting the time delay in the THEMIS-VIS imaging sequence.We observe two distinct classes of mesospheric clouds: equatorial mesospheric clouds observed between 0° and 180° Ls; and northern mid-latitude clouds observed only in twilight in the 200-300° Ls period. The equatorial mesospheric clouds are quite rare in the THEMIS-VIS data set. We have detected them in only five imaging sequences, out of a total of 2048 multi-band equatorial imaging sequences. All five fall between 20° south and 0° latitude, and between 260° and 295° east longitude. The mid-latitude mesospheric clouds are apparently much more common; for these we find 30 examples out of 210 northern winter mid-latitude twilight imaging sequences. The observed mid-latitude clouds are found, with only one exception, in the Acidalia region, but this is quite likely an artifact of the pattern of THEMIS-VIS image targeting. Comparing our THEMIS-VIS images with daily global maps generated from Mars Orbiter Camera Wide Angle (MOC-WA) images, we find some evidence that some mid-latitude mesospheric cloud features correspond to cloud features commonly observed by MOC-WA. Comparing the velocity of our mesospheric clouds with a GCM, we find good agreement for the northern mid-latitude class, but also find that the GCM fails to match the strong easterly winds measured for the equatorial clouds.Applying a simple radiative transfer model to some of the equatorial mesospheric clouds, we find good model fits in two different imaging sequences. By using the observed radiance contrast between cloud and cloud-free regions at multiple visible-band wavelengths, these fits simultaneously constrain the optical depths and particles sizes of the clouds. The particle sizes are constrained primarily by the relative contrasts at the available wavelengths, and are found to be quite different in the two imaging sequences: reff=0.1μm and reff=1.5μm. The optical depths (constrained by the absolute contrasts) are substantial: 0.22 and 0.5, respectively. These optical depths imply a mass density that greatly exceeds the saturated mass density of water vapor at mesospheric temperatures, and so the aerosol particles are probably composed mainly of CO2 ice. Our simple radiative transfer model is not applicable to twilight, when the mid-latitude mesospheric clouds were observed, and so we leave the properties of these clouds as a question for further work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)545-565
Number of pages21
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 2010


  • Atmospheres, Chemistry
  • Atmospheres, Dynamics
  • Atmospheres, Structure
  • Mars, Atmosphere
  • Mars, Climate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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