James A. Slavin
Goddard Space Flight Center
MESSENGER: Exploring Mercury’s Magnetosphere
The MESSENGER mission to Mercury offers our first opportunity to explore this planet’s miniature magnetosphere since Mariner 10’s brief fly-bys in 1974-5. Mercury’s magnetosphere is unique in many respects. The magnetosphere of Mercury is the smallest in the solar system with its magnetic field typically standing off the solar wind only ~ 1000 to 2000 km above the surface. For this reason there are no closed drift paths for energetic particles and, hence, no radiation belts; the characteristic time scales for wave propagation and convective transport are short possibly coupling kinetic and fluid modes; magnetic reconnection at the dayside magnetopause may erode the subsolar magnetosphere allowing solar wind ions to directly impact the dayside regolith; inductive currents in Mercury’s interior should act to modify the solar In addition, Mercury’s magnetosphere is the only one with its defining magnetic flux tubes rooted in a planetary regolith as opposed to an atmosphere with a conductive ionosphere. This lack of an ionosphere is thought to be the underlying reason for the brevity of the very intense, but short lived, ~ 1-2 min, substorm-like energetic particle events observed by Mariner 10 in Mercury’s magnetic tail. In this seminar, we review what we think we know about Mercury’s magnetosphere and describe the MESSENGER science team’s strategy for obtaining answers to the outstanding science questions surrounding the interaction of the solar wind with Mercury and its small, but dynamic magnetosphere.