Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Mercury's Magnetosphere Fends Off Solar Wind

Date:
January 31, 2008
Source:
University of Michigan
Summary:
The planet Mercury's magnetic field appears to be strong enough to fend off the harsh solar wind from most of its surface, according to new data from NASA's Messenger spacecraft.

Departing shots: The top left image was taken when MESSENGER was about 34,000 kilometers (21,000 miles) from Mercury, and the bottom right image was snapped from a distance of about 400,000 kilometers (250,000 miles). Mercury and Earth are the only two terrestrial planets in the solar system with magnetospheres produced by an intrinsic magnetic field.
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

The planet Mercury's magnetic field appears to be strong enough to fend off the harsh solar wind from most of its surface, according to data gathered in part by a University of Michigan instrument onboard NASA's MESSENGER spacecraft.

U-M's Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer (FIPS) on Jan. 14 took the first direct measurements of Mercury's magnetosphere to determine how the planet interacts with the space environment and the Sun.

The solar wind, a stream of charged particles, fills the entire solar system. It interacts with all planets, but bears down on Mercury, 2/3 closer than the Earth to the Sun.

Earth's magnetosphere is strong enough to protect us from the solar wind's radiation, but Mercury's magnetic field is comparatively weaker.

"From our magnetic measurements, we can tell that Mercury is managing to stand up to a lot of the solar wind and protect the surface of the planet, at least in some spots. Even though the magnetic field was weak, it was enough," said Thomas Zurbuchen, FIPS instrument project leader and a professor in the U-M Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Science.

Zurbuchen said scientists can tell Mercury is putting up a good fight because instruments detected a layer of much slower-moving magentospheric plasma around the planet.

It's possible that the magnetosphere shield has holes. Scientists found ions in the magnetosphere that may have been knocked off the surface by the solar wind at the poles, for example. The source and chemical composition of the ions is still unclear, Zurbuchen said. The particles could also be from the planet's thin atmosphere.

"Mercury's magnetosphere is more similar to Earth's than we might have thought," Zurbuchen said.

The spacecraft did find one major difference. Mercury has no Van Allen Belts, wing-shaped regions of energetic particles trapped by Earth's magnetic field.

"We flew through the region they would be in and they just weren't there," Zurbuchen said. "It could be that they're intermittent, but when we were there, they weren't."

Mercury and Earth are the only two terrestrial planets in the solar system with magnetospheres produced by an intrinsic magnetic field.

This was the first of three planned flybys of Mercury. MESSENGER is scheduled to enter orbit in 2011.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Michigan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Michigan. "Mercury's Magnetosphere Fends Off Solar Wind." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 January 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080130140130.htm>.
University of Michigan. (2008, January 31). Mercury's Magnetosphere Fends Off Solar Wind. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080130140130.htm
University of Michigan. "Mercury's Magnetosphere Fends Off Solar Wind." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080130140130.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Space & Time News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

French Apple Fans Discover the Apple Watch

French Apple Fans Discover the Apple Watch

AFP (Sep. 30, 2014) — Apple fans in France discover the latest toy, the Apple Watch. The watch comes in two sizes and an array of interchangeable, fashionable wrist straps. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
The Water You Drink Might Be Older Than The Sun

The Water You Drink Might Be Older Than The Sun

Newsy (Sep. 27, 2014) — Researchers at the University of Michigan simulated the birth of planets and our sun to determine whether water in the solar system predates the sun. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Woman Cosmonaut in 17 Years Blasts Off for ISS

First Woman Cosmonaut in 17 Years Blasts Off for ISS

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) — A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts, including the first woman cosmonaut in 17 years, blasted off on schedule Friday. Duration: 00:35 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Water Discovery On Small Planet Could Be Key To Earth 2.0

Water Discovery On Small Planet Could Be Key To Earth 2.0

Newsy (Sep. 25, 2014) — Scientists have discovered traces of water in the atmosphere of a distant, Neptune-sized planet. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins