Mercury's Moment of Inertia from Spin and Gravity Data

Solomon, Sean C.; Margot, Jean-Luc; Peale, Stanton J.; Hauck II, Steven A.; Ghigo, Frank D.; Jurgens, Raymond F.; Yseboodt, Marie; Giorgini, Jon D.; Padovan, Sebastiano; Campbell, Donald B.

Earth-based radar observations of the spin state of Mercury at 35 epochs between 2002 and 2012 reveal that its spin axis is tilted by (2.04 plus or minus 0.08) arc min with respect to the orbit normal. The direction of the tilt suggests that Mercury is in or near a Cassini state. Observed rotation rate variations clearly exhibit an 88-day libration pattern which is due to solar gravitational torques acting on the asymmetrically shaped planet. The amplitude of the forced libration, (38.5 plus or minus 1.6) arc sec, corresponds to a longitudinal displacement of ∼450 m at the equator. Combining these measurements of the spin properties with second-degree gravitational harmonics (Smith et al., 2012) provides an estimate of the polar moment of inertia of MercuryC/MR2 = 0.346 plus or minus 0.014, where M and R are Mercury's mass and radius. The fraction of the moment that corresponds to the outer librating shell, which can be used to estimate the size of the core, is Cm/C = 0.431 plus or minus 0.025.


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Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets

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Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
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September 18, 2013