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Cyclic reformation of a quasi-parallel bow shock at Mercury: MESSENGER observations

Sundberg, Torbjörn; Boardsen, Scott A.; Slavin, James A.; Uritsky, Vadim M.; Anderson, Brian J.; Korth, Haje; Gershman, Daniel J.; Raines, Jim M.; Zurbuchen, Thomas H.; Solomon, Sean C.

[1] We here document with magnetic field observations a passage of the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft through Mercury's magnetosphere under conditions of a quasi-parallel bow shock, i.e., when the direction of the upstream interplanetary magnetic field was within 45° of the bow shock normal. The spacecraft's fast transition of the magnetosheath and the steady solar wind conditions during the period analyzed allow both spatial and temporal properties of the shock crossing to be investigated. The observations show that the shock reformation process can be nearly periodic under stable solar wind conditions. Throughout the 25-min-long observation period, the pulsation duration deviated by at most ~10% from the average 10 s period measured. This quasiperiodicity allows us to study all aspects of the shock reconfiguration, including ultra-low-frequency waves in the upstream region and large-amplitude magnetic structures observed in the vicinity of the magnetosheath-solar wind transition region and inside the magnetosheath. We also show that bow shock reformation can be a substantial source of wave activity in the magnetosphere, on this occasion having given rise to oscillations in the magnetic field with peak-to-peak amplitudes of 40–50 nT over large parts of the dayside magnetosphere. The clean and cyclic behavior observed throughout the magnetosphere, the magnetosheath, and the upstream region indicates that the subsolar region was primarily influenced by a cyclic reformation of the shock front, rather than by a spatial and temporal patchwork of short large-amplitude magnetic structures, as is generally the case at the terrestrial bow shock under quasi-parallel conditions.

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Also Published In

Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
American Geophysical Union
Published Here
October 2, 2015