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The low‐degree shape of Mercury

Perry, Mark E.; Neumann, Gregory A.; Phillips, Roger J.; Ernst, Carolyn M.; Kahan, Daniel S.; Solomon, Sean C.; Zuber, Maria T.; Smith, David E.; Hauck II, Steven A.; Peale, Stanton J.; Margot, Jean-Luc; Mazarico, Erwan; Johnson, Catherine L.; Gaskell, Robert W.; Roberts, James H.; McNutt Jr., Ralph L.; Oberst, Juergen

The shape of Mercury, particularly when combined with its geoid, provides clues to the planet's internal structure, thermal evolution, and rotational history. Elevation measurements of the northern hemisphere acquired by the Mercury Laser Altimeter on the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging spacecraft, combined with 378 occultations of radio signals from the spacecraft in the planet's southern hemisphere, reveal the low‐degree shape of Mercury. Mercury's mean radius is 2439.36 ± 0.02 km, and there is a 0.14 km offset between the planet's centers of mass and figure. Mercury is oblate, with a polar radius 1.65 km less than the mean equatorial radius. The difference between the semimajor and semiminor equatorial axes is 1.25 km, with the long axis oriented 15° west of Mercury's dynamically defined principal axis. Mercury's geoid is also oblate and elongated, but it deviates from a sphere by a factor of 10 less than Mercury's shape, implying compensation of elevation variations on a global scale.

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Also Published In

Geophysical Research Letters

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Seismology, Geology, and Tectonophysics
Published Here
August 26, 2020