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MESSENGER observations of solar energetic electrons within Mercury's magnetosphere

Gershman, Daniel J.; Raines, Jim M.; Slavin, James A.; Zurbuchen, Thomas H.; Anderson, Brian J.; Korth, Haje; Ho, George C.; Boardsen, Scott A.; Cassidy, Timothy A.; Walsh, Brian M.; Solomon, Sean C.

During solar energetic particle (SEP) events, the inner heliosphere is bathed in MeV electrons. Through magnetic reconnection, these relativistic electrons can enter the magnetosphere of Mercury, nearly instantaneously filling the regions of open field lines with precipitating particles. With energies sufficient to penetrate solid aluminum shielding more than 1 mm thick, these electrons were observable by a number of sensors on the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft. Because of its thin shielding, frequent sampling, and continuous temporal coverage, the Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer provided by far the most sensitive measurements of MeV electrons of all MESSENGER sensors. Sharp changes in energetic electron flux coincided with topological boundaries in the magnetosphere, including the magnetopause, polar cap, and central plasma sheet. Precipitating electrons with fluxes equal to ~40% of their corresponding upstream levels were measured over the entire polar cap, demonstrating that electron space weathering of Mercury's surface is not limited to the cusp region. We use these distinct precipitation signatures acquired over 33 orbits during 11 SEP events to map the full extent of Mercury's northern polar cap. We confirm a highly asymmetric polar cap, for which the dayside and nightside boundary latitudes range over ~50–70°N and ~30–60°N, respectively. These latitudinal ranges are consistent with average models of Mercury's magnetic field but exhibit a large variability indicative of active dayside and nightside magnetic reconnection processes. Finally, we observed enhanced electron fluxes within the central plasma sheet. Although these particles cannot form a stable ring current around the planet, their motion results in an apparent trapped electron population at low latitudes in the magnetotail.

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Also Published In

JGR: Space Physics

More About This Work

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