The Influence of Surface Binding Energy on Sputtering in Models of the Sodium Exosphere of Mercury

Killen, Rosemary M.; Morrissey, Liam S.; Burger, Matthew H.; Vervack, Ronald J.; Tucker, Orenthal J.; Savin, Daniel Wolf

We have simulated the sodium (Na) exosphere of Mercury to show how the exosphere is affected by the assumed surface binding energy (SBE) of Na in the sputtered component. We constrained ion precipitation onto the surface using distributions for the cusp regions that are consistent with measurements by the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer instrument. We have simulated sputtering with SBEs of 0.27, 2.6, 4.4, and 7.9 eV, with the lowest value commonly used in exosphere models and the highest from recent molecular dynamics calculations for the Na-bearing feldspar end-member, albite. A gradual change in the exosphere is seen as the yield decreases and the ejecta energy increases with increasing SBE. We describe the corresponding exosphere source functions for ion sputtering (IS), as well as for the previously studied processes of micrometeoroid impact vaporization and photon-stimulated desorption (PSD), along with their release energy distributions and spatial distributions. We have summed the contributions of the various source processes to explain how and when the different sources can be distinguished by observations. The modeled exosphere scale heights range from 72 km for PSD to over 1000 km for IS using a SBE of 7.9 eV. We find that the processes responsible for generating Mercuryʼs Na exosphere are separable by measuring line-of-sight column densities tangent to the planet at various altitudes and positions around the planet. Our initial results are consistent with the Na being sputtered from a high-SBE material such as feldspar, which has been predicted to be abundant on the Mercuryʼs surface.


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Also Published In

The Planetary Science Journal

More About This Work

Academic Units
Astronomy and Astrophysics
Published Here
March 15, 2023