Science and Exploration

Maps Of Solar Wind Plasma Precipitation Onto Mercury’s Surface: A Geographical Perspective

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
May 19, 2023
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Maps Of Solar Wind Plasma Precipitation Onto Mercury’s Surface: A Geographical Perspective
Mercury Transiting The Sun

Mercury is the closest planet to the Sun, possesses a weak intrinsic magnetic field and has only a very tenuous atmosphere (exosphere).

These three conditions result in a direct coupling between the plasma emitted from the Sun (namely the solar wind) and Mercury’s surface. The planet’s magnetic field leads to a non-trivial pattern of plasma precipitation onto the surface, that is expected to contribute to the alteration of the regolith over geological time scales.

The goal of this work is to study the solar wind plasma precipitation onto the surface of Mercury from a geographical perspective, as opposed to the local-time-of-day approach of previous precipitation modeling studies. We employ solar wind precipitation maps for protons and electrons from two fully-kinetic numerical simulations of Mercury’s plasma environment. These maps are then integrated over two full Mercury orbits (176 Earth days).

We found that the plasma precipitation pattern at the surface is most strongly affected by the upstream solar wind conditions, particularly by the interplanetary magnetic field direction, and less by Mercury’s 3:2 spin-orbit resonance.

We also found that Mercury’s magnetic field is able to shield the surface from roughly 90% of the incoming solar wind flux. At the surface, protons have a broad energy distribution from below 500 eV to more than 1.5 keV; while electrons are mostly found in the range 0.1-4 keV. These results will help to better constrain space weathering and exosphere source processes at Mercury, as well as to interpret observations by the ongoing ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission.

Federico Lavorenti, Elizabeth A. Jensen, Sae Aizawa, Francesco Califano, Mario D’Amore, Deborah Domingue, Pierre Henri, Simon Lindsay, Jim M. Raines, Daniel Wolf Savin

Comments: Submitted to PSJ on focus issue “Mercury’s Surface Response to the Interplanetary Environment: Identifying Needed Studies in Laboratory Astrophysics”
Subjects: Space Physics (; Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Report number: 01
Cite as: arXiv:2305.09498 [] (or arXiv:2305.09498v1 [] for this version)
Submission history
From: Federico Lavorenti
[v1] Tue, 16 May 2023 14:51:16 UTC (1,086 KB)

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