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Annales Geophysicae An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 21, issue 8
Ann. Geophys., 21, 1723–1736, 2003
© Author(s) 2003. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Ann. Geophys., 21, 1723–1736, 2003
© Author(s) 2003. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

  31 Aug 2003

31 Aug 2003

A quantitative model of the planetary Na+ contribution to Mercury’s magnetosphere

D. C. Delcourt1, S. Grimald1, F. Leblanc2, J.-J. Berthelier1, A. Millilo3, A. Mura3, S. Orsini3, and T. E. Moore4 D. C. Delcourt et al.
  • 1CETP-CNRS, Saint-Maur des Fossés, France
  • 2Service d’Aéronomie-CNRS, Verrières-le-Buisson, France
  • 3IFSI-CNR, Roma, Italy
  • 4NASA-GSFC, Greenbelt, USA

Abstract. We examine the circulation of heavy ions of planetary origin within Mercury’s magnetosphere. Using single particle trajectory calculations, we focus on the dynamics of sodium ions, one of the main species that are ejected from the planet’s surface. The numerical simulations reveal a significant population in the near-Mercury environment in the nightside sector, with energetic (several keV) Na + densities that reach several tenths cm-3 at planetary perihelion. At aphelion, a lesser (by about one order of magnitude) density contribution is obtained, due to weaker photon flux and solar wind flux. The numerical simulations also display several features of interest that follow from the small spatial scales of Mercury’s magnetosphere. First, in contrast to the situation prevailing at Earth, ions in the magnetospheric lobes are found to be relatively energetic (a few hundreds of eV), despite the low-energy character of the exospheric source. This results from enhanced centrifugal acceleration during E × B transport over the polar cap. Second, the large Larmor radii in the mid-tail result in the loss of most Na + into the dusk flank at radial distances greater than a few planetary radii. Because gyroradii are comparable to, or larger than, the magnetic field variation length scale, the Na + motion is also found to be non-adiabatic throughout most of Mercury’s equatorial magnetosphere, leading to chaotic scattering into the loss cone or meandering (Speiser-type) motion in the near-tail. As a direct consequence, a localized region of energetic Na + precipitation develops at the planet’s surface. In this region which extends over a wide range of longitudes at mid-latitudes ( ~ 30°–40°), one may expect additional sputtering of planetary material.

Key words. Magnetospheric physics (planetary magnetospheres) – Space plasma physics (charged particle motion and acceleration; numerical simulation studies)

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