Mercury’s Magnetic Field

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 5:00 PM
Catherine L Johnson, University of British Columbia, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Vancouver, BC, Canada; Planetary Science Institute Tucson, Tucson, AZ, United States
Mercury is the only inner solar system body other than Earth to possess an active core dynamo-driven magnetic field and the only planet with a small, highly dynamic magnetosphere. Measurements made by the MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER) spacecraft have provided a wealth of data on Mercury’s magnetic field environment. Mercury’s weak magnetic field was discovered 40 years ago by the Mariner 10 spacecraft, but its large-scale geometry, strength and origin could not be definitively established. MESSENGER data have shown that the field is dynamo-generated and can be described as an offset axisymmetric dipole field (hereafter OAD): the magnetic equator lies ~0.2 RM (RM = 2440 km) north of the geographic equator and the dipole moment is 2.8 x1019 Am2 (~0.03% that of Earth’s). The weak internal field and the high, but variable, solar wind ram pressure drive vigorous magnetospheric dynamics and result in an average distance from the planet center to the sub-solar magnetopause of only 1.42 RM. Magnetospheric models developed with MESSENGER data have allowed re-analysis of the Mariner 10 observations, establishing that there has been no measureable secular variation in the internal field over 40 years. Together with spatial power spectra for the OAD, this provides critical constraints for viable dynamo models. Time-varying magnetopause fields induce secondary core fields, the magnitudes of which confirm the core radius estimated from MESSENGER gravity and Earth-based radar data. After accounting for large-scale magnetospheric fields, residual signatures are dominated by additional external fields that are organized in the local time frame and that vary with magnetospheric activity. Birkeland currents have been identified, which likely close in the planetary interior at depths below the base of the crust. Near-periapsis magnetic field measurements at altitudes greater than 200 km have tantalizing hints of crustal fields, but crustal sources cannot be distinguished from core fields, nor cleanly separated from external fields. I will report on recent data acquired at altitudes as low as 25 km that have the potential to resolve these issues. The presence of remanent crustal fields would have profound implications for Mercury’s thermal and dynamical histories.