Comparative Examination of Reconnection-Driven Magnetotail Dynamics at Mercury and Earth

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 5:30 PM
James A Slavin, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Ann Arbor, MI, United States
MESSENGER plasma and magnetic field observations of Mercury’s magnetotail are reviewed and compared to that of Earth. Mercury’s magnetosphere is created by the solar wind interaction with its highly dipolar, spin-axis aligned magnetic field. However, its equatorial magnetic field is ~ 150 times weaker than at Earth. As a result the altitude of its subsolar magnetopause is typically only ~ 1000 km and there is no possibility for trapped radiation belts. Magnetopause reconnection at Mercury does not exhibit the “half-wave rectifier” response to interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) direction observed at Earth. Rather magnetopause reconnection occurs for all non-zero shear angles with plasma β as the primary parameter controlling its rate. The cross-magnetosphere electric potential drop derived from magnetopause and plasma mantle structure is ~ 30 kV in contrast to ~ 100 kV at Earth. This large potential drop at Mercury relative to its small size appears due to the lack of an electrically conducting ionosphere and the strong IMF found in the inner heliosphere. Structurally these magnetotails are very similar in most respects, but the magnetic field intensities and plasma densities and temperatures are all higher at Mercury. Plasma sheet composition indicates solar wind origin, but with 10% Na+ derived from it tenuous exosphere. Given Mercury's very slow rotation rate, once every 59 Earth days, most sunward plasma sheet convection will impact the nightside of the planet. Magnetic flux loading/unloading in Mercury's tail is similar to that seen at Earth during substorms. However, the duration and amplitude of these cycles are ~ 2 – 3 min and ~ 30 to 50 %, respectively, as compared to ~ 1 - 2 hr and 10 - 25 % at Earth. These episodic, substorm-like events are accompanied by plasmoid ejection and near-tail dipolarization similar what is seen at Earth. Mercury can also exhibit Earth-like steady magnetospheric convection during which plasmoid ejection and dipolarization becomes quasi-periodic. Unlike the Earth, solar wind dynamic pressure increases at Mercury couple directly to its large iron core. Magnetic fields due to induction currents in Mercury's interior strongly resist compression of the dayside magnetosphere. The effects of such inductive coupling on magnetotail dynamics at Mercury remains to be determined.