Fully Kinetic 3D Simulations of the Interaction of the Solar Wind with Mercury
Abstract:The planet Mercury has been studied by the space mission Mariner 10, in the 1970's, and by the MESSENGER mission launched in 2004. Interest in the first planet of the Solar System has now been renewed by the launch in 2017 of the BepiColombo mission. MESSENGER and BepiColombo give access to information about the local conditions of the magnetosphere of Mercury. This data must be evaluated in the context of the global interaction between the solar wind and the planet's magnetosphere. Global scale simulations of the planet's environment are necessary to fully understand the data gathered from in-situ measurements. We use three-dimensional simulations to support the scientific goals of the two missions.
In contrast with the results based on MHD (Kabin et al., 2000) and hybrid codes (Kallio et Janhumen, 2003; Travnicek et al., 2007, 2010; Richer et al., 2012), the present work is based on the implicit moment Particle-in-Cell (PiC) method, which allows to use large time and space steps, while granting access to the dynamics of the smaller electron scales in the plasma. The purpose of these preliminary PIC simulations is to retrieve the top-level features of Mercury's magnetosphere and its frontiers. We compare the results obtained with the implicit moment PiC method against 3D hybrid simulations.
We perform simulations of the global plasma environment of Mercury using the solar wind conditions measured by MESSENGER. We show that complex flows form around the planet, including the development of Kelvin-Helmoltz instabilities at the flanks. We evaluate the dynamics of the shock, magnetosheath, magnetopause, the reconnection areas, the formation of plasma sheet and magnetotail, and the variation of ion/electron plasma flows when crossing these frontiers. The simulations also give access to detailed information about the particle dynamics and their velocity distribution at locations that can be used for comparison with data from MESSENGER and later on with the forthcoming BepiColombo. A particular emphasis is given on the new information gathered from the electron dynamics, which is unaccessible with any other kind of simulations.
The research reported here received support by the European Commission via the DEEP and DEEP-ER projects and by the computational infrastructure of the VSC (Belgium).