Magnetic Field Observations near Mercury: Preliminary Results from Mariner 10

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Science  12 Jul 1974:
Vol. 185, Issue 4146, pp. 151-160
DOI: 10.1126/science.185.4146.151


Results are presented from a preliminary analysis of data obtained near Mercury on 29 March 1974 by the NASA-GSFC magnetic field experiment on Mariner 10. Rather unexpectedly, a very well-developed, detached bow shock wave, which develops as the super-Alfvénic solar wind interacts with the planet, has been observed. In addition, a magnetosphere-like region, with maximum field strength of 98 gammas at closest approach (704 kilometers altitude), has been observed, contained within boundaries similar to the terrestrial magnetopause. The obstacle deflecting the solar wind flow is global in size, but the origin of the enhanced magnetic field has not yet been uniquely established. The field may be intrinsic to the planet and distorted by interaction with the solar wind. It may also be associated with a complex induction process whereby the planetary interior-atmosphere-ionosphere interacts with the solar wind flow to generate the observed field by a dynamo action. The complete body of data favors the preliminary conclusion that Mercury has an intrinsic magnetic field. If this is correct, it represents a major scientific discovery in planetary magnetism and will have considerable impact on studies of the origin of the solar system.