Evidence for Magnetospheric Effects on the Sodium Atmosphere of Mercury

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Science  18 May 1990:
Vol. 248, Issue 4957, pp. 835-838
DOI: 10.1126/science.248.4957.835


Monochromatic images of Mercury at the sodium D2 emission line showed excess sodium emission in localized regions at high northern and southern latitudes and day-to-day global variations in the distribution of sodium emission. These phenomena support the suggestion that magnetospheric effects could be the cause. Sputtering of surface minerals could produce sodium vapor in polar regions during magnetic substorms, when magnetospheric ions directly impact the surface. Another important process may be the transport of sodium ions along magnetic field lines toward polar regions, where they impact directly on the surface of Mercury and are neutralized to regenerate neutral sodium atoms. Day-to-day variations in planetary sodium distributions could result from changing solar activity, which can change the magnetosphere in time scales of a few hours. Observations of the sodium exosphere may provide a tool for remote monitoring of the magnetosphere of Mercury.

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