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MESSENGER Observations of Magnetic Reconnection in Mercury’s Magnetosphere

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Science  01 May 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5927, pp. 606-610
DOI: 10.1126/science.1172011

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Abstract

Solar wind energy transfer to planetary magnetospheres and ionospheres is controlled by magnetic reconnection, a process that determines the degree of connectivity between the interplanetary magnetic field (IMF) and a planet’s magnetic field. During MESSENGER’s second flyby of Mercury, a steady southward IMF was observed and the magnetopause was threaded by a strong magnetic field, indicating a reconnection rate ~10 times that typical at Earth. Moreover, a large flux transfer event was observed in the magnetosheath, and a plasmoid and multiple traveling compression regions were observed in Mercury’s magnetotail, all products of reconnection. These observations indicate that Mercury’s magnetosphere is much more responsive to IMF direction and dominated by the effects of reconnection than that of Earth or the other magnetized planets.

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