MESSENGER Observations of Transient Bursts of Energetic Electrons in Mercury’s Magnetosphere

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Science  30 Sep 2011:
Vol. 333, Issue 6051, pp. 1865-1868
DOI: 10.1126/science.1211141

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The MESSENGER spacecraft began detecting energetic electrons with energies greater than 30 kilo–electron volts (keV) shortly after its insertion into orbit about Mercury. In contrast, no energetic protons were observed. The energetic electrons arrive as bursts lasting from seconds to hours and are most intense close to the planet, distributed in latitude from the equator to the north pole, and present at most local times. Energies can exceed 200 keV but often exhibit cutoffs near 100 keV. Angular distributions of the electrons about the magnetic field suggest that they do not execute complete drift paths around the planet. This set of characteristics demonstrates that Mercury’s weak magnetic field does not support Van Allen–type radiation belts, unlike all other planets in the solar system with internal magnetic fields.

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