Mercury's Atmosphere from Mariner 10: Preliminary Results

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Science  12 Jul 1974:
Vol. 185, Issue 4146, pp. 166-169
DOI: 10.1126/science.185.4146.166


Analysis of data obtained by the ultraviolet experiment on Mariner 10 indicates that Mercury is surrounded by a thin atmosphere consisting in part of helium. The partial pressure of helium at the terminator is about 5 x 10-12 millibar. The total surface pressure of the atmosphere is less than about 2 x 10-9 millibar. Upper limits are set for the abundance of various gases, including hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, argon, neon, and xenon. The wavelength dependence of Mercury's surface albedo is similar to that of the moon over a broad range of wavelengths from 500 to 1600 angstroms. Strong signals were recorded by the airglow instrument as Mariner 10 passed through the cavity behind Mercury. They are as yet unexplained but may provide information on the properties of the local plasma.

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