Scientists have proved the presence of magnetic storms on Mercury

(ORDO NEWS) — An international team of scientists has proven that Mercury, the smallest planet in our solar system, experiences geomagnetic storms similar to Earth’s.

Research by scientists from the US, Canada, and China includes work by Hui Zhang, professor of space physics at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute.

Their first discovery answers the question of whether other planets, including those outside our solar system, can experience geomagnetic storms, regardless of the size of their magnetosphere or whether they have an Earth-like ionosphere.

The study was published in two papers in February. Zhang is one of the co-authors of each of them.

The first of these works proves that there is a ring current on the planet, which is a doughnut-shaped field of charged particles that flows sideways around the planet and excludes the poles. The second proves the existence of geomagnetic storms caused by the ring current.

A geomagnetic storm is a strong disturbance in the planet’s magnetosphere caused by the transfer of energy from the solar wind. Such storms in the Earth’s magnetosphere cause aurora and can disrupt radio communications.

The results of the study of geomagnetic storms were published on February 18 in the journal Science China Technological Sciences. The author of the work is QiuGang Zong from the Institute of Space Physics and Applied Technology of Peking University and the Institute of Polar Research of China.

This article builds on results published the day before, which confirmed, through data observation, earlier suggestions that there is a ring current on Mercury. The earth also has a ring current.

The author of the paper on ring currents, published in the journal Nature Communications, is Jiutong Zhao, also a member of the Institute of Space Physics and Applied Technology, Peking University.

Seven out of 14 scientists worked on both papers.

“The processes are very similar to those on Earth,” Zhang said of magnetic storms on Mercury. “The main differences are in the size of the planet, and also in the fact that Mercury has a weak magnetic field and almost no atmosphere.”

The confirmation of geomagnetic storms on Mercury comes from a study made possible by a coincidence: a series of coronal mass ejections on the Sun on April 8-18, 2015 and the completion of NASA’s Messenger space probe, which was launched in 2004 and crashed into the surface of the planet on April 30 2015, when his mission was expected to end.

A coronal mass ejection, or CME, is an ejected cloud of solar plasma, a gas composed of charged particles. This cloud includes a built-in plasma magnetic field.

The coronal mass ejection that occurred on April 14 turned out to be a key one for scientists. He compressed the ring current of Mercury from the side facing the Sun and increased its energy.

A new analysis of data from the Messenger, which descended closer to the planet, shows “the presence of an intensification of the ring current, which is necessary to trigger magnetic storms,” ​​says the second of two articles.

“The sudden intensification of the ring current causes the main phase of the magnetic storm,” Zhang said.

But this does not mean that auroral phenomena similar to those on Earth are observed on Mercury.

On Earth, storms cause aurora to form when solar wind particles interact with particles in the atmosphere. However, on Mercury, solar wind particles do not collide with the atmosphere. Instead, they reach the surface unhindered and therefore can only be seen with x-rays and gamma rays.

The results of the two papers show that magnetic storms are “potentially a common feature of magnetized planets,” says the second of the papers.

The results from Messenger provide yet another fascinating insight into Mercury’s place in the evolution of the solar system following the discovery of its inherent planetary magnetic field.


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