The variability of Mercury's exosphere by particle and radiation induced surface release processes

Lammer, H.; Wurz, P.; Patel, M.; Killen, R.; Kolb, C.; Massetti, S.; Orsini, S. and Milillo, A. (2003). The variability of Mercury's exosphere by particle and radiation induced surface release processes. Icarus, 166(2) pp. 238–247.



Mercury's close orbit around the Sun, its weak intrinsic magnetic field and the absence of an atmosphere (Psurface<1×10−8 Pa) results in a strong direct exposure of the surface to energetic ions, electrons and UV radiation. Thermal processes and particle-surface-collisions dominate the surface interaction processes leading to surface chemistry and physics, including the formation of an exosphere (N1014 cm−2) in which gravity is the dominant force affecting the trajectories of exospheric atoms. NASA's Mariner 10 spacecraft observed the existence of H, He, and O in Mercury's exosphere. In addition, the volatile components Na, K, and Ca have been observed by ground based instrumentation in the exosphere. We study the efficiency of several particle surface release processes by calculating stopping cross-sections, sputter yields and exospheric source rates. Our study indicates surface sputter yields for Na between values of about 0.27 and 0.35 in an energy range from 500 eV up to 2 keV if Na+ ions are the sputter agents, and about 0.037 and 0.082 at an energy range between 500 eV up to 2 keV when H+ are the sputter agents and a surface binding energy of about 2 eV to 2.65 eV. The sputter yields for Ca are about 0.032 to 0.06 and for K atoms between 0.054 to 0.1 in the same energy range. We found a sputter yield for O atoms between 0.025 and 0.04 for a particle energy range between 500 eV up to 2 keV protons. By taking the average solar wind proton surface flux at the open magnetic field line area of about 4×108 cm−2 s−1 calculated by Massetti et al. (2003, Icarus, in press) the resulting average sputtering flux for O is about 0.8–1.0×107 cm−2 s−1 and for Na approximately 1.3–1.6×105 cm−2 s−1 depending on the assumed Na binding energies, regolith content, sputtering agents and solar activity. By using lunar regolith values for K we obtain a sputtering flux of about 1.0–1.4×104 cm−2 s−1. By taking an average open magnetic field line area of about 2.8×1016 cm2 modelled by Massetti et al. (2003, Icarus, in press) we derive an average surface sputter rate for Na of about 4.2×1021 s−1 and for O of about 2.5×1023 s−1. The particle sputter rate for K atoms is about 3.0×1020 s−1 assuming lunar regolith composition for K. The sputter rates depend on the particle content in the regolith and the open magnetic field line area on Mercury's surface. Further, the surface layer could be depleted in alkali. A UV model has been developed to yield the surface UV irradiance at any time and latitude over a Mercury year. Seasonal and diurnal variations are calculated, and Photon Stimulated Desorption (PSD) fluxes along Mercury's orbit are evaluated. A solar UV hotspot is created towards perihelion, with significant average PSD particle release rates and Na fluxes of about 3.0×106 cm−2 s−1. The average source rates for Na particles released by PSD are about 1×1024 s−1. By using the laboratory obtained data of Madey et al. (1998, J. Geophys. Res. 103, 5873–5887) for the calculation of the PSD flux of K atoms we get fluxes in the order of about 104 cm−2 s−1 along Mercury's orbit. However, these values may be to high since they are based on idealized smooth surface conditions in the laboratory and do not include the roughness and porosity of Mercury's regolith. Further, the lack of an ionosphere and Mercury's small, temporally and spatially highly variable magnetosphere can result in a large and rapid increase of exospheric particles, especially Na in Mercury's exosphere. Our study suggests that the average total source rates for the exosphere from solar particle and radiation induced surface processes during quiet solar conditions may be of the same order as particles produced by micrometeoroid vaporization. We also discuss the capability of in situ measurements of Mercury's highly variable particle environment by the proposed NPA-SERENA instrument package on board ESA's BepiColombo Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO)

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