There are also auroras on Mercury

French scientists have discovered that the mechanism of auroras in the star’s magnetic field may be ubiquitous throughout the solar system. The new study reports data from the first flyby of Mercury by the Mercury probe Beppi Columbus mission jointly built by Japan and Europe, revealing that the auroras in Mercury’s southern magnetosphere are similar to those of Earth and Mars. The study was recently published in Nature Communications.

The Mercury magnetosphere, the region around the planet dominated by the planet’s magnetic field, undergoes rapid reorganization after magnetic reconnection with the solar wind, a process similar to that observed on Earth, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus. But knowledge about the reconstruction circle is limited by the spacecraft’s observation of Mercury’s northern magnetosphere, particle type, and energy range.

Sae Aizawa of the Toulouse Institute of Astrophysics and Planetary Sciences in France and colleagues analyzed low-energy electrons (less than 30 kiloelectron volts) and ions measured simultaneously by Beppi Columbus during its first flyby of Mercury in October 2021. What they found is direct evidence that high-energy electrons in the near-tail region of Mercury’s magnetosphere are accelerated, rapidly drifting toward the day side, and subsequently injecting into closed magnetic field lines on the night side of the planet. This process is observed as X-ray auroras.

Studies have shown that despite the different structure and dynamics of planetary magnetospheres, electron injection and subsequent energy-dependent drift are common mechanisms observed in the solar system. (Source: Feng Weiwei, China Science News)

Observations of electrons precipitated from the surface of Mercury during the first flyby of Mercury by the Beppi Columbus. Image courtesy of Sae Aizawa

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