Observations of Extreme ICME Ram Pressure Compressing Mercury's Dayside Magnetosphere to the Surface

Academic Article


  • Mercury's magnetosphere is known to be affected by enhanced ram pressures and magnetic fields inside interplanetary coronal mass ejections (ICMEs). Here we report detailed observations of an ICME compressing Mercury's dayside magnetosphere to the surface. A fast CME launched from the Sun on November 29 2013 impacted first MESSENGER, which was orbiting Mercury, on November 30 and later STEREO-A near 1 AU on December 1. Following the ICME impact, MESSENGER remained in the solar wind as the spacecraft traveled inwards and northwards towards Mercury's surface until it reached and passed its closest approach to the planet (at 371 km altitude) without crossing into the magnetosphere. The magnetospheric crossing finally occurred 1 minute before reaching the planet's nightside at 400 km altitude and 84$^\circ$N latitude, indicating the lack of dayside magnetosphere on this orbit. In addition, the peak magnetic field measured by MESSENGER at this time was 40% above the values measured in the orbits just prior to and after the ICME, a consequence of the magnetospheric compression. Using both a proxy method at Mercury and measurements at STEREO-A, we show that the extremely high ram pressure associated with this ICME was more than high enough to collapse Mercury's weak magnetosphere. As a consequence, the ICME plasma likely interacted with Mercury's surface, evidenced by enhanced sodium ions in the exosphere. The collapse of Mercury's dayside magnetosphere has important implications for the habitability of close-in exoplanets around M dwarf stars, as such events may significantly contribute to planetary atmospheric loss in these systems.
  • Authors

  • Winslow, Reka M
  • Lugaz, Noe
  • Philpott, Lydia
  • Farrugia, Charles
  • Johnson, Catherine L
  • Anderson, Brian J
  • Paty, Carol S
  • Schwadron, Nathan
  • Al Asad, Manar
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • February 1, 2020
  • Has Subject Area


  • physics.space-ph
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 184
  • End Page

  • 184
  • Volume

  • 889
  • Issue

  • 2