"We now know more about what Mercury's made of than ever before," said Thomas Zurbuchen, a professor in the departments of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and Aerospace Engineering. "Holy cow, we found way more than we expected!"
Zurbuchen is project leader of the Fast Imaging Plasma Spectrometer (FIPS), a soda-can sized sensor on board the MESSENGER spacecraft, which performed the first of three scheduled Mercury flybys in January. A paper on FIPS' results from this flyby is published in the July 4 edition of Science.
Since the Mariner 10 spacecraft's 1975 discovery of Mercury's magnetic field, scientists have speculated about how this magnetic field and the solar wind interact with the planet's surface and exosphere, or thin atmosphere.
FIPS detected silicon, sodium, sulfur and even water ions around Mercury. Ions are atoms or molecules that have lost electrons and therefore have an electric charge.
Because of the quantities of these molecules that scientists detected in Mercury's space environment, they surmise that they were blasted from the surface or exosphere by the solar wind. The solar wind is a stream of charged particles emanating from the sun. It buffets Mercury, which is 2/3 closer to the sun than the Earth, and it causes particles from Mercury's surface and atmosphere to sputter into space. FIPS measured these sputtered particles.
"It's like we did a forensic analysis of Mercury," Zurbuchen said. "This flyby got the first-ever look at surface composition.
"The Mercury magnetosphere is full of many ionic species, both atomic and molecular, and in a variety of charge states. What is in some sense a Mercury plasma nebula is far richer in complexity and makeup than the Io plasma torus in the Jupiter system."
Io is a volcanically active moon of Jupiter that is often considered one of the most exciting space environments, Zurbuchen said. Images and other measurements made by MESSENGER suggest that Mercury's surface composition was determined at least in part by volcanic processes.
FIPS was built at the University of Michigan by more than 10 U-M engineers and technicians with help from more than 50 students.
The paper is called "MESSENGER Observations of the Composition of Mercury's Ionized Exosphere and Plasma Environment."
NASA spacecraft investigate clues in radiation belts
28.03.2017 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Researchers create artificial materials atom-by-atom
28.03.2017 | Aalto University
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
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